When news of the capture of the Taliban’s number two broke, I was cautiously optimistic. We’ve since learned of the capture of the Taliban shadow governor of Kunduz and of the shadow governor in Baghlan province. The news of captures and arrests has many people wondering what is going on.
The WaPo says that Obama administration’s pressure on Pakistan is behind the new cooperation, but I remain skeptical. Why the change of heart from Pakistan?
Pakistan’s decision to go after the Afghan Taliban leadership reflects a quiet shift underway since last fall, said officials from both countries, who cited a November letter from President Obama to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari as a turning point.
The letter, which was hand-delivered by U.S. national security adviser James L. Jones, offered additional military and economic assistance and help easing tensions with India, a bitter enemy of Pakistan. With U.S. facilitation, the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers have agreed to meet next week, the first high-level talks between the two countries since terrorist attacks in Mumbai in late 2008.
The letter also included an unusually blunt warning that Pakistan’s use of insurgent groups to pursue its policy goals would no longer be tolerated. The letter’s delivery followed the completion of a White House strategy review in which the administration concluded that stepped-up efforts in Afghanistan would not succeed without improved cooperation from Pakistan.
In explaining Pakistan’s shift, sources also cited regular visits to Pakistan by U.S. officials, a boost in intelligence-sharing and assurances by Washington that a military push in southern Afghanistan would not spill into Pakistan. The United States also promised Pakistani officials that it has no intention of abandoning the region once that offensive ends.
What did the Obama administration promise Pakistan with regards to India? I doubt our offer was to simply facilitate talks. I also doubt that any threats against Pakistan would hold much weight, or that a promise to keep the Afghanistan counterinsurgency out of Pakistan would be enough for Pakistan to start rounding up Taliban terrorists. The most powerful and plausible explanation offered in the article is the one that says we promised not to abandon the region.
Let that sink in a bit: Pakistan might be having a change of heart because they now trust that the U.S. will see the operation through. Such assurance was crucial to the turnaround in Iraq, and is a major part of the counterinsurgency strategy used by the Bush administration. Therefore, if the Pakistanis are cooperating because they truly believe the U.S. will win the battle and finish the job, then they are cooperating because the Bush administration counterinsurgency approach is working again.
There are still some elements of war conduct that are troubling, however, such as this report that the Obama administration is mostly ordering kills in kill-or-capture situations. This allows the administration to avoid contentious detention and interrogation policy debates, which they also avoid by allowing Pakistan to detain captured Taliban terrorists. Andy McCarthy suggests that leftist attempts to “judicialize” the war are driving these decisions by creating negative incentives for capturing and detaining terrorists:
I contended — and still contend — that the leftists who were pushing for judicial intrusion into the capture, detention, and interrogation of enemy operatives were subverting the human-rights agenda they purport to serve. There are many scenarios in which our forces are in a position either to kill or to capture the enemy, situations in which both are valid options under the laws of war. In a kill-or-capture situation, capture is the more merciful option. From an intelligence perspective, it may also be the more advantageous. The underlying objective of international humanitarian law is to civilize warfare. Yet, I posited, by freighting capture with judicial second-guessing, rather than leaving the matter to the sound discretion of our professional warfighters, the Left was virtually guaranteeing that more combatants would be killed.
When some terrorists are being captured and given U.S. Constitutional rights, and others are simply being killed or are allowed to be detained by countries who won’t give them the same constitutional rights, one has to question the standards and logic behind the policies. It would seem that this administration doesn’t have a coherent set of policies on these issues. Concern for the inconsistencies should outweigh the optimism of new Pakistani cooperation.
UPDATE: Now Pakistan is saying they won’t hand over the Taliban detainees to the U.S. It is difficult to ascertain what is going on. Maybe these captures are just bargaining chips. Hopefully time will tell.
UPDATE 2: FOX reports that another major Taliban operative was captured in Pakistan.
Speaking of the debate between capturing and killing terrorists, Marc Thiessen poses an excellent question in his new must-read book Courting Disaster (which I plan on writing about here soon):
Why is it a morally superior choice to kill terrorist leaders and the innocent people around them, when we might instead spare the innocent, capture the same terrorists alive, and get intelligence from him that could potentially save many other innocent lives? (p. 204)
Considering the moral high ground that President Obama attempts to take on this issue, Thiessen’s question suggests that perhaps the recent drone attacks are actually not the morally superior choice. That would make the President a hypocrite for criticizing the Bush administration as he has.