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Debate: Unilateral US military strike inside Pakistan

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Would the United States be justified in unilaterally striking terrorist targets inside Pakistan?


Background and Context of Debate:

Pakistan represents the most important foreign policy issue that ought to be on the agenda of the 2008 elected President. The nation has been at times on the side of the U.S. receiving aid during the Cold War to offset the support from the U.S.S.R. to India and at other times has been at odds with U.S. interests such as the disclosure of nuclear know-how to countries such as North Korea and Iran. But the United States is not seen in a particularly favorable light among the people as the U.S. has in th past propped up dictators such as Zia-Ul-Haq in 1980 and now Musharaff; both of these individuals brutal dictators who moved away from democracy. Yet our on again off again relationship with Pakistan underlies our vital need for its friendship as it is on this frontier that contemporary terrorism seems nascent. Since 2001, Pervez Musharaff, the dictator in control of Pakistan has affirmed his relations with the U.S. and has agreed to fight terrorism in his country and help abroad as well. But Musharaff has been a controversial figure since his 1999 coup that ousted Nawaz Shariff. He has been seen by the Pakistani people as sycophantic and grossly autocratic as he has sacked Pakistan's Supreme Court Justices, replacing them with his hand picked puppets as well as altered Pakistan's constitution to grant him more power. Recently his dictatorial rule came to a peak when he imposed martial law and suspended basic human rights altogether. His iron fist style approach to democratic dissent has made him an unpopular figure and a target for terrorists who seek to cause disruption in the Islamic World's second most populous country. Compounding this issue further is the fact that Pakistan is the only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons and also one of the more moderate Islamic republics. Thus, the issue that has been at the forefront of foreign policy agendas, epitomized by Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, is the idea of a unilateral strike on Pakistan given "actionable intelligence." There are several caveats of such an issue to be taken in such as the question of what comprises actionable intelligence? Given that intelligence can be grossly misleading do the pros of potentially finding and killing Osama Bin Laden (if he is in Pakistan) outweigh the overarching cons of isolating and infuriating the Pakistanis, our most vital allies, in a case of failure?

Counter-terrorism: Is Pakistan failing to do enough, making US intervention necessary?


  • Terrorists easily move along the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The border between these two countries is a frontier that essentially exists as a safe haven and supply stop for terrorists. Pakistan has not taken progressive action to capture known terrorists migrating along the border.
    * Abu Laith al-Libi, the Libyan Al Qaeda leader behind the 2007 assassination attempt on Vice President Cheyney, is an example of a terrorist who freely moved across the border. He was able to go to hospitals and major cities virtually unobstructed until his  death on January 29, 2008 from an unmanned CIA predator drone.(The total circumstances around his death are pending. 

  • Pakistan seems unwilling to cooperate with the United States. The Pakistani government has refused to allow joint actions with U.S. troops and has even rebuffed the CIA which asked for covert operations. Such indifference to American interests has created impetus and justification for a unilateral strike should actionable intelligence be available.[1]

  • Pakistan is not doing enough to combat terrorism - Pakistan has not done enough to combat terrorism in its territories. The Taliban is operating freely in the border area with Afghanistan and Al Qaeda continues to operate with significant protections from Pakistanis. The US has a national security interest in intervening to see that the job is done right there.
  • The US must unilaterally intervene since Pakistan is not doing enough to find Bin Laden - President Musharraf said in early 2008, "We are not particularly looking for [Bin Laden]". But, most analysts continue to suggest that Bin Laden is most likely residing in the mountains in Pakistani territory. It would appear that Musharref does not consider the capture of Bin Laden to be a priority. Conversely, the United States views it to be a first priority in the war on terror; bringing the 9/11 mastermind to justice. If Musharraf is not willing to prioritize the capture of Bin Laden, then the United States would be justified in taking unilateral action to bring this terrorist mastermind to justice.


  • It is not clear that Osama Bin Laden exists in Pakistan. The Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff claims that it is not clear that Osama Bin Laden exists in his country. There is, indeed, little evidence that Osama bin Laden is in the country. The mere speculation that he is in Pakistan is not sufficient to warrant condemnation of Musharaff's actions nor to justify unilateral military action in Pakistan.
  • Unilateral action is not appropriate, given that Pakistan is a key ally in the war on terror. Pakistan has captured over 700 suspected militant terrorists since 2001. Pakistanis are angry at apparent U.S. ingratitude considering that 1,000 Pakistani police officers and soldiers have died fighting extremists. President Musharaff has demonstrated his dedication to dismantling the Taliban and Al Qaeda. This is within Musharaff's interests, and it will generally destabilize the hold of radicals on the country and make it easier to determine the location of Osama bin Laden, and lead to his capture. Therefore, President's Musharaff's actions are consistent with the US war on terror and US desires to see Osama bin Laden brought to justice.
  • The Pakistani people do not support terrorists and the Taliban. They hate the radicals. The Pakistani people are victims of the terrorists and only 0.2% of the entire Pakistani population actually sympathizes with the Taliban, and that support is one garnered by subversion. Therefore, it is not valid to claim that the Pakistani people are harboring terrorists and the Taliban. With the proper policies, the Pakistani people would support US-Pakistani efforts to rid their country of terrorists. But unilateral actions would likely create the opposite effect, perhaps causing the Pakistani population to grow angrier at the United State's policies and perhaps sympathize more with radicals.

Pakistan government: Would the Pakistani government tolerate a unilateral US strike?


  • The Pakistani government may allow for unilateral US strikes if Musharaff feels incapable of solving the terrorist threat. This is particularly true if Pakistan feels it is in danger of losing nuclear weapons to terrorist hands. In such an instance, as long as the United States actions clearly aligned with Pakistan's interests, a unilateral action would be tolerated or perhaps even welcomed after words by the Pakistani government. Of course, it depends largely on the nature of the unilateral action and the calculus that a certain unilateral attack would align strongly with Pakistan's interests.
  • The Pakistani government should tolerate a unilateral US capture of Bin Laden, if the intelligence is fleeting. What if the United States had perfect information that Osama bin Laden was in a specific building or cave in Pakistan, but it was not certain that he would be there for more than 15 minutes. Should the United States ask permission from the Pakistani government to attack, even if the time required to ask permission could possibly close the window of opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden. If this circumstance arose, and the United States took action, it seems that the Pakistani government should be willing to tolerate the exceptional nature of the incident.


  • A unilateral US attack inside Pakistan would be strongly opposed by Pakistan - Responding to US proposals in early 2008 to allow increased CIA activities in Pakistan, President Musharraf condemned the idea, saying that it would breach Pakistan sovereignty. Given the clarity of Musharraf's opposition to the idea, it is clear that any US insistence to implement such attacks would seriously strain relations between the two countries. It is even possible that Musharraf would militarily resist such unilateral operation, as he has claimed that he would do.
  • A unilateral US strike would undermine Musharaff's legitimacy. The majority of Pakistan already has a negative opinion of him. If he allows for the U.S. to walk over the sovereignty of Pakistan he will lose what little control he has and that will in turn cause unparalleled civil unrest. For this reason, Musharaff has a strong interest to oppose a unilateral US strike. Launching a unilateral strike would contravene this interest and undermine Musharaff's legitimacy. Therefore, if the US values its relations with Musharaff and his role in the war on terror, it should not launch a unilateral strike.

Pakistani people: Would the Pakistani people react negatively?



  • The Pakistani public would view a US unilateral strike as an invasion - In any country, but particularly in the Muslim world today, any US incursion into that countries' territory for any reason - even ostensibly for the purpose of protecting the country - will be viewed by a substantial portion of the population as an invasion. This could serve only to inflame public perceptions of the US and its intentions in Pakistan and in the Muslim world in general. For the United States, this would only harm its war on terror. It would encourage the Pakistani people to flock to the propaganda of the Taliban tribesman in Waziristan. We ought not to create a rallying cry for the radical mullahs to start another war.
  • A unilateral US strike would violate the Pakistani movement to sovereign democracy. The Paksitani people seek a legitimate government that reflects its will. But the U.S. has been aiding Musharaff, a dictator, so on the political front the people's calls for democracy have been stifled to some degree by America. A unilateral U.S. action would add insult to injury in this regard, as it would be a gross violation of Pakistani sovereignty and another blow to the democratic movement of peoples to represent themselves.

Military aid: Is aiding Pakistan's military insufficient compared to a unilateral strike?


  • U.S. military aid is currently wasted in Pakistan. We currently provide 25% of Pakistan's entire military budget and have provided over 10 billion dollars in aid since 2001. This aid has failed to be appropriated to the correct places and according to the New York Times, frontier troops are fighting in sandals in the snow wearing World War I era pith helmets. The funds apparently go to for Pakistan's competition with India and not for fighting terrorism outlining the aid's ineffectiveness. Therefore, it is bad idea to think that military aid to Pakistan could be a sufficient substitute to a unilateral US strike. [2]


  • A unilateral strike is unnecessary; military aid will help the Pakistani government solve the issue internally. However, the US should not give aid without setting preconditions and benchmarks that show transparency in financial exchanges and we ought to establish democratic as well as economic guidelines by which to portion the aid we give. Certainly however, aid can see tangible results.
  • Misuse of US military aid is partly the blame of the United States and can't justify unilateral US action there The criticisms about the aid given to the Paksitani government reflect a gross inadequacy on the part of the U.S. as the leadership that brokered the aid. It clearly failed to check up in proper intervals that results were being made. Therefore, any inabilities on the part of the Pakistani military to deal with threats there is, in part, the fault of the United States, and should, therefore, not be a justification for US unilateral action.

US leaders:


  • Barack Obama, US Presidential Candidate, said in a 2007 speech to the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington,[3] - "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will,"


Pro/con resources




=See also

=External links

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