New U.S. strategy begins to take shape in Pakistan

of the Pakistani population.

The new operational cooperation has already yielded results:

  • A new Pakistani commando unit within the Frontier Corps paramilitary force has used information from the CIA and other sources to kill or capture as many as 60 militants in the past seven months, including at least five high-ranking commanders, a senior Pakistani military official said.
  • Four weeks ago the commandos captured a Saudi militant linked to al Qaeda here in this town in the Khyber Agency, one of the tribal areas that run along the border with Afghanistan.
  • Intelligence from Pakistani informants has been used to bolster the accuracy of missile strikes from remotely piloted Predator and Reaper aircraft against the militants in the tribal areas.
  • More than 30 attacks by the aircraft have been conducted since last August, most of them after President Zardari took office in September. A senior American military official said that 9 of 20 senior Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan had been killed by those strikes.
  • In addition, a small team of Pakistani air defense controllers working in the United States Embassy in Islamabad ensures that Pakistani F-16 fighter-bombers conducting missions against militants in the tribal areas do not mistakenly hit remotely piloted American aircraft flying in the same area or a small number of CIA operatives on the ground.

An important part of the new approach is the creation of a newly minted 400-man Pakistani paramilitary commando unit. “As part of the Frontier Corps, which operates in the tribal areas, the new Pakistani commandos fall under a chain of command separate from the 500,000-member army, which is primarily trained to fight Pakistan’s archenemy, India,” Schmitt and Perlez write.

These are early days for the new approach, but its intellectual foundations are promising. Henry Kissinger, in his academic days, wrote that the mark of an enlightened statesmanship is the ability to recognize and work with the “historical materials at hand” (he said that in the context of criticizing the Austro-Hungarian chancellor Metternich, who tried, in vain, to recreate the pre-Napoleonic European order in the post-Napoleonic age). Donald Rumsfeld had a similar idea, if on a narrower scope, when he responded to critics of the state of readiness of the U.S. military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq by saying: “You go to war with the army you have — not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

To paraphrase Kissinger and Rumsfeld: We have to fight a war with the allies we have, not the allies we wish we had. We must recognize and work with the historical materials at hand. Pakistan is what it is — fractured, divided, dysfunctional, and teetering on the verge of being ungovernable. We should identify our friends in that mix, and work with them to advance U.S. interests. The chief of the Pakistani Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is such a friend. General Patreus, and now President Obama, have began a subtle shift of U.S. strategy toward closer collaboration and operational cooperation with our friends in Pakistan. We should continue to work with the Pakistani government, weak as it is, on broader regional issues, but when it comes to war on the ground (and in the air), a more finely tuned approach is now in place.