Taliban(ds)

This excellent piece by Anand Gopal in the Asian Times on the Taliban is getting some play (rightly) in the b-sphere.

Gopal asks who are they (The Taliban):

The movement is a melange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits that fall uneasily into three or four main factions. The factions themselves are made up of competing commanders with differing ideologies and strategies, who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners.

Gopal tells us the harrowing reality that took over Afghanistan after the initial ejection of the 90s Taliban (Afghan Taliban 1.0):

Meanwhile, the country was being carved up by warlords and criminals. On the brand-new highway connecting Kabul to Kandahar and Herat, built with millions of Washington’s dollars, well-organized groups of bandits would regularly terrorize travelers. “[Once], 30, maybe 50 criminals, some in police uniforms, stopped our bus and shot [out] our windows,” Muhammadullah, the owner of a bus company that regularly uses the route, told me. “They searched our vehicle and stole everything from everyone.” Criminal syndicates, often with government connections, organized kidnapping sprees in urban centers like the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar city. Often, those few who were caught would simply be released after the right palms were greased.

In Spiral Dynamics terms, this was the regression of the country from blue–imperial mythic, 90s Taliban system–to red warlordism, gangs, and criminality.

As a result, blue has to come back to keep the peace:

Onto this landscape of violence and criminality rode the Taliban again, promising law and order. The exiled leadership, based in Quetta, Pakistan, began reactivating its networks of fighters who had blended into the country’s villages. They resurrected relationships with Pashtun tribes. (The insurgents, historically a predominantly Pashtun movement, still have very little influence among other Afghan minority ethnic groups like the Tajiks and Hezaras.) With funds from wealthy Arab donors and training from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Pakistani intelligence apparatus, they were able to bring weapons and expertise into Pashtun villages.

In one village after another, they drove out the remaining minority of government sympathizers through intimidation and assassination. Then they won over the majority with promises of security and efficiency. The guerrillas implemented a harsh version of sharia law, cutting off the hands of thieves and shooting adulterers. They were brutal, but they were also incorruptible. Justice no longer went to the highest bidder. “There’s no crime any more, unlike before,” said Abdul Halim, who lives in a district under Taliban control.

Gopal goes on to indicate that the increasingly Pashtun nationalist Taliban are largely out of the al-Qaeda connection as they were in the 90s. There were always Taliban factions even back then, who had no time for AQ, but Mullah Omar (their leader) was close with bin Laden. That relationship may be breaking down and some elements of the Taliban, which is increasingly de-centralized and networked, are getting on with girls in schools and realize they can not go back to the 90s version of themselves.

That’s group #1. Group two is Hekmatyar Gulbuddin and his Hiz-i-Islami group. They are insurgents against the NATO occupation, but again not necessarily tied to AQ and really only interested in power back in Afghanistan. So 2 out of 4 at this point seem open to negotiations on a future Afghanistan that will involve them along side other parties. Though Gulbuddin is implicated in an attempt on President Karzai’s life. The Afghanistan situation, as always, is murky.

The last two groups however appear to have no such deals and have sanctuary-providing protections for al-Qaeda. This is the real conundrum as both are based in the Pakistani NWFP. Jaluludin Haqqani in North Waziristan and Beitullah Mehsud in the South.

With Haqqani:

Pakistan extends support to the Haqqanis on the understanding that the network will keep its holy war within Afghanistan’s borders. Such agreements are necessary because, in recent years, Pakistan’s longstanding policy of aiding Islamic militant groups has plunged the country into a devastating war within its own borders.

Even with Mehsud however the issue seems to be anger at the Pakistani government for attempting to take over the Frontier Provinces. In the recent Pakistani elections, the fundamentalist parties lost heavily in the NWFP regions. But it is unclear if those votes have any real influence as increasingly the Paksitani Taliban under Mehsud appear dedicated to re-installing a 90s like Afghanistan Taliban ghastly asylum state in Waziristan. Mehsud’s men publicly hang tribal chiefs of the old guard who do not accept their rule. There has been some talk of creating a Sons of Iraq like scenario with a tribal rebellion against the Pakistani Taliban, but so far that has gone to naught. The Pakistani Army is built for a war with India and not for counterinsurgency in the tribal regions. The two times they have gone up there in the last few years, they have lost and been sent packing. The blowback that has come out of those operations led to the murder of Bhutto, the recent bombing in Mumbai, the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, as well as the attack on the Marriott in Islamabad.

I have no idea how we deal with this issue. If the Pakistanis go in there, more blowback, they will likely break with the US completely go with China and Russia (which would love the delicious irony of profiting off Pashtun resistance to Americans in Afghanistan). If we continue the airstrikes, Pakistani sovereignty (whatever is left of it) gets further quashed, more blowback, and the civilian government which probably has about zero power currently has even less so and probably a full on military coup. If nothing is done then it festers and I can definitely see an al-Qaeda attack in the West getting launched from the new sanctuary.

For Afghanistan to recover it requires a deal with the Talban or at least the dominant factions. Gulbuddin may not go for that. Haqqani likely the same. Mehsud no dice. With the sanctuary open, insurgencies always win over time in Afghanistan (see Alexander the Great, The British, and The Soviets).

Afghanistan also requires a regional deal that ends the countries in the neighborhood to stop using it as a pawn to be carved up in their power play:  Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia.   Can’t see any evidence of that happening soon.

Which means we are back to where we started–how to prevent Al-Qaeda Central from launching another attack when they have sanctuary.  If the attempt to go into the sanctuary would cause regional collapse scenarios, hollowing out areas that al-Qaeda could then flee to if need be?

The most important reason to prevent such an attack (minus the obvious defense of innocent life) is that the US is still not ready to be resilient in the face of another attack (a la India recently or Great Britain before). The insane over-reaction that would occur, like after 9/11 but only that much worse, would be so destructive, particularly now.  Particularly when a Democrat is in the White House.  The worst attack in US history happens under a right-wing administration and they spend years blaming the left and kowtowing them into obedience.  I don’t even want to think how dastardly they would be if an attack happened when a Dem was president.  Goodbye free society and civil liberties.

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PBS Frontline: The War Briefing

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.

Joe Klein on Obama

Interesting tidbit from Joe Klein’s new piece in Time on Obama.

The Obama/Petraeus relationship I find fascinating.  [I still think they might be running against each other president, but that for ’12].

When Obama went to Iraq in the summer, he met with “King David” (as he is affectionately known) and the General gave him his vaunted Power Point Presentation that almost single-handedly sold the Surge and undid Baker-Hamilton.  Obama responds by saying that he appreciates Petraeus’ position and understands that this is his job (he’s the Commander of Forces in Iraq after all), but that Obama’s job was overall strategy.

Klein:

A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command.

Petraeus as already mentioned before on the site, has an interesting relationship vis a vis civilian authority, particularly given Bush gave him carte blanche.  The General’s recent strategic re-assessments of the entire region in his Command (Middle East and Central/Southwestern Asia) are an attempt some think to do a similiar move with the larger theater as he did with Iraq.  Except the Power Points to be coming out–that he gave his talk at the Heritage Foundation last week is of course a piece of evidence in this regard.  [Recall that during the Surge discussions, Petraeus was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt.]

However in this case, it might be less combative than Iraq:

Actually, Obama and Petraeus seem to be thinking along similar lines with regard to Afghanistan. I mentioned that Petraeus had recently given a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation in which he raised the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban. “You know, I think this is one useful lesson that is applicable from Iraq,” Obama said without hesitation. “The Sunni awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally,” he said, referring to the Petraeus-led effort to turn the Sunni tribes away from the more radical elements of the insurgency. “Whether there are those same opportunities in Afghanistan I think should be explored,” he said. In fact, senior U.S. military officials have told me that there is a possibility of splitting Pashtun tribes away from the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. “But we have to do it through the Karzai government,” a senior officer told me, referring to the fact that the Army had acted independently of the Maliki government in creating the Anbar Awakening. “That is one lesson we’ve learned from Iraq.”

Obviously Hamid Karzai already wants to (and has met with) the Taliban so there is no Maliki scenario in Afghanistan. Iraq’s history is a minority ruling over a majority who pined for power–and another group that wanted out (Kurds).  Afghanistan’s history is a series of minority groups who trade places in rule (with the Pashtuns typically dominant) but have a way of dealing with each other that is completely different than Iraq.  i.e. Any group knows they may lose power and the others may come in–the Northern Alliance cut deals with the Taliban/Al-Qaeda and vice versa even while fighting each other–because they know how they treat the other while in power will go a long way to determining how they are tretaed when the others grab the reins.

Going to get interesting, that’s for sure.

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.

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.

NIE on Afghanistan

Behind (for now) a government firewall, but what’s leaked isn’t good. NyTimes on the report.

A draft report by American intelligence agencies concludes that Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” and casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban’s influence there, according to American officials familiar with the document…Its conclusions represent a harsh verdict on decision-making in the Bush administration, which in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made Afghanistan the central focus of a global campaign against terrorism.

The Afghan Army apparently is getting better, but the opium trade has exploded of course, rampant corruption in the government.  And by corruption we should say that is a Western judgment–fair within those parameters but not so much outside of them.  What is typically called corruption in the Western press is what Edward Luttwak called “family-ism”–i.e. people using their jobs to get a cut to protect their families.

And then there is this (my italics):

The administration is considering whether the United States should devote more effort to working directly with tribal leaders in far-flung provinces, and possibly arming tribal militias, to fight the Taliban in places where Afghanistan’s army and police forces have been ineffective.

The Bush administration had long resisted making tribal elders a centerpiece of American strategy in Afghanistan. American officials had hoped instead that strong national institutions like the Afghan Army could protect the Afghan population, but the escalating violence this year has forced a reassessment of the value of the tribal system for counterinsurgency operations.

That’s McCain’s idea of the application of the SURGE (“Feel The Surge!!!”) to Afghanistan.  There have been some over-reaches by the Taliban in certain quarters of the tribal areas.  Other places they are protected under tribal rules.  In the places where there has been violence by Taliban against indigenous tribes that generally has been on the Pakistani side and is a product of lower classes rising up (under the banner of Talibanism) against entrenched local elites.

I’m not sure further weaponizing an area already awash in guns is an especially smart idea.

Not Good, Really Not Good: Pakistan Edition (Breaking)

From Time:

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Pakistani troops fired at American reconnaissance helicopters patrolling the Afghan-Pakistan border Thursday, heightening tensions as U.S. steps up cross-border operations in a region known as a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.

The Pakistani army has put a message that their troops have orders not to fire.

Here is the PM (from the US allied PPP):

“We will not tolerate any act against our sovereignty and integrity in the name of the war against terrorism,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told journalists Wednesday. “We are fighting extremism and terror not for any another country, but our own country. This is our own war.”

That could be interpreted as simply grandstanding and a wink-wink deal behind closed doors where the Pakistani leadership has signed off on US/NATO incursions (if only aerial) into their land.  But it again makes clear that Pakistan is only interested in this fight insofar as it involves al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban attacking their country.  They have no real care or interest in Taliban roaming across the NWFP into Afghanistan and launching attacks against either the Afghan Army/Police or NATO.  That simply doesn’t matter to Pakistan.  Pakistan wants the Taliban or a Taliban-like (Pashtun dominated) government in Afghanistan.  Always has, always will.

The Pakistanis also know that increased US pressure in the tribal regions, pushes the insurgency/terrorism against them.  If NATO/US gets better at preventing cross-border raids from Pakistan into Afghanistan (i.e. West), that energy-violence has nowhere to go but back into the heartland of Pakistan (i.e. East).

It’s the foreign policy equivalent of the financial meltdown.

Published in: on September 25, 2008 at 9:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Air Strikes Afghanistan

Per the last post, a new UN report out states that the US airstrikes in Afghanistan have killed 90 civilians.

Now a HUGE CAVEAT: The UN based the number on interviews–no photographic evidence apparently (I would quote the passage but its AP–see the link for the reference to my paraphrase). As a good guess it usually always turns out to be more than the US army officially reports and less than UN type groups say.

But whatever the exact number it has been clear that Karzai has repeatedly called out NATO/US for the use of air strikes in the country killing civilians. He wants the US to use planes to bomb Pakistani targets–yikes.

Again, I have deep reservations (a la Juan Cole, Rory Stewart, and possibly even Jim Webb) about a ground force increase in Afghanistan. The alternative however is either A)continued use of air power which will mean more civilian deaths only increasing the hatred of the presence of foreign troops and/or B)the Taliban taking over and destroying the Karzai government. Unless they can massively train up an Afghan Army double quick time that could actually fight which doesn’t seem particularly likely then they are serious problems in this part of the world.

It is not just as China Hand said, that Pakistan is not Iran to Afghanistan’s Iraq (true) but also the Taliban are not the Sunni tribes of Iraq. They deal with al-Qaeda are not going to turn on them and can’t be bought off.

Iraq, since I obliquely am on the subject, is gearing up for Civil War 2.0, so even Iraq itself is headed back towards chaos so maybe there is no hope for any of them.

Political Turmoil in Pakistan

Excellent, excellent post by China Hand at American Footprints. The whole thing could be quoted, it’s that good in terms of the analysis of the situation. The central premise of which is that by pushing for COIN in the Pakistan Tribal Areas and/or an increased quasi-surge in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government could collapse completely. [A country which has nukes you will recall].

Pakistani media and international polling make it clear that Pakistan believes that unremitting American pressure on Pakistan to participate in a flawed, excessively militarized campaign against the burgeoning Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is turning a serious but manageable problem—ethnic and Islamist extremism in Pakistan’s border regions—into an existential crisis that is ripping Pakistan apart.

In the days since Musharraf’s departure, Pakistan has been torn by a series of terrorist attacks, including a coordinated assault on Pakistan’s main armory near Islamabad, which left nearly 100 dead.

The attacks represent a highly persuasive demonstration by Pakistani Taliban extremists that peace inside Pakistan’s central, urbanized core requires accommodation with the Taliban, and not participation in America’s escalating counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan’s east and Pakistan’s frontier provinces.

The other point the post makes absolutely clear–and has been known to anyone who has bothered to pay attention/knew the history–is that the Pakistanis political elites (across the spectrum) essentially do not care about the government of Karzai. For Pakistan the calculation is entirely related to the US and India. Which is why Musharraf went after al-Qaeda (when he was pushed to by Cheney–mostly kabuki but to some effect) but never touched the Taliban. This was so Musharraf could receive fat checks for the military which were used to buy weaponry for a possible future war with India!!!

Now the PPP (Benazir Bhutto’s party) has tried to make nice with the US by promising a crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban/al-Qaeda but have lost political standing as a result–Sharif has just left the coalition government–and are likely to lose out and maybe fall soon.

China Hand compares this situation to the one in Iraq where nominal stability (for now) has been achieved because the Iranians have backed the Shia government and want stability and not an intra-Shia civil war which explains why they are putting pressure on Sadr to go political and not fight.

Pakistan has always felt left out of the Afghan government. One flaw perhaps that can be attributed to the Bonn Agreement–which was heavily weighted towards the Northern Alliance, the Russians, the Iranians, and the (for Pakistan hated) Indians. Although to be fair, the Pakistanis (and particularly the ISI) has backed the Pashtun for so long and see everything only through their (quasi-paranoid imo) relationship with India, couldn’t conceive of a different policy . Zero sum equation in their mind—India gained influence with Karzai, hence Pakistan lost. Hence Pakistan should back the Taliban and the insurgency. Or at the very least no do anything to prevent it.

Sharif is clearly going to make his run to become PM again predicated on compromising with the Pakistan Taliban. He has stronger roots in the conservative religious parties. He is going to run against the PPP as the anti-American, pro-Pakistani (“Pakistani solutions for Pakistani problems” you can see it now) pol.

China Hand then weaves an interesting scenario. That the ISI (or elements within it at least) were involved in the brutal bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul so as to make Afghanistan completely cut off relations with Islamabad, provoke an Indian response (in Kashmir perhaps?), and then allow Pakistan to go back to the war it really wants with India.

And then from that narrative, this:

Instead, while Karzai floundered to his doom, the Pakistani army could do what it does best: deploying its divisions in a conventional order of battle in Pakistan’s east facing India and engage in the crowd-pleasing ritualized hostility that has secured the army’s place in the center of national esteem—and fattened its budget—for the last sixty years.

So, a surge into Afghanistan, instead of adding an emollient sheen to waters already smoothed by an interested regional power, might instead apply a highly flammable coating of gasoline to all of South Asia—with the Taliban and the ISI both eager to throw a match.

And here I think I have a quibble or at least a question. If there is no increase of troops to Afghanistan, Karzai will certainly fall. And that would no doubt be bad. Particularly if there is video of him killed spread around the world.

Does Pakistan really want another civil war in Afghanistan? I guess they could live with it particularly if a Neo-Taliban/Pashtun resistance comes back to power (they would love that result).

But from the Pakistani side: do they really think the Pakistani Taliban are going to stop attacking them if they stop playing with the West? What evidence is there for that assertion? Every time the Pakistanis have made a peace deal with the Taliban, the Taliban use the time to train, get more weapons/training, and then launch more attacks.

What happens if and when Pakistan signs a peace deal and then the P. Taliban set off a wave of suicide bombers in Islamabad? Or take over Peshawar?

And for the US–how does al-Qaeda not use such a platform of de facto Taliban victory to attack the US or Britain? Or both. Undoubtedly if left alone they will I fear launch successful terrorist attacks on the West.

I have to admit to my own near-despair/nihilism on whether this issue can be resolved. On the one hand I agree with China Hand that pushing in Afghanistan could very easily obliterate what is left of Pakistan politically–unless another dictator were to come along I guess–at the same time that I think not doing so does not leave some “emollient sheen to waters already smoothed by regional interests” because neither the Taliban nor al-Qaeda play by the nation-state rule set. And to leave them free to essentially hollow out two states (Pakistan and Afghanistan) thereby giving freedom of access for attack to al-Qaeda is a deadly deadly scenario in my estimation. I have no idea what can be done.

Kabul Under Siege

Very harrowing story of new terror-related attacks on Kabul via Newsweek.

Key quote:

A sense of life under siege is spreading across the city. The main street past the Indian Embassy and another major thoroughfare beside the Foreign Ministry are closed to traffic until further notice, just like the road that runs in front of the U.S. Embassy and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters. Other streets that remain legally open are all but impassable because of the huge concrete blast walls that are planted outside potential terrorist targets. Private cops are posted at street entrances in some upper-class residential neighborhoods to check the identities of all visitors, and homes and businesses are protected by security guards, sandbagged fighting positions, concertina wire and floodlights. “Kabul is being transformed into a Baghdad-like Green Zone,” says human-rights activist Ahmed Nadery. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

Photo of Kabul hillside from poster Zedwards on Flickr under Creative Commons License.