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reflections

Dec 8, 2008 | 02:23 GMT

5 mins read

Geopolitical Diary: Too Little, Too Late for Pakistan?

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Amid growing pressure from both India and the United States, Pakistani security forces began raiding camps and offices belonging to Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in and around Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, on Sunday. The Pakistanis allegedly detained members of LeT and its front organization, Jamaat-ud-Dawah. Islamabad desperately needs a break from the pressure that has been building since the United States — the only potential restraint on Indian retaliation over the Mumbai attacks — issued sharp warnings about the need for the government to clamp down on Islamist radicals operating within its borders. Pakistan is trying to demonstrate its commitment to cooperation with India. Yet its attempts to control what happens on Pakistani soil appear increasingly feeble. India, for one, is unlikely to be satisfied by Sunday's arrests. There is no reason at the moment to believe that the targeted sites hosted a significant number of militants, or that any of those who were apprehended are of any value in ensuring India's security. It is even possible that the militants who once operated in these locations got out before the raids, rendering the strikes a purely symbolic action. India anticipated, and to an extent designed, this outcome. New Delhi’s demands following the Mumbai attacks were that Pakistan hand over some 20 individuals whom Indian intelligence agencies had pinpointed as threats to national security. The Indians knew that the Pakistanis — unwilling to suffer the embarrassment and political cost of handing over such high-value targets under pressure — were unlikely to comply. Pakistan's refusal to turn over the people on India's most-wanted list gives India better justification in taking matters into its own hands. In India, the pressure is building — within the government, the opposition and the public — to take decisive military action, commensurate with the threat non-state actors pose to national security. Potential military strategies available to New Delhi range from air strikes to a naval blockade of Pakistan's most significant port, Karachi. Notably, Indian military officials have canceled events on their calendars — including a high-profile annual military parade to be held on Republic Day in late January, fueling speculation that the armed forces expect to be preoccupied somehow during that time. Meanwhile, New Delhi is preparing to embark on a campaign of diplomacy that will last through the coming week, hoping to convince the world that the Mumbai attacks can be traced back to Pakistani nationals who received support from rogue elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. The Indians will attempt to establish a firm legal basis for retaliatory strikes against Pakistan, while presenting evidence to the U.N. Security Council and the broader international community. Nevertheless, India would find it extremely difficult to eradicate the Islamists through military action. The more important question is whether New Delhi can force Pakistan to take care of its own militant problem. If Islamabad can be pushed into mowing down militant groups that thrive on Pakistan’s soil and rooting out the rogue elements of the ISI, then India will be safer and total war will have been averted. But this strategy hinges on whether Pakistan has sufficient control of its interior to stop the militant groups. The United States depends on the stability of the Pakistani state for similar reasons. Pakistan's chief playing card is its ability to rein in militants on its side of the border and, crucially, to act as a transport route for equipment and materials needed by U.S. and NATO troops for the campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. If these lines are cut off or disrupted, counterinsurgency operations are affected. This brings to mind another news item from South Asia. A Taliban force numbering in the hundreds attacked a NATO facility near Peshawar, Pakistan, on Sunday and destroyed nearly 100 trucks, including Humvees, used to transport equipment for the war effort in Afghanistan. This kind of attack has happened before, and security precautions were said to have been taken, but this particular attack was conducted on a larger scale, and more brazenly, than anything seen so far. It was another telling example of how the situation in Pakistan's northwest regions has spiraled out of Islamabad's control, jeopardizing its commitments to Washington. The security strategies of both India and the United States hinge on Islamabad's ability to snuff out militant groups. The assumption behind recent U.S. and Indian moves is that, if they apply enough pressure, they can coerce Islamabad into braving the domestic political consequences it will face in cracking down on these groups. But this assumption breaks down if the Pakistani government is not capable of controlling its interior. In that case, New Delhi and Washington each have an entirely new set of complications to deal with.

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