Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are heating up as American forces apparently inadvertently killed some eleven Pakistani soldiers along the shared border of Pakistan and Afghanistan:

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threatened on Sunday to send soldiers into Pakistan to fight militant groups operating in the border areas to attack Afghanistan. His comments, made at a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, are likely to worsen tensions between the countries, just days after American forces in Afghanistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers on the border while pursuing militants.
“If these people in Pakistan give themselves the right to come and fight in Afghanistan, as was continuing for the last 30 years, so Afghanistan has the right to cross the border and destroy terrorist nests, spying, extremism and killing, in order to defend itself, its schools, its peoples and its life,” Mr. Karzai said.

As Stephen Pampinella points out, while Iraq is marginally improving (however slowly) Afghanistan is toiling and seems to have been essentially placed on both the media and political back burner.

Pakistan moves away from both the reign and policies of Pervez Musharraf, who is now struggling to cling to a largely symbolic position of leadership, and consequently away from the perceived "puppetmastery" (and leveraged influence) of American financial largess. The result has been a softened approach toward the unruly and tribal borderlands that Waziristan and the North-West Frontier entail and the Taliban increasingly thrive. As pressure from Pakistan's military wanes and the Taliban is relieved of one effective front to fight on (or operate against; the Taliban effort eastward has been much less Fabian much more cellular and nebulous) they are, obviously, able to push more resources west into Afghanistan.

Karzai's rhetoric is likely driven as much by frustration of the entire ordeal as it is by the strategic Catch-22 presented to both coalition and Afghan forces (an aside: Karzai was a major player in the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war; not exactly a novice when it comes to strategy) in terms of bringing the battle to the body of the beast which lies not in Afghanistan but those mountainous and forbidding lands that lie along the border and within Pakistan. A classic damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

In terms of American and NATO concerns what needs to be gleaned is not so much the political stability of Pakistan but how the military, the backbone of Pakistan's stability, would whether a foreign incursion. The dichotomy here is that while Pakistan seems to be willing to, both historically and currently, resign it's hinterlands to the non-sovereign whims of tribal control it's hellbent both politically and popularly on disallowing any foreign military presence in otherwise essentially forsaken territory.

And yet I (and I'm no accomplished strategist, but...) remain convinced that the only road to victory in Afghanistan leads into Pakistan, else we spend years and countless blood and treasure merely lopping off endless Hydra heads only to have them grow back again. Of course putting American soldiers (I very much doubt our NATO allies would be willing to engage such an operation) into Pakistan is a vast gamble that assumes a nuclear armed state won't subsequently dissolve into chaos and that the Pakistani military will have both the resolve and ability to subsequently maintain state cohesion and a semblance of stability and join the American forces on the battlefield while political hellfire rains down in Islamabad.

That's one hell of a gamble and one which I doubt neither the Presidential candidates nor the current President will take on soon preferring instead the politically galvanized Iraq and the lark of scrambling to resurrect a failed legacy in challenging Iran. Reality meets the soft world of political sustainability. Sad. The efforts in Afghanistan seem to maintain a rather bleak future.

(Map via


Ymarsakar said...

While Petraeus has been able to force through various reforms and changes in policy and doctrine, the same hasn't been true for Afghanistan, occupied by NATO forces which aren't under the command of US generals and nor are those self-same US generals likely to adopt Iraq COIN strategies unless they are proven beyond a doubt to be successful and immune to international pressure and what not.

Jay@Soob said...

Hi ymarsakar. From where I stand any surge like COIN is nothing if it's not centered on the Taliban's source. And that source is Pakistan. Though I agree the multi-national NATO element of the operation is severely limiting. I suspect that we, like the Soviets before us and the Brits before them will leave Afghanistan to it's own devices.

Stephen Pampinella said...

Sweet post and thanks for the link.

Yes, the near future is bleak, but into 2009 some form of opening may emerge depending on who wins the election. If it's McCain, we stay tied down in Iraq, fighting with the locals to let us stay. Diplomatically, this bodes poorly for NATO/Afghanistan as they realize they will always play second fiddle to Iraq.

But, if Obama wins, we drawdown from Iraq (but hopefully not too precipitously), simultaneously freeing up some troops for Afghanistan and reducing institutional/organizational/mental stress on the military. The Alliance reads this as finally committing to the original front, which in turn strengthens their resolve to continue the fight. Most importantly, the Obama Presidency's implicit public diplomacy windfall may isolate Pakistanis who want to ignore the fronier, and embolden those who want to confront the militants. Then maybe real cooperation between the Afghans, Paks, and NATO can commence, as we all learn counterinsurgency together, hand in hand, led by Petreaus at CENTCOM.

At least, that's what could happen.

GW said...

Good post, Subadei. You are correct that the road to victory in Afghanistan leads through Pakistan and the NWFP, et. al. No enemy can be allowed a safe haven or they will never be destroyed. North Vietnam was a classic example. Though, for what it is worth, I would say the survival of Pakistan also runs through the NWFP et al. At any rate, good post. Linked.

Jay@Soob said...

Stephen, it's a nice vision and I won't dismiss it completely but neither will I be holding my breath. I'm not convinced Obama as president will precipitate a withdrawal from Iraq, especially as Afghanistan goes south. In fact it might end up being more politically advantageous for him to vice versus and pull out of Afghanistan and concentrate on Iraq!

GW, thanks much and thanks for the link.