The cross-border attack in Kunar this weekend has apparently galvanized the US and NATO into taking action in the opposite direction. The Times of London reports that the US has massed troops along the border in order to strike into areas essentially ungoverned by the Pakistanis, targeting Taliban and al-Qaeda bases. The Pakistanis warn of the consequences, but Afghanistan and India claim that their intelligence service has sided with the terrorists:
US troops in Afghanistan massed close to the border yesterday for a possible attack on al-Qaeda and Taleban bases in the lawless North Waziristan tribal belt in Pakistan.
Reports from the area said that hundreds of Nato troops were airlifted across the mountains from the village of Lowara Mandi, which has been an important base for cross-border attacks in Afghanistan. Heavy artillery and armoured vehicles were also being moved into position.
The deployment followed a claim by the Afghan Government on Monday that the Pakistani Army and its spy agency had become “the world’s biggest producers of terrorism and extremism”. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry accused Kabul of creating an “artificial crisis to satisfy short-term political expediencies”. …
Western commanders say there has been a marked increase in cross-border infiltration in the past few months, fuelling the insurgency in Afghanistan. Nato troops have clashed with Pakistani units along the South Waziristan border.
The West has just about concluded that the government in Islamabad has become useless as an ally in fighting terrorists. They have lost all control of the FATA regions along the border, and according to Afghanistan and India, their intelligence service is working for the enemy. The attacks coming out of Pakistan have begun including Pakistani armed forces, which led to the US killing a number of them as they ran back across the border after a failed ambush. Pakistan protested the deaths, but the US released video showing soldiers fleeing American gunships in Afghanistan — where they didn’t belong.
The big question will be whether Pervez Musharraf can keep Pakistani nukes from falling into terrorist control once we start crossing the border. US action will almost certainly radicalize the population, and the next election might produce a highly pro-Islamist government as a result. That risks the worst-case scenario: terrorists gaining control of nuclear weapons. India would have to react to the threat of a potential nuclear exchange in that case, and the US would face extreme pressure to act — which could start a regional war in south Asia.
On the other hand, the Pakistanis cannot maintain their own sovereignty now in the FATA. American operations in the region might convince the tribes that siding with terrorists over Islamabad is too dangerous for their continued health. It could work to force the regions back to the control of the Pakistani Army in the long run, and in the short run we can destroy the terrorist infrastructure that has expanded along the border. It’s a big gamble, but the status quo is unacceptable.