Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Adding Up the Score in Pakistan

An estimated 70% of supplies for the US/NATO campaign in Afghanistan go through Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, amounting to some 700 trucks a day. Other routes include going by truck through the wild west region of Baluchistan and by air. Insurgents have attacked supply depots in Peshawar three times this week – each attack consisting of enough insurgents to overwhelm security. Three outright insurgent victories in a row destroying shipping containers so big that some contain Humvees. Video report about one attack on YouTube. The Pentagon may be claiming this remains small change, but in post-financial crisis-America, the open checkbook for empire may soon slam shut.

Worse, Pakistani media are now starting to suggest the possibility that the whole city of Peshawar may fall to the insurgents, calling “the government itself” a “hostage” beleaguered in an “Iraq-style green zone.”

Alternative routes of course exist, but there are both geographic and self-inflicted political problems facing Washington. The Pak Alert Press blog has done a nice review of the geographic realities, including the (pipe) dream of driving through Georgia.

A second possible route is to go by rail through Russia and Central Asia to the northern border of Afghanistan, where supplies would presumably be transferred to truck. Recall that Washington has been busy in recent months sticking it to the Russian bear (US missiles in East Europe, the propaganda campaign over Georgia). Indeed, Russia has already threatened to terminate its agreement to allow Washington to use the air supply route. In late November, Russia gave Germany permission to transship supplies via Russian railways. Nevertheless, Moscow has sent the message that routes via Russia will come at a political price. Moreover, Russia no longer borders Afghanistan. But even if all that were resolved, does anyone remember the old days with Ahmed Shah Masood and the Salang Tunnel?

Then there’s route three – through that old enemy of the Taliban, Iran. Is it time to go hat-in-hand to Tehran and cut a deal? It would of course not be the first time Iran helped Washington in Afghanistan, but this time, Washington will no doubt have to promise Iran not to follow up with any gratuitous “axis of evil” insults. A Tehran moderate trying to make the case within the Iranian regime that the U.S. should be trusted will not only have a tough logical case to make but will be putting his career and perhaps life on the line because Iran is one of those primitive political systems in which those who argue for creative policies are sometimes accused of being traitors.

Pursuing wealth and influence on the world stage with a calculating eye is an interesting ambition that can perhaps be recommended to the flexible. For the true believer who rushes to categorize the world into good vs. evil, a career closer to home might be advised.

How does all this look from the Pakistani perspective? The moderate and thoughtful Frontier Post editorialized, “what do you expect when a wicked axis of America’s CIA, India’s RAW and Israel’s Mossad with in tow Afghanistan’s own intelligence service as their carpet sweeper are so active in fueling and fanning militancy in our tribal region?” Accurate or not, if this is the perception of moderate, English-language media, then what is the perception of the average Pakistani, not to mention of the average Pakistani in the tribal regions?

The Frontier Post continued,

The CIA is there to give a life to the American neocons’ dream to push FATA under Washington’s wings for America to sit on the neck of China , the global economic giant and a fast-emerging world power rival. The RAW is there to concretize the Indian establishment’s cherished goal of outflanking Pakistan from its western border as well to put it in a postion of a pincer offensive with a softened up tribal region. The Mossad is there to move in and encircle Iran , which the Jewish state openly pronounces to be its enemy number one, from both Afghanistan ’s and Pakistan ’s sides. And the pigmy Afghan spy agency is at works for furthering its actual boss, the Northern Alliance, to keep the Pakhtuns across the divide in a constant state of tizzy and enmeshed in troubles in their heartland in order to keep the Pakhtun majority at home at bay from power which the Afghan minorities have grabbed with the connivance of the US-led western community for the first time in the modern Afghanistan’s history.

This perspective goes beyond the media. For example, The NWFP Governor, Owais Ghani, was reported in November to have “hinted at the involvement of the Indian intelligence agency RAW and Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in the destabilisation of the tribal areas.”

This perspective that the world is ganging up on Pakistan combined with the appearance of the Taliban being on a roll (even though it is attacking parked vehicles that are evidently being guarded hardly better than your average New York City parking lot) may begin to add up to a meaningful change in popular mood. The question arises: what is most important in this conflict – military power, supply chain, or popular mood?

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