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Pakistan’s Extremist Havens: What Options Does U.S. Have?

December 17, 2010 at 6:29 PM EST
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Though a longtime U.S. ally, Pakistan has been accused of harboring extremists within its borders, complicating U.S.-led efforts in neighboring Afghanistan. Margaret Warner discusses the complex alliance with Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center and Christine Fair of Georgetown University.
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MARGARET WARNER: So, why won’t U.S. ally Pakistan root out insurgents within its borders?

For that, we turn to Shuja Nawaz, directs — he directs the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center and authored its recent report, “Pakistan in the Danger Zone.” He just returned from a trip there and meetings with senior military officials. And Christine Fair, an assistant professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, she was last in Pakistan over the summer.

And welcome back to you both. Beginning with you, Shuja Nawaz, so what is the hangup here?

I mean, despite entreaties from Washington, why is Pakistan still harboring, essentially, anti-Afghan militants within its territory?

SHUJA NAWAZ, director of South Asia Center, The Atlantic Council: I think it’s forces have been overstretched. This is their view.

And even after the success in South Waziristan earlier this year and in Swat before that, there are remnants, sanctuaries, they believe, on the Afghan side of the border in Kunar, as well as in other parts of the tribal areas, which they have to clear in order to be able to move additional troops into North Waziristan, where they now have about 35,000 to 37,000 troops.

MARGARET WARNER: So, you agree with what at least some in the U.S. government are saying publicly, that they do think Pakistan will ultimately do this?

SHUJA NAWAZ: I believe they will. I think it’s a question of timing. The winter has now set in, and they need to clear these other sanctuaries before they can concentrate enough troops, largely because there’s now a confluence between the Afghan and the local Taliban.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree; overstretched, but they’re going to get to it?

CHRISTINE FAIR, Georgetown University: They are overstretched.

I disagree, perhaps, with Shuja, in the sense that I think the militant market is much more complicated. There are certainly militant groups that the Pakistanis are going at with everything that they can, despite their — their being overstretched.

But there’s also a number of groups that I don’t believe they will go after. And that would be, of course, the Haqqani Network, with very tight ties to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, Hekmatyar, and then the core leadership of the so-called Afghan Taliban, the so-called Quetta Shura.

MARGARET WARNER: And these are all essentially Afghan militants who have found haven in Pakistan, rather than being Pakistani Taliban.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Absolutely. And they are critical assets for Pakistan, ultimately because it is afraid of one thing in Afghanistan. It’s not us. It’s India.

MARGARET WARNER: So, explain this — and this is what everyone says — that somehow Pakistan is hedging their bets against the future. What is the scenario they envision? Why would having a bunch of guerrilla fighters in their borderlands put them in better shape in the future?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Their biggest fear is that the U.S. will repeat its earlier mistake and leave the area in a rush. And if it does, there will be chaotic conditions in Afghanistan. And that will allow India to come in and take control through the Northern Alliance, which is their biggest fear.

MARGARET WARNER: One of the major military opposition groups to the Taliban that is now part of the government.

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: OK.

SHUJA NAWAZ: However, I think I disagree with Chris’ analysis. I think that they will be ready to go against some of the Afghan groups, particularly Haqqani, because the Afghan groups are now intermingled with the local Taliban.

And, even as we speak, Pakistani soldiers have been attacked and killed by these groups. And so I believe that, over time — and it’s simply a question of waiting for the new year — there likely is going to be an operation in North Waziristan.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you say to that?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Look, there are components of groups that have been targeting the Pakistan military for quite some time, such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, against whom the Pakistanis haven’t acted. And they haven’t acted against that group because of its utility in fighting India.

So, my experience has been that Pakistan is very good at taking a group, protecting its core when it is useful, but when the fellows step out of line, mow them down. And I expect to see more of that, sort of trying to keep the guise…

MARGARET WARNER: Trying to have it both ways.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Trying to have it both ways, keep their core in reserve, because they might one day be useful in killing Indians, but whack them when they get out of line.

MARGARET WARNER: So you agree with Shuja Nawaz’s scenario that he thinks they are envisioning,somehow, an Afghan government under the influence of India? So, in that sense, in that case, they would want guerrillas there that would go destabilize that government; is that the plan?

CHRISTINE FAIR: See, I think the Pakistanis have fears, no matter what, because of geography.

If we stay — and I actually don’t believe that there is this consensus that Pakistan wants us to be there until complete stability is reached. I think Pakistan has fears under both scenarios.

India is a free rider under our security umbrella. So, the longer we are there, under our security umbrella, India can do whatever it wants to do.

MARGARET WARNER: And it’s investing there, building roads, doing a lot.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Hugely. Hugely.

MARGARET WARNER: Let’s go on to what the U.S. can do about this, because the U.S. has tried aid. It’s tried engagement across al kinds of civilian and military — in all kinds of civilian and military ways. It has tried publicly trying to embarrass the Pakistanis. What more can the U.S. do about these havens?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Specifically in North Waziristan, which is the one most critical, because that is where the Haqqani group is, and they are the ones that have been most dangerous in attacking Kabul and are closest to Kabul, if the United States were to overwhelm the Pakistanis by giving them what they need and they haven’t received in the numbers that they need…

MARGARET WARNER: Meaning?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Helicopters.

MARGARET WARNER: Ah.

SHUJA NAWAZ: If they — that is a force multiplier. Then, Pakistan doesn’t have the excuse of waiting to release additional divisions of brigades from elsewhere, because helicopters in that terrain would give them the edge that they need.

MARGARET WARNER: And, meanwhile, what the U.S. is doing is CIA-run drone attacks. Is that sufficient? I mean, is that — from what Gates was saying yesterday, it’s not sufficient so far.

SHUJA NAWAZ: No, it isn’t. You need boots on the ground. And they can be only Pakistani boots, because if the U.S. were to cross the border into Pakistan, the kind of chaotic conditions that would emerge would destabilize the country and the civilian government.

MARGARET WARNER: Do agree with that, that sending in — because there is always talk about this, that either the U.S. has or may send special forces, covert ground forces, essentially, in.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Well, that has happened. And when it’s become public, it has been outrageous. It has been so inflammatory to the Pakistani public, who just — they have a hard time tolerating the drones because of the misinformation about them.

But there is one thing the drones can’t do. And we always talk about sanctuary as being in that area abutting the border. We don’t talk about Karachi, Faisala — Faisalabad, the major cities, where very high-value targets have actually been apprehended. Our drones and our special operators can’t go anywhere near those places.

MARGARET WARNER: Right. We’re not going to be bombing Quetta…

CHRISTINE FAIR: We’re not.

MARGARET WARNER: … which is the old home of the Taliban Mullah Omar, or Karachi.

Do you agree, I mean, that that’s…

SHUJA NAWAZ: That’s absolutely right.

MARGARET WARNER: Yes.

SHUJA NAWAZ: And the territory in Balochistan, where Quetta is the capital, is far too vast for the Pakistanis to launch any major military operation.

MARGARET WARNER: So, bottom line — I will begin with you, Christine Fair — do you think the U.S. can achieve success in Afghanistan as long as these havens exist? Is there a way to do that?

CHRISTINE FAIR: Unfortunately, by focusing all of our attention on the safe havens, we have taken our ball off of Karzai and we have taken the ball off of our successes in decisions and our bad decisions that we have made over the last nine years in Afghanistan.

This is, in some sense, scapegoating.

MARGARET WARNER: But, I mean, do you think this is fatal, that this is an Achilles’ heel, without which solving, we will either stay mired there or leave in a way we don’t want to have to?

CHRISTINE FAIR: The bigger issue is dealing with Pakistan’s intentions.

I believe, perhaps contrary to Shuja, that Haqqani is an asset. It is in their national interest. No state does anything that abrogates its core sovereign national interest.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think the U.S. can — quote — “succeed in Afghanistan” as long as these exist?

SHUJA NAWAZ: Yes, I think it can. But it will mean having to move forces away from the south and against the North Waziristan border to try and effectively seal it from that side of the border, which the U.S. has not done. They only have special forces there, no large regular forces.

MARGARET WARNER: But you have heard Secretary Gates say — I mean, he used to run a covert op out of Pakistan into Afghanistan against the Soviets. There is no way to seal that border.

SHUJA NAWAZ: But you can create a bigger problem for them. And they only have 46 kilometers of territory to cover.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, we have to leave it there.

Shuja Nawaz and Christine Fair, thank you both.

CHRISTINE FAIR: Thank you.