Pakistan: A Debate at the Council on Foreign Relations


The Afghan-Pakistan border regions.

The Council on Foreign Relations has invited me to participate in a debate on Pakistan. The topic is: Is Pakistan Doing All It Should to Secure Its Afghan Border? I am debating Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Kathy Gannon, author of I is for Infidel and a longtime AP correspondent currently living in Pakistan. I opened the debate, and Ms. Gannon responded. There will be two more responses for each of us, and the debate will end this week.

Click this link to read the debate, and come back here to comment.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • bman says:

    Pakistan = Cambodia

  • Mark Buehner says:

    Both sides make good points, but both sides also have some things I disagree with.
    While it is true that Pakistan is certainly not doing everything in their power to seal their border, that might not be the end of the world. Jihadis throwing themselves against NATO forces in Afghanistan is a losing proposition- so long as we dont get stupid and to date we havent gotten stupid. Contrast that to the risk of Musharraf sending his army to suffer another bloody nose, or even a Pyrhhic victory that weakens his regime enough to be toppled by Islamicists. Taliban resurgence into Afghanistan is a nuissance that could fester into a black eye. Jihadis gaining control of Pakistans nuclear arsenal would be an instant crisis of unimageinable proportions.
    On the other hand, to equate the Musharraf government with the Islamicists is also a mistake. The history of Pakistan is even muddier than that- the British influenced Punjabis have traditionally run the army, farmed the land, and hence called the shots. They are the educated elite to the rabble rousers on the streets and in the hills. The Pashtuns that the Taliban are drawn from are the mountain bandits and extremists. Musharraf (himself actually ethnically Muhajir) and his cadre control the levers of power, and though they have certainly used the jihadis in the past for their own ends, there is little evidence of the tail wagging the dog after Colin Powells little visit post 911. To the contrary, the jihadis have tried numberous time to assassinate the man.
    To sum up, Musharraf has done a great deal for us and cuold have done a great deal less. It is unwise to try pushing him too far, and potentially dangerous. A quasi ally is far better than a blood enemy. Look at all the trouble Iran is, the last thing we need is to risk losing Pakistan as we lost Iran.

  • Rubin says:

    Possibility: Perhaps we {NATO] can begin, sustained military Ops and bombing campaigns against the Taliban/al-Qaeda sanctuaries now that Pakistan has ceded its Western Territories to them in the Waziristan Accord and soon to be the Northwest Frontier Province Accord.

  • Rubin says:

    Possibility: Perhaps we {NATO] can begin, sustained military Ops and bombing campaigns against the Taliban/al-Qaeda sanctuaries now that Pakistan has ceded sovereignty of the Western Territories [sic] Waziristan Accord and soon to be Northwest Frontier Province Accord.

  • Cruiser says:

    Not to suck up Bill, but I think you got the better of the first round.
    For one thing, you answered the question posed (Is Pakistan Doing All It Should to Secure Its Afghan Border?). She did not. In fact, she seems to be fixated on what we are doing wrong (a symptom of BDS) rather then what Pakistan is doing.
    Her point boils down to: we should not support military leaders and thugs – they only make the problem worse. But, she fails to show how supporting others would further our interests at this time and she fails to identify who those others might be. For instance, in Pakistan if we push for immediate elections, would the resulting government oppose us? Would it do more to control the tribal areas? Would it fight Taliban elements? Even if it wanted to, would it have the strength? Or would it be more likely to seek more accommodation (like the Waziristan accords).
    She fails to address any of these issues. Again, she fails to analyze what would be good for the United States. I actually think it is somewhat laughable that she could argue that the Talibanization of the tribal areas is tied to the fact that the Pakistani government is a military government. I do not think the one fact caused the other. I think that the Talibanization is a symptom of weakness by the Pakistani government that would only be made much worse if we pushed for elections now. The Talib movement is not a reaction to the fact that Pakistan has a military government.
    Recent history shows that when Pakistan fails to aggressively assert its sovereignty over its territory that Pakistan and (primarily) its neighbor suffer the consequences. What we need to see from Pakistan is the reassertion of the central government’s authority over the territories by force. Either that – or Pakistan’s neighbors will have fill the void.

  • Wally Lind says:

    You know they say they are doing all they can, and they do see security requirements with regard to India. Facing the Indians for decades, and fearing them, doesn’t just go away with the first positive contact. Do they really have the horses to take care of their India fears AND drive al Qaida out of Pakistan?
    I’ve heard, in some context, that Pakistan has never really had control of these hill and mountain tribes. I don’t know, you guys are the experts, I’m just asking.

  • Roger says:

    quick comments:
    Neither post acknowledges the nature of Pakistan and the relationships between its constituent parts: 60% of Pakistan is Punjabi (think Lahore), and they’re not keen on starting a civil war in Pakistan, although it may find them anyway if the Pakistani army makes enough punative expeditions into Pashtun territory. Also, people act like the US-Pakistani relationship has been one of alliance, when in fact that hasn’t existed since the expulsion of the Soviets. Ex-ISI head Hamid Gul has said that the US treats Pakistan as a slave country.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Roger, the limit was 400 words, and both of us exceeded that on the first round. There is only so much you can say in such short space.
    Cruiser, thanks, and I agree. She focused on internal Afghan issues (some which are inaccurate, btw) and doesn’t address the issue of what is Pakistan doing, and what is going on at the border? I said as much in my response to be published later this week.
    Rubin, This comes up every time I wirte on Pakistan. I’ll reiterate what I said in a prior post:
    People have been saying that since the Waziristan Accord was signed on September 4. It’s 6 months later, and Musharraf is going to give up Bajaur officially unless the US derails it (again).
    This type of ruse might work outside your borders, but is poison inside. Kinda like ceding the southern border crossing points in the USA to drug and people smugglers, only to round them up at a much later date once they establish their control over the region. Is that any way to govern your own territory? If you actually had the capacity to control your territory, why would you resort to this?
    The facts do not support the conclusion that this is some sort of ruse. I suggest you read ‘The Fall of Waziristan’ (linked in the TOPIC BRIEFINGS section in my left had sidebar) in full. If you follow the links to the individual posts, you will see plenty of evidence showing how badly the Musharraf government has been beaten in their own back yard.

  • The U.S. – Mexican border is 3,141 km (per Wikipedia), which provides some context to Kathy Gannon’s statement that the Afghan-Pakistan border is 2,430 km. The U.S. border is longer but not nearly as rugged and with all our resources we are unable to stop illegal passages.
    If we cannot stop movement into Afghanistan from western Pakistan then the other option is to strike at the source of the problem. The reason that this has not been done to date is the incredible problems such an action would cause, even if we could convince the other NATO nations involved that this is the proper course (which we probably could not).
    NATO air strikes/cruise missle attacks would only degrade and not stop enemy capabilities in the area. The reaction to such strikes would be a violent international uproar in the Muslim world, not to mention the U.S. Congress.
    As for Kathy’s statement that we are allied with the thugs in the region: there is currently a shortage in the area of politcally correct nice guys with the capabilities to influence events.
    The U.S. govenment is faced with a limited number of unsatisfactory options for this problem. Rice and Cheney are voicing our displeasure with the actions of the Pakistani government.
    Musharraf surely realizes that our only influence over him comes from the money that we give and if we were to stop that, then where would we be?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Michael is correct. My opinion is Pakistan must solve this problem, with all the help we can give them. But they must commit first.
    FYI, my next response should be posted sometime this morning.

  • Cruiser says:

    Michael, I don’t think that anyone is arguing that Pakistan should be able to seal its border.
    However, it needs to do all it reasonably can to make crossing the border (without authorization) difficult and dangerous.
    We could (nearly) seal our border with Mexico. We chose not to.
    I agree that airstrikes are only of limited use. The enemy’s numbers are growing faster than we can kill them using airstrikes. However, airstrikes do provide some benefit. They often eliminate enemy leaders, disrupt operations and make our enemies expend a great deal of effort to keep themselves hidden. As of late, we have not done enough airstrikes or covert ops to keep their heads down.
    As to the backlash for airstrikes among the locals, I think that is overblown. Many of them hate us already and are helping to hide the militants. They will not grow to love us or seek to help us if we leave them alone. At least if we conducted more airstrikes they could learn to fear and respect us – which, I’m afraid, is the most we are going to get from them.

  • RT says:

    All this “Sealing of the border is too hard” etc. is beside the point. Here are some things that Pakistan can do.
    1. Shut down the training camps outside Quetta and in non-tribal areas like Mansehra.
    2. Intercept the training supply chain, that originates in populated areas such as rural Punjab, Karachi’s Deobandi madrassas
    3. Arrest or kill leaders such as Jalauddin Haqqani, Baitulla Mehsud, Faqir Mohammad, Mulla Dadullah Akhund, Mulla Brader etc. The Taliban do not have an unlimited supply of leaders whilst they have a steady stream of foot soliders.
    The point is that if Musharraf chooses to, he can quietly shut down the Taliban operations without resorting to public actions that might enrage his restive populace. This is more a question of will than it is about ability.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Well said, RT. Although I will argue the Taliban military cadres need to be culled as well. Getting to the Mehsuds, Dadullah, etc. means cutting through Taliban fighters, no way around that. The Taliban has military control of regions in the FATA.
    My latest response is now up at the CFR.

  • Mark Buehner says:

    Again, i dont disagree with you guys entirely but arent you assuming your conclusions when you say one thing Musharraf can do is ‘shut down the Taliban camps’? Remember Pakistan’s military may have some halfway decent equipment, but its still at best a 2nd world outfit. They got their noses bloodied the last time they ventured into the tribal areas in force.
    So ok, we maybe can pressure Musharraf to try again, but isnt it plausible that doing so could consideraby weaken Musharraf’s control of the military? And wouldnt that risk far outweigh the risks the Taliban pose? If Musharraf is telling us, ‘look, if i send my best people back into the tribal lands and they get used up, you’re going to be dealing with a new leader this time next year’ how do we respond to that?
    Again, there are indeed no good answers here. We may be better off keeping the pressure at a low boil and letting Musharraf work around the edges, try to contain the region and keep the Taliban from growing too strong by denying outside resources. Honestly, from Musharaff pov the Taliban are just a bunch of punk deadenders that want to take a potshot at NATO troops and get themselves killed, he must think we are insane for asking him to risk his neck to root them out. The upside is limited and the downside is unmistakeable.

  • RT says:

    You are rehasihg the same old nostrums. Consider this.
    If Musharraf’s control over the army is so tenuous as you claim, then how come the State Dept sent experts to Congress to testify last year that the US can send advanced weaponry such as TOW-2A missiles to Pakistan without any danger of them falling into enemy hands? You cannot have it both ways – claim that Musahrraf is hanging on by a thread and also that the US can safely send billions worth advanced weapons to his army at the same time.
    Secondly, Musharraf clearly does not see the Taliban as deadenders. He says that they are a freedom movement within Afghanistan. Besides, deadenders don’t usually take towns from British and NATO troops.
    Thirdly, Musharraf does not claim anything to what you surmise. All reports indicate that he has flatly denied any Taliban presence to begin with. When confronted, he says that there may be some in Pakistan. This is a man who acts only when he is forced to. Status quo will cause him to cut further “peace deals” as Bill reports.
    Finally, the downside of NOT pressuring Musharraf here is another 9/11. The 7/7 London attacks have been traced to the FATA camps as were the failed airline hijacking in the UK last year. How many American civilian lives are you willing to bet on your theory?
    I suggest you READ the reports before making conclusions.

  • Rosemary says:

    I agree with you. Is it possible that if Pakistan cedes this land, it is no longer Pakistani? In that case, why can we not take advantage of this situation to tell Musharaf that we are going in to finish what we came to do? I think we should. Using drones first, then bomber planes, then go in and clean up the rest…if there’s anything left. I mean, if we are serious about this war…

  • Mark Buehner says:

    RT i suggest you show a little respect for people making serious arguments. I have read the reports, many times.
    First, you are conflicting Musharrafs public stance with reality- that is a rookie mistake. Most heads of state arent going to admit their hold on power is tenuous, that should be obvious. Musharraf has domestic concerns he needs to worry about. What is going on behind closed doors has nothing to do with that. The mans actions speak louder than his words.
    Second, the US has a really bad track record of supposing how secure regimes (friendly and unfriendly) actually are. I could go into detail but i dont think that is necessary, its fairly straight-forward. Moreover we dont really have a choice- denying Musharraf weapons certainly wont help his security.
    Finally, you still arent addressing the point- another 911 launched out of the tribal areas might be possible now but it would _certainly_ be possible if Musharraf was toppled and replaced by a less cooperative leadship, even if the jihadis dont cease power themselves. Losing Pakistan would crease a security disaster for the US and make the odds of international terrorist attacks on the US orders of magnitude more severe.
    Musharraf may not be the perfect ally, but compared to anyone else in the region is he really that bad? Is he worse the the Saudis? An imperfect friend is a lot better than a certain enemy, particularly when a nuclear arsenal is in the offing. We cant treat Pakistan like a playing card- if it gets trumped the entire geo-political paradigm shifts instantly and not in a good way.

  • RT says:

    No disrepect intended but I wish you read the reports again. Besides, you too are being presumptuous by calling me a rookie.
    If Pakistan is really that unstable, then the primary US policy towards it must be to secure the nukes and asnwer questions later. The reality is that the policymakers by their actions show that they do not think Pakistan is #that# unstable.
    The difference between you and me is that I tend to let the facts guide my analysis. My facts come from public sources. You on the other hand have made up your mind that the US can’t do anything about Pakistan and then pick and choose facts to support your view.
    There is very little evidence to support the theory that the US cannot push Musharraf to take further steps without risking his fall. In fact, the available evidence suggests that inaction based on the above assumption is a guranteed way to lose Afghanistan as well as invite terror attacks in our homeland.

  • Mark Buehner says:

    1.You are assuming that when i argue a bloody debacle in the Tribal Areas could bring down Musharraf, that means Pakistan is already teetering. That isnt the case. Getting your nation involved in campaigns that get your clock cleaned can potentially bring down just about any leader, particularly one that already has popularity problems at home. Moving the military back in would be a big deal in Pakistan, if they are chased out or bled that is a real big deal. Thats not a straw that broke the camels back, its an oak branch falling on its head.
    2.I havent said we cant do anything about Pakistan, i’ve been arguing against the things being suggested. Nobody asked what we could be doing with less risk.
    Here’s a question I promise you isnt lost on Musharraf- why hasnt NATO sent significant forces to interdict their side of the mountain passes on a permanent basis? After all, that is precisely what we are asking of Pakistan. The answer is that it would be bloody and dangerous (and effective if done right) and Western nations wont stand for casualties. Musharaff is busy watching the US and UK get chased out of Iraq after casualties sustained in 4 years that were about what Pakistan took in 4 weeks in the tribal lands. Think about the message _that_ sends. We’re very much telling him do as we say, not as we do. If bloody mountain fighting makes the West shy off, why should Musharraf take the same risk? He has domestic opinion to worry about as well.
    What I suggest is for the US to up the ante along the border by fortifying the mountain passes and patrolling the actual border zones much more actively. If we get good intel, we shoot across the border or even raid if its worth it. Let Musharraf concentrate on hemming in the Tribal Areas from without and we let them wither on the vine while we bribe locals and build up an intel network to go after the big fish. Its similar to what we’ve been doing but we should actively interdict the border with light troops. If our side of the cork is in we might be able to convince Musharraf to push from his end in a more coherant manner, instead of just telling him to go blundering in with little long term thought behind it.

  • RT says:

    Sigh. You are not listening or reading.
    We are NOT asking for a blunderbuss military venture from Musharraf. There is no evidence to indicate that ANY US leader has asked for that since the first one failed in 2005.
    We are asking for:
    1. Arresting of Taliban commanders who openly give out press interviews from Pakistani territory. see:
    2. Arresting to Taliban commanders who live in Quetta which is a stones throw away from a divisional Pakistan army headquarters. The same division has carried out ruthless operations against Baluch militants using US equipment.
    3. Closure of recruitment trails that originate in Pakistani cities far from the tribal areas. We are talking Karachi, Gujranwala and Sialkot here.
    4. Surgical strikes on camps.
    None of these require a 2004 style Pakistan Army operation. All they require is WILL. And the lack of action by Musharraf shows that it is more about his will than his capacity, as claimed by his apologists.
    Killer bees are best targeted in their hive, not when they are out and about.

  • AMac says:

    A related question to what Musharraf has the will to accomplish is what he has the desire to accomplish.

    I recall credible open-source information (but strictly FWIW as alas, no links right now) on Musharraf’s tenure on the Army’s general staff before his assumption of power. He was claimed to have been involved with instigating and actively prosecuting the Indo-Pak border war, and in having the military take steps to support jihadi camps in Pakistani Kashmir for cross-border terror attacks into Indian Kashmir. His history may suggest somebody with a “moderate” jihadi’s outlook on India, and on Afghanistan. I recall that one of the selling points of the Afghan Taliban was that it provided the Army with “strategic depth” in the never-ending struggle with India.

    If this characterizes Musharraf’s view, it may be that his co-operation after late 2001 was always coerced at some levels.

    The Army has tried and failed to re-assert sovereignty over the Western tribal areas. Have the repeated attempts on Musharraf’s life forced him to join “with us” and against the jihadis, however sporadically and ineptly? Or have they telegraphed to Musharraf that compromise–with people he largely agrees with on an ideological level–is the best way to stay alive and at the levers of power?

    On another topic, Kathy Gannon is well-informed, if rather short on good policy ideas (eh, so am I). Perhaps in the next round, she will address the debate’s subject, the Pakistani-Afghan border.

  • SRM says:

    This is all well and done, but are you not missing the real danger currently? The amnesty bill that the Afghan parliament is trying to push through is an absolute work of disaster. If this is not passed, Karzai risks losing the support of the northern warlords. If it is passed, he risks losing much of the population who loathes these guys. I am not so worried about Pakistan currently as the situation in Kabul in the coming weeks.

  • Thanos says:

    Bill was definitely more right than his opponent. While both pointed out factual things, Bill hit the essentials.
    The peace accords definitely did not work as intended, but I am hoping that they were act I of a three act play.
    Act II could be removal of a large part of the Pakistani extremists powerbase. The 2.4 million refugees in country still from Afghanistan are part of the Taliban’s power, and they have stayed well past their welcome. Forced repatriation of the Afghan Taliban would remove that base, and allow natural processes in the tribal area to take over.
    Everytime the Taliban executes “spys” and tribal elders they are creating blood feuds with large extended families in the area, those honor bound retributions eventually will be acted upon. Without the Afghan refugees which were all registered last year, Musharraf might have a chance at subduing the tribal regions.
    For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction: forcibly repatriating the refugees into Afghanistan this spring or next would create a humanitarian crisis as well as a huge surge in the conflict in Afghanistan. If this is a card Musharraf is readying, then ISAF forces better get prepared.

  • Roger says:

    Points well taken, Bill. Unfortunately, I do see us as having lost the Pakistani Army’s cooperation until NATO demonstrates that we’re going to win at any cost. Get an insurgency flowing the other way, starting to displace the Talibs, and they’ll come back. Hell, even get a Selous Scouts style pseudo-ops battlefield up and running in western Pakistan and their army will re-involve itself. Until then, I’ll bet that the cost of the bribes to get them moving again will be more than we’ll be willing to pay.

  • Anand says:

    Before President Musharraf became the top officer in Pakistan’s military, he ran all Pakistani operations in Afghanistan (was responsible for propping up and influencing the Taliban). He also served a tour of duty managing Pakistan’s entire “Kashmir” portfolio. Pres. Musharraf sees his role as working with everyone (America, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, North Korea, various Jihadi group and constituencies in Pakistan) to advance his interpretation of Pakistan’s national interest. Note that his interpretation of Pakistan’s national interest is not the same as Pakistan’s national interest (it includes insuring that Pakistan continues to be lead by “enlightened leadership”).
    One of President Musharraf’s favorite lines is “there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.” A pretty Machiavellian and Kissingeresque (and cynical) world view. Musharraf didn’t sign off (he was one of several decision influencers) on supplying nuclear technology to N. Korea, Libya and Iran because he “liked them.” He “liked” their cold hard cash as well as N. Korea’s short and intermediate range missile technology.
    To work with President Musharraf . . . we need to convince him that working with assorted Jihadis, and beyond that actively and consistently resisting them is in Pakistan’s “enlightened self interest.” We can’t buy Musharraf’s Pakistan, but we can try to keep renting them.
    We and the rest of the international community have failed to do this . . . which is the root of our many problems.

  • Rubin says:

    Henry John Temple 3rd Viscount Palmerston of Palmerston
    [born Oct. 20, 1784, Broadlands, Hampshire, Eng. – died Oct. 18, 1865, Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire]
    “Nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”

  • AMac says:

    Well, in her Feb. 28th entry, Kathy Gannon does touch on the Afghan/Pak border in a couple of paragraphs.
    Her main point seems to remain that Afghanistan is a place where various bad people hold reins of power, in the provinces and within the central government.
    Bill had alluded to the fact that some of Gannon’s identifications are incorrect–few readers will have the expertise to sort through the lists of suspects. Certainly I don’t.


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