Surge in Pakistan Violence: U.S. Central Command Warns Patrick Cronin to Stay Home

-

zardari karzai.jpg
Quite a number of serious and informed observers predict a spike in mass casualty violence hitting this week in Pakistan. President Obama is about to have both collective and separate meetings with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari — and many believe that Taliban insurgents will be attempting to send the message that both leaders are weak and that the place to discuss the future of the region is not in Washington, but in the region with Taliban leaders.
Others think that some of the violence will be orchestrated by forces loyal to President Zardari and/or related to the military in order to extract military assistance and aid concessions from Obama and his team.
patrick_cronin.jpgThe mounting tensions in Pakistan were brought home to me personally when I learned that the United States Central Command has rejected on security grounds the visit of Patrick Cronin to Pakistan today. Cronin is Director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University and Senior Adviser and former Director of Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and also served as Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
To be clear, although Cronin had received clearance for the Pakistan visit from those in command in Pakistan, his visit was yesterday rejected because “facts on the ground had changed” and CENTCOM refused to override. The fact is that it easier today to visit Baghdad than Pakistan.
Cronin’s visit to Pakistan was important not only for his own assessment of what is taking place in Pakistan — but his relations with key parts of the Pakistan military and intelligence establishment and his ability to speak with the lesser known parts of these security bureaucracies as a policy intellectual and to some degree an American national security bureaucrat. Cronin is respected by both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. and is known to be a useful source of counsel to the operations run by Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Mike Mullen, Richard Holbrooke, and David Petraeus.
From my vantage point these last couple of days in Qatar, one can readily sense the gap in tension and concern between serious policy players in the Middle East who are concerned about trends in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those in Washington, who despite the increased reportage on the region, seem to be buffered from the make-or-break realities immediately upon the US and its allies.
Cronin was traveling to Pakistan with support and backing of U.S. Central Command — and when I arrived with Patrick Cronin on Sunday night in Doha, he said to me that the U.S. military authorities who were organizing part of his trip refused to allow him to stay in a hotel and were insisting he stay on the military compound. In other words, the intelligence in hand at Central Command fears an uptick in suicide bombings over the next week directly targeting hotels and high population centers where foreigners populate.
Another former senior US government official at the conference I am attending in Doha told me that Obama and Petraeus may be pushing over the next week or two a hard core push by the Pakistan military in the Swat region. Zardari and the military are resisting — and believe that the deal signed and ratified with the Taliban now running Swat can’t be undone — but word is that the US is insisting that this deal with the Taliban not stand. The price for action if Zardari concedes will be massively increased aid and lots of “helicopter gun ships” which the Pakistan military thrives on.
Another issue that is vigorously percolating right now is the controversial use of drone attacks to attack the minor and mid-level operations leadership of al Qaeda and Taliban insurgent groups. Some like National Defense University military expert Patrick Cronin believe that the tactical US military success of knocking out Taliban and related insurgents and disrupting operations that they have planned is blinding General Petraeus and other senior Obama administration officials from the fact that these drone attacks are fueling the growth and popularity of the insurgency — and that the tactical is undermining the strategic.
In other words, some believe that we are potentially on the verge of seeing the Pakistan government collapse and run a serious risk of Taliban/al Qaeda takeover of the Pakistani government because of the corrosive results of drone attacks.
Cronin reported to me that these drone attacks should only be used in the most extreme cases — preferably when either al Zawahiri or bin Laden are in their sites — or those at the very highest echelon of American targets. The rank and file should not be, in his view, the primary casus belli for unrelenting drone attacks — which have killed too many other innocent victims. The Taliban, in response, have been able to successfully combine the public outrage over the drone attacks with an anti-American nationalism that is appealing to a broader array of Pakistani citizens.
Regional envoy Richard Holbrooke is working to get the pieces of a sensible Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy together — but he must get the U.S. military operations that are undermining key strategic interests under control. Holbrooke does not yet have an arrangement with Petraeus that subordinates the military operation entirely to the course that Holbrooke is crafting with Obama’s confidence and support.
One other scary issue that is lurking the more that Obama and others publicly state that they have high confidence in the locked down state and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is what Pakistan’s working doctrine is when Pakistan goes on “high alert.”
Such “high alert” status can be triggered in an escalation with India or if the Pakistan military fears that the Taliban have made too many inroads and must be shut down — and declares martial law.
In such a case, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine states that their nukes go mobile — and are moved “on trucks,” according to one knowledgeable source.
This person said to me, “what roads do you think would be safe in Pakistan?”
So, while President Obama is correct to say that the nuclear stockpile is secure for now, any one wanting to give Taliban insurgents a helping move could trigger another Mumbai-like terrorist attack, or create other sorts of high casualty incidents to goad the military alert level to move up.
And then what was secure no longer will be — as a matter of deeply embedded security doctrine.
One other interesting tidbit here in Qatar is that many Arabs who have moved in and around Pakistan believe that President Zardari is no longer “Mr 10%.”
They call him “Mr. 20%.”
— Steve Clemons

Comments

19 comments on “Surge in Pakistan Violence: U.S. Central Command Warns Patrick Cronin to Stay Home

  1. Kh. Aftab Shah, Orlando, USA says:

    BHAKKAR- a gateway to Pakistan for Taliban. The
    people of BHAKKAR district have elected a chief
    minister of Punjab and a prime minister of
    Pakistan in different elections. Although a goup
    of local leaders sponcer the occasion and
    personally benefited by this gesture but basically
    the people of Bhakkar elected these leaders in
    hope of a better Bhakkar. It’s requested to the
    President, prime minister of Pakistan and chief
    minister of Punjab to consider upgrading Bhakkar
    as a divisional head quarter by appointing a
    commissioner to provide better governance, extra
    facilities and security in the area. There are
    news that religious violence and drug smuggling is
    increased in the area recently.Dera/ Bhakkar road
    link is already a busy drug traffic route of the
    world. Bhakkar is a gate way to the Punjab and
    Sind provinces for NWFP and Afghanistan. Bhakkar
    has been head quarters of divisional level
    organization of Thal Development Authority since
    1952. TDA was abolish in 1971 on corruption
    charges against it’s high officials. Bhakkar is
    also a border district to Dera Ismail Khan and a
    capital city of Thal desert area-spread in six
    districts in Punjab. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab
    Shah,Florida, U.S.A. email.pip.law@hotmail.com

    Reply

  2. Mr.Murder says:

    Why would Cronin be worried? You can’t even tell he’s wearing a bulletproof vest under the jacket and tie. No, really….
    Obama wants the golden goose, nab bin laden at the two year mark and create a super majority.
    This is Churchill’s soft white underbelly.

    Reply

  3. erichwwk says:

    Chris Flyod’s perspective:
    Of course, Islamabad has been carrying out military operations against insurgents for many years, losing hundreds of soldiers in the campaigns. But this history is being erased and rewritten to accommodate the new narrative: The United States will be forced to intervene directly in Pakistan because the Pakistanis are too stupid to realize the danger posed by the militants, and too weak and cowardly to even try to stop them. The whole damned place was “beyond redemption,” so we have to step in.
    We have been here before, and not so long ago either. The signs are there — for anyone who wants to see them.
    http://www.counterpunch.com/floyd05072009.html

    Reply

  4. erichwwk says:

    Also came here to post a link to a Pepe Escobar article on Pakistan (different than POA’s) that quotes Steve Clemons:
    REBRANDING THE LONG WAR,
    Obama does his Bush impression
    By Pepe Escobar
    http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KE08Df03.html#
    “As Steve Clemons from The Washington Note blog has learned in a conference in Doha, Obama and Petraeus are forcing the Pakistani army to crush Swat. Once again the imperial “fire on your own people” logic. Predictably, Zardari and the Pakistani army are still against it. But if they accept – that would be a tangible result from the Washington photo-op on Wednesday – the prize will be a lot of money and loads of precious helicopter gun ships.
    Madmen on the loose
    The Obama administration not only has rebranded the Bush “global war on terror” (GWOT) as the subtly Orwellian “overseas contingency operations” (OCO). The key component of OCO – the AfPak front – is now being actively rebranded, and sold, not as an American war but a Pakistani war.

    Reply

  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Excellent article from Pepe Escobar about this topic….
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KE01Df01.html
    Excerpt…….
    The myth of Talibanistan
    By Pepe Escobar
    “Apocalypse Now. Run for cover. The turbans are coming. This is the state of Pakistan today, according to the current hysteria disseminated by the Barack Obama administration and United States corporate media – from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to The New York Times. Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said on the record that Pakistani Talibanistan is a threat to the security of Britain”
    Continues brilliantly…

    Reply

  6. pacos_gal says:

    The Swat Taliban commanders spokesman has said that the peace accord is practically dissolved at this time and that it will be completely dissolved if the military doesn’t stop attacks in Dir and Buner.
    He also said “If the prevailing situation persists, the government will lose control over the area and reaction to the government actions will also be witnessed in other cities of the country,” Khan threatened. “In that situation, even the TNSM will be unable to control the situation.” In the past, the TNSM has admitted the group has the ability to control the Taliban violence in Swat and the surrounding districts.
    In regards to major Pashtun party he has said
    “If the Awami National Party [the ruling, secular Pashtun party in the Northwest Frontier Province] supports us, we will not harm them,” Khan said. “But if they sided with the government, they too will become our target.”
    As of right now, the Taliban has increased attacks on security forces within Swat and are laying siege to the electrical grid station in Mingora. Explosions have been heard near the main police station in Mingora as well.
    With fairly heavy fighting going on in both Dir and Buner already, Swat is once again in play.
    I expect that this is what Central Command is worried about.

    Reply

  7. Curious observer says:

    Jonst, the great Eric Margolis would agree with you.
    http://ericmargolis.com/political_commentaries/taliban-terror.aspx
    The idea that Punjabis and Baluchis would cower under the boot of Pushtun tribesmen from the northwest in a unified Talibanized Pakistan is ludicrous — even if for the moment those groups are united in their hatred of the Americans for supporting consecutive puppet regimes.

    Reply

  8. jonst says:

    “In other words, some believe that we are potentially on the verge of seeing the Pakistan government collapse and run a serious risk of Taliban/al Qaeda takeover of the Pakistani government because of the corrosive results of drone attacks”
    That sounds like hysteria to me. I may eat those words in the future…..but those kinds of statements….and the stuff that has appeared in the MSM, suddenly, over the last month or so, strikes me as ginned up. For what reason…and by whom, I/we can only speculate about at present.

    Reply

  9. silver slipper says:

    “Regional envoy Richard Holbrooke is working to get the pieces of a sensible Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy together — but he must get the U.S. military operations that are undermining key strategic interests under control. Holbrooke does not yet have an arrangement with Petraeus that subordinates the military operation entirely to the course that Holbrooke is crafting with Obama’s confidence and support.”
    I’m confused by this statement. Are you saying that Petraeus is doing things without Obama’s confidence? I thought Obama has indicated that Pakistan is to be a focus to root out the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. The President is the Commander in Chief, and surely he is in agreement with the drone attacks.
    Also, it seems like the information you give about the SWAT region may be new information that shouldn’t be publicized at this time. Does it help the President for the Taliban to know that his administration is trying to undermine their contract? Just wondering.

    Reply

  10. Zathras says:

    The political damage done by American drone attacks is not as invisible within the American government or military as some people seem to think it is. The question, though, is: what choice are the Pakistanis giving us?
    It isn’t just the drone attacks, without which America would still be unpopular in Pakistan and al Qaeda operatives would be able to organize their operations both there and in Afghanistan more easily. It’s the nuclear problem as well: incredibly dangerous weapons the security of which is within Pakistan is in doubt, and which moreover a significant part of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment helped proliferate to North Korea and perhaps other states as well. Just today the veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid — no Islamist — dismissed in the Washington Post demands in the American Congress that aid to Pakistan be conditioned on Americans being allowed to interrogate Pakistani nuclear scientists as foolish insisting on “minutiae” that missed the “big picture.”
    And there’s the whole matter of India, toward which Pakistan’s policy has been utterly idiotic for decades, and especially during the last twenty years. Only we’re not supposed to say that, for fear of outraging Pakistani pride — as the bulk of Pakistan’s army prepares to fight an Indian invasion while domestic Islamists trained by that same army to kill Indians in Kashmir rampage through the country. Why, exactly, is American aid for everything from agricultural development to education so critical to Pakistan now? It’s because the money Pakistan spends itself goes to a military built to fight, or at least to look as if it could fight, India. That’s apart from the money Pakistan’s civilian politicians simply steal, something else we’re not supposed to talk about.
    I appreciate the danger of letting the strategic become the servant of the tactical, but I wonder if that is what we’re really talking about here. The Bush administration authorized drone attacks on terrorists operating on Pakistani soil out of desperation, after years of begging and bribing the Pakistani government to act against the threat itself. That government, unelected though it was, appears to have represented faithfully the attitude of the Pakistani public, which was that terrorists in Pakistan didn’t exist, could be reasoned with if they did exist, were America’s problem if they couldn’t be reasoned with, and could do whatever they wanted to as long as they took care to surround themselves with civilians while they were doing it.
    Drone attacks are not an ideal solution to the problems posed by a country besieged by mostly homegrown terrorists and used by them and their Arab friends as a base for terrorism against that country’s neighbors. So give us another choice — preferably one that does not involve American borrowing money from China to pay for ordinary government functions in Pakistan while that country spends its own money preparing to fight India.

    Reply

  11. JamesL says:

    Good post Steve. I would say ‘great’ if it wasn’t so alarming. Your mention of ‘mobile nukes’ is useful. Not just low grade radioactive waste trucking about–functional nuclear weapons, probably with funky communications, a Pakastani McGiver ready to get the thing to work when some high tech safety feature is stubborn, and a member of the crew whose favorite cousin’s fiance was just blown up by an armed, Boeing-built model airplane flown by a pimply joystick expert sitting in a trailer in southern Cal. Don’t forget, they are our friends!
    “They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side.” Glad you mentioned the Petraeus plan erich. It will work just like it worked in Iraq too. Petraeus really deserves to have his names stamped on this one, forever. Petraeus Plan paraphrased: Pay your enemies to be your friends and give them weapons. Go broke and leave town. Blame your former ‘friends’ for fighting.
    I could say more (India’s nukes are our friends too), but the sarcasm that would blossom from the past years of US administrative idiocy would likely render the text impenetrable.

    Reply

  12. Don Bacon says:

    What better comment on the wrongness of recent US foreign/military policy than this extract from the US State Dept. warning on travel to Pakistan. . .
    “Continuing tensions in the Middle East also increase the possibility of violence against Westerners in Pakistan. Terrorists and their sympathizers have demonstrated their willingness and capability to attack targets where Americans are known to congregate or visit, such as hotels, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, schools, or outdoor recreation events. Visits by U.S. government personnel to Peshawar and Karachi are limited and movements are severely restricted. American officials in Lahore and Islamabad are instructed to exercise caution and restrict the frequency of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations.”
    . . .a country (Pakistan is supposedly an ally) where 68% of the people view the US unfavorably, according to a 2007 Pew Global Research report.
    BUT the new administration, (only) verbally committed to change, is increasingly committed to these failing policies which are “continuing tensions in the Middle East” — a vast understatement to describe the horror that the US military (and Israel) has wreaked and is continuing to impose, but at a higher rate, on the people in the ME and now South Asia.
    NOTE: Links weren’t accepted by Captcha..

    Reply

  13. Don Bacon says:

    What better comment on the wrongness of recent US foreign/military policy than this extract from the US State Dept. warning on travel to Pakistan. . .
    Continuing tensions in the Middle East also increase the possibility of violence against Westerners in Pakistan. Terrorists and their sympathizers have demonstrated their willingness and capability to attack targets where Americans are known to congregate or visit, such as hotels, clubs and restaurants, places of worship, schools, or outdoor recreation events. Visits by U.S. government personnel to Peshawar and Karachi are limited and movements are severely restricted. American officials in Lahore and Islamabad are instructed to exercise caution and restrict the frequency of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations.
    http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_930.html
    . . .a country (Pakistan is supposedly an ally) where 68% of the people view the US unfavorably.
    http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=256
    BUT the new administration, (only) verbally committed to change, is increasingly committed to these failing policies which are “continuing tensions in the Middle East” — a vast understatement to describe the horror that the US military (and Israel) has wreaked and is continuing to impose, but at a higher rate, on the people in the ME and now South Asia.

    Reply

  14. DonS says:

    Some U.S. spokespersons, e.g., Joint Chief’s Mullen, have pushed Afgh/Pak to the top of the agenda, according to NYT story yesterday:
    http://tiny.cc/0XK3T
    He, along with, notably, Petreaus and Odierno, have been out front with policy statements. I guess I’m old fashioned, but I don’t recall the exact time that a civilian face on foreign policy pronouncements gave way to a military voice. I’m not saying that some way the civilian factions aren’t coordinating, even orchestrating the message, but it just gives me a queasy feeling to realize the military is so out in front in what seem like foreign policy matters. Really, it gives me an equally queasy feeling to realize that the civilians, from Obama on down, are ok with this.
    On the substantive side, I’m getting the distinct vibe that Afgh/Pak is spinning out of control — and in a way that might not have developed had the US not been “diverted” by the Iraq adventure for the past have dozen years.

    Reply

  15. erichwwk says:

    From today’s NYTimes: http://tinyurl.com/djpb56
    He [Taliban informer] was well informed — and unconcerned, he said — of the plans of the head of the United States Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, to replicate in Afghanistan some of the techniques he had used in Iraq to stop the Sunni tribes from fighting the Americans.
    “I know of the Petraeus experiment there,” he said. “But we know our Afghans. They will take the money from Petraeus, but they will not be on his side. There are so many people working with the Afghans and the Americans who are on their payroll, but they inform us, sell us weapons.”

    Reply

  16. erichwwk says:

    Great Post!
    The link to the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University is here:
    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/
    From that site:
    On April 7, 2009, the former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States presented a keynote speech at The Global Strategic Assessment Symposium held at the National Defense University. The INSS Special Report [The Future of Pakistan – U.S. Relations:
    Opportunities and Challenges] was derived from her [Dr. Maleeha Lodhi] presentation.
    that report is here:
    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Strforum/SR_05/SR_05.pdf
    Also, I’d like to hear your take on why we have a neocon as Ambassador to the UN, who is alleged to have engaged in private discussions with Zardari. It is not comforting to hear him referred to now as “Mr. 20%”.
    Holbrooke was quoted last August by the NYT as:
    “It is not possible to conduct coherent foreign policy if senior officials are freelancing,”
    Likewise I found disturbing Steve’s take that:
    “From my vantage point these last couple of days in Qatar, one can readily sense the gap in tension and concern between serious policy players in the Middle East who are concerned about trends in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those in Washington, who despite the increased reportage on the region, seem to be buffered from the make-or-break realities immediately upon the US and its allies.”
    It seems to me that the present Obama foreign policy is becoming increasingly destabilizing, with the odds of an ever increasing military conflagration.
    Any sense of how miltary options are discussed in the Obama Adminstration, ie how military policy is reached? Do we have multiple non-linear decision making nodes? I sense that you are trying to warn us that the extent to which we do not is becoming disturbing?

    Reply

  17. erichwwk says:

    Great Post!
    The link to the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University is here:
    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/
    From that site:
    On April 7, 2009, the former Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States presented a keynote speech at The Global Strategic Assessment Symposium held at the National Defense University. The INSS Special Report [The Future of Pakistan – U.S. Relations:
    Opportunities and Challenges] was derived from her [Dr. Maleeha Lodhi] presentation.
    that report is here:
    http://www.ndu.edu/inss/Strforum/SR_05/SR_05.pdf
    Also, I’d like to hear your take on why we have a neocon as Ambassador to the UN, who is alleged to have engaged in private discussions with Zardari. It is not comforting to hear him referred to now as “Mr. 20%”.
    Holbrooke was quoted last August by the NYT as:
    “It is not possible to conduct coherent foreign policy if senior officials are freelancing,”
    Likewise I found disturbing Steve’s take that:
    “From my vantage point these last couple of days in Qatar, one can readily sense the gap in tension and concern between serious policy players in the Middle East who are concerned about trends in Afghanistan and Pakistan and those in Washington, who despite the increased reportage on the region, seem to be buffered from the make-or-break realities immediately upon the US and its allies.”
    It seems to me that the present Obama foreign policy is becoming increasingly destabilizing, with the odds of an ever increasing military conflagration.
    Any sense of how miltary options are discussed in the Obama Adminstration, ie how military policy is reached? Do we have multiple non-linear decision making nodes? I sense that you are trying to warn us that the extent to which we do not is becoming disturbing?

    Reply

  18. Josh Meah says:

    In this light, watch the Indian elections closely.
    If the BJP takes enough seats, expect intense
    pressure on the Pakistani government — enough
    that could potentially further ignite any
    Pakistani Islamic insurgency.
    Combined pressure by the Obama government and a
    Hindu nationalist Indian government could threaten
    an undermining of the Zardari regime. Of course,
    the BJP has an interest in keeping in power a
    leader that is virulently against Islamic
    extremists. However, the BJP on its own could
    generate enough hate by its very existence, it’s
    saber-rattling, and it’s incessant anti-Pakistan
    talks to rev up the anti-pacifist groups in
    Pakistan.
    All I’m saying is that there is a potential
    “perfect storm” in the works that could cause
    Pakistan to collapse.
    Steve, that could lead to the “high-alert” status
    you talk about. Easily.

    Reply

  19. bob h says:

    Does anyone really believe that the Taliban will stop if the drone attacks stop?
    My guess is that they would use any captured nuke to force the capitulation of the Pakistani government. This would bring in India.
    I have this uneasy feeling that this is going to end with tens of millions dead, and Pakistan a radioactive wasteland.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *