Lahore on the road to Peshawar

…and Peshawar on the road to Swat

What is incongruent about the terrorist attack at the Manawan police training school outside Lahore is that, in the end, some of the attackers surrendered to the special forces who stormed the facility. Generally, the terrorists who attack targets in Pakistan do not leave a calling card, allowing conspiratorial fingers to be pointed at the pointer’s favourite bogey. In the Pakistani context, not claiming patrimony enhances the psychological aspect of the attack—and terrorism is mainly about the psychological aspect. (This is unlike in India, where they release manifestos and call television stations to claim that it was they, and not Pakistani terrorists, who did it.)

It remains to be seen who the terrorists were and why they allowed themselves to be taken alive. Even after the manner in which terrorists escaped unhurt after the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers, it was unlikely that the attackers could have expected to make it out of the Manawan complex alive.

The choice of a ‘hard’ target like a police academy is understandable when you place it in the context of Pakistan’s Talibanisation. In this phase of the process, the goal is to demonstrate that the apparatus of the state is not only unable to guarantee public security, but is also unable to protect itself. As the New York Times reports, one of the survivors “said the attack had destroyed his ambition to be a police officer. “I will not join the police, not after this,” he said. “I love my life.”” Peshawar is a little further down this road, and Swat is close to the end of it. One attack shouldn’t lead us to this conclusion, you say? Well, it’s the second this month, actually.

Pakistani security forces did a decent job in neutralising the terrorists. If this results in the Pakistani people understanding that the real threat is from the jihadi organisations, then there is some hope yet. Don’t count on it, though, because if it involves the military-jihadi complex, it is unlikely that the real culprits will be identified, less punished.

Tailpiece: Many of you caught the Acorn‘s coverage of the event on Twitter. For those who didn’t, please make a note to keep abreast of the latest at twitter.com/acorn.

But where’s the meat?

The United States’ Af-Pak strategy is silent on the most important challenge

The main issue in President Barack Obama’s just-announced strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan boils down to this: just how is the United States going to ensure that the Pakistani military establishment plays ball?

As this blog has pointed out before, to win in Afghanistan the United States will need to get the Pakistani military to turn its guns on its own proxies, “strategic assets”, countrymen and co-religionists. This the Pakistani military leadership is reluctant, unwilling or unable to do, depending on how charitable a view you have of them. It was in anticipation of the Obama administration’s strategic review that the Pakistani leadership raked up tensions with India—hoping that a war-like situation on its eastern borders will provide it with a plausible alibi. India foiled that attempt by refusing to even mildly ratchet up military escalation.

That only left the Pakistanis to demand a vague reduction in tensions, a resolution of the Kashmir dispute and unconvincingly insinuate Indian involvement in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This did not go completely waste—for there are people in the Obama administration who are sympathetic to this line—but it is unlikely to provide the Pakistani military establishment with the way out of having to do what the United States wants it to do.

So, what does the United States do now? As many analysts point out—and Richard Holbrooke himself admitted—no one knows. Mr Holbrooke reiterated that US troops will not cross over into Pakistan *, while Bruce Riedel, the man behind the review only said that he hoped that “aggressive military operations on the Afghan side, and working energetically with the Pakistani government” will shut down these safe havens. Setting benchmarks and making financial assistance conditional on performance sounds like just what the management consultant would advise, but Washington is remarkably susceptible to the Pakistan-will-turn-into-a-nuclear-failed-state-unless… line. The Pakistanis know that and won’t shy from exploiting it.

Expect a train of high-level envoys to visit New Delhi in the coming weeks. Chief among their aims, we are informed, “will be to try to get Pakistani and Indian officials, in particular, to turn down the volume in their never-ending conflict, in the hopes that the Pakistani military can turn its attention to the fight against insurgents in border regions, and away from fighting India.” As patronising as that sounds, it will remain for the Indian government officials to explain to them that they can even have the “never-ending conflict” arises from the same problem that the US is trying to solve. Get the Pakistani government to dismantle the military-jihadi complex and the volume will not only be turned down, it can be turned off.

Mr Obama’s first strategic review skirts around the heart of the matter, perhaps due to its acceptance of red lines. We might have to wait for the next one before he gets it right.

Update: More analysis on this here on INI: on Pragmatic Euphony and Polaris.

Related Links: Leslie Gelb at the Daily Beast has a good critique of those benchmarks. Filter Coffee remarks that the US has ignored Punjabi jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. And Spencer Ackerman has the money quote.

Obama now owns the Af-Pak war

The focus is on Pakistan

“And after years of mixed results,” President Obama announced, the United States “will not, and cannot, provide a blank check” to Pakistan.

The most likely reaction in the Pakistani establishment is likely to be “we’ll see about that.” It is all very well that the United States wants to strengthen the Pakistani civilian government, improve governance and all that. But the strings that the Obama administration ties to the aid it gives Pakistan won’t last beyond the next crisis that the latter perpetrates. Let’s hope Mr Obama succeeds where others have failed. But don’t hold your breath.