In July 2008, George Bush signed an executive order authorising covert cross-border special operations. US commandos carried out a land raid into Pakistan from Afghanistan soon afterwards. The outcry that followed meant that covert land operations were suspended. But last month the CIA carried out 22 cross-border drone strikes in Pakistan, amid suggestions from US foreign policy circles that if Pakistan cannot fight terrorism on its own territory, then the US military will.
The strikes, carried out by unmanned drone aircraft, have concentrated on Waziristan in north-west Pakistan, a tribal area in which the Pakistani army appears either unwilling or unable to act. One such strike recently killed three Pakistani soldiers, leading to a drop in temperature in already chilly US-Pakistani relations; Pakistan blocked a NATO supply route into Afghanistan, and a terrorist attack on a NATO convoy left 20 trucks on fire. NATO partners, incidentally, are not happy either at what is an exclusively American operation.
The Obama administration has been running out of patience with the Pakistani government over their failure to deal with the spread of terrorism; Pakistan, in its turn, is furious over the incursions into its territory and the deaths of its soldiers. Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently questioned whether the two countries were enemies or friends. Simon Tisdall writes in The Guardian:
‘The new strategy is high-risk. Public fury at the incursions, which caused the closure of a key Khyber Pass supply route, may further undermine Pakistan’s civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari. It could alienate the Pakistani security apparatus and fuel jihadi recruitment. It is an embarrassment for Nato’s allies, who have no control over US special forces or CIA operations. And it resurrects the dread prospect of a wider, regional war spreading outwards from Afghanistan.’
It has long been apparent that Pakistan plays a crucial role in securing Afghanistan. The expansion of the US war in Afghanistan over its borders raises questions about how America sees that role. ‘AfPak’, the lazy foreign-policy elision of two entirely separate countries, is a suggestion to how Pakistan is becoming part of the problem, rather than the solution, in the eyes of the US. Just like in Yemen, where Obama is considering expanding his current programme of drone strikes against AlQaida militants, the US is taking the security of a sovereign state into its own hands. The lasting effect of a policy that kills civilians, further worsens America’s already abysmal image in Pakistan, and is possibly illegal remains to be seen.