A re-post (as opposed to original content) would normally go in the “Homeland Blogwatch” section of Security Debrief. However, this interview by New Yorker Pulitzer-winning journalist George Packer with top counter-terrorism strategist David Kilcullen is so insightful we decided to place it in our main content section.
If you want to understand the way forward in Afghanistan (and Pakistan and Iraq), read this article.
Q: On the Pakistani sanctuary, this seems to be the cancer in the bones of Afghanistan, and no one has a good answer. Both air power and special-forces incursions have drawn the wrath of the Pakistani government and people, but their efforts, as you say, have been weak at best and two-faced at worst. Our diplomats and development workers are being systematically targeted, and there’s a question how well we can spend $750 million in the northwest. Is there a way to clear out this sanctuary, that doesn’t cause the problem to metastasize?
A: You’re right. Pakistan is extremely important; indeed, Pakistan (rather than either Afghanistan or Iraq) is the central front of world terrorism. The problem is time frame: it takes six to nine months to plan an attack of the scale of 9/11, so we need a “counter-sanctuary” strategy that delivers over that time frame, to prevent al Qaeda from using its Pakistan safe haven to mount another attack on the West. This means that building an effective nation-state in Pakistan, though an important and noble objective, cannot be our sole solution—nation-building in Pakistan is a twenty to thirty year project, minimum, if indeed it proves possible at all—i.e. nation-building doesn’t deliver in the time frame we need. So we need a short-term counter-sanctuary program, a long-term nation-building program to ultimately resolve the problem, and a medium-term “bridging” strategy (five to ten years)—counterinsurgency, in essence—that gets us from here to there. That middle part is the weakest link right now. All of that boils down to a policy of:
(a) encouraging and supporting Pakistan to step up and effectively govern its entire territory including the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], and to resolve the current Baluch and Pashtun insurgency, while
(b) assisting wherever possible in the long-term process of state-building and governance, but
(c) reserving the right to strike, as a last resort, at al Qaeda-linked terrorist targets that threaten the international community, if (and only if) they are operating in areas that lie outside effective Pakistani sovereignty.