US general’s warning – General David Petraeus’s assessment on war on terror and Taliban

MANY Pakistanis will tend to agree with what one of America’s top generals said on Thursday — the extremists threaten the very existence of Pakistan. Gen David Petraeus, who is to take over next month as commander Centcom (US forces in the Middle East and South-West Asia), told the media in Paris that Pakistani and American forces would have to work together, because Pakistan faced “an existentialist threat”. The general identified what he called the “common enemy” as a syndicate that contained within its fold Al Qaeda, the Taliban “and in between different forms of extremist movements”. Talking about the situation in Afghanistan he emphasised the need for “absolute engagement” with Pakistan and said there had to be “coordination, cooperation and very constructive dialogue” for the success of the war on the common enemy. Again Afghanistan was on his mind when he spoke of the need for developing an infrastructure to cope with troop increase, and most welcome was his belief that the American and Nato forces must be seen as liberators, not occupiers. One wishes this was emphasised by other political and military leaders on the other side of the Durand Line.

There are two aspects to Gen Petraeus’s statement: one is his diagnosis of the disorder, the other his prescription. There is no doubt that the war on terror is Pakistan’s own war. The more civilians the Taliban kill, the more girls’ schools they bomb and the more they intensify their war on the state of Pakistan, the more they unite the people of Pakistan in their common resolve to crush terrorism. If the Taliban had been a little circumspect about their targets, perhaps the people of Pakistan would not have united against them the way they have after the Taliban decided as a matter of policy to resort to reckless acts of terror, no matter how many innocent men, women and children get killed and maimed. This spirit of national unity against the Taliban needs to be sustained, and America and the Nato governments can do this by demonstrating a sense of responsibility and respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty.

The “skirmishes” between the two sides on Thursday show a lack of clarity on the rules of engagement. Let the Americans leave it to Pakistan to fight terrorism within its borders; what Islamabad needs is economic and military assistance that could strengthen the country’s own ability to take on the enemy. Its forces, for instance, need equipment specific to guerilla war in the mountains. Rash actions like the violation of Pakistan’s borders by American forces not only do not help, they undermine the democratic government in Islamabad, and lend support to the Taliban propaganda that portrays America as a threat to Pakistan. (Dawn)