November 17, 2011

The Afghan endgame hurts both the US and Pakistan

No winners
The Afghan endgame hurts both the US and Pakistan, writes Ramtanu Maitra.

http://www.newsinsight.net/archivedebates/nat2.asp?recno=2219

Washington, 16 November 2011: Despite the effort and money the West has put in over the last ten years, the war in Afghanistan is stalemated. What the West most wants now is to end the war.

The US faces a massive financial crisis. Growing unemployment, rising dissensions such as the "Occupy Wall Street" movement represents, and the government's increasing indebtedness, have made the White House realize that the Afghan war is a liability. It drains $120 billion annually and its ten-year cost is nearly $470 billion.
Also, president Barack Obama wants a second term. Unable to resolve America's financial problems, the White House seeks significant troops' withdrawal before the elections to give him a winning chance.

Afghanistan is partly a US-created crisis. Washington has never had a clear Afghan policy. In 2001, then-president George W.Bush said the Afghan invasion was necessary because Afghanistan had become the home of the number-one anti-US al-Qaeda terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban government sheltering Bin Laden was dislodged. Osama fled to Pakistan where America's chief ally in the war on terror protected him for ten years. Once Bin Laden escaped, Bush shifted the engagement into a low-profile war. He told Americans his new prime objective was to develop a stable and democratic Afghanistan -- a proposition almost as absurd as the "war on terror" itself.

The new US doctrine was disastrous. Pashtuns were indiscriminately killed in the pretext of eliminating one or the other Taliban shura. Washington was unwilling to strengthen the Kabul regime of Hamid Karzai. An opium explosion filled the Taliban coffers. Together, these developments returned insurgency insurmountably in Afghanistan.

By 2005, Washington had a new aim: "winning the war." The conflict has killed thousands of Afghans and spread terrorism throughout Pakistan.

And whilst the US and NATO were struggling to define their purpose in Afghanistan, two of their chief allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, were working in tandem to undermine the coalition. They have pursued a policy set in concrete decades earlier.
Saudi Arabia funded the Taliban movement in 1995 to install a Wahhabi government in Afghanistan. Wahhabism is the national religion of Saudi Arabia. The kingdom reared the Taliban killers using Pakistan as a staging ground with the Pakistani military and ISI serving as guide and mentor.

During the Afghan civil war, Riyadh ensured funding of Wahhabi leaders such as Rasool Sayyaf and Yunus Khalis. The sole concession was made to the drug-lord and Islamabad's ally, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Pakistan's policy-determining military has also consistently backed the Taliban. It claims a Taliban government would gain it "strategic depth" against India in Afghanistan. But this is a ruse since Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is an all-weather friend of China.

It is, indeed, ridiculous to imagine Pakistan's military fleeing to Afghanistan with its tanks, missiles and other hardware through the Khyber Pass while the Indian Air Force controlling Pakistan's sky does nothing.

Pakistan wants Afghanistan kept out of the clutches of the Russians, Iranians and Indians who are close to the northern Afghans and Hazara Shias. Pakistani Punjabis who dominate Pakistan's economic and military affairs are deeply distrusted and perhaps hated by Afghan Pashtuns. No Pashtun leader accepts the Durand Line demarcating Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If Pakistan cannot bring the Taliban/ Pashtuns to power in Kabul, all hell will break loose in Pakistan's FATA and the North West Frontier Province. Most of Pakistan's Pashtuns live there. Because Pashtuns do not like Punjabis, the Pakistan military has had to pander to ambitious and murderous Pashtuns like Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin/ Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The US wants Pakistan to "squeeze" the Haqqani group. But Pakistan won't. To permit 20,000 or 30,000 American troops to return home to assist Barack Obama's reelection is not a Pakistani aim. Pakistan realizes US drones can continue to kill "militants" and civilians in FATA. But it reckons drone attacks cannot continue indefinitely.
But ultimately, it is a pyrrhic victory for Pakistan as well. Pakistan's much-vaunted military is fragmented. It is split into pro- and anti-US groups. It also harbours powerful anti- and pro-jihadi factions. Although the entire military remains virulently anti-India, faction fights are hurting it. Witness the October 2009 attack on the army's general headquarters in Rawalpindi and the brazen Mehran naval base terrorist invasion of May 2011.

Pakistan's military and ISI have nurtured terrorists to fight in Jammu and Kashmir. Some of these terrorists are Pashtun. Angered by Pakistan's alliance with the US/ NATO in Afghanistan, these Pashtuns have turned against their controllers. Similarly, Punjabi terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have become anti-establishment because they perceive Pakistani military "softness" towards India under US pressure.

Polls indicate that the majority of Pakistanis have bumped India from the top of the enemy list and replaced it with the US. This is problematic for Pakistani policymaking. The paralyzed Pakistani elite want close ties with the US. The people are pushing the opposite way.

Ramtanu Maitra is South Asia analyst for the Executive Intelligence Review in Washington.

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