AFPAK CUL DE SAC ^
Ajai Sahni *
The Mislaid ‘Strategic Shift’
It was as far back as 1999 that the US Patterns of Global
Terrorism report spoke of a "shift of the locus of
terrorism". Building on the observations of the report
on July 12, 2000, the then US Coordinator for Counter-terrorism,
Michael Sheehan, in his testimony to the House International
Relations Committee, emphasized a "geographical shift of
the locus of terror from the Middle East to South Asia,"1
A decade later, a new US Administration is rediscovering this
‘locus’.2 US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman,
Admiral Mike Mullen, thus announced that, while fighting "isn’t
over" in Iraq, Afghanistan would now be the military’s
"main effort".3 This was quickly
followed by the broad sweep of President Barack Hussein Obama’s
new ‘AfPak’ policy and, for the first time, a much larger proposed
military budget for Afghanistan than for Iraq.4
President Obama has also announced a progressive draw-down of
the present 142,000 US troops in Iraq, culminating in a withdrawal
of ‘all combat personnel’ from the country by August 31, 2010,
to leave behind between 35,000 and 50,000 troops to ‘train,
equip and advise Iraqi security forces’.5 On
the other hand, the promise is to ‘more than double’ US Forces
in Afghanistan in a purported replication of the ‘surge’ that
secured a turnaround in Iraq.
The first point regarding this ‘strategic shift’, consequently,
is that it is no more than the belated acceptance of a reality
that was abundantly recognized more than a decade ago, and that
had been deliberately suppressed by the perversity of US policy
that was deflected, in 2003, into an unnecessary and unjustifiable
war in Iraq.
The new ‘shift’ is now justified by improvements in the Iraq
theatre, and continuous deterioration in the AfPak complex.
There is no doubt that circumstances in Iraq have improved dramatically,
after the peak of violence in 2006-07. It is necessary, however,
to recognize that, the ‘peace’ in Iraq is, even now, bloodier
than the ‘war’ in Afghanistan. Data for 2008 indicates that
total fatalities for US forces in Iraq in 2008 stood at 314
out of a coalition total of 322, significantly down from a peak
of 904 and 961, respectively, in 2007. In Afghanistan, by comparison,
US military fatalities in 2008 were 155, and total coalition
fatalities stood at 294, up from 117 and 232, respectively,
in 2007. Data for the first four months of 2009 does, of course,
demonstrate a change in this trend, with a coalition total of
62 fatalities in Iraq, as against 91 in Afghanistan. This impression
of ‘stabilization’ may, however, be misleading. Iraq saw 5,929
Iraqi SF and civilian deaths in 2008 and the first four months
of 2009 have already seen 1,014 Iraqi SF and civilian fatalities.
According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, ‘Iraqi
deaths are higher than the numbers recorded’.6
In Afghanistan, Afghan Police, Military and Private Military
Contractor fatalities were 1,241 in 2008 and 368 in 2009.7
No authoritative data for civilian fatalities is currently available,
but a UN report put total civilian fatalities in Afghanistan
through 2008 at 2,118.8 Data on civilian fatalities
in Afghanistan may also be severe underestimates, since a significant,
though indeterminate, proportion of those reported as Taliban
militants killed in interior areas are also believed to be civilians.
As the US and Coalition presence in Iraq is diluted – most
participating countries have announced time-bound plans for
force reduction – there is reason to believe that militant violence
in the country could rise again. Indeed, the architect of the
‘successful’ strategy in Iraq, General David H. Petraeus, has
repeatedly warned that the gains in the country are "fragile
and reversible".9 President Obama has
also underlined this assessment, stating, "Let there be
no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult
days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq."
Indeed, there is much that suggests that what we are witnessing
in Iraq is a manifestation of America’s progressive historical
proclivity to prematurely ‘declare victory and run’.
In sum, the Afghanistan-Pakistan complex has,
for more than a decade now, been the principal source of the
global crisis of Islamist terrorism;11 the
crisis in Iraq was created by unmitigated American adventurism
and its dangers are yet to be effectively neutralized; while
Afghanistan-Pakistan certainly demand more attention, a ‘shift’
at the cost of efforts to stabilize Iraq will prove counter-productive
in both theatres. The imperatives of the situation demand application
of sufficient force and resources to both theatres and not premature
withdrawal from one, and merely incremental efforts in the other.
2. The Sophistry of the Surge
The surge, in contemporary mythmaking, has been
conferred an almost metaphysical stature. It is, indeed, astonishing,
and a testament to the superficiality of the global security
discourse, that this notion has been projected and widely accepted
as a brilliant and unique strategic innovation. This is, bluntly,
nonsense. The surge is, in fact, no more than a belated recognition
that the past assessments of force requirement in a particular
theatre were wrong, that the existing force disposition is inadequate;
and it is a tardy corrective to the failure to provide a sufficiency
of force at the outset.
The surge, in other words, is not a strategy.
It is simply the provision of additional force to a particular
theatre to offset past failures. The quantum of force existing,
and of additional force provided, in proportion to objective
assessments (and not the fantasies that may have prevailed in
the past) of the challenges and requirements, define the probabilities
of securing success. All ‘surges’, in other words, are not equal.
To address the hard core of numbers first: Iraq
has a total area of 437,072 square kilometers and a population
of 28.95 million; Afghanistan has a territory of 647,500 square
kilometers and a population of 33.6 million. Both in area and
population, consequently, Afghanistan is significantly larger.
Since July 2003, the strength of Coalition forces
in Iraq had remained at roughtly 176,000, with US troops fluctuating
between 108,000 and 168,000, before recent draw-downs commenced.12
The ‘surge’ in Iraq comprised an addition of some 30,000 troops
after February 2007,13 at a time when violence
was peaking (December 2006 and January 2007 saw about 4,000
fatalities a month). US troop strength stood at 137,000 in February
2007, when the surge was initiated, and rose to a peak of 168,000
by September 2007. Crucially, however, this strength was backed
up by a 600,000-strong Iraqi security force.14
While much of this is of indifferent quality, a significant
proportion has been trained by, and has been deployed in joint
operations with, Coalition Forces, and has now been thought
to be sufficiently capable to take over the tasks of national
security management, as the US and various other Coalition partners
progressively draw down their strength in Iraq.
In Afghanistan, on the other hand, the strength
of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, including
NATO) Forces stood at 55,100 as of January 2009, with the US
Forces accounting for just 23,220 of this number.15
The ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has clarified, will not exceed
an additional 30,000 US troops.16 In the meanwhile,
a number of participating nations have declared their intentions
to phase out their Forces in Afghanistan, and it is not clear
whether the augmentation of US troops will substantially exceed
the Forces withdrawn by other ISAF partners. Several member
countries, certainly including Canada, France and Germany, are
facing rising domestic pressure to abandon their military commitments
in Afghanistan. In any event, an addition of 30,000 soldiers
could easily be swallowed by Afghanistan’s harsh terrain, and
by a marginal escalation of the Taliban’s campaigns of terror.
Critically, Afghanistan has a much smaller – and far more poorly
equipped and trained – local Force available to share the burden
of the war. As of February 2009, the Afghan National Army (ANA)
had a total strength of 79,000.17 This is
to be raised, on an accelerated timetable, to 134,000 by 2011.
In addition, the Afghan National Police (ANP) currently accounts
for 76,000 personnel, with a target strength of 82,000.18
At full target strength, consequently, the ANA and ANP would
provide a total of 216,000 personnel – considerably less than
domestic forces in Iraq. Crucially, General Petraeus has "acknowledged
that the ratio of coalition and Afghan security forces to the
population is projected through 2011 to be significantly lower
than the 20 troops per 1,000 people prescribed by the Army counterinsurgency
manual he helped write." 19
The most cursory examination of the comparative
figures for Iraq and Afghanistan would demonstrate the acute
paucity of Force, in comparison to the much larger population
and total area in the latter. It is significant, moreover, that
the insurgency in Afghanistan has a multiplicity of compounding
factors and, that the Taliban are estimated to have achieved
a permanent presence in as much as 72 per cent of the country’s
territory by December 2008 (up from 54 per cent the previous
year).20 Indeed, according to a report by
The International Council on Security and Development,
the Taliban has some influence across the whole country, with
an additional 21 per cent categorized as having ‘substantial
Taliban presence’, and 7 per cent with ‘light Taliban presence’.21
The sheer and acute deficit of Force is compounded
by a wide range of qualitative factors that make the situation
in Afghanistan far more intractable. It is useful to recall
General Petraeus’ warning in this context:
In many respects, Afghanistan represents a more
difficult problem set… It does not have a number of the blessings
that Iraq has, in terms of the oil, gas, land of two rivers, the
human capital that Iraq built up over the years, the muscle memory
of a strong government, albeit one that was corrupted over time…
These kinds of difficulties make Afghanistan very, very hard.
We have seen that and we will continue to see that. That's why,
up front, I've said this is going to take sustained, substantial
Afghanistan, General Petraeus notes, further,
is landlocked, rural and has a high illiteracy rate.
Many of these difficulties threaten to worsen.
Population growth is a crucial source of future difficulties.
With a 2005 population of 24.5 million, Afghanistan is already
estimated to have grown to over 33.6 million, and has among
the highest rates of population growth in the world. It is useful
to recall, in this context, former CIA Director General Michael
V. Hayden’s observation that rapid population growth "in
poor, fragile states… will create a situation that will likely
fuel instability and extremism – not just in those areas, but
beyond them as well." Afghanistan is one of the states
he identifies among those where "population is expected
to triple by mid-century".23
Afghanistan’s institutional structures have
also been "unhinged by war for nearly 30 years".24
Despite the past eight years of liberal – though often misdirected
– US and international support, the capacities for Governance
remain abysmal. Worse, the destruction of infrastructure, the
systematic slaughter or flight of educated elites, and the crisis
of national leadership, place rigid constraints on the very
possibility of rapid augmentation of capacities – even with
significant infusion of foreign financial resources. The profile
of educational capacities is a telling index of this collapse:
Higher education in Afghanistan has deteriorated
dramatically over the past 2 decades. From 68 colleges with well-equipped
campuses in all major cities, the higher education system has
been reduced to empty campuses with no faculty, students, or equipment…
Decades of war and refugees have almost destroyed Afghanistan’s
professional and technical base of educated people, including
teachers, administrators, managers, engineers, doctors, and other
technocrats and professionals.25
…By any measure, the education system in Afghanistan
has collapsed… In secondary education, the estimated current GER
(Gross Enrolment Rate) for boys is 5–11% and for girls as low
as 1–2%. Indeed, the numbers of children in school declined dramatically
in the 1990s because of the civil war, the destruction of education
infrastructure, and the hostility of the Taliban to secular education—particularly
the education of girls and female teachers.26
Just 19 higher education institutions currently
operate in Afghanistan, though enrolment had increased from 4,000
students in 2001 to 37,000 by 2007.27 Despite
the tremendous decline in Iraq as well, it is useful to note that
the country’s higher education system currently comprises as many
as 20 Universities and 47 technical research institutes, under
the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, which
oversees 200 colleges, 800 departments and 28 research centres.28
Higher education enrolment in Iraq in 2008 stood at 370,000 –
ten times the figure for Afghanistan in 2007.29
[There are, of course, tremendous concerns about the content and
quality of education in both countries, but these cannot detain
President Obama’s AfPak policy, of course, purports
to address many of these concerns. Michele Flournoy, the Undersecretary
of Defence for Policy, thus asserts, "In Afghanistan, we
are pursuing – really for the first time – a fully resourced
counterinsurgency strategy on the ground and civilian experts
as well30." Regrettably, there is little
within the outlined AfPak policy that inspires confidence that
this is, in fact, the case. Indeed, AfPak merely regurgitates
the failed policies of the past seven years; the "policy
framework and the importance it attaches to this region have
not changed dramatically from the previous administration.31"
The essence of this strategy is summed up by Brahma Chellany
as "surge and bribe"32, preliminary
to an accelerated withdrawal. Obama’s AfPak strategy, consistent
with that of the previous administration, seeks to weaken the
Taliban militarily and later strike a political deal with them
from a position of strength. This experiment involves a continuation
of the futile search for the ‘moderate Taliban’, the working
out of unprincipled deals with fanatical warlords, and the raising
of private armed militia, each of which has proven to be tragically
counter-productive in the past. Given the fractious tribal politics
of Afghanistan, and the limitless sanctuaries provided by its
terrain, as well as the current and rising disruptive dominance
of the Taliban, any deal-making with particular groups "will
only strengthen the global jihadists’ cause"33.
What we have, here, is another attempt by "‘limp liberals’34
– who seek to purchase peace by offering concessions to those
who systematically use the murder of civilians to secure their
political or ‘celestial’ ends35". Past
experiments in Afghanistan justify little optimism regarding
the success of this renewed attempt. In any event, the tiny
‘surge’ that is being attempted lacks the potential of creating
even the transient dominance that would be necessary to negotiate,
from a position of strength, even with the more opportunistic
elements within the Taliban.
Another much-talked-about component of contemporary
COIN strategy is the ‘hearts-and-minds’ component, the effort
to win over local populations through developmental works. In
the first instance, it is highly improbable that any such initiative
can be successful as long as Predator and missile strikes
continue to inflict disproportionate ‘collateral damage’ – though
President Obama has committed particularly "to make every
effort to avoid civilian casualties"36.
Crucially, the USD 65 billion allocation for Afghanistan includes
a developmental component that "doubles the size of the
pot of money used by American commanders in Afghanistan to win
over the population"37, though the US
proposes to ‘limit its efforts to areas of expertise’, as far
as developmental initiatives in Afghanistan are concerned, while
greater emphasis would be placed on coordinating the efforts
of other countries. Unfortunately, the record of developmental
investment in Afghanistan has been disastrous – what Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton has described as "heartbreaking":
For those of you who have been on the ground in
Afghanistan, you have seen with your own eyes that a lot of these
aid programs don't work… There are so many problems with them.
There are problems of design, there are problems of staffing,
there are problems of implementation, there are problems of accountability.38
A very large proportion of the aid, moreover,
simply flows out of the country, funding profiteering western
implementing agencies. Noting that "Foreign aid accounts
for 90 per cent of public expenditure in Afghanistan"39,
the aid agency OXFAM had earlier charged that much of the U.S.
aid in Afghanistan is wasted on consulting costs, subcontractor
fees and duplication40. Another commentator
It is estimated that less than half of development-assistance
money budgeted for roads, schools, hospitals, electricity and
other structural needs actually reaches the projects it was ear-marked
for and only a quarter of those funds actually get to end users
in the rural areas where most Afghans live.41
At bottom, it is necessary to contend with the
reality of the collapse of governance in Afghanistan, and the
principal that you cannot develop42 what you
do not control. Development can only follow once the disruptive
dominance of the Taliban over an overwhelming proportion of the
country is effectively neutralized. The truth is, "NATO forces
may be able to defeat the Taliban in individual battles, but they
are not able to hold territory, much less clear, build and develop."
There is little possibility that NATO or the Afghan Government
will be able to meet this necessary objective of counter-insurgency
– to clear, build and develop – under the present policy framework
and disposition of forces and resources.
To reiterate, then, the surge is not
a solution; only a sufficiency of forces and resources, deployed
within a coherent strategic framework, can constitute a
solution. President Obama’s AfPak strategy contains none of
these elements. It brings, in effect, far too little and much
too late to the Afghan theatre. It does so, moreover, at the
expense of Iraq, where levels of stabilization remain, at best,
tentative and fragile, and consequently risks escalation in
that theatre as well.
3. Pakistan: The Seat of Desolation
It is in Pakistan that the Obama administration faces its greatest
challenge, and where its policy fails most comprehensively to
break new ground. Crucially, Obama’s perspectives remain firmly
fixed on near-term challenges and the objective of securing
a tenable ‘exit policy’ for US forces in Afghanistan, with drastically
diminished goals within the region – specifically, denying the
al Qaeda safe haven and an operational base in Pakistan’s border
areas. The strategy to secure these limited objectives appears
to be a virtual blank cheque to the Pakistan Army and Government,
notwithstanding some tough rhetoric about ‘conditionalities’
and the diluted terms imposed by the Pakistan Enduring Assistance
and Cooperation Enhancement (PEACE) Act, 2009, which gives approveal
to a tripling of non-military aid to Pakistan, even as it deleted
the reference to "cross border attacks into India"
– replacing this with the expression "neighbouring countries".
While this may appear to be no more than a quibble, the reality
is that Pakistan reads this as near-immunity for acts of terrorism
on Indian soil. In any event, US conditionalities are of no
real relevance. The US has no punitive capacities against Pakistan
in view of its continued dependence on the latter to secure
any kind of action against the Taliban – al Qaeda combine on
Pakistani soil. Indeed, if the US had the capacities to impose
effective penalites on Pakistan, it would not have ignored the
Pakistani role in the hundreds of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan,
including many in which American lives were lost; or ignored
the repeated and well documented warnings of an expanding Pakistani
nuclear arsenal at a time when the security, from extremist
forces, of the country’s existing arsenal is suspect. The truth
is, the same old ‘strategic’ calculations and the logic of Pakistan’s
‘indispensibility’ to the ‘war against terrorism’ or "COIN
(counter-insurgency) campaign"– or whatever politically
correct euphemism the Obama Administration may now choose –
will inevitably prevail the next time US or ISAF lives are lost
in Afghanistan, or Indians are targeted in Afghanistan or in
India, in an ISI-backed terrorist attack.
Curiously, augmenting US aid to Pakistan comes at a time when
President Obama explicitly recognizes that the "civilian
government there is very fragile and don’t seem to have the
capacity to deliver basic services."43
Worse, despite the apparent magnitude of aid flowing in to Pakistan,
these are paltry amounts in terms of the sheer demographic explosion
and developmental deficits in the country. Far from addressing
the country’s poverty and backwardness, infusions of foreign
aid have historically acted as no more than bribes to the national
elites – military and political – to secure minimal compliance
with reduced US and Western policy objectives. There is no reason
to believe that President Obama’s policy brings anything new
to the table.
Worse, as Pakistan’s implosion gathers pace, neither the US
nor the wider international community appears to be exploring
the imperatives of responding to what is obviously a rapidly
failing nuclear-armed state. Ignoring the entirety of the destructive
dynamic that has been unleashed by enduring pathologies within
the Pakistani state and society, the US leadership continues
to clutch at the straws of ‘negotiated settlements’ with the
‘good Taliban’, of concessions on ‘outstanding disputes’, including
Kashmir, and of developmental aid that is expected to choke
off the "assembly lines of jihad" and the progressive
formal and informal (non-state) militarization of Pakistan.
But billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan in the post-9/11
era and a succession of failed experiments with the ‘moderate
Taliban’ on both sides of the AfPak border have done nothing
to stabilize this catastrophic country, and have only seen a
continuous increase in the spaces for radicalization and religious
extremism on its soil. Pakistan has, today, established itself
as the very heart of global terrorism and the necessity of re-examining
past policies with regard to this failing state is now inescapable.
The difficulty is that the world’s imagination has been conquered
by a skilfully constructed nightmare fantasy, and this has long
paralysed responses to a Pakistan that is now approaching the
threshold of state failure.44 Islamist extremism
and terrorism have remained integral to the ruling establishment’s
approach to domestic political management and regional strategic
projection, as well as of international resource mobilisation.
In the latter context, Pakistan presents itself as part of the
solution to the problems it creates, combining manipulation,
intimidation, and blackmail – including nuclear blackmail –
and is then handsomely rewarded for its ‘cooperation’. Against
…it is useful to conceive of Pakistan as a state acting as a
suicide bomber, arguing that, if it does not receive the extraordinary
dispensations and indulgences that it seeks, it will, in effect
‘implode’, and in the process do extraordinary harm to others.
Part of the threat of this ‘implosion’ is also the spectre of
the transfer of its nuclear arsenal and capabilities to more intransigent
and irrational elements of the Islamist far right in Pakistan,
who would not be amenable to the logic that its present rulers
– whose interests in terrorism are strategic, and consequently,
subject to considerations of strategic advantage – are willing
This threat has yielded enormous rewards in foreign assistance
as well as great latitude in conduct that would otherwise be construed
as unquestionably criminal and as appropriate grounds for international
sanctions. It is under a benign international dispensation – rooted
in fears of possible state collapse – that Pakistan has consistently
remained a ‘minimal satisfier’, doing as little as is possible
to secure itself against punitive action, but preserving its instrumentalities
and networks of terrorism, sustaining its campaigns of terrorism
at currently available levels of deniability and the international
‘tolerance of terrorism’.
The instrumentalisation of Islam and jihad remain an
integral element of the political and strategic ambitions and
outlook of the military-feudal-fundamentalist bloc that has
ruled Pakistan since its creation. Despite the colossal ‘blowback’
of the jihadi-terrorist enterprise that the country is
now experiencing, it remains the case that a powerful constituency
in the political-military establishment remains sympathetic
to and complicit with the Islamist extremist and terrorist formations
that continue to operate with varying degrees of freedom across
Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid thus notes,
A nuclear-armed military and an intelligence service that have
sponsored Islamic extremism as an intrinsic part of their foreign
policy for nearly four decades have found it extremely difficult
to give up their self-destructive double-dealing policies after
9/11, even under the watchful eye of the CIA.46
Pakistan’s accelerating hurtle into the abyss now appears irresistible.
Unfortunately, US policy continues to fail to deal with the
realities of Pakistan and its enduring pathologies, and with
what one commentator has described as "the slow transformation
of the Pakistani state itself into an instrument of the jihadist
agenda."47 The sheer urgency of the
crisis has largely been neglected by America’s status quo
policies, which ignore the fact that, as Ahmed Rashid notes,
"the situation in Pakistan deteriorates at
a pace faster than policymakers can grasp."48
It is critical to recognize the augmenting danger,
in this context, of WMD terrorism. Graham Allison, a
Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert, observes,
When you map W.M.D. and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan…
The nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than
it was. But the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan
itself, because it’s not hard to envision a situation in which
the state’s authority falls apart and you’re not sure who’s
in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials.49
Despite a growing realization among wide segments of its national
elite that terrorism is doing irreparable damage to Pakistan,
and despite the best-intentioned abundance of aid and advice
from other countries, Pakistan’s paper-thin institutions and
deeply compromised leaderships simply lack the capacities, the
vision and the will to check the augmenting momentum. Traditional
‘solutions’ – democratisation, development, negotiated settlements
and peace processes – have little scope for success in this
context. The Army is the only significant and relatively stable
power in the country, and it has historically held the nation
together principally through the application of brute force
and the instrumentalisation of radical Islamism – devices that
are now producing diminishing returns. Crucially, this Army
remains deeply ambivalent about the ongoing jihadi terrorism,
treating it still as a principal instrumentality of regional
power projection and domestic political management, even as
it is locked in uncertain war with its own creations, stretched
to the limits of its diminishing capacities across multiple
theatres of internal conflict. This is an Army, moreover, that
has long been mobilised on precisely the same ideology and principles
of an aggressive, conquering Islamism that motivate the Taliban,
al Qaeda and the numberless lashkars that project carnage
across South Asia and into the wider world through their ‘global
jihad’. It is an Army that cannot commit itself unambiguously
to the objectives of counter-terrorism – even if the tasks of
counter-terrorism could still be assessed to be within its capacities.
The strategic and foreign policy challenges for the US and
the global community, within the emerging scenario, principally
involve the neutralisation of Pakistan’s nuclear assets and
the containment of the fallout of the country’s collapse into
anarchy or takeover by a Talibanised terrorist order. Evidently,
these are colossal challenges, and the temptation to lapse into
the make-believe of aid-driven development, democratization,
‘peace processes’, ‘negotiated settlements’, and deals with
the ‘good Taliban’ will be great. But these are precisely the
contours of past failure. Unless the hard core of Pakistan’s
‘enduring pathologies’, its risk of state failure, and the cumulative
consequences of these, are directly addressed, policy initiatives,
including Obama’s AfPak, will secure nothing of enduring value.
4. From Wishful to Strategic Thinking
Regrettably, there is little in the US policy shift from Iraq
to Afghanistan, or the related AfPak strategy, that gives grounds
for any hope of a ‘new era of peace’ or any significant ‘opportunities
for advancement’ in the South Asian region.
President Obama’s AfPak strategy overwhelmingly concentrates
on unrealistic short-term targets and goals, based on irrational
settlements with the most dangerous elements in the region –
the Pakistan Army, the ‘moderate Taliban’, and a powerless and
unreliable political leadership in Pakistan. At the same time,
the setting of hard deadlines for US withdrawal, both in Iraq
and Afghanistan, encourage an extremist calculus within a protracted
war framework that simply seeks to exhaust the political will
of the Western leadership to remain engaged in the war. It is
only when the US and the West accept and operate within the
protracted war paradigm that a rational policy framework can
For the moment, as President Obama has rightly noted, "there
wil be more violence". Regrettably, this violence50,
with its overwhelming dependence on both sides of the AfPak
border, on long range weapons and aerial targeting, and the
inevitable and disproportionate ‘collateral damage’ – the killing
of numberless civilians – cannot lead to stabilization of either
theatre. It has already provoked a massive displacement of populations,
and this will also further feed radicalization, even as the
Pakistan establishment’s duality on Islamist terrorism persists.
Crucially, with urban centres and parts of Punjab increasingly
affected, the very core of the surviving institutional base
has come under threat. Within this centrifugal dyanmic, there
is little within Pakistan’s existing institutional configuration
or the foreign policy tools currently available to outside powers
that can help stem the country’s ‘descent into chaos’.
President Obama’s ‘AfPak’ strategy rightly recognizes the irreducible
connectivity of the many crises of the region, but fails to
recognize that this ‘connectivity’ is itself part of the problem.
Pakistan has successfully established an Afghan dependency through
its strategy of disruptive dominance, and current US perceptions
and strategy are perpetuating and institutionalizing this dependency.
If Afghanistan is to escape the destructive dynamic imposed
on it by Pakistan, it must be helped to escape this dependency,
and not be forced into closer and closer "intertwining"
of interests through initiatives such as the Reconstruction
Opporutunity Zones (ROZs), joint security arrangements, etc.
– structures and inititiatives that will always be held in jeopardy
by a wilful, disruptive and extremist Pakistani state.51
It is necessary to recognize that Pakistan continues to dictate
the agenda for the region through its violence and extremist
perversity, and also that Afghanistan is now secure from all
directions except Pakistan. None of its neighbours have demonstrated
any evidence of hostile intent, and most (excepting, for extraneous
reasons bound to the relationship with the US, Iran) are now
cooperating, in various measure, with the US-led coalition.
These are the ties that need to be enormously strengthened,
both on tactical and strategic grounds.
Within the framework of strategic initiatives in both Afghanistan
and Pakistan, it is crucial to understand that areas of conflict
cannot be developed inless they are first recovered. The ‘clear
and hold’ imperatives of COIN must – but rarely do – precede
efforts of development.
While emphasis shifts increasingly to the AfPak complex, it
is imperative that the ‘fragile and reversible’ gains in Iraq
are not lost. There is significant risk that Iraq may be destabilized
While the AfPak strategy offers very little that
is new in this region, it is also the case that there is no
evidence of any alternative strategy within the US perspective.
There is, in other words, no ‘Plan B’ that could engage with
and contain the consequences of the high probabilities of structural
failure in the region. Crucially, existing US perspectives seem
to be focused on devices that are merely incremental
and entirely inadequate. As one commentator notes, "No
one in Washington is, as yet, responsible for winning the war."52
^ Paper presented at Plenary Session
Four: "'A New Era of Peace': Opportunities for Advancement in
the Middle East and South Asia", 23rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable,
"Strengthening Comprehensive and Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific",
Kuala Lumpur, June 2-3, 2009.
* Dr. Ajai Sahni is Executive Director, Institute
for Conflict Management; Editor, South Asia Intelligence Review;
Executive Director, South Asia Terrorism Portal; and Executive Editor,
Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution. He is also
a founding and Executive Committee member of the Urban Futures
Initiative. He is a member of CSCAP-India.
Michael A. Sheehan, Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US
Department of State, Statement for the Record Before the House
International Relations Committee July 12, 2000, . Ambassador
Sheehan was echoing Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s earlier
statement (of May 1, 2000) that there had been an "eastward shift
in terrorism's center of gravity" towards South Asia. See “US
says terrorism threat has shifted from Middle East to South Asia”,
May 1, 2000, .
The idea of a ‘locus of terrorism’
is itself suspect and diversionary in its impact. Terrorism is
a method, it exists wherever it has significant probabilities
of success. See, Ajai Sahni, “The Locus of Error: Has the Gravity
of Terrorism ‘Shifted’ in Asia?”, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict
& Resolution, Volume 13, November 2002, New Delhi: ICM-Bulwark
Gordon Lubold, “Obama’s
defence budget shifts focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan”, The
Christian Science Monitor, May 7, 2009.
Ibid. Afghanistan is to
receive USD 65 million as against Iraq’s USD 61 million.
Luis Martinez and Z. Byron
Wolf, “Obama: ‘By Aug. 31, 2010, Combat
Mission in Iraq will End’, ABC News, February 27, 2009, .
iCasualties, Operation Enduring
Freedom and Iraq, http://icasualties.org/oef/; http://icasualties.org/Iraq/index.aspx.
of Afghan Security Force fatality reports in Afghanistan”,
“UN report: Civilian
casualties hit record high in Afghan Conflict”, cnn.com,
February 17, 2009, .
Petraeus first offered this
formulation in his testimony to the House and Senate in April
2008. See, Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman, “A Plea from Petraeus:
Extending the Drawdown in Iraq Could Imperil Gains, General Tells
Lawmakers”, The Washington Post, April 9, 2008. He has since repeated
this assessment at several fora. See, for instance, “Iraq Progress
'Fragile and Reversible' After Bombings, Petraeus Warns”, Foxnews,
April 24, 2009, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/first100days/2009/04/24/petraeus-warns-iraq-progress-fragile-reversible-bombings/.
“Obama: ‘By Aug. 31, 2010,
Combat Mission in Iraq will end”, ABC News, February 27,
See, K.P.S. Gill, “Pakistan:
The Footprints of Terror”, South Asia Terrorism Portal,
“US Ground Forces End Strength”,
Global Security.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/iraq_orbat_es.htm
Ibid. A drawdown
commenced in December 2007, and by July 2008, US troop strength
had been brought down to 132,000.
“Iraqi Security Forces Arrive”,
Strategy Page, August 19, 2008, http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htworld/articles/20080819.aspx.
Assistance Force: Troop Contributing Nations (TCNs) 12 January
2009”, GlobalSecurity.org, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/isaf-tcn.htm.
“Surge in Afghanistan unlikely
to surpass 30,000, Mullen says”, Official Homepage of the US Army,
February 10, 2009, http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/02/10/16660-surge-in-afghanistan-unlikely-to-surpass-30000-mullen-says/.
C.J. Radin, “Afghan National
Army: February 2009 Update”, The Long War Journal, February 24,
C.J. Radin, “Afghan Police
Update: February 2009”, The Long War Journal, February 26, 2009,
Ann Scott Tyson, “Military
Wants More Troops for Afghan War”, The Washington Post, April
“Struggle for Kabul: The
Taliban Advance”, The International Council on Security and Development,
December 2008, http://www.icosgroup.net/modules/reports/struggle_for_kabul,
could be harder than Iraq”, cnnpolitics.com, April 25, 2009, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/24/petraeus/
General Michael V. Hayden,
“Transcript of Director’s Remarks at the Landon Lecture Series”,
April 30, 2008, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/news-information/speeches-testimony/speeches-testimony-archive-2008/landon-lecture-series.html.
Sam Oglesby, “Can We Win
in Afghanistan?” The Bulletin, March 6, 2009, http://www.thebulletin.us/article/2009/03/11/arts_culture/doc49b11bccbfld7515260758.prt.
“A New Start for Afghanistan’s
Education Sector”, Asian Development Bank, South Asia Department,
April 2003, p. 12.
Ibid., p. 1.
“Afghanistan: Country Summary
of Higher Education”, The World Bank, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/278200-1121703274255/1439264-1193249163062/Afghanistan_CountrySummary.pdf.
“The Current Status and
Future Prospects for the Transformation and Reconstruction of
the Higher Education System in Iraq”, http://www.unu.edu/news/ili/Iraq.doc.
“Academics struggle for
civil society in Iraq”, Inside Higher Ed, November 25, 2008, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/25/iraq.
“New Strategy Treats Afghanistan,
Pakistan as Integrated Theatre”, Defence Talk, http://www.defencetalk.com/new-strategy-treats-afghanistan-pakistan-as-integrated-theater-19116/.
“New Strategy Treats Afghanistan,
Pakistan as Integrated Theatre”, Defence Talk, http://www.defencetalk.com/new-strategy-treats-afghanistan-pakistan-as-integrated-theater-19116/.
“An Afghanistan 'Surge' Is a Losing Battle; So why is Mr. Obama
betting on it?” Wall Street Journal Asia, January 9, 2009.
Brahma Chellaney, op. cit.
Polly Toynbee, “Limp liberals
fail to protect their most profound values,” The Guardian, Manchester,
October 10, 2001, http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith//courses01/rrtw/toynbee.html.
Ajai Sahni, Foreword, Faultlines:
Writings on Conflict & Resolution, Volume 13, November 2002, New
Delhi: ICM-Bulwark Books, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/publication/faultlines/volume13/Article1.htm.
“Obama says US, Pakistan, Afghanistan face common
foe”, Reuters, May 6, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN06537589.
Gordon Lubold, op. cit.
Glen Kessler, “Clinton
Calls Years of Afghan Aid ‘Heartbreaking’ in their Futility”,
The Washington Post, March 31, 2009, .
Conference must result in more and smarter aid to Afghanistan,
OXFAM says”, OXFAM International, June 11, 2008, .
Glen Kessler, op. cit.
Sam Oglesby, op. cit.
Vikram Sood, “Uncomprehending
in AfPak”, South Asia Intelligence Review, Volume 7, No. 40,
April 13, 2009, .
Shahid R. Siddiqi, “A Report
Card on Zardari”, Foreign Policy Journal, May 13, 2009, http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2009/05/13/a-report-card-on-zardari/.
Pakistan has, for instance,
progressed up the Foreign Policy Failed State Index over the past
years, with its ranking rising from 34th among states at risk
in 2005 to 9th in 2008. Failed State Index 2005 and 2008, Foreign
Policy and the Fund for Peace, http://www.foreignpolicy.com; http://www.fundforpeace.org.
Ajai Sahni, “The State as Suicide Bomber”, South
Asia Intelligence Review, Vol. 1, No. 49, June 23, 2003, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/sair/Archives/1_49.htm.
Ahmed Rashid, Descent into
Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, London: Allen Lane, 2008,
Praveen Swami, “Understanding
Pakistan’s response to Mumbai”, The Hindu, January 26, 2009.
Ahmed Rashid “A Dangerous
Void in Pakistan”, Yale Global, March 4, 2009, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=12048.
David E. Sanger, “Obama’s
worst Pakistan nightmare”, The New York Times, January 8, 2009,
Arshad Mohammad and David
Alexander, “Obama wins Afghan, Pakistan vows to fight al Qaeda”,
Reuters, May 6, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE5445QN20090506?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews.
See, Ajai Sahni,
“South Asia: The Case for a Strategic Reappraisal”, Asian ConflictReports,
Issue 3, March 2009, Council for Asian Terrorism Research.
Tom Donnelly, Tim Sullivan
and Raphael Cohen, “The Not-So-Great Game: Obama goes AWOL on
Afghanistan”, The Weekly Standard, Volume 14, Issue 25, March
Paper presented at Plenary Session Four: “‘A New
Era of Peace’: Opportunities for Advancement in the Middle East and
South Asia”, 23rd Asia-Pacific Roundtable, “Strengthening Comprehensive
and Cooperative Security in the Asia-Pacific”, Kuala Lumpur, June