Afpak policy will blow up in Obama face
Covert magazine, July 1-15, 2009
The situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (“Afpak”) belt
is deteriorating rapidly. Despite President Barack Obama’s troop “surge” in
Afghanistan, June witnessed a level of militant attacks not seen since late
2001, when the United States launched its military intervention in that
landlocked country. In Pakistan,
notwithstanding Obama’s generous aid “surge” designed to make Islamabad the single largest recipient of
American assistance in the world, the forces of militancy and extremism
continue to gain ground. His Afpak strategy’s prospects are beginning to dim
just three months after it was unveiled with fanfare.
Yet pressure is growing on New Delhi to actively assist a strategy that
is detrimental to Indian interests and, in any event, doomed to fail. This puts
New Delhi in a difficult predicament: It would
like to stay on the right side of Washington
but without jeopardizing its own interests. Obama wants victim India to come to the aid of terror-exporting Pakistan,
including by offering new “peace” talks and redeploying troops, even if it
means more terrorist infiltration. While seeking to prop up the Pakistani state
through munificent aid, Washington continues
to pretend that terrorist safe havens exist only along Pakistan’s
western frontier. India is
being targeted by Pakistan-based, military-backed Punjabi terror groups, like
the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, that are of little interest to U.S. policy.
Far from helping to bring the Pakistan-based planners of the Mumbai attacks to
justice, the Obama strategy can only encourage Islamabad
to continue its terror war against India.
But even if New Delhi were
to bend to Washington’s
wishes, Obama’s Afpak strategy is likely to blow up in his face, with serious
consequences for international security. Apart from setting out to give another
$10.5 billion in aid to Pakistan, on top of the $14 billion already provided
since 2001, Obama’s strategy increases U.S. dependence on the very institutions
responsible for the terrifying mess in Pakistan — the Pakistani army and intelligence. The Afghan
war is now costing American taxpayers more than $60 billion a year. But after
7½ years of waging war, the U.S.
military is no closer to winning a ticket out of Afghanistan, despite Obama’s public
declaration, “There’s got to be an exit strategy”.
Let’s be clear: Even though the Obama administration is
already holding back-channel negotiations over a political deal with the Afghan
Taliban shura through Saudi, Pakistani and Afghan intelligence officials, there
can be no exit for American forces until Afghanistan has a functioning army
and national police that can hold the country together. In Pakistan, the
task to build stability centers on strengthening civilian institutions and
reining in the powerful, meddling military establishment.
Building national institutions in Afghanistan and Pakistan and defeating
transnational terrorism are long-drawn-out missions requiring a generational
commitment. But Obama doesn’t want the Afpak problem to burn his presidency the
consumed Bush’s. That has meant the following: (i) institution-building is now
being openly disparaged as nation-building; (ii) instead of seeking to defeat
terrorism, the Obama plan is to regionally contain terrorism in the Afpak belt,
as if the monster of terrorism can be hermitically confined to a region; (iii)
redefine success; and (iv) take shortcuts to achieve politically expedient
objectives. A classic example of how shortcuts are being taken, without regard
for regional security, is the ongoing programme to set up U.S.-funded local
militias in every Afghan province. In a country already teeming with militias,
new local militias are being established, with the first militia unit made up
of 240 Afghan villagers having been rolled out recently in Wardak province
after receiving just three weeks of training. Like the old militias, the new
militias will begin terrorizing the local populations before long.
Obama fails to recognize the structural character of the
Afpak problem. Worse still, he has made public comments that potentially have
the effect of undercutting the legitimacy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. How can he seek to implement a strategy
by undermining the elected heads of state in both countries? Little surprise
his strategy is already beginning to unravel.
Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the
Centre for Policy Research in New
(c) Covert, 2009.