Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Getting Tough With Pakistan Will Help Salvage Afghanistan

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog about Afghanistan and Pakistan…so much time, in fact, that I sometimes think I’ve exhausted everything I have to say about the subject.  But my focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan has always remained consistent over the past year, the main one being that both nations are crucial to America’s counterterrorism efforts.  And both countries, by the way, have taken on such an importance to U.S. foreign policy that the last two administrations have spent enormous amounts of presidential resources on Afghan and Pakistani relations.

But my lack of clarity and my writer’s block on “AfPak” quickly disappears when I hear the same old questions being asked in the press.  Why is the U.S. in Afghanistan?  Why is NATO struggling to defeat the Taliban?  Why is the insurgency spreading despite thousands of American troops on the ground?  And why is Osama bin-Laden still at large, sitting in a cave somewhere after close to a decade of being America’s number one enemy?

All the questions may be different in some capacity, and some are actually reminiscent of doubts Americans had before September 11.  But even with these supposed differences, the answer comes back to a single country that has yet to show its full capacity, but could improve the situation remarkably if they decided to cooperate in a wholehearted way.  That nation is Pakistan.

The United States and NATO will be hard-pressed to achieve anything in Afghanistan if Pakistan’s security services refuses to get on board with what Washington is trying to accomplish. In fact, Pakistan’s unhelpful behavior over the last nine years is the major reason why the U.S. and its allies are fairing badly in southern Afghanistan today. Of course, this is not the only reason; a faulty war plan and an artificial timetable for withdrawal also make the job of securing Afghanistan that much more difficult (the Taliban can basically pack it in and lay low until July of next year, when the coalition pulls out).

Yet even with these mistakes (which are of America’s doing), you have to wonder if the war would be going as badly today if the Pakistanis were embracing the same strategy as the Americans.

But the causes behind Pakistan’s floundering are well known.  Like the Taliban, the Pakistani Government is planning for an Afghanistan that is largely free of American (and western) influence, and the best way to do that is by solidifying a partnership with a group that has the strength and appeal to help them achieve their objectives. Islamabad is looking towards the future and trying to determine what the best course of action in order to suit their own security interests in a post-American Afghanistan. Virtually everyone in the region, from the mullahs of Tehran to the Chinese, is expecting the United States to leave the region next summer, consistent with Obama’s stated timeline.  So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Pakistan is trying to get a head start over other powers in South Asia, even if this means pursuing a policy that is contradictory to America’s current position.

Today, the Taliban Movement is Pakistan’s number-one partner in Afghanistan, and historically, it has been Pakistan’s most reliable partner for the last decade and a half. Speculation aside, chances are that the Taliban would have probably died out by now if it wasn’t for the billions of dollars in military assistance that Pakistan’s gave them over the last 15-odd years. Taliban fighters have always been perceived by the Pakistani Military as a proxy force against foreign entities inside Afghanistan, as well as a hedge against an expanding Indian presence.

The sad part is that everyone pretty much knows this already, yet are still scared to admit that the situation in Afghanistan will stay the same unless Pakistan’s grievances are met.

So what can the U.S. do to reverse the tide and possibly gain Pakistan’s valuable support?  Given Pakistan’s paranoia over anything Indian, the logical answer would be an American led initiative to roll back Indian influence inside Afghanistan. But it’s quite obvious that India wouldn’t accept such a proposal (would you!). Plus, India is one of America’s closest allies in South Asia, so the idea that the United States would jeopardize this relationship by asking the Indians to limit their freedom of movement is probably far-fetched anyway.

The only answer I see that could convince the Pakistanis to cooperate in Afghanistan (and against terrorism in general) is by threatening to sever (or actually severing) American military support to the regime.  Islamabad is dependent on Washington for billions in military and civilian aid, the latest being a $7.5 billion American-led initiative to strengthen Pakistan’s educational system and basic infrastructure. Some see this money as a waste, but it could be turned into an opportunity for the U.S. if utilized correctly.  Nothing exerts pressure over an ally than the diversion of money.  Maybe its time to give the Pakistanis an ultimatum; help us achieve a somewhat stable, Al’Qaeda-free buffer zone in Afghanistan or risk losing American protection.

Is this a politically viable proposal?  Considering the current atmosphere on Capital Hill, probably not.  I’m guessing that no representative or senator wants to endorse a major reversal in policy ahead of the midterm elections.  But what other solution is there?  I’m open for suggestions, and so is the White House.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Peter Feaver at FP.com**


7 Responses

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  1. James. P said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Let’s get out of Afghanistan and ally ourselves explicitly with India.
    1. They’re the only functioning democracy in the area
    2. They’ve got a decent economy
    3. The Pakistanis cannot be trusted and become positively irrational on the subject of Kashmir and India.
    If Pakistan wants to control Afghanistan so bad, let them have it.

  2. Kaseman said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    1. Pakistan and Afghanistan are faux nations, like so manyimperial legacies, from Morocco to Indonesia, from West Africa to Manchuria and from Kazakstan to South Africa. Not nations, countries and maybe sovereign staes. Conceits.
    2. The western border of Pakistan was imposed in 1893 (and in 47 abrogated) on Kabul by Sir Mortimer Durand, and the eastern one by Justice Radciliff, who had never been to India before, brought in by the Brit Govt and told to carve up India in six weeks. One of the worst cases of nation abortion .
    3. Pakistan is a notion spawned 70/80 years ago by clutch of Muslim bnackward looking ideologues and romantics in northern India. Rejected even by Jinnah as late as 1939. Post 47 it soon dominated by the Pujanbis, 60% of the total population and in particular the Punjabi Army. Which has mismanaged and impoverished the country for the past 50 years. Its exploitation and suppression of the Bengalis, then the majority of the population, forced them to fight for independece, with help from all and sundry. However the Punjabi Artmy, not the Indian Army defeated itself. Like the US army now in Irak and Afghanistan!
    4. There is no one Pakistan on the Afghan issue. The 45 million Pustoons are the largest ethnic/nation with no country of their own now. 30 million live east of the Durand line and 15 million to the west. The latter make up 40% of the state of Afghanistan, whose western boundary was drawn by Sir Frederck Goldsmith and the northern one by him and a Russian General.. The centuires long Pushtoon mistreatment of the other nationalities, like the Punbis on the Bengalis, climaxing with the Telabs, has bee reverse son 9/11, and these people are now taking their revenge on the Pushtoons
    5. The consequent bashing of the 15 million Afghan Pushtoon by the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazara and others has galvanized their fellow Pushtoon east of the Durand line. They all feel they are facing an existential threat. As did the Hazaras under the Talebs
    6. So “Pakistan” is not a homogenous entity. The Army is state in itself, with its own culture and tension betwen various mostlyl Punjabi factions, now suffering a major crises that it has done much to foster. A big dilema is how to handle the 45 million Pushtoon. can’t fight them..they have thrashed both the Yanks and the Ruskis, so how to integrate them while taming the Talebs. Who have already cost the Army 10,000 lives, more than lost by the yanks but much, much less than the Pushtoon slaughterd by the feckless Yanks, in and out of uniform.

  3. IPPON said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Pakistan is paranoid about India. US can help to increase trade between the two countries, free flow of goods and people will help to resolve the distrust. After all India Pakistan are basically one country – they have been separate only for last 50 years. Once economic progress happens in Pakistan the extremists will have less willing ears. Regarding Afghanistan just leave it alone. Even if US “wins” after tremendous loss of people and dollars it will be a Pyrrhic victory. While Afghanistan will be about the same – if a country is already in stone age how much worst can it get.

    • Ashhok2718 said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      Surely you haven’t read the great two nation theory proposed by one of the greatest muslim leader of all time – Md. Ali Jinnah. Let me tell you according to it muslims across the world constitute a separate nation and should be governed by only muslims and not by some infidels who refuse to acknowldege prophet Mohammed. Pakistan and all other muslims nations have always been separate it is just that they gained recognition from UN after world war 2.
      And yes I agree with you all Pakistanis are good people it is just that some politicians are a little uneducated in world politics.
      Read more on my friend orange’s blog : lalqila.wordpress.com

  4. Rahul1 said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Afghans – like everyone else – hate Pakistanis; Love Indians!
    Afghans here seem to hate Pakistan as much as anything else, though they often hold Pakistani passports and lived there for years.
    Notes from Barbarian Central
    ANN MARLOWE World Affairs Journal 12 April 2010
    We very much want the Indians here. That much in Afghanistan we are sure of.
    India’s eager courtship of Afghanistan comes at a steep price
    EMILY WAX Washington Post 3 April 2010

  5. Sean D89 said, on June 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I know some people will take an issue with this, but I really believe that Pakistan is a worthless ally. They have shown themselves to be amazingly inept and lethally two-faced throughout this whole process. Most of the problems in Afghanistan originate in Pakistan. For Christ’s sake, it was only last week that an independent report found that at least half (if not more) of the ISI supports the Taliban’s efforts in Afghanistan! The ineptitude of the civilian govt aside, it is these rogue elements of the Pakistani military establishment that are the real problem. So if you get rid of the guys like the ISI, only then can we solve the Afghan problem. Obama really needs to take advantage of the ally we can have in India. Unfortunately, a joint Indo-US invasion of Pakistan is likely impossible (damn you nukes!!!). Its a pity that so much blood and money is being wasted in Afghanistan when the problem clearly originates in Pakistan. I will give the Pakistanis one thing though: they really know how to play the political chessboard. Machiavelli would be proud.

  6. […] . Of course, this is not the only reason; a faulty war plan and an artificial … Read more: Getting Tough With Pakistan Will Help Salvage Afghanistan « Daniel … Share and […]

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