China Hand on Afghanistan Policy Change

One of my favorite bloggers with a long, detailed, and brilliant piece that is a must read.

The context:

The United States and NATO can’t be driven from Afghanistan militarily. Nor, however, can the Taliban be crushed in the foreseeable future.

And:

The US is going to be in Afghanistan for years to come.  The only thing that’s going to change in Afghanistan is the objectives.

General Petraeus as new head of CentCom along with Robert Gates (will he or won’t he stay on as SecDef under Prez Obama?) are working on major reviews of all strategy from Iraq & Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The central core of which will be a call to begin negotiations with the Taliban.  Obama has actually had a quite hawkish hardline stance on the Taliban, so this will get interesting.  The idea will be to buy off and separate as many of the elements of the insurgency as possible, and see if possible to break the Taliban from al-Qaeda.

There are a couple of problems with this theory however as I see it. One, the Mullah Omar wing of the Taliban will never sell out bin Laden.   If they wouldn’t before the war, why now?  They are neo-fundamentalists in Olivier Roy’s terminology meaning they are interested in creating Islamic society not an Islamic state (they were very uninterested in actual governance when in power in the 90s).

Now the newer Taliban or Pashto insurgent groups in the south of Afghanistan can be dealt with it seems to me and realize they will have to get along with the Afghan Army.  But they will be seeking a withdrawal of all foreign troops in order to facilitate a stand down.  Plus, they have no real connection with al-Qaeda who is off in Waziristan.

Petraeus, as China Hand remind us, is a genius of the media age and has at times shown a unwillingness to bend to civilian rule.  The current batch of leaks to US media and from European allies is undoubtedly not accidental.

Ultimately the Taliban do not pose a threat to the domestic security of NATO countries nor to the international order.  They could become a FARC-like naro-terrorist group that will wreak havoc locally and/or a return to a brutal dictatorship but how is that different than say Burma?

How this all breaks down in real time:

It appears that the key job before General Petraeus will be to co-opt the regional impetus toward a negotiated settlement, prevent Saudi Arabia from mid-wifing a power-sharing arrangement favorable to the Taliban, assert American control and direction over the process to assure America’s continued presence at the center of Afghan’s security equation, and spike the loose cannons that threaten his plan.

And of course no discussion of Afghanistan without the broader regional question of which there as yet seems to be no consensus:

Even if NATO, the central Afghan authority, and the Afghan Taliban get on the same page, there is still the question of how much collateral damage to tolerate—or provoke—in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the same as Afghanistan. The Taliban, what we are calling the Taliban, is actually a series of global guerrilla groups–cellular, fragmented, networked, with fluid membership.  Some attack traditional tribal leaders, some don’t.  Some play by the old tribal customs, some are increasingly bucking them.  So a peace deal can definitely be made with some no doubt, but there is no one person–not even Mullah Omar–who has control over the movement and therefore can sign some treaty and end the conflict of all these various groups.  Particularly when so many fund their operations through crime (drug trade, kidnappings, smuggling, etc.).

What this still leaves open as a question that dare not speak its name in US foreign policy discussion is: how much of a threat really is al-Qaeda?  The Pakistanis don’t see the Pakistani Taliban as an existential threat.  There really is no proof that the Pakistani Taliban want to take over the government.  They basically want to be left alone to create their own idealized Islamic society in Waziristan.

The problem then is the continued hospitality/safe haven given AQ and its leadership in the Pakistani FATA region.  But why would they gain from selling out AQ?  What do they have to fear except some predator drones really at the end of the day?

No one will have this discussion it seems to me, but we need to ask how effective is all of this? How worth it is this attempt to get AQ? I’m not disrespecting the enormity of 3,000 civilian casualties inside the US, but AQ is predicated on more and more spectacular attacks and luring the US into Muslim countries around the world (by rasing the flag of AQ as bin Laden said–often as a decoy mind you)  and bleeding the  US dry.

Their weakness is the need for spectacular attacks and how difficult it is to pull off one always greater than the last one.  Particularly post September 11th.  But Obama is a Democrat and won’t be able to face any possible criticism of weakness, so he is going to charge in there and we’ll continue to muddy along I suppose for some time to come.

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