Obama’s options in Pakistan

Steve Coll in The New Yorker:

090525_talkcmmtillu_p233 The miscalculations across five Administrations are by now generally understood: near-unequivocal support for anti-American militias during the nineteen-eighties; averted eyes as Pakistan pursued its covert nuclear ambitions; the abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal; the failure to recognize the menace of Al Qaeda during the nineteen-nineties; erratic investments in Pakistan’s democracy, economy, and civil society; and, most recently, a war in Afghanistan after 9/11 which did not defeat Al Qaeda or the Taliban but chased them into Pakistan, where they regrouped and have proceeded to destabilize a country now endowed with atomic bombs.

For several months, the Obama Administration has been rethinking American policy, hoping to depart from this history of dysfunction. It has announced a formal strategy: an adaptive counterinsurgency doctrine that seeks to emphasize the security and the prosperity of the Afghan and Pakistani people above all; economic and development aid; vigorous diplomacy; and carefully targeted warfare, particularly aimed at Al Qaeda. Already, however, Obama and his advisers have had to confront the puzzle of which policies in their new portfolio will promote stability in the region, and which will promote instability.

Just a few weeks ago, the Taliban advanced so close to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, that it seemed the Pakistan Army might have lost its will to fight. The Obama Administration urged the Army into battle. Fortunately, given the stakes, the Army acted, and it has evidently fought with gusto in recent days, but to such an extent that it has now churned up a million internal refugees, who constitute yet another pool of displaced and disaffected civilians that the Taliban will surely attempt to exploit.

More here.