Saturday, August 8, 2009

Olivier Roy on the U.S. and Pakistan

Interesting interview in Le Monde of Olivier Roy, one of the finest experts on Islam and Islamism, on the death of Baitullha Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Talibans. Here is my quick and dirty translation of the two key paragraphs :
Q : Can this be considered a victory for the American and Pakistani forces ?

A : Yes, since Baitullah Mehsud symbolized the rise of the Talibans and the unification of different radical forces in the region. It shows in particular the efficiency of the American tactic consisting in using drones that are costless in terms of human lives. For the Americans and the Pakistani Army, it is positive. But it is very unlikely that this will reverse the situation, because it is not just about an individual. There is in this zone a conjunction between the tribal, clan, and ethnic solidarities and the Taliban ideology, and this is why the movement is strong. It also shows that there is cooperation in the field of intelligence : Americans could probably not have localized Mehsud without Pakistani help.

Q : This illustrates, then, that the cooperation between Pakistan and the US is working well ?

A : What it illustrates is the fact that, when Pakistanis want to cooperate, things work out. But I do not think that this signals a fundamental change in the very ambiguous policy of the Pakistani army. Pakistanis play a very complex and ambiguous game, and we have no indication that they are in a phase of full and complete cooperation with the Americans in the struggle against the Talibans. In the present case, Baitullah Mehsud was becoming dangerous for the Pakistanis.

The Pakistani use the Talibans to undermine the authority of the Karzaï regime, but the Pakistani army has no desire to see the Pakistani Talibans look in the direction of Islamabad, as the Talibans from the Swat Valley did a few months ago. The Pakistani army does not want to break the momentum of the Talibans, but it wants them to be not strong enough to threaten the central government. It is in the framework of this subtle and very risky game that the Pakistanis have helped the Americans. No matter how strong they are, the Americans will not get anywhere without the help of the Pakistanis.
One minor conclusion : the French, unlike Australians and East Tennesseans, think drone strikes are cool.

One more important conclusion : To find out whether we have a reasonable chance of success in Afghanistan, the first question to ask is : can we succeed in Afghanistan if we fail in Pakistan ? And if the answer is no, then it all boils down to the following : what leverage exactly do we have on the Pakistani army? Pakistan would not be the first country whose elite (political or military) finds a low-level insurgency to be more beneficial for its vested interests than peace. The U.S. will need to convince the Pakistani army that they share the same interests ; if these interests include preventing the Talibans from laying hands on Islamabad and taking control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, that’s something. But reducing the Taliban presence in Pakistan to the point that they do not threaten Afghanistan (or Pakistan) anymore ? This will be a harder sell.


  1. "It shows in particular the efficiency of the American tactic consisting in using drones that are costless in terms of human lives."

    Costless? O rly?

  2. I know. This obviously looks only at one side of the equation...

  3. Alma, j'avais eu exactement la meme idee mais comme je suis sortie diner hier, je n'allais y travailler que ce matin...

  4. Les grands esprits se rencontrent!

  5. "Les grands esprits se rencontrent!"

    Should the motto of your blog...

    Cette phrase pourrait etre votre devise...


    (Le soldat qui n'est plus en Irak)

  6. Merci soldat !

    Le compliment est apprécié.

  7. "The U.S. will need to convince the Pakistani army that they share the same interests"

    Well, Alma, shall I also try to convince my neighborhood rabbi and imam to share a ham sandwich?

    Interests aren't really things which one can be convinced one needs to have, unless another puts a gun to one's head and makes an offer one can't refuse.

    This, in a sense, is how assisting the US became a Pakistani "interest" in 2001: The junta in Islamabad was told that unless they helped, we would invade them, too.

    In the heat of 9/11 and without US ground forces spread across the ME, this might have been a viable threat (along with carpet bombing of much of South Asia). But today, it rings hollow.

    The best the Obama administration seems to muster is the (frankly stupid) threat that we shall withhold hundreds of millions of dollars unless the corrupt, rickety, feudal government reforms the police force into something akin to Scotland Yard.

    Pakistan's best interests are served by Pakistan doing what Pakistan is doing: Having it both ways with the Taliban, trying to cleave the Afghan forces from the Pakistani ones, and retaining terrorism as a vital strategic option against India and other regional rivals.

    If we empathize with Islamabad, don't we see this? So, why should we hope that they do something that's not in their best interests?


  8. Alma, I found this thru Afghanquest (Old Blue) a few days ago:

    "Here’s a simple question for those covering the war so reflexively: if air strikes harm the chances for coalition success, why do the Taliban (not otherwise hesitant to harm civilians to further their ends) seem intent on ending those strikes rather than promoting more of them?"

    I wanted to ask all of you about the above point. What do you think?

    Also, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I don't think the Pakistanis and the United States do share the same interests. Hence, the term 'good Taliban' and 'bad Taliban' used, sarcastically, by some in the India press.

    How could we have the same interests? The United States seeks a stable Afghanistan, which takes strategic depth away from Pakistan, closer relations (certainly economically) with India, and for Pakistan to crack down in areas that may be destabilizing to the regime. There is always the Kashmir issue, too, which is complicted beyond belief. I don't know how you square this circle?

    SNLII - in regard to the following point you made in a post below:

    "There actually is a nation that should intercede, that should present itself as an honest arbiter in the Bismarkian sense: The US. But the US can't create miracles or guarantee obligations if neither regime can survive the very negotiations, much less the concessions that inevitably come from them."

    Behind the scenes, yes, but hasn't India always stated that Kashmir is a bilateral affair? To change that would be 'taking sides', wouldn't it? Although relations between India and the US are much better than in the past, it is my understanding (from the Indian press and from conversations with relatives), that there are still some resentments about a perceived tilt toward Pakistan because of our previous Cold War policies. The whole 'key ally against terror' thing grates, too, apparently. Again, ramblings of an interested layperson....

  9. SNLI: "Interests arent really things one can be convinced one needs to have".

    Excuse me, but thats pure drivel. It is again the fallacy of the monolithic opposition view, wich sees the Pakistanis as one homogenous group. "Interests" are a matter of policy, of wanted endstates, of what strategies may best be used to reach these endstates, etc. Wich means that it may be possible to sit down and argue that Pakistans interests lie in cooperating with the rest of the world. If the Kashmir question is the key-stone to Pakistans interests, then bring that to the table. Its a popular rightwing perception that various muslim countres are not capable of change. Such change is possible, not overnight but through communication and a frank look at what interests are possible of realizing.

    BTW, I would love to see some sourcing for the claim that GWB threatened Musharaff with invasion.

  10. The Kashmir question, if we're being honest, is
    NOT the heart of the problem, Fnord.

    The core of the crisis in the region is the fracture of partition and the after-shocks that cleaved Bangladesh apart from Pakistan.

    Since then, Pakistan and India have been locked in a death struggle. Neither could defeat the other militarily (they tried), and now they face the added problem of possessing deployed nuclear weapons.

    Kashmir is important to India and it's been flypaper for Pakistani subversion. But Kashmir isn't really the issue any more than Afghanistan is. The only difference is that peace in Kashmir would be something India would negotiate over.

    In reality, neither Islamabad nor India really cares about Afghanitan, except for the fact that it hosts a proxy war and, for Pakistan, has worked in the past as a safety valve to pour out Pashtun passions.

    I also don't really understand this "monolithic" business. No nation so large and complex as Pakistan could be seen as "monolithic," but when one is looking at the effects of Islamabad's statecraft, one notes that there is a longtime strategic use of terror, regardless of whether the Punjabi elite running the joint was from the military or the civilian world.

    Indeed, I would suggest that there is broad support for this policy across Pakistan, to the point that I don't believe the current government could negotiate with India over these issues and not fall.

    India faces a similar problem with her nationalistic Hindu parties.

    If you so adamantly believe that Pakistan's interests somehow involve "cooperating with the rest of the world," I would suggest that you consider the following: 1) Pakistan unilaterally tested a nuclear weapon, invoking penalties worldwide for it for violating international law; 2) Pakistan's Khan network then smuggled machinery and know-how to proliferate the technology globally; 3) Pakistan continues to use terror as a strategic chit against India and other neighboring rivals; and, 4) Pakistan supported the Taliban government in Kabul despite a lack of support for the regime from the rest of the world (including the UN).

    "Change" comes when interests change. Thus far, it has been in Pakistan's interest to remain the same, a policy that was harmed only by the US occupation in Afghanistan, and a policy that will revert when we leave unless India and Pakistan agree to negotiate.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that most Pakistanis are Muslim any more than it does that most Indians are Hindu. India's support for the Northern Alliance wasn't made because that bunch of warlords were freedom-loving patriots, but rather because they forced ISI and the Taliban to fight a proxy war in Afghanistan.

    When I jokingly suggest that peace goes through Kashmir, I'm not saying that literally. A negotiated settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir likely would require tradeoffs from India over Afghanistan, et al.

    It therefore isn't a condition for peace, but rather a sign of it -- if they cut a deal over the disputed region. Frankly, I don't think anything can get done until the US leaves Afghanistan, which would then allow them to trade: India would quit helping their Afghan warlords and Pakistan would quit messing around in Kashmir after cracking down on Islamabad's tolerated terrorists.

    As for the fact that the US threatened to "bomb Pakistan back to the stone age" unless Musharaff helped us with al Qaeda, you'll just have to settle for, well, Musharaff's many interviews on the subject.