The U.S. recently moved the Haqqani Network onto the FTO list — something long overdue, as I explain for The Atlantic:
Arguably, the biggest barrier to a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan is not the insurgency itself, but Pakistan. Islamabad has stood in the way of negotiation efforts it dislikes, and has declined to participate in other efforts that have targeted favored groups such as the Haqqanis. The FTO designation gives the U.S. more leverage for constraining Pakistan’s ability to support the terrorist group.
The FTO designation also shows how smart it was to develop the Northern Distribution Network, a supply network into Afghanistan. The opening of the NDN, which is a northern alternative to Pakistan’s vital supply lines for the war in Afghanistan, gave the U.S. the capacity to sit out Pakistan’s eight-month closure of the supply lines earlier this year. Islamabad can no longer hold those supply lines over Washington’s head, and in return Washington is applying additional pressure on Islamabad.
This is important stuff, in other words, though some analysts also think this move is either pointless or it even makes reconciliation less likely. We’ll see: two years ago I suggested we actually test the hypothesis that the Haqqanis are willing and capable of being responsible actors in Afghanistan. So far I haven’t seen much reason to be hopeful.
This is kind of in line with some recent research I’ve done into lethal drones. For PBS last week I wrote a column about this:
With bad or missing data and uncooperative governments, can we really discuss the real costs – or benefits– of the drones program? From the bits of data we do have available, drones are actually lower-casualty alternatives to countering terrorism; as traditional Pakistani military offensives have killed countless civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Beyond these very imprecise measurements about the human cost, it is impossible to know the effectiveness of drones. The strikes kill both terrorists, and civilians – but we don’t know to what extent. Without more transparency about the government sanctioned use of drones, or even more oversight from Congress, we won’t be able to quantify the costs of these types of attacks… and the program will continue on in shadows.
Examining the data about drones has shifted my attitudes from pretty strident opposition to more grudgingly accepting that they’re probably a least bad option for addressing terrorism in the FATA. In Yemen, the data is much more weighted — though not universally — toward suggesting drones have crowded out better policy options. But this use on data, history, and precedent to understand national security policy is something missing from the discussion of what’s happening in South Asia these days — and that’s very much to our detriment.
Despite the paucity of data, many people still like to voice their opinions of the strikes. PBS collected a whole bunch of them here.
So where does this leave us? You got me. This weekend’s assault on Camp Bastion was astonishing — insurgents not only breached the perimeter of one of the most secure garrisons in the country, they also killed two Marines and destroyed or severely damaged 8 aircraft. It’s the biggest loss of aircraft since the First Gulf War. That does not bode well for the country, just as the Haqqani designation means the U.S. is starting to bring out more and more financial weapons against Pakistan. It all seems headed for a cliff.
What do you think?