American Military Operations Inside Pakistan Will It Help US, Pakistan And India?


D. Suba Chandran for IPCS

Ever since the failed bombing attempt in New York’s Times Square and its  link to Pakistan through Faisal Shahzad, there has been increased  discussion in the US, whether Washington should consider crossing the  Durand line and expand its military operations into Pakistan. This  option exists, but the following questions should be answered: What will  be the primary objective of the US in expanding its military operations  across the Durand Line? To punish the Taliban for plotting such  activities and Pakistan for not doing more? Or to effectively neutralize  the Taliban infrastructure within Pakistan, so that no future attacks  occur on American soil? Or to achieve American objectives in  Afghanistan? Equally important are other questions. Can the US afford to  increase its troops strength into Pakistan? More importantly, will this  strategy make the situation better for the US on the western side of  Pakistan, and for India on its eastern side?


The debate on military expansion of US troops across the Durand Line is  not a post Faisal Shahzad phenomenon. For the last couple of years,  there has been a debate in the US on exploring the possibility of an  American military presence in Pakistan for two reasons. Both reasons,  understandably, arose in support of the American led international War  against Terrorism in Afghanistan.

The first reason is to go on the offensive and seal the Durand Line  effectively, thereby neutralizing any Taliban movement across the  Durand. It is no secret that the Taliban has been using the Federally  Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) as a safe haven and recouping area  to fight the US led troops in Afghanistan. It is also not a secret that  Washington is unhappy with Pakistan’s cooperation in terms of curbing  and neutralizing the Taliban network in FATA.

The purpose of this essay, though is not to focus or explain why  Pakistan, especially its intelligence agencies, are not cooperating with  the US on this issue, it is enough to mention that they are playing a  double game in neutralizing the Taliban.

The recent statement by Hillary Clinton that some officials in  Pakistan’s administration “are more informed about al Qaeda and Taliban  than they let on…I believe somewhere in this government are people who  know where Bin Laden, al Qaeda, Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban  leadership are,” is a reflection of these doubts and fears. Many in the  American administration are convinced that Pakistan is reluctant to help  the US to achieve its objectives, but worse, is acting against the  U.S., by sharing information with Taliban groups, like the Huqqani  network, based in Jalalabad, and with the Quetta Shura.

Hence, a section in the US is calling for a military operation inside  Pakistan, if there has to be any positive result in the War against  Terrorism in Afghanistan. The initiation of drone attacks into  Pakistan’s territory during the Bush administration and its continuation  by the Obama administration is part of this debate. If the US cannot  physically enter Pakistan to go after the Taliban network, it can at  least make use of technology to cripple the militant leadership in the  FATA. Drone attacks, may be a political liability in terms of collateral  damage and create a bad image for the US. But, it has been a huge  success militarily, in terms of eliminating many top Taliban and al  Qaeda leaders in the region.

The second reason underlying the American debate for expanding its  military presence into Pakistan’s territory is defensive – to protect  its supply lines to Afghanistan. At present, most of these supplies go  through the Chaman crossing in Balochistan and Landikotal in the famous  Khyber pass. Since 2008, there have been increasing attacks on the  supply lines; trucks, materials and ammunition were looted and/or burnt  from Peshawar to Landikotal.Hence, there is a debate in the US to have a  physical presence in Pakistan to protect the supply lines, and to fight  the Taliban, if they interfere. Pakistan has staunchly refused to  accept both reasons, though it has allowed drone attacks, due to its  inability to effectively oppose the United States.

The current debate, calling for American military operations inside  Pakistan began after the failed attack in New York’s Times Square. A  section in the US sees the involvement of Faisal Shahzad, his Pakistani  background, and his connections with the Taliban as a “gamechanger” in  US-Pakistan relations and wishes to pursue a ‘So far, No more’ approach.

The real issue should not be whether there is a need for American  military intervention, physically, in Pakistan against the Taliban.  Rather it should be, what can such a strategy achieve, in terms of  fulfilling the original American objectives.


What can the US really do? Where can the US troops undertake any  military incursion in Pakistan’s territory to neutralize the Taliban?  What will be the political and military objectives of this incursion? Do  the US have sufficient troops to pursue such an incursion strategy?  More importantly, will this attain the American objective?

The above questions are important to find out whether or not an  incursion strategy will help the US, Pakistan (and of course India).  First, where can the US send its troops into Pakistan’s territory? To  the FATA, especially North and South Waziristan? Or the NWFP? Should the  US send its troops into Waziristan and the other Agencies of the FATA,  what will the Taliban do? Will they fight against the American troops or  slip away further east into the settled districts of NWFP and Punjab,  and perhaps even go upto Karachi?

Given the way the Taliban retreated in Afghanistan when the American  troops landed after 9/11, they are likely to repeat the same strategy,  if the US chooses to expand its military presence into FATA.

What else can the American troops do? Chase them into NWFP as well?  Unlikely. Despite, the rhetoric, the US does not have the political will  to pursue such an expansionist strategy.

Second, even if the US has the political will, do they have enough  troops to pursue this strategy? The international community is closely  watching the War against Terrorism in Afghanistan, in terms of military  offensives, and troop levels present and required to wage a successful  war. There are not enough troops available in Afghanistan to fight the  Taliban. Any expansion into Pakistan will not only stretch the American  troops, but seriously affect the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Especially after the Marjah offensive (Operation Moshtarak) in  Afghanistan during March-April 2010, and with the US planning a similar  offensive in Kandahar, any military expansion into Pakistan will be  counter productive for the war against terrorism against the Taliban in  the rest of Afghanistan.

If the US does not have enough troops to pursue a military strategy in  Pakistan, can it plan another Operation Moshtarak, meaning a combined  operation, with international assistance? With most of the other  countries discussing a withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is unlikely that  the US can get any international support for such an initiative. After  the recent elections, the UK is not likely to approve any such strategy;  certainly not Germany and France. Even if is an open invitation is  given, it is highly unlikely that countries like India and Israel would  like to join this initiative!

Third, if a military presence is unlikely to materialize, can the US use  its technology to wage a war while not being physically present? The US  has been using its drone technology to its fullest extent to wage a war  against the Taliban infrastructure in the FATA.

Can the US expand this strategy and strike militant targets elsewhere,  say in Balochistan (against the Quetta Shura) and the settled districts  of NWFP?

Recently, there have been a lot of literature highlighting the  understanding with the government of Pakistan on drone attacks. Some  analysts, basing their arguments on interviews and surveys, have even  concluded that the local tribal population welcomes the American drone  attacks. The first argument is based on the thesis that Pakistan  government tacitly approves the drone attacks, hence “the expansion of  incursions into Pakistani territory would be met with vocal opposition,  but would be more or less tolerated by the current Pakistani  establishment.”

Pakistan may tolerate these drone attacks if they are limited to the  FATA, but is unlikely to continue that toleration, if the drone attacks  expand into NWFP and Balochistan. Let the US test Pakistani resolve by a  couple of drone attacks into NWFP and Balochistan, and wait for  Pakistan’s response to find out whether they would tolerate them.

The second argument is based on the understanding that the Pashtun  tribes of FATA are basically against the militants; since the drone  attacks, target the al Qaeda and Taliban, they welcome these drone  attacks by the US. This negates the collateral damage argument, and  makes one believe that there is an anti-Taliban and anti-al Qaeda  feeling existing primarily in the various tribal agencies, which  supports the American initiatives. This argument does not seem logical,  especially if the collateral damage caused by these drone attacks is  cited as a reason for Faisal Shahzad’s anger, leading to the failed  terrorist attempt in the Times Square in New York.

Perhaps, there is a section within the Pashtun community, which does not  support the Taliban justice; for example, many tribal elders are  secular and do not agree with the Taliban’s brand of fundamentalist  Islam. Many tribal elders, secular leaders and jirgas have been targeted  by the Taliban. But to believe that there is a pro-American sentiment  and that the local Pashtun communities welcome drone attacks does not  sound logical.

Finally, what is the political objective of such an expansion into  Pakistan? Will this incursion force and threaten Islamabad to cooperate,  or will it rupture the US-Pakistan relations? Will such incursions  threaten and neutralize the Taliban of the Afghan and Pakistan lineage,  or will it end up increasing their support base? More importantly, will  this incursion undermine the anti-American sentiments in Afghanistan,  which is the primary reason for the evolution of Faisals? Equally  importantly, will this incursion make the political and military  establishments [where? Pakistan or Afghanisatn or both?] to feel safe  and secure and pursue a rational policy, or will it increase their real  and presumed insecurities?

The answer to the above questions is likely to be in the negative. The  next section will argue out the reasons, but also conclude that any such  military incursions will only destabilize the regions and make it even  more insecure.


The government of Pakistan is unlikely to welcome any overt American  troops presence on its soil. Not because Islamabad is concerned about  its sovereignty. Had it been a question of sovereignty, Islamabad would  not have limited its writ in the tribal areas and argued that these  tribal regions had never been effectively governed by the federal and  provincial governments Islamabad would also not have allowed thousands  of foreigners from Yemen to Chechenya to be illegally present in its  territory from Karachi to Khyber.

More than the question of sovereignty, it will be issues relating to  public hysteria and political opposition.

President Musharraf could successfully take a U-turn and survive, thanks  to the military support and forced silencing of his opposition.  President Zardari and his PPP will not be able to repeat this story,  especially with a huge anti-American sentiment, open and free media, and  more importantly a shrewd and opportunistic opposition led by the  Sharif brothers.

There will certainly be no open invitation to the American troops from  the political leadership. Nor is the military likely to welcome any such  developments. American boots on the ground can only occur with  Washington arm twisting Pakistan’s political and military  establishments, worse, totally rupturing US-Pakistan relations. If the  second contingency is to happen, it will be considered an invasion by  the US. And Pakistan is no Afghanistan or Iraq. With nuclear weapons in  their hands, this is what the Americans would want never to happen.  Hence, they will settle for the first option – to force the military and  political leadership to agree to American military presence. Will a  forcible American military incursion into Pakistan meet any political or  military objectives?

Least likely, for the following reasons. First, Pakistan is unlikely to  cooperate; any collateral damage will be blown up out of all proportions  by the media. Worse, Pakistan will stop cooperating or provide limited  assistance. Maximum, Pakistan, under pressure will allow some American  troops presence in the FATA. Second, presuming that the American troops  land in the FATA, what will the Taliban and al Qaeda do?

They will effectively get displaced from the FATA and enter into the  settled districts of the NWFP. With a section already settled in  Balochistan, known as the Quetta Shura, the movement of Taliban into  Punjab– the biggest province of Pakistan– cannot be discounted. Worse,  they can even move into South Punjab. In the recent months, there has  been a huge discussion about the Punjabi Taliban, primarily from the  Bahawalpur and Multan areas in South Punjab. Many of the sectarian  organizations of the Shia persuasion, along with the Jaish-e-Mohammad,  have been fighting along with the Taliban. These groups from the Punjab,  referred to as Punjabi Taliban, can provide safe havens east of the  Indus.

Given the substantial presence of Pashtuns and religious political  parties in Karachi, the dislocation of Taliban from the FATA into the  largest port town of Pakistan can also not be discounted. The military  incursion by the US, even if limited to FATA, will thus dismantle the  Taliban network from FATA, but only to spread it all over Pakistan.

In this situation, what will the youth like Faisal Shahzad do in  Pakistan? Will they feel threatened and submit to the American military  power? Or will they get angrier and join the Taliban and other radical  organizations? Given the inbuilt anti-American sentiments among the  youth in Pakistan, the last option is likely to take place.Thus the very  purpose of American military action will get defeated, and not get  cooperation from Pakistan. Worse, it will expand the Taliban network,  create more Faisal Shahzads, and destabilize the whole of Pakistan.

This will be a perfect recipe for a military takeover in Pakistan, even  before the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Unless, the Americans  are ready for the long haul and decide to clean up the extremist  network, come what may. Given their past and recent histories, has there  been any political or military engagement, that the US has fought to  the finish? The history of the post-Second World War is littered with  half hearted efforts by the US based on narrow political and military  objectives, which have not only destabilized individual countries, but  also entire region.


Many in India secretly wish that the Americans would enter Pakistan and  physically clean up the militant mess. Will that help India, in the long  run? Will the region be stable after American military incursion into  Pakistan?

With the Taliban shifting from Afghanistan into the FATA, and absorbing  youths and organizations like the Jaish and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, any  American military incursion will only shift the militants base closer to  the Indus. If the Taliban had crossed the Durand Line after 9/11, they  will cross the Indus now, if there are any further military incursions  into FATA.

More importantly, it will only increase anti-American feeling in  Pakistan, which forms the basis for extremism among the youth (educated  and uneducated, from lower and elite classes), which the intelligence  agencies could exploit to pursue their anti-Indian agenda.

Any adventurism, without taking into account the long term political and  security fallouts, will only make the region more unstable, as happened  in the 1980s, with the jihad strategy led by the US and in the 1990s,  with the Taliban strategy led by Pakistan. India, though, was not part  of the conflict in this region in the 1980s and 1990s, the pangs of  conflict was felt in J&K and elsewhere. Pakistan’s military, its  intelligence agencies and extremist forces would not have become so  powerful within the country, had it not been for the jihad and  instability across the Durand Line during the 1980s and 1990s. Nor,  would there have emerged a strong anti-Indian sentiment amongst the  Pakistani youth. Any American military intervention in Pakistan, is not  likely to help the US achieve its primary objectives – political and  military. Nor it is likely to make Pakistan a stable democracy. Nor is  it likely to secure the region and address India’s concerns. Unless, the  US is planning for the long haul and to build a democratic Pakistan  from the scratch, which is unlikely.

To conclude, it is useful to refer to an exchange from the Mahabharat,  the great Indian epic. Just before the beginning of the Great War in  Kurukshetra, between the Pandavs and Kauravas, Lord Krishna, who  believed he had all the answers and carried the burden of finding a  solution to every problem, called for a meeting among the Pandavs. He  then asked the wise and brave present in the meeting: Given the  destruction that such a war is likely to cause, is there any way, the  war can be avoided? With the armies arrayed on both sides and waiting to  fight each other, every one answers in the negative, except for  Sahadeva. Considered to be a master of astrology who knows what is  likely to happen, Sahadeva conveys the options available and concludes:  Lord, finally, if we could tie you up and make you dis-functional, the  war can certainly be avoided.

In the same way, the US believes it has the answer to every issue and  carries the burden of finding a solution for every problem. Without  understanding, that in many parts of the world, its policies and  strategies is a part of the problem, rather than the solution. Wish one  could be Sahadeva and tell the US: If only we could tie you up and make  you disfunctional!

D. Suba Chandran is Deputy Director at IPCS, where this article was published as  an IPCS May Issue Brief No. 152 (PDF)


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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