On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that U.S. troops had begun the invasion of Cambodia, accusing the Southeast Asian nation of allowing North Vietnamese forces to use the country as a transit route and safe haven for its units operating in neighboring South Vietnam. After years of watching the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese using both Laos and Cambodia in this manner, American military commanders requested permission to chase the enemy into these neighboring countries. In 1970, Cambodia lost its “off limits” status.
Let’s fast forward to present day Afghanistan. The U.S. invasion (Operation Enduring Freedom) shortly following the attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, removed the Taliban-led government of the country and forced al-Qaeda to head for the mountains. After being cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, most of the surviving al-Qaeda fighters fled to neighboring Pakistan, specifically to the federally administered tribal areas and the Pushtun provinces of North Waziristan and South Waziristan (where Islamabad exercises little authority).
Pakistani efforts to expel al-Qaeda from these areas have met with strong resistance from the local tribes, to the extent that in late 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf struck a deal with the tribal leaders that he would maintain Islamabad’s “hands off” policy toward the area in return for the Pushtun leaders’ commitment to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from crossing the border into and out of Afghanistan.
That agreement was a farce. Al-Qaeda has effectively reconstituted itself in the tribal area, particularly in the Waziristans. Taliban fighters routinely use the area as a safe haven from pursuing American forces; they know full well that Pakistan has refused U.S. troops the right of “hot pursuit” to enter Pakistan. Pakistani forces will not confront the Taliban fighters.
Sounds just like Cambodia 1970.
Vice President Dick Cheney recently visited Pakistan with intelligence reports that indicate the level of al-Qaeda and Taliban activity in Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. Pakistani officials’ responses vary from claims that they are doing all they can to there is no al-Qaeda nor Taliban presence in their country.
Removing the Pakistan safe haven is critical to achieving success in Afghanistan and the larger global war on terror. At some point, the United States is going to tire of Pakistan’s seeming inability or apparent unwillingness to address the problem, and take it upon itself to resolve it, regardless of the risk to the longevity of the Musharraf government.
I’d say that time has come.