Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Turning another corner in Pakistan...

According to this report filed today, a retired Pakistani Army general states that he now believes the Pakistani people have woken up. He says they now realize that this fight to crush the Taliban, is not simply a US vendetta, but a matter of their own survival as a nation.

Pakistan determined to fight Taliban, retired general says
By Tom Evans, CNN
November 25, 2009 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)

(CNN) -- The Pakistani people now believe the war against the Taliban is their war, whereas in the past they considered it to be the United States' war, a former Pakistani general with close ties to his country's military told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

Retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, who also was an official in the Pakistani Ministry of Defense, told Amanpour, "I think the Pakistani army and the people of Pakistan are truly determined to fight this war and win."

"Under no circumstances do they think that there is any future for Pakistan unless this succeeds, so they are fighting for their future rather than anything else," he said.

Masood spoke to Amanpour as the Pakistani army presses its offensive into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan after a series of deadly bomb attacks across the country, and the United States continues its air strikes from unmanned drones on suspected Taliban targets in Pakistan. U.S. President Barack Obama is on the brink of announcing what is expected to be a big increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Less than 10 percent of Pakistanis
support the drone strikes, polls found. The U.S. attacks in Pakistan, conducted by the CIA, would have much more legitimacy among the Pakistani people if the U.S. shared control of the planning and execution of the strikes, Masood said.

But he questioned the long-term value of the drone strikes for the United States. "I think on balance, one can say that it has tactical advantages. But in the long run, if you really want there to be no opposition, then you should win the hearts and minds of people."

Some also are questioning the ethics and legality of these drone attacks, saying they are nothing more than targeted assassinations. A former assistant general counsel for the CIA, Vicki Divoll, rejected the idea the strikes are a form of assassination.

"I think targeted killing is more accurate, because assassination brings back memories of world leaders being attacked," Divoll said.

Divoll, now an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, said the attacks are legal under U.S. law because the U.S. president is free at any time to ignore or waive any executive order he chooses, and none of the laws passed by Congress apply in this case. "I don't think there is any legal bar under United States law to prevent this from happening," she said.

The New America Foundation's Peter Bergen, who has co-authored a study on U.S. drone attacks, said they are the least bad option that exists because the U.S. military cannot invade the Pakistani tribal areas where many of the militants are based.

Bergen, who also is CNN's national security analyst, said there was tremendous pushback from the Pakistanis when U.S. special forces crossed the border during the previous Bush administration.
"Drone attacks are really the only tool in the toolkit that is possible," Bergen said.

He said his study found that since 2006, two-thirds of the casualties from drone attacks have been militants, and about a third have been civilians. The proportion of civilian deaths has fallen to a quarter since Obama came into office, he added. Some other reports, though, say the number of civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes is much higher.

The pace of drone strikes in Pakistan has increased sharply since Obama took office, averaging one a week. That means, according to the New America Foundation, Obama has authorized as many strikes in his first 10 months in the White House as his predecessor approved in his final three years in office.

Call me skeptical if you will... It's nice to hear this coming from a retired army general. But somehow, this sentiment would sound more genuine and therefore more believable, if I heard it coming from actual commanders on the ground or better yet, the average Pakistani in the street. Then I might be more apt to believe that we have indeed turned the corner here...

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