Pakistan, Kilcullen, Evans – a reply to David Miliband

British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband has responded to Alex’s post questioning the wisdom of drone attacks in Pakistan. Citing David Kilcullen, Alex’s argument was that drones killed too many civilians, contradicting basic counterinsurgency doctrine, which is, above all, to secure and serve the population.

Miliband (cautiously) agrees:

The threat to US and Pakistani (and UK) interests is real, the danger and damage of civilian casualties serious, and the range of options limited.

US technology is vitally important, but Pakistan is fighting its own struggle against violent extremism. The drone attacks have undoubtedly hurt the core of AQ, but I see the dangers. The first best solution is obviously to build up Pakistan’s capacity, but first best solutions are not always immediately available.

Miliband’s is right, I think, but there are, unfortunately, much deeper and darker questions to address. As I argued in August last year, Pakistan’s “struggle against violent extremism” has been mounted very much at the America’s behest – and its urgings have been wrong-headed at best, disastrous at worst.

Last summer, the Pakistani Prime Minister was given “an earful” by the White House and told to sort the border regions out. All well and good, except that the United States was pushing the Pakistan military towards a conventional encounter with the militants, something that it’s own manual on counter-insurgency advises strongly against.

The pattern was similaar in 2004, when General Musharraf was persuaded to attack the tribal areas. That led to fury among tribesman, forcing them into the arms of the Taliban. It also led to humiliation for the army, with one poor Colonel taking shelter in a mosque and then emerging to beg for mercy with the Koran on his head. Tribesmen stripped him of his uniform and sent him on his way.

Now, in 2009, we have a massive attack on the Swat valley, which has killed some militants – sure – but has led to the forceful displacement of 2.5 million people, “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” according to the Independent. In the long run, will this campaign contribute to Pakistan’s security? Time will tell, but I suspect not.

I am not, in way, pleading for tolerance for extremism. But I am demanding that we – the Americans in particular – start to stand account for the counterproductive nature of their Pakistan policy since 9/11.

Throughout its time in office, the Bush administration seemed intent on showing it could push a functioning state to the brink of failure. Pakistan’s complicity in arming and supporting the Taliban was ignored by the Bush administration. Instead, it pursued its short term goals in the war on terror with little care for the long term impact on a nuclear armed state with a young, fast-growing, and deeply frustrated population.

In his time in office, Bush hosed billions on the Pakistan army, but dedicated only around 1% of total aid to non-military purposes. America’s political strategy has been non-existent. Its influencing strategy even weaker. It really beggars belief that so much money could be spent only to achieve the reverse of the desired result.

Now, the Obama administration wants to engage in nation building, but it continues to focus efforts on the country’s most unstable zones, rather than supporting a comprehensive, nationwide response from the government. It is also arriving with its cheque book open, only to find that neither it nor the Pakistan government has much idea as to how or where the money should be spent.

Above all, it’s unclear whether – unlike in Iraq at the beginning of the surge, where there was a doctrinal revolution – the protagonists have truly accepted just how badly they have got things wrong. The US counterinsurgency manual describes insurgencies as ‘learning competitions’. If so, I fear that the best that we – the West – and the various arms of the Pakistan state can hope is some kind of consolation prize for taking part. (more…)