Friday, October 24, 2008

Afghanistan and Pakistan

This image is a reminder of what kind of foreign policy we will be in for the next four years if McCain is elected

Barnett R. Rubin and Ahmed Rashid offer their perspectives on the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what it means for US and European policies in the area in their article, From Great Game to Grand Bargain: Ending Chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan Foreign Affairs Nov/Dec 2008. (Also available in streaming audio.)

We all need to get real about what we're facing in Afghanistan. And get rid of the fool notion that there's a Magic Surge that will fix it:

Seven years after the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan commanders it supported pushed the leaderships of the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan, an insurgency that includes these and other groups is gaining ground on both the Afghan and the Pakistani sides of the border. Four years after Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election, the increasingly besieged government of Hamid Karzai is losing credibility at home and abroad. Al Qaeda has established a new safe haven in the tribal agencies of Pakistan, where it is defended by a new organization, the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. The government of Pakistan, beset by one political crisis after another and split between a traditionally autonomous military and assertive but fractious elected leaders, has been unable to retain control of its own territory and population. Its intelligence agency stands accused of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan, which in many ways has replaced Kashmir as the main arena of the still-unresolved struggle between Pakistan and India.
These issues are discussed in such a comic-book way in most commentary and on TV especially that reality gets buried under several layers of ideology, imagery and just plain imagination. Maybe someone can give the pundits some actual comic books to read so that they can feel like they're understanding things at a sufficiently deep level, and let people like Rubin and Rashid go on television occasionally and explain things in adult terms to the rest of us.

That last aspect about Pakistan seeing Afghanistan primarily through the perspective of its struggle with India is something that is barely heard in most discussions of the issue. But the attitude of the Pakistani government has to be understood in that context. Rubin and Rashid argue that:

... the concept of "pressuring" Pakistan is flawed. No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal. The Pakistani security establishment believes that it faces both a U.S.-Indian-Afghan alliance and a separate Iranian-Russian alliance, each aimed at undermining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and even dismembering the Pakistani state. Some (but not all) in the establishment see armed militants within Pakistan as a threat -- but they largely consider it one that is ultimately controllable, and in any case secondary to the threat posed by their nuclear-armed enemies.

Pakistan's military command, which makes and implements the country's national security policies, shares a commitment to a vision of Pakistan as the homeland for South Asian Muslims and therefore to the incorporation of Kashmir into Pakistan. It considers Afghanistan as within Pakistan's security perimeter. Add to this that Pakistan does not have border agreements with either India, into which Islamabad contests the incorporation of Kashmir, or Afghanistan, which has never explicitly recognized the Durand Line, which separates the two countries, as an interstate border. ...

Musharraf asked for time to form a "moderate Taliban" government in Afghanistan but failed to produce one. When that failed, he asked that the United States prevent the Northern Alliance (part of the anti-Taliban resistance in Afghanistan), which had been supported by India, Iran, and Russia, from occupying Kabul; that appeal failed. Now, Pakistan claims that the Northern Alliance is working with India from inside Afghanistan's security services. Meanwhile, India has reestablished its consulates in Afghan cities, including some near the Pakistani border. India has genuine consular interests there (Hindu and Sikh populations, commercial travel, aid programs), but it may also in fact be using the consulates against Pakistan, as Islamabad claims. India has also, in cooperation with Iran, completed a highway linking Afghanistan's ring road (which connects its major cities) to Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf, potentially eliminating Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan for access to the sea and marginalizing Pakistan's new Arabian Sea port of Gwadar, which was built with hundreds of millions of dollars of Chinese aid. And the new U.S.-Indian nuclear deal effectively recognizes New Delhi's legitimacy as a nuclear power while continuing to treat Islamabad, with its record of proliferation, as a pariah. In this context, pressuring or giving aid to Pakistan, without any effort to address the sources of its insecurity, cannot yield a sustainable positive outcome. [my emphasis]
The framework of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has take US policy so far off the rails that even the most pragmatic, mimimalist approach will require drastic changes to our current policies in the region. The military effort in Afghanistan is a bust. And it becomes more of one every time our brilliant aerial counter-insurgency war blasts up a couple of dozen more civilians or zaps soldiers in the Afghan Army with "friendly" fire.

And the increasingly open US war on the territory of Pakistan suffers from the same problem, as David Montero reports: In Pakistan, US airstrike kills at least 8, but misses target Christian Science Monitor Online 10/23/08. As is often the case in these situations, the exact number killed isn't clear, especially in the early reports and often never. But Reuters reports (Suspected U.S. missile attack kills 7 in Pakistan 10/23/08):

Twenty-three people, most of them relatives of Haqqani, were killed in a similar attack on the same village in September.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan, frustrated over growing cross-border attacks from the Pakistani side of the border, have carried out about a dozen missile strikes and a commando raid in Pakistan since the beginning of September.

A large number of militants have been killed in the attacks but no senior al Qaeda or Taliban commander has been reported to have been killed.

Pakistan, an important partner in the U.S.-led campaign against militancy, objects to the U.S. strikes on its territory saying they violate its sovereignty and increase support for the militants.
Rubin and Rashid warn that the Karzai government is not only losing what little support it has left among the Afghan people. They also warn that Afghanistan cannot sustain the size of the armed forces current NATO plans expect them to develop.

NATO policy needs to shift more toward limited goals of preventing Afghanistan and Pakistan so far as feasible from being used as the base for Al Qa'ida-style terrorist attacks against US and European interests. And they need to craft a more realistic policy of international pressure and alliances to mitigate the Indian-Pakistan tensions that give Pakistan an incentive to keep Afghanistan a scene of protracted conflict. The worst result of making the GWOT our primary framework for policy in the region has been eight years of neglect of nuclear nonproliferation needs in the area, which also require diffusing India-Pakistan conflict, which in turn includes some sort of workable settlement of the long-festering Kashmir dispute.

An open-ended NATO war in Afghanistan is worse than a dead-end.

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