Washington Is Risking War with
By Robert Baer
17/09/08 "Time" - -- - As Wall Street collapsed with a bang,
almost no one noticed that we're on the brink of war with
Pakistan. And, unfortunately, that's not too much of an
exaggeration. On Tuesday, the Pakistan's military ordered its
forces along the Afghan border to repulse all future American
military incursions into Pakistan. The story has been
subsequently downplayed, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of
staff, Mike Mullen, flew to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, to
try to ease tensions. But the fact remains that American forces
have and are violating Pakistani sovereignty
You have to wonder whether the Bush
administration understands what it is getting into. In case
anyone has forgotten, Pakistan has a hundred plus nuclear
weapons. It's a country on the edge of civil war. Its political
leadership is bitterly divided. In other words,
it's the perfect recipe for a catastrophe.
All of which begs the question,
is it worth the ghost hunt we've been on since September 11?
There has not been a credible sighting of Osama bin Laden since
he escaped from Tora Bora in October 2001. As for al-Qaeda,
there are few signs it's even still alive, other than a
dispersed leadership taking refuge with the Taliban. Al-Qaeda
couldn't even manage to post a statement on the Internet marking
September 11, let alone set off a bomb.
U.S. forces have been entering
Pakistan for the last six years. But it was always very quietly,
usually no more than a hundred yards in, and usually to meet a
friendly tribal chieftain. Pakistan knew about these crossings,
but it turned a blind eye because it was never splashed across
the front page of the country's newspapers.
This has all changed in the last month, as the
Administration stepped up Predator missile attacks. And then,
after the New York Times ran an article that U.S. forces
were officially given the go-ahead to enter Pakistan without
prior Pakistani permission, Pakistan had no choice but to react.
On another level the Bush
Administration's decision to step up attacks in Pakistan is
fatally reckless, because the cross-border operations' chances
of capturing or killing al Qaeda's leadership are slim. American
intelligence isn't good enough for precision raids like this.
Pakistan's tribal regions are a black hole that even Pakistani
operatives can't enter and come back alive. Overhead
surveillance and intercepts do little good in tracking down
in a backward, rural part of the world like this.
On top of it, is al-Qaeda worth
the candle? Yes, some deadender in New York or London could blow
himself up in the subway and leave behind a video claiming the
attack in the name of al-Qaeda. But our going into Pakistan,
risking a full-fledged war with a nuclear power, isn't going to
Finally, there is Pakistan
itself, a country that truly is on the edge of civil war. Should
we be adding to the force of chaos? By indiscriminately bombing
the tribal areas along the Afghan border, we in effect are going
to war with Pakistan's ethnic Pashtuns. They make up 15% of
Pakistan's 167 million people. They are well armed and among the
most fierce and xenophobic people in the world. It is not beyond
their military capabilities to cross the Indus and take
Before it is too late, someone
needs to sit the President down and give him the bad news that
Pakistan is a bridge too far in the "war on terror."
Robert Baer, a former CIA
field officer assigned to the Middle East, is TIME.com's
intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most
recently, the novel Blow the House Down.
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