Tag Archives: Pakistan

Assad for President… of Pakistan

It may be difficult to find the formula necessary to provide the Syrian people the political freedoms they crave, while also giving social minorities the reassurance they need to avoid ethnic and sectarian civil war, but a quick departure of the Assads is a necessary component of any solution. Surely Bashar would refuse the ignominy of a forced retreat to a gilded prison in a foreign country; but Pakistan could offer him the perfect face-saving solution while saving itself in the bargain: Pakistan should offer to make Bashar its president.

Oh, the unimaginative might be inclined to dismiss this idea out of hand, but its logic is compelling. With a single stroke, it would solve many of Syria’s problems, while simultaneously providing a key to the solution of South Asia’s most pressing and intractable difficulties.

This idea was put forth by Robert Grenier, a retired, 27 year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service and the former director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2004-2006. This will be dismissed not just by the unimaginative, but also by the realistic. Perhaps it’s really just a thought-provoking essay. Regardless, I wonder if ideas like this were/are shared among the intelligence services. I doubt it, but would love to know the reactions if this had been floated in an internal memo.

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Dick Cheney vs. Joshua Rovner and Austin Long

Dick Cheney:

In my view, the most important lesson to be learned from the Soviet experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s is what happened after the Soviets left. The United States turned its attentions elsewhere, and Afghanistan descended into civil war. The resultant instability and eventual takeover of the country by the Taliban meant that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists were able to find a safe haven there. Throughout the late 1990s, thousands of terrorists were trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and it became the base for the attacks of 9/11. When I hear policy-makers talk about walking away from Afghanistan, I want to remind them of what the consequences can be.

(From In My Time, p. 347.)

Not so, say Joshua Rovner and Austin Long in a CATO Institute Foreign Policy Briefing.

They point out that both the Bush and Obama administrations have argued that state-building and counterterrorism are inseparable. Obama’s national security strategy states that, “In Afghanistan, we must deny al Qaeda a safe haven, deny the Taliban the ability to overthrow the government, and strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan’s future.”

First of all, that argument is not even practical. Rovner and Long explain:

Unfortunately, the necessary ingredients for successful state building—time, money, and existing institutions—are in desperately short supply in Afghanistan. Public and congressional opposition to the war is rising in the United States, and the Obama administration has already announced it will scale back the U.S. commitment beginning next year. In addition, Afghanistan’s political and economic institutions are extremely weak. The fledgling government has had enormous difficulty expanding control outside of Kabul. The judiciary, which is notoriously inefficient, competes in many places with a shadow Taliban court system. Economic institutions remain fragile at best; witness the recent run on the Kabul Bank. For all of these reasons, the U.S. desire to build a strong and legitimate government in Afghanistan is not practical.

“The good news,” they explain, “is that it is not necessary.”

A state-building failure would not mean victory for al Qaeda or the Taliban. Even if the United States substantially reduces its ground forces in Afghanistan and the Kabul government remains weak and ineffectual, al Qaeda would not be able to recreate anything like the safe haven it once enjoyed. The original circumstances that made sanctuary possible no longer exist today.

Why? First of all, if the Taliban were to regain control over parts of Afghanistan, there are significant costs to pay (i.e. airstrikes), which they know well. There would be little hesitation from either American political party about using air assets for such operations. It is much more likely that al Qaeda will have to remain in hiding for the foreseeable future. This was proven in the Korengal Valley in 2010, when al Qaeda attempted to reestablish itself in an area that coalition forces had left, only to be greeted by U.S. aircraft informed by Afghan sources on the ground.

Second, the Afghan Taliban have some support from the Pakistani ISI. Al Qaeda does as well, but they will most likely elect to just stay in their current sanctuary. Pakistani militants, an enemy of the Pakistani government, do not have such support from the ISI. The Afghan Taliban would not risk their ISI support by extending a welcome to Pakistani militants if the Taliban were to return to Afghanistan.

Thus, if the Taliban return to Afghanistan, they have no incentive to welcome neither al Qaeda nor Pakistani militants. If they welcome the former, the U.S. will certainly retaliate. If they welcome the latter, no one will stop Pakistan from attacking.

As Rovner and Long conclude:

The upshot of this analysis is that state building is not necessary to succeed in Afghanistan. The decline of the central state will not lead to a domino effect in the region. Al Qaeda will not be able to recreate its old safe haven there even if the government collapses. Pakistani militants will not find reliable sanctuary either, regardless of what happens in Kabul. Rather than investing heavily in state building, the United States can achieve its interests by streamlining its counterterrorism campaign. It does not need to become mired in the bloody business of Afghanistan’s political evolution.

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The Firefight in Kabul

When the BBC reported yesterday that “Afghan and international security forces have been battling a multi-pronged attack by insurgents targeting the US embassy, Nato headquarters and police buildings in Kabul,” I became worried that the Taliban and opposition forces were becoming stronger and emboldened. The attacked seemed well planned and organized: the attackers arrived in burkas so they wouldn’t be searched, and were armed with “rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), heavy machine guns and hand grenades, as well as biscuits and energy drinks,” as if expecting a long firefight.

But how bad was it? According to the New York Times:

The American ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, played down the attack as “harassment” that had made for a hard day at the embassy but was not a game-changer.
“This really is not a very big deal,” Mr. Crocker said. “If that’s the best they can do, you know, I think it’s actually a statement of their weakness.”

The initial reports state that the attackers are believed to be part of the Haqqani Network, a Pakistani group affiliated with the Taliban. If this is so, it is further evidence that Pakistan is far more important strategically than Afghanistan, or at least that the stability of Afghanistan is dependent on the stability of Pakistan. “Mr. Crocker indicated that such attacks were likely to continue because the insurgency had strong support in Pakistan.”

NATO posted two videos of the firefight on Youtube.

The second video is here.


Simon Gass, the senior civilian NATO representative in AF, also offered, in the same NYT article linked, what must be the worst metaphor I’ve read in a while:

“Afghanistan is a little like a boxer,” said Simon Gass, the senior civilian NATO representative in Afghanistan. “It is going to take some blows along the way, but it will keep coming forward, and it will prevail over its enemy.”

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