U.S., Pakistan, and the War on Terror

By Kristen Moller, 28 April 2009

Pakistan and the U.S. have been more or less allies since the late 1940s. The relationship has largely been based on U.S. strategic political interests in the Middle East, while Pakistan has largely benefited from U.S. monetary aid. The U.S. supported military dictator General Pervez Musharraf after he announced his support of the U.S. in the War on Terror.[1] Since that time the Pakistani government has arrested over half a thousand al Qaeda members and given them to the U.S. And the U.S. has designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally.[2] Musharraf resigned from the Presidency in August of 2008 under pressure of impeachment,[3] and now the country is led by the more democratic Asif Ali Zardari (the widower of Benazir Bhutto).[4]

Needless to say, the Taliban, one of the primary targeted terrorist groups, has not been a primary fan of the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Between 2004 and 2008, Pakistan has been the victim of 88 suicide bombings; this is the third highest country rate on the globe.[5] Fighting between Pakistani forces and the Taliban has caused over 100,000 people to flee their homes, and are now internally displaced. [6] The resulting violence and death toll in Pakistan, as a result of their alliance with the U.S. in the War on Terror, has been a major source of insecurity for the country.

With President Obama’s new policy for the War on Terror focusing more on Afghanistan and Pakistan in attempts to specifically target al-Qaeda and the Taliban, things have been shaken up amongst the Pakistani population. Just two days after Obama named a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. launched two missile attacks into Pakistan. It is believed that the CIA targeted tribal areas where al-Qaeda’s top leaders were hiding out. [7] The strikes killed over 20 people, 11 having been Pakistani military. The attack has been highly condemned from Pakistanis. While the U.S. defended its strike saying it had been coordinated with Pakistan, they did voice regret for the loss of Pakistani forces. [8]

This recent attack was part of the U.S.’s increased attacks against alleged al-Qaeda forces from Afghanistan across the border to Pakistan. More than 30 missile strikes have occurred so far this year.[9] Pakistan is especially aggravated by these attacks because they are seen as a threat to their national sovereignty. According to Gallup, when Pakistanis were polled in October 2008, 48% believer the U.S. missile strikes to be ineffective (only 5% believed them to be effective).  54% of Pakistanis believed U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to be a threat to their country. 33% expressed the belief that their cooperation on the war had mostly benefited the U.S., while only 2% believed the war had benefited Pakistan and only 7% believed the countries to benefit equally. All things considered, Pakistanis do not trust the United States and believe U.S. military presence to be a threat to their country.[10]

Officials have supported Obama’s change in policy with statements such as,

“He’s going after the organization that attacked the US on 9/11, and before and since, rather than pursuing a vague and murky war on terrorism everywhere.”[11]

However such statements are in essence anti-intellectual. Since the beginning of the War on Terror, al-Qaeda has ceased to operate as a solidified group. Instead, terrorism today is much more a system of self-starters organized by jihadi ideology propagated on the web, through the media, or resulting from perceived unprompted assault from the U.S. and other military pressures. With this being the case, targeting “al-Qaeda,” the group that indeed attacked the U.S. on 9/11, achieves only to create more terrorists that will take retaliatory measures.

Furthermore, Pakistan has already handed over 500 supposed al-Qaeda operatives to the U.S.[12] That being the case, how many people does the U.S. believe were a part of al-Qaeda during the 9/11 attacks? It is only reasonable to conclude that the terrorists targeted now are 1) dispersed in small groups, 2) independently mobilized, and 3) inspired as a result of U.S. military aggression.

With increased U.S. military and non-military presence in and around Pakistan, suicide bombing is bound to rise.[13] But if the non-militaristic emphasis of Obama’s projected strategy is effectively employed, the rise in terror within Pakistan’s borders may not be as extreme as the rise in Iraq over the past century.

Obama’s plan for the shift in the war, employing more non-militaristic forces to create change, will likely receive more success than the strategy of his predecessor. According to some specialists Obama’s decision to go on the Arab network and address the Muslim world in his inaugural address was a sign that he understands the importance of his role in the conflict[14] and will employ better strategy in targeting real foreign extremists versus the Muslim public at large. Obama will sever a major supply line of support for al-Qaeda if he continues to ditch the use of sweeping extremist rhetoric used by the previous administration against (what has been perceived by many Muslims) the general Muslim world. This shift in soft diplomacy may mean vast improvement for the U.S. and for the world.


[1] “Pervez Musharraf -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Pervez_Musharraf.

[2] “Pakistan – United States relations -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009. http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/US-Pakistan_relations.

[3] Pervez Musharraf -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/

wiki/General_Pervez_Musharraf.

[4] “Asif Ali Zardari -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/

wiki/Asif_Ali_Zardari.

[5]“WITS – Query Results.” Worldwide Incidents Tracking System. 28 Apr. 2009 http://wits.nctc.gov/ RunSearchCountry.do?countryId=23&confirmed=true.

[6]“Pakistan – United States relations -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009. http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/US-Pakistan_relations.

[7] “Obama redefines war on terror | csmonitor.com.” Home | csmonitor.com. 28 Apr. 2009 http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/01/29/obama-redefines-war-on-terror/.

[8] “U.S., Pakistan at Odds Over Strike in Tribal Area.” Washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.

washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061100719_pf.html.

[9] “Opinion Briefing: U.S.-Pakistan Policy.” Gallup.Com – Daily News, Polls, Public Opinion on Government, Politics, Economics, Management. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.gallup.com/

poll/113584/Opinion-Briefing-USPakistan-Policy.aspx.

[10] “Opinion Briefing: U.S.-Pakistan Policy.” Gallup.Com – Daily News, Polls, Public Opinion on Government, Politics, Economics, Management. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.gallup.com/

poll/113584/Opinion-Briefing-USPakistan-Policy.aspx.

[11] “U.S., Pakistan at Odds Over Strike in Tribal Area.” Washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.

washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061100719_pf.html.

[12] “Pakistan – United States relations -.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 28 Apr. 2009. http://en. wikipedia.org/wiki/US-Pakistan_relations.

[13] Moller, Kristen N. “Ideologies at War: A Statistical and Philosophical Examination of Jihad in the 21st Century.” Thesis. Olivet Nazarene University, 2009.

[14] “U.S., Pakistan at Odds Over Strike in Tribal Area.” Washingtonpost.com – nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines. 28 Apr. 2009 http://www.

washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061100719_pf.html.

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