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August 20, 2009

Who's Being Myopic Here?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Jari Lindholm has an excellent blog that is wrongly titled the Stupidest Man on Earth: he is anything but.
Unfortunately, however, his blog post today on the safe haven question in Af/Pak misses the mark. Speaking of the Taliban, he says:

After years of jihad alongside al-Qaeda and other international militants, they would not merely allow terrorist organisations to use Afghanistan as a base; they would encourage it. Naturally, toppling the Pakistani government by supporting their Pashtun brethren would be high on the Taleban to-do list, as they would want to see a friendly, ISI-backed general return to power in Islamabad. In turn, they would gladly help in providing him with the terrorist cannon fodder he would need for his covert operations in India.

But if this is the case and the Afghan Taliban represent an existential threat to Pakistan, why is the Pakistan government continuing to allow the presence of an Afghan Taliban safe haven in their country? And surely Jari knows that when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan they relied in great measure on the support of Pakistan. If the Afghan Taliban represent such an existential threat to Pakistan then why doesn't the Pakistani military do something about it? Now I suppose Jari might argue here that Pakistan's civilian government has little power over the military or ISI, which views the Afghan Taliban as strategic depth against India. But didn't the Pakistani military willingly just wage war against other Pashtun insurgents? Does he really believe that if the Afghan Taliban represented an existential threat to Pakistan - or created terrorist bases for attacking Pakistan -- that the military wouldn't step in? I'll admit I'm not sure I even understand the argument being made here.

Also, while I suppose it's entirely possible that high on the Taliban to-do list would be to topple the Pakistani government - so what? Without Pakistani support how would the Taliban even stay in power no less cause the toppling of a neighboring country with a fairly powerful military. Where else are they going to go for support?

As for the notion "we need 101,000 soldiers in Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan and India from going to war" I don't get this either. Is there really no other option at our disposal to prevent two nuclear armed nations from going to war? Is he arguing that we have to keep American troops ad infinitum in Afghanistan because these two countries hate each other and might fight a war. Talk about a rather expansive view of American national interests and responsibility.


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Oh man, what did I get myself into now...

Okay, here's how I see it:

Were the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan, it would be in their strategic interests to seek the re-establishment of the pre-2001 status quo, with a pro-Islamist general back at the helm in Islamabad. Since we would no longer have a military presence in the region, we would have no diplomatic leverage either, and a military coup in Pakistan would only be a matter of time. As far as terrorism and Indo-Pak tensions go, we'd be back in square one.

I'm not saying the international coalition (remember, it's not only America's war) should keep troops in Afghanistan ad infinitum. What I'm saying is, without the military presence we'd soon lose the diplomatic leverage, too, just like you guys did in Iraq after you announced your departure. Right now, thanks to 9/11, we have a historical opportunity to do some good in South Asia.

If, after the Kargil War in 1999, someone would've said to me, "Whoa, that was close, let's put 100,000 soldiers someplace close to make sure the bastards never again think of nuking each other", would I have said, "Great, I'm all for it"? Probably not. But now we're there, and it would be unforgivable if we just decided it's not worth it.

I'm not persuaded by Jari Lindholm's crystal ball.

The Pakistani ISI and military want the Taliban as clients, not the other way around. There are, reportedly, plenty of convinced Islamists in uniform, but Pakistan's national objectives are all about India (as they always have been) and suppressing terrorism within Pakistan itself. This is new. The Pakistani Taliban's violent subversion in Pakistan has compromised what had been a long sponsorship of radical Islamist groups by the Pakistani security services. With Musharraf having put Kashmir on the back burner and the Americans in Afghanistan, the more bloodthirsty Islamists have seen the seizure of more territory in Pakistan itself as their best option.

It's hard to tell how much that has been changed by the Pakistani army's offensive in Swat and American decimation of factional Islamist leadership. Having said that, what I'd expect the Pakistani security services to do in response to an American withdrawal from Afghanistan is the reverse of Lindholm's prediction; they'd negotiate with Taliban factions to desist from further adventures within Pakistan in exchange for support of their effort to regain power in Afghanistan, and to take their al Qaeda "guests" with them. In brief, they'd seek to export their terrorism problem.

A Taliban movement exercising de facto control over much of the Pashtun-majority areas of Afghanistan but purged of al Qaeda elements can't be said to threaten our security. Taliban hosting al Qaeda elements who never leave Afghanistan are no threat either. It's a Taliban receiving intelligence and logistical support from Pakistan's security services, controlling Afghan territory and hosting al Qaeda elements able to use it as a sanctuary, coming and going as they please that we cannot permit. A military coup in Pakistan wouldn't be required for such a situation to arise.

Just theoretical assumptions by Jari. The fear mongering that is part of American psyche. Taliban will be things of past if common pathan people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are supported by the world in bringing their economic conditions at par with certain developing countries.

It was USA that brought in 200 top Al-Qaida leaders from Arab countries to fight the Russians. The Taliban Government of Afghanistan itself never attacked any USA target ever but failed to hand over these Arab terrorists. USA went away in 1989 from Afghanistan and came back in 2001 after it was attacked. This was a great mistake that should be accounted for in all articles written on Afghanistan.

Why blame Pakistan for all that has gone wrong n Afghanistan? Pakistan was dismembered with the direct interference of India in 1971 why would not Pakistan protect its future interests that also includes that it remains protected by its greatest enemy India. USA loses interests in the region after sometime as we all know that is also Pakistan's fear when it is fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaida clique.

I the end the negotiation with the Taliban would eventually settle the issue so why so much fear mongering as that would exclude Al-Qaida elements anyway!!!

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Richard Holbrooke, the special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the Pakistanis had given the administration a “red line” against the deployment of U.S. troops in Pakistan, although the new strategy devotes an unspecified number of troops to train Pakistan’s special operators and the Frontier Corps soldiers whom Zardari relies on to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas.

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