Edition 13 Volume 7 - April 02, 2009
Obama's initial regional deployment: AfPak
The American surge in "AfPak" -
Pakistan will no longer be given a "blank check".
Focus on development -
an interview with Aziz Rafiee
If we are serious about promoting democracy, we have to have respect for Afghan values.
Shifting the goalposts of strategy -
Indians have to evolve their policies to deal with the emerging issues.
The key to success in the global war on terror -
Pakistan continues to view India's policies as an existential threat and Afghanistan as its defense in depth.
The American surge in "AfPak"
According to one story that did the rounds soon after western forces entered Afghanistan in 2002, a mullah told his Friday congregation in a mosque in Pakistan's tribal areas: "Truly, Allah is great! Earlier, the Americans were too far away for us to kill. Now, He has sent them to us, making it easier to fight them!"
While this story might be apocryphal, it does illustrate the ferocity of the primitive tribal warriors battling American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Among the early casualties in the seven-year old conflict were hundreds of gullible Pakistani madressa students who were sent into harm's way by Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the cleric who today effectively controls the valley of Swat, barely a hundred kilometers from Islamabad. Many were killed by western and Northern Alliance forces, and others were repatriated after enduring months of harsh incarceration.
Even as the wide-ranging Afghan-Pakistan policy review conducted recently in Washington was taking place, the fighting on the ground was grinding on. And as the snows melt in the high mountain passes, making cross-border traffic from and to Pakistan easier, the campaign will intensify. The additional 17,000 American troops joining their comrades can expect a warm reception, especially as the different Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have recently entered into a formal alliance.
A central point to emerge from the Washington policy review is the importance of Pakistan in the conflict. Announcing the new American policy for the region, President Barack Obama emphasized the point that it is not possible to stabilize Afghanistan without securing Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). To succeed, the American surge in Afghanistan must be accompanied by a major effort to ensure the active cooperation of Pakistan's civil and military leadership.
One of the stated aims of the new policy is to strengthen Pakistan's fledgling democracy, and to do this, hundreds of millions of dollars of non-military aid is expected to pour in. Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Richard Lugar proposed legislation last year that would peg annual American aid at $1.5 billion for the next five years, and Obama has endorsed this bill for Congress' approval. Included in this massive assistance program would be plenty of toys for the boys to keep Pakistan's powerful military happy.
But the military component will be specific to the country's anti-insurgency effort and will not contain hardware that could alarm New Delhi. One item Pakistan's top army and intelligence officers have been clamoring for would almost certainly be off the list: American drone technology that has been so effective in targeting al-Qaeda leaders will not be handed over. A significant point in Obama's speech of March 27 is that Pakistan will no longer be given a "blank check" and that aid will be pegged to measurable progress in the war.
For the last couple of years, Predator drones have been firing Hellfire missiles at senior al-Qaeda figures whenever they have been spotted in their hideouts in FATA. Each attack has been followed by denunciations from Pakistan's foreign office, the media and right-wing politicians. So it was very embarrassing when Senator Dianne Feinstein, a member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, revealed recently that the drones were in fact operating from a small airfield within Pakistan.
Pakistani leaders have argued that these attacks are "counterproductive" as they provoke street protests and hinder the government in its efforts to gather popular support for its unpopular cooperation with the West. The truth is that thus far, the Predator sorties have proved to be the most effective weapon against militants, even though they do produce a backlash as they often cause civilian casualties. Militants have been using women and children as cover for their presence in FATA, and this is something the Pakistani media often glosses over.
An issue that will have to be addressed squarely by President Obama and his team is the threat perception that is embedded in the psyche of Pakistan's officer corps. For them, India represents the existential threat, and this is reflected in the deployment of forces on the eastern border with the traditional foe. Pakistan's troops on its Afghan border are largely from the Frontier Corps, a lightly armed, poorly trained force that was created by the British to maintain law and order among the tribes. Officers serve on secondment from the army, and the FC is usually out-gunned by the Taliban. Thus far, it has suffered over 1,500 dead. Another handicap it suffers is that troops are generally recruited from the very tribes they are asked to fight.
If the American policy is to succeed, Pakistan will have to move its regular army units from the Indian to the Afghan border. But this will happen only when Pakistani generals are convinced that India poses no military threat. Thus far, they fear that once American forces pull out of the region, India might enter into an anti-Pakistan alliance with Afghanistan, thus encircling the country. To counter this possibility, they want to buy some insurance in the form of the Taliban who could be called upon to counter Indian influence.
But India is acutely sensitive about American efforts to solve the Kashmir issue. Earlier, Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, was given Kashmir as part of his remit. This was then withdrawn as a result of Indian pressure. Unless this attitude changes, Pakistan's generals will not be fully on board with the American surge.- Published 2/4/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Irfan Husain writes two columns a week for Dawn, Pakistan's widest circulating and most influential daily. After a career in the civil service spanning 30 years, he was president of a university in Pakistan for five years.
Focus on development
an interview with Aziz Rafiee
BI: US President Barack Obama has vowed to make Afghanistan and Pakistan central tenets of his foreign policy and has appointed Richard Holbrooke as his special envoy. Are these welcome developments?
Rafiee: Any change in policy from the United States is a positive change. I believe these changes are made very carefully after lessons learned in Afghanistan. But what I am mainly concerned about is the implementation and follow-up of these policies.
Policies have to be very flexible in terms of their implementation and they should have a proper follow-up mechanism. If they are not working, they need to be ended or changed because the consequences of bad policies are incurable in the long run. I hope these policies for Afghanistan and their implementation will take into account the realities of what we had in the past to build a proper future.
BI: Washington appears to view Afghanistan and Pakistan as a package. Is this a pragmatic approach and what consequences might it have?
Rafiee: I hope the US is not building a value-based approach or a short-term strategy. I hope the package Washington is putting together is not the same one that was in place during the cold war. At that time, Afghanistan and Pakistan were placed in the same package to fight against communism and the Soviet Union. I hope this is not again the same sort of package and my concern is that such a package will not obtain what should happen next.
Yes, there is one common problem in the two countries. But the contexts differ. Structurally, Afghanistan was never a fundamentalist country while Pakistan was established on an Islamic and religious idea to stand against India. Afghanistan never had such a framework. These are completely different contexts, so I hope this is taken into account, because putting two fundamentally different things into one package may not result in a good solution.
BI: As part of its focus on Afghanistan, the US is sending more troops to the country. Is a military surge enough to bring order to Afghanistan?
Rafiee: The situation in Afghanistan is a little different from other conflicts in Asia. Afghanistan is very sensitive because of its geographic location and the different interests of regional powers. Afghanistan lies at a crossroads of interests in Central Asia, the Far East and the Middle East.
Having security is a precondition for every development in the country. So security is very important especially as long as we cannot trust the local security forces, who can change sides in five minutes. The government hires anyone who wants to join the police. So the security situation is very volatile here. Seventy percent of the armed forces in Afghanistan, whether national army and national police or the Taliban, are people who have learned to earn money with guns. They are a generation of war. This makes the environment very vulnerable.
BI: There is also a suggestion that Washington is willing to engage the Taliban politically. How important would such a dialogue be?
Rafiee: You need to define what is the Taliban. If you see it in terms of not very accurate percentages, five to ten percent of the Taliban are the ones who fight for their ideas and are ideologically opposed to the values of the international community. This is something you cannot end. You could bring all the NATO forces and these Taliban would continue to fight. They will resist in any way. If they are removed from Afghanistan they will resist in Pakistan, in Iran, in Palestine or in Saudi Arabia. The resistance will continue to be there and no one should pretend it has been destroyed.
But 20 percent of the people with the Taliban are those who have lost their families and/or their properties and land. They joined the Taliban because they want justice. They believe that with a gun they can get justice. Some are just criminals. These are the ones that make up most of the fighters.
The remaining 65-70 percent are simply those seeking a better life and who want to earn a living. But they are a generation of war and they know how to use a gun to provide for their families.
So when we talk about the Taliban we have to understand what we are talking about. The largest group is the one that needs to be helped, to be brought into the state as normal citizens.
The focus should not be on military or political development, but simply on development. If you do not show the people of Afghanistan that there is progress on development, then they will simply go the military way, because that is the way they know. So development is the most important marker of success.
BI: Are you hopeful that Washington's new emphasis can be successful?
Rafiee: I am very optimistic. We need to come up with a compromise solution for Afghanistan. We need to compromise on a regional level as well as inside the country. This compromise, however, cannot be on values. If we are serious about promoting democracy, we have to have respect for Afghan values.- Published 2/4/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Aziz Rafiee is head of the Afghan Civil Society Forum and a founding member of more than 25 civil society organizations in Afghanistan.
Shifting the goalposts of strategy
History reminds us that Afghanistan long ago acquired the label of "tomb of empires". US President Barack Obama at least admits that the US is not winning there and cannot win unless some fundamental changes in strategy are made, and that is what he has begun. The concept appears to be to craft a political victory under the umbrella of a military surge and intensified offensive operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, then hand over the insurgency to the Kabul government. This is a near repeat of the Soviet model of the late 1980s.
On the face of it, there are many questions that reflect little confidence in the success of the new strategy. We recall that the Soviets stabilized Afghanistan in their mold with a fully functioning state and a robust military force that held out against vicious attacks from Pakistan. Yet jihad erupted from the Balkans to the Philippines on the assumption that the "mujahideen" had defeated a superpower. And now multiple versions of mujahideen are battling the sole remaining superpower, which admits that it is not winning after more than seven years. Hence its exit policy, defined as operative in 2011 by the US and its allies, is as important as its current strategy.
Obama has promised to enhance aid to the Pakistani military in the hope of greater cooperation. But it would be naive to believe that with nearly 23 percent Pathan/Pashtun troops in that army it could or would undertake major military operations in the Afghan context, especially when, for the first time in six decades, the army does not enjoy the confidence of the people of Pakistan.
The center of gravity of jihad in the region is Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which even top US military commanders are now publicly identifying as linked to militant jihadi groups. ISI is an integral department of the army and plans, organizes and directs the strategy of covert war and radical jihad across the world. Unless this is targeted or at least reformed, there can be little confidence in significant change any time soon. Pakistan's elected government tried to restrict the role of ISI but had to back off under pressure from the army leadership.
Another aspect is that the goalposts of strategy are being shifted. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been reported as saying that the aim of a new US strategy would be to ensure that terrorist attacks are not launched against North America. Does this mean that Obama will abandon the global war on terrorism? Only time will tell; but at this stage it appears that while Pakistan's deals with the jihadi outfits in Swat, Bajaur, etc., appear a positive step, there is a risk that these will free up fighters to provide the militants' version of a spring fighting surge.
Indians have to evolve their policies to deal with the emerging issues. While India is the only regional power to establish strong links with Afghanistan because of its economic potential, it would need space to either access land-locked Afghanistan where our aid people and diplomatic missions are being targeted by jihadis or pull out its existing diplomatic and economic reconstruction personnel. Any failure of the current Obama strategy could lead to India being sucked in more (mission creep) to provide protection to its aid workers; this has already begun with paramilitary units to guard the embassy and selected areas. One solution could be a corridor through Baluchistan to Afghanistan for international assistance and supplies mandated by the UN to alleviate Islamabad's concerns.
Here the Obama strategy is repeating a fundamental mistake so often made by Washington: bringing "India-Pakistan tensions" into its Afghan-Pakistan strategy. This is certain to complicate things, especially now that China has also joined this bandwagon. Pakistan will insist on solving the "core issue" of Kashmir in its favor, while India will at the very minimum remind Washington of the 26/11 terrorist massacre at Mumbai. The pragmatists will point out that the only way to reduce tensions is to stop trans-national Islamist terrorism and convert the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into an international border (building on the 1972 agreement), thereby allowing Pakistan to legalize its illegal occupation.- Published 2/4/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Jasjit Singh is director general of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in New Delhi.
The key to success in the global war on terror
In Washington we have yet another acronym: AfPak, which stands for Afghanistan and Pakistan. More specifically, the contraction relates to the area of responsibilities of Ambassador Richard Holbrook, the special adviser to President Barack Obama for the two aforementioned countries.
Beyond the swelling of the field of acronym-ology, the term AfPak sends a clear message that the United States regards success of current counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations as well as longer-term state-building projects in Afghanistan as directly linked with Pakistan. This is not to say that suddenly there has been a realization that success in Afghanistan is dependent upon the role Islamabad plays vis-a-vis its neighbor to the north and on its ability to manage the internal insurgencies and political challenges within its borders--particularly in the North-West Frontier Province, parts of Baluchistan Province and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the Afghan frontier. Back in September 2008, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen made the clear connection between Afghanistan and Pakistan when he told the US House of Representatives that he did not "speak of Afghanistan without also speaking of Pakistan". Mullen added that in his view, "these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them." The term AfPak signifies that this linkage is now the cornerstone of US policies for the region.
The current military campaign in Afghanistan began as a direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, while originally strictly a counterterrorism operation to root out those responsible for the attacks, has evolved into a broader strategy to prevent the resurgence of terrorist activities through state-building. These efforts have been very successful, leading to the establishment of institutions of democracy in Afghanistan and also cultivating a sense of renewal among the Afghans that their country is regaining its place among normal states in the region.
However, these advances are now being challenged as Afghanistan becomes embroiled in an increasingly intricate insurgency. The insurgents, known by some as the neo-Taliban, are comprised of former Taliban leaders, various warlords, disenchanted segments of Afghan society--mostly among the Pashtuns--Afghan and international drug barons, and foreign terrorists, namely al-Qaeda. This unsavory cast of characters is fed by the culture of corruption within the Afghan government, emboldened by the presence of foreign forces and supported by like-minded elements from Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan.
The general tendency in Kabul is to blame the shortcomings of the Afghan democratic experiment and the increasing strength of the insurgency on lack of cooperation by Pakistan in stemming the inflow of militants into Afghanistan and on Islamabad's alleged direct support of the neo-Taliban. For its part Pakistan, itself struggling with a growing insurgency inside its borders, has responded to these accusations by playing up its losses and its suffering as a frontline state engaged in counterterrorist activities.
The new US strategy, which recognizes Afghanistan and Pakistan as a seamless region from which the terrorists and their neo-Taliban allies operate, is to reorient the US campaign back to a counterterrorism operation with the primary objective once again being to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in the AfPak region. The United States remains committed in this new strategy to empowering Afghan military and police forces through training and partnership to improve human security for Afghans and to establish space for democratic institutions to flourish.
Initial reactions to the new US strategy from both Kabul and Islamabad have been positive. Initial reporting from Pakistan indicates that Islamabad is satisfied with the strategy. Afghanistan too has applauded it because of the US commitment to increase the number of troops, but more importantly because of what Kabul believes to be an official acknowledgement that the bases of the terrorists who are undermining Afghanistan's security are in Pakistan. However, Afghanistan's initial enthusiasm may abate once Pakistan becomes more involved in AfPak programs and its resources and international strategic relevance begin to overshadow Kabul's current standing in geo-political significance.
And let us not forget India. While the Afghan conflict is increasingly a regional and trans-regional issue, the most immediate wildcard in the current AfPak strategy seems to be India. Delhi has to decide whether to play the role of spoiler or peacemaker. For AfPak to become a zone of stability and security, Kabul and Islamabad need to regard each other as neighbors with mutually linked interests and futures rather than zones of strategic depth or ethnic expansionist dreams.
Yet Pakistan continues to view India's policies as an existential threat and Afghanistan as its defense in depth. In Kabul's strategic and historic thinking, India has served as a bulwark against Pakistan's illegitimate control of parts of the Pashtun homeland. Against this backdrop, the path India chooses will significantly influence the outcome of the AfPak strategy. Al-Qaeda and its allies could be defeated militarily and ideologically if Afghanistan, Pakistan and India adopt a model similar to Europe's economic interdependency and political cooperation.- Published 2/4/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Dr. Amin Tarzi is director of Middle East Studies, Marine Corps University. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of either the Marine Corps University or any other US governmental agency. References to this paper should include the foregoing statement.