Sneak peak of documentary here:
The full video is available from the Frontline Website. A must watch in my book. Interesting to note that many of the experts on the interviews are made up of the new left/center-left security outfits (e.g. CNAS) who are going to make up a lot of the mid level positions in an Obama administration. Also a bunch of COIN guys (Nagl, Kilcullen).
There is so much to comment on, but the section (towards the middle) on Pakistan is the key portion in my book. The prior colonials have never been able to hold Afghanistan (Alexander the Great, British, Soviets) because they could not deal with the tribal Pashtuns lands in FATA. That sanctuary allows an on-going insurgency. This to me is exactly the same and I’m not sure I see a way around that fact.
I’m not as concerned as some of the interviewers (e.g. Colin Kahl) that Pakistan is teetering on the edge of total collapse. They are facing some serious threats–both financial and military. But I don’t get the sense that the Pakistani Taliban want to overrun the Pakistani state. They just want to be left to rule themselves I think. They have launched a series of attacks on the Pakistani state and civilian population in response to periodic incursions by the Pakistani military into the tribal areas.
As Robert Kaplan notes, the Pakistani army is not built for such fighting–it is built for a conventional state war against India. When Hussein Haqqani comes out at the end and says that the new Pakistani government of Zardari and Gilani sees the Pakistani Taliban (as did Bhutto) as an existential threat, that position is one of those elites and not necessarily of the Army, nor the ISI, nor perhaps the bullk of the population who I sense are anti-Taliban in the sense that they obviously don’t want to be ruled by the Taliban but not in favor of what they see as the US War on Terror. The airstrikes into Pakistani territory don’t help in this regard.
The COIN Doctrine of winning hearts and minds is a particularly tough one, and I’m pessimistic that it can ever work at all. But certainly after the initial opportunity has been missed 6 years too late in the Afghanistan context and 3 years too late in Iraq when the surge came into existence.
The best it seems it can do at this point, in my opinion, is not make it all out civil war when one leaves. But the state will be for a long time to come dysfunctional if not essentially hollowed out.
Eventually the Afghan Taliban are going to be part of the Afghanistan government. There will have to be an amnesty, allowing them to join the National Army, etc. But the Afghan Taliban are not centralized and controlled by Mullah Omar any longer. Moreover, with the loss of the Taliban police state, the Taliban have now had to join up with criminal gangs, poppy growers, narco-traders, etc. So even some attempt as Petraeus wants to do to separate the reconcilables from the unreconilables, which I agree is as smart a policy as can be done (and could do some objective good), with the fragmenting of these groups, such a policy as in Iraq post-surge may just be more a recognition of the basically failed state status/fragmentation of the country and work to undermine whatever state power is left (again as in Iraq with the Awakening Councils).
The Afghan Taliban at the end of the day and even a Pakistani Taliban that is not seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government are not threats to US national security. The potential of failed/hollowed out states wherein trans-national terrorists can hang out, train, and launch attacks is. [Not an existential threat unless we overreact to another terrorist attack like we did the first one--but a legitimate threat nonetheless].
But I’m not sure how those two get separated. There are rumors like Mullah Omar will split with al-Qaeda (h/t Attackerman), but others could pick up the slack (Jalalludin Haqqani, Beitullah Mehsud in North and South Waziristan respectively).
What is clear is that as long as there are foreign troops in Afghanistan there will be a jihad. As long as the Pashtuns (and their new Pashtun-reps the Taliban) are not part of the government, then the jihad will also be against the Afghan Army. As well as on the other side, the Pakistani state/army/civilians.
The tribal lands are the hardest nut to crack.