Afghan prize would reward Pak for terror
SHAUN GREGORY, Jul 18, 2010, 07.20am IST
The US strategy in Afghanistan is in deep trouble. President Obama's December announcement that US forces would begin to draw down from July 2011 is being widely read in South Asia as the beginning of the endgame for the US and Nato in Afghanistan. Regional states are beginning to jostle for influence. They will be left for the second time in less than 25 years to deal with the consequences of a strategic retreat by a major power from Afghanistan. The nature of America's problems and Islamabad's support for the Afghan Taliban has moved Pakistan into poll position to recover its "strategic depth" in Afghanistan. If it does so, the Pakistan Army and ISI will undoubtedly conclude that their support for Islamic extremism and terrorism has been rewarded.
All four strands of the US-led transition strategy are going badly. Efforts to create a powerful Afghan National Security Force to provide security across the country are faltering; the counterinsurgency or COIN strategy has backfired in Marjah and the Kandahar operation has been delayed; the peace and reconciliation process is failing because some of the main Afghan opposition parties have declined to participate and Taliban representatives have insisted they will not negotiate; and the efforts to legitimize the Karzai government have been undermined by fraudulent elections and ongoing allegations of corruption and incompetence. America's hand is being weakened further by the civil-military tensions exposed in the "Rolling Stone" article, which led to the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal. The United States has seen nothing like it since the 1971 publication of "The Pentagon Papers" foreshadowed the ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam.
The dilemma for the United States and the rest of Nato is that with so much blood in the soil of Afghanistan and so much money spent to resource the war, the Alliance needs a success story to provide the political fig-leaf for disengagement and persuade their respective publics that the price has been worth paying. For the leaders of many Nato members, political futures are at stake. Yet the scale of challenge in Afghanistan is so great, and the need to find a resolution to the residual question of al-Qaida so pressing, that neither the US nor Nato can achieve an exit strategy on their own terms.
The most plausible success story, and one which would allow forces to come home with political cover and the al-Qaida issue addressed, is that the US and Nato have achieved a stable transition in Afghanistan to an inclusive Afghan government, that the Taliban have given up support for al-Qaida and come into the political process, and that the US will retain a residual regional presence — as it has in Iraq — to maintain downward pressure on al-Qaida in the theatre. The United States has come to believe that the key to this entire narrative is Pakistan.
Pakistan has resolutely supported the Afghan Taliban since it was forced to flee Afghanistan in late 2001 and it is from Pakistani sanctuaries and the main leadership shuras in Quetta, Gerdi Jangal, Miram Shah, and Peshawar that the Afghan Taliban has staged its comeback. Backed by the Pakistan Army/ISI the Afghan Taliban is now once again in the ascendancy in Afghanistan and is thus key to any US/Nato disengagement. This is why Pakistan's Generals Kayani and Pasha have made a series of recent visits to Kabul in which they have offered to broker deals with the various Afghan Taliban groups and the Karzai regime; it is why Pakistan has now cleared the way for Mullah Baradar to be extradited to Kabul to participate in the process, and it is why secret meetings have been held with Sirajuddin Haqqani, and others to seek to engineer an endgame. Pakistan has simultaneously been pushing its erstwhile proxy Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into the process and quietly boosting militant strength in the Afghan-Pakistan border region by facilitating the movement of Punjabi Taliban into the theatre. Pakistan is also circulating the idea that the Afghan Taliban will give up al-Qaida to reach a deal, even though there are few reasons to believe this is so and no means to enforce any such offer the Taliban might make to ease the US/Nato withdrawal.
Pakistan's price for being helpful to the US is acceptance of Pakistan's primacy in Afghanistan and that it has a strong role in shaping US regional engagement going forward. It is a measure of the desperation of the US that they seem prepared to agree this deal, cede the lead to Pakistan, and condemn the people of Afghanistan to Taliban rule or to civil war.
Simply put, the United States seems ready to reward Pakistan's duplicitous support for militant Islamic extremism with the huge geostrategic prize of Afghanistan. The implications of this for India are grave indeed and it is difficult to believe that a White House friendlier to Delhi would ever have countenanced such a deal. India is emerging as a great power and with great power come commensurate obligations. India must take a stronger hand in Afghanistan and find a response which provides the United States and Nato with another way forward, which offers the people of Afghanistan an alternative to the Taliban or civil war, and which denies Pakistan a strategic victory which will surely resonate across the region for generations to come.
The writer is founder-director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit at the University of Bradford, UK
Afghan prize would reward Pak for terror
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