Friday, April 10, 2009

When Gates Speaks, is Pakistan Listening?

Introductory Note: The editorial essay below is the second in what I hope will be an occasional but regular series of guest editorials by friends of mine whose opinions I value, and which are based on a solid foundation of knowledge, both "academic"/scholastic and experiential. As is the norm with all editorial pages, here is the requisite disclaimer that, "the opinions expressed in the editorials are solely those of the author, and they do not necessarily represent the views of the blog administrator or other guest contributors to Views from the Occident." I encourage readers to engage with the guest editorialists, and with me, in the "Comments," as opposed to responding via the e-mail listserv. The purpose of these editorials is to expand the points of view published on Occident, and to encourage the exchange of views.

Now, with regard to the specific guest editorial essay below: Jason Reich writes about the Pakistani military's handling of counter-insurgency operations in northern regions of the country, such as the North West Frontier Provinces and the Bajur Tribal Agency, strongholds of the Afghan and new Pakistani (Pashtun) neo-Taliban.

Jason and I met during the summer of 2003, when we were both studying abroad.  Although we held, and still hold many, differing views on a wide variety of issues he and I became fast friends. Since then, he and I have frequently discussed and debated these issues in a continuing dialogue, a type of dialogue which I believe is vital. Without ignoring or negating our differences on certain big issues, some of which are quite significant, I believe that it is because of our differences, as much as because of our similarities on other issues (and the fact that he's genuinely a nice person), that we became and remain friends. Please see his autobiographical sketch below:

Jason Reich is a journalist who explores the growing community of "soft power" advocates around the world.

Discussion and debate are encouraged in the "Comments" section of Occident.

When Gates Speaks, is Pakistan Listening?

Gates' proposed budget revisions aroused a chorus of groans that highlight the growing disparity between the disappointed Cold Warriors and ascendant “COINdanistas”. Yet whatever resistance Gates may encounter in the U.S. against his "sweeping" changes to the 2009 Pentagon budget pales in comparison to what would happen if Pakistan proposed a similar shift in their doctrine. Which is a shame, because Pakistan needs a new doctrine more than anybody.

Pakistan's domestic insurgency has already shown itself to be more resilient and far reaching than expected, as the attacks this past week in Lahore have borne out. Yet Pakistan's response continues to be curious: sporadic retaliatory strikes coupled with controversial CIA predator attacks in the border regions. Furthermore, much of the $10 billion of military aid received from the US since 9/11 has gone towards "prestige" weapons systems such as P3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, weapons that strengthen their conventional balance vis a vis India but are ill suited to combat the growing insurgency. As the past few years have shown, the growing Islamist insurgency represents a far greater existential threat to Pakistan than India. Now that the U.S. has finally codified COIN in the new budget as a legitimate doctrine, so too must Pakistan realign its priorities to address the real threats to its security.
Harpoon II anti-ship missile
Sadly, while the U.S. and Pakistan may have similar goals in stabilizing the region, the nature of Pakistan's military economy makes such reforms unlikely. While some may see the U.S. military industrial complex as the hallmark of corruption and nepotism, it pales in comparison to the Pakistani military's iron grip on the economy of Pakistan. The numerous welfare organizations run by the Pakistani military reach deep into every aspect of Pakistan's society, from life insurance policies to real estate networks. Pushing reforms through a system as pervasive as the Pakistani military industrial complex would be a challenge even Gates would not relish.
The last thing the Pakistani military elite want is to gamble their careers on a new and untested doctrine like the one being championed by the U.S. in Iraq and now Afghanistan/Pakistan. It is far more lucrative for them to focus their budget priorities on big ticket weapons systems that can stay locked up in hangars and silos than sending their poorly trained soldiers into combat against the seasoned mountain warriors in the border regions with Afghanistan.
Over the coming weeks, I am going to be writing more about Pakistan’s reluctance to confront this insurgency and the steps the Obama administration is going to take in order to make them. By August, I’ll be shifting gears and covering the story from Afghanistan, where the U.S. and NATO have begun to take the first concrete steps towards instituting a comprehensive COIN strategy in the region.
Pakistani Navy cadets stand at attention

Article copyright 2009 by Jason Reich. All rights reserved. No citation or reproduction without the permission of the author.

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