Ret. Gen.: U.S. Action in Pakistan Won’t Spark Coup
By Nick Schwellenbach
Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane testified before Congress on Wednesday on his belief that unilateral U.S. military operations inside Pakistan would not spark an overthrow of its pro-American government.
U.S. respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty was premised on a belief that working without Pakistani military assistance would contribute to a destabilizing situation with radicals seizing control of the government, Keane said.
Keane’s statements cut against the grain of long-standing U.S. government policy on dealing with Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Anxiety about U.S. action towards these areas has heightened as attacks in Afghanistan are at the highest levels since 2001. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that militants based in these sanctuaries now pose the biggest threat to U.S. security, according to Reuters.
“I have never bought the argument,” Keane said, that the U.S., acting unilaterally, “will provoke an implosion” in Pakistan.
“I don’t think the radical Islamists have the capacity” to take over Pakistan, Keane said in response to a question by Rep. Gene Taylor (D.-Miss.) on the probability of radicals toppling the Pakistani government.
In recent weeks, there have been reports by The New York Times that U.S. forces have attacked Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries without consultation with the Pakistani military. A ground attack by U.S. special forces occurred in Pakistan’s tribal areas on September 3 without consultation.
In two separate incidents in September, U.S. helicopters crossing the border have been fired on by Pakistani forces, according to the Agence France-Presse news service. The Pakistani military has issued orders to its forces to fire on U.S. forces crossing the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan, according to the Associated Press.
Keane said he was more afraid of “malaise” within Pakistan’s military in dealing with the sanctuaries.
“The road to success in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan,” Keane said. “Where we failed is that we have not gone into the sanctuary area and defeated Al Qaeda there.”
Asked by Taylor to define success, Keane said, “I don’t have lofty goals about Afghanistan.” Keane said the Taliban should be kept from regaining power and that Afghanistan should be aligned with the U.S.
Keane’s statements have come at a time when his role as an informal advisor to President Bush has recently come to light. Keane’s recently-unknown influence inside the White House promoting a “surge” of U.S. forces in Iraq was revealed by Bob Woodward in his new book.
Keane expressed hope in the new president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and said the U.S. needs to support him.
Under its last president, Pakistan had an anemic response to the use of its tribal areas by Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, Keane said.
Former Pakistani President Pervez “Musharraf made a couple of feeble attempts to go up into that area,” said Keane, “mostly at our urging.”
But Pakistan’s military was not prepared for the type of irregular conflict it faces in its tribal areas, he said. And its military and intelligence agency are still fixated on India, which is their “emotional, psychological center of gravity,” he said.
Also, Musharraf wondered whether the U.S. “would stay the course in Afghanistan” and may have “believed in the long-run he may be dealing with a Taliban regime in Afghanistan,” according to Keane.
The conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, or the “tyranny of the urgent,” as Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) put it, dominated Keane’s testimony, which capped a series of House Armed Service Committee hearings yesterday.
Yesterday‘s hearing was the fourth held by the committee on Chairman Ike Skelton’s (D-Mo.) belief in a need for a U.S. “grand strategy,” or, in other words, how to best define, prioritize and pursue the national interest abroad.
In foreign affairs and national security, the next president has their work cut out for him, Skelton has argued. “There does not seem to be a comprehensive strategy for advancing U.S. interests,” Skelton said last week. “This strategic void detracts from almost every policy effort advanced by the United States Government.”
But more questions than answers were raised by Keane.
“Given the absence of a monolithic threat,” said Keane, “it’s hard to envision [a grand strategy] that could deal with the complexity of the world.”
“It’s not that we cannot conceive of a grand strategy that encompasses our multifaceted challenges, we can,” he added, “but it would be so overarching that I think it would lose a sense of realism and practicality.”