Precision warfare

We’ve seen this in the movies dozens of times: highly-trained Western special forces burst suddenly into a target building, their weapons at shoulder height. Moving rapidly from room to room, they identify each potential target within a second, unhesitatingly shooting the bad guys while keeping safe the unarmed and innocent. When it is over, the audience breathes a sigh of mixed relief and admiration.

Being the movies, this cannot really depict reality — and in fact, it doesn’t. It turns out that when special forces burst into a house, they keep their eyes closed.

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We’re doin’ it for the kids

An Afghan woman and her daughter grieve after an air strike in Shindand district last summer. Photograph: Fraidoon Pooyaa/AP

A very interesting article appears today in the Independent, discussing some policy concessions proposed by representatives of the Taliban who have been quietly negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government. Among the proposals: a commitment to refrain from banning the education of girls, measuring the length of beards, or making the wearing of burqas compulsory.

This puts in a new context yesterday’s revelation that President Karzai recently signed a law that codifies the rights of Afghanistan’s Shi’as to be governed by family law based on traditional Shi’a jurisprudence, which (it is believed, since the law itself has not yet been publicly released) prevents women from refusing to have sex with their husbands or leaving the house without their husbands’ permission.

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Imploding domino

An angry crowd protests power cuts in Multan, Pakistan
April 15, 2008: An angry crowd protests power cuts in Multan

As both myself and Jeet Heer have noted recently, American military policy towards Pakistan’s tribal areas has recently taken a more aggressive turn, with stepped up missile strikes and even an unauthorized ground attack by U.S. special forces. Although American generals have not launched additional incursions — the policy has not yet turned into a re-run of the invasion of Cambodia in 1970 — they are playing a most dangerous game that risks destabilizing the country for the sake of killing some Taliban leaders.

Pakistan’s increasing fragility as a state was the subject of a powerful essay last week in the Washington Post by Indiana University’s Sumit Ganguly, a longtime observer of Pakistani politics. How grim is the news?:

Today’s ongoing crisis — marked by a rash of suicide bombings, the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last December, inflation as high as 25 percent and a resurgent Taliban movement — could spell doom for the Pakistani state itself. The global financial crisis has only made matters worse: Pakistan’s foreign-exchange reserves are collapsing, and credit markets are worried that it could soon default on its debt payments. The grim truth is that Pakistan is becoming something alarmingly close to a failed state.

What’s most effective about Ganguly’s piece is the comprehensive but concise overview of the 60-year path that has gotten Pakistan to this precipice. A failed state, after all, is rarely the work of a year.

No Victory in Afghanistan

Over at the National Post website, Jonathan Kay has some unusually sensible comments on the war in Afghanistan.


The gist: the NATO countries aren’t willing to commit the military resources needed to defeat the Taliban, so the best option is a “negotiated peace.”

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