Follow up Afghan/Pakistan (Rubin and Rashid Essay)

(H/t China Matters), comes the Foreign Affairs piece written by Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid on how to change strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, entitled From Great Game to Grand Bargain.

Readers of this blog will know of my longstanding admiration for both men and their work.  Rubin is the English-speaking world expert on Afghanistan and Rashid is the expert on Pakistan par excellence.  With that said, I’m curious (maybe questioning) one central premise of their essay:

Such an initiative would have two elements. It would seek a political solution with as much of the Afghan and Pakistani insurgencies as possible, offering political inclusion, the integration of Pakistan’s indirectly ruled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (fata) into the mainstream political and administrative institutions of Pakistan, and an end to hostile action by international troops in return for cooperation against al Qaeda. And it would include a major diplomatic and development initiative addressing the vast array of regional and global issues that have become intertwined with the crisis—and that serve to stimulate, intensify, and prolong conflict in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That is my emphasis in the quotation.  Everything prior to the bold and italics, I’m on board with–but I highlighted that last element for a reason.  Is that point realistic?  My question is:  for those  who have the power to hand over AQ–and we mean the real leadership of AQ not some low level thugs–would they have any incentive to do so?  Or for those who don’t have the power as of now to get them but would presumably have the incentive to do so, could they make such a raid?  Realistically?

Obviously asking such a question is heading into the territory of this underworld, so I have no clue on that one, but I’m skeptical at first blush.  I can imagine a scenario whereby one of these different insurgency groups could maybe put a hit out on a Zawahiri–maybe.  But catch them and hand them over to NATO? Seems unlikely I gotta say.

And on the latter point of the regional effort:

Securing Afghanistan and its region will require an international presence for many years, but only a regional diplomatic initiative that creates a consensus to place stabilizing Afghanistan ahead of other objectives could make a long-term international deployment possible.

Again I certainly agree with the goal, but again am wondering about its feasibility?  I completely agree with Rubin and Rashid that the Great Power game in Afghanistan is carving the country up and only leaves in a globalized world to fragmentation, spillover of violence, into neighboring regions.  That however is a rational pov.  The Great Game however is predicated on an essentially irrational view by my pov.   But the mutual suspicions and conspiracy theories among the ruling elites of the region run sky high (Pakistanis fearing encircling, Iran fearing a returned Taliban/attack from its East)–as the authors themselves  highlight.

This however is absolutely dead on:

More fundamentally, the concept of “pressuring”Pakistan is flawed. No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal.

Further the authors correctly note just giving them aid without addressing the central fear from the Pakistani viewpoint is “big hat no cattle.”  But how would one address this scenario?  I mean India and Iran and Russia have a vested interest in a non-Taliban/non-Pakistani aligned state in the region.  [Again how is the momentum of the Great Power Game to be undone?].

iow, With the possible question of whether AQ can be de-linked from the Taliban, this theory is quite logical in thinking.  But logic tends to work for those who can afford it.  Or at least logic from a modern state-based theory of governance.  I just don’t sense that the actors in the region are working out of a position that is irrational from our view (relative to a future-oriented outlook with an emphasis on stability over the long haul), but is rational from the point of view of elites (particularly the Pakistani military) whose continued hold on power rests on the perpetuation of the Great Power Game in Afghanistan.  In which they are acting in their own rational self-interest already.

As the authors note:

There is no more a political solution in Afghanistan alone than there is a military solution in Afghanistan alone. Unless the decisionmakers in Pakistan decide to make stabilizing the Afghan government a higher priority than countering the Indian threat, the insurgency conducted from bases in Pakistan will continue.

This is 100% correct; I’m just pessimistic that Pakistan will ever make such a radical re-calculation.  Like Iraq, I think the inability to create a state in the wake of the destruction of a totalitarian regime has led events to overtake the ability to create another one.  While again I think the outline Rubin and Rashid provide is a legitimate policy option–and much improved over the Bush position–it is quite a projection and really leaves open the fundamental question of realistic chance of success.  There seems to be no real alternative, so this will have to be given a try.  I’m just not particularly hopeful I have to say.

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