U.S. policy drift on Afpak

The Dangers of Policy

Brahma Chellaney

Mint, February 11,

It may be the lack of a real opposition in the country that
allows the government to make abrupt shifts in foreign policy under external
persuasion without so much as offering a reasoned explanation to the Indian
public for the switch.

India first fell in line on Afghanistan at the London
conference, organized principally to gain an international stamp of approval for
U.S. President Barack Obama’s strategy to negotiate a deal with the “moderate”
 (as if there can be moderates in an Islamist
militia that enforces medieval practices). The external affairs minister
returned from
London saying India was
willing to give that strategy a try.

Soon thereafter, New Delhi
announced it was resuming dialogue with
Pakistan at the foreign secretary
level. What prompted
New Delhi
to do that? Mum is the word. What has
Pakistan done or delivered on the
anti-terror front to deserve this gesture? The answer: nothing. Yet, once again,
dialogue has been delinked from terrorism, as if the Indian leadership has
learned nothing from the Sharm-el-Sheikh goof.

Government decisions anchored neither in a well-thought-out
strategy nor in principles can only undermine national interests. No sooner had
New Delhi announced its U-turn on Pakistan than Washington upped the annual U.S.
aid for Islamabad from the next fiscal year to $3.2 billion — a historic high. What
Obama is providing
in one year is exactly the amount one of his predecessors, Ronald Reagan, gave
Pakistan over
six years. Yet
New Delhi
has not made a peep.

It was left to an ex-U.S. senator,
Larry Pressler, to urge
to speak up on the dangerous drift in
Afpak strategy, including propping up
Pakistan with generous aid and lethal-arms
transfers. “When the
Afghanistan, India will have a Pakistan
‘on steroids’ next door and a Taliban state to deal with in
Afghanistan,” according to

With Obama pushing for a deal with the Pakistan-backed
Afghan Taliban,
already is feeling vindicated.  Obama is
sending an additional 30,000
troops not to militarily rout the Taliban but to strike a deal with the enemy
from a position of strength. As his top commander in
Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has admitted,
the aim of the surge is to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, not to
beat back the insurgency.

But as
U.S. Ambassador Karl
Eikenberry has put it in
his leaked November cables to Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, “More troops won’t end the insurgency as long as
sanctuaries remain.”
Washington already is holding indirect talks
with the Afghan militia’s
shura, or
top council, whose members are holed up in
capital of
Baluchistan province. The talks have
been conducted through the Pakistani, Saudi and Afghan intelligence agencies.
McChrystal has cited Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates as a possible
venue for formal talks.

The more sensible thing to do would be to dismantle the
Pakistani military’s sanctuaries and sustenance infrastructure for the Afghan
Taliban and militarily decapitate the latter’s command center in
Baluchistan. But Obama has not hidden his intent to end
war before he comes up for reelection in 2012. Indeed, as if to
hearten the Afghan Taliban and their
sponsors, the Pakistani military,
he has reiterated July 2011 as the
timeline for a gradual
military withdrawal to begin.

To facilitate his pursuit of such narrow interests, Obama
has been pressuring
to come on board. And to rationalize the planned Faustian bargain with the
Taliban, the White House has drawn
a specious distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban and sought to discriminate
between “moderate” Taliban and those that rebuff deal-making. So,
McChrystal classifies the
thuggish Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a moderate because he is “most likely to cut a

The Afghan Taliban
leadership — with an elaborate command-and-control structure oiled by
petrodollars from Arab sheikhdoms and proceeds from opium trade — operates from
the comfort of sanctuaries in
Fathered by
Inter-Services Intelligence and midwifed by the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency in 1994, the Taliban rapidly emerged as a Frankenstein’s monster. Yet
President Bill Clinton’s administration acquiesced in the Taliban’s ascension
to power in
in 1996 and turned a blind eye as that militia, in league with the ISI,
fostered narcoterrorism and swelled the ranks of the Afghan war alumni waging
transnational terrorism.

With 9/11,
however, the chickens came home to roost. In declaring war on the Taliban in
October 2001,
policy came full circle. Now, desperate to save a faltering military campaign,
U.S. policy is coming another full circle as Washington advertises its readiness to strike a deal with
Quetta shura.

which is on the front lines of the global fight against international
terrorism, is likely to bear the brunt of the blowback of Obama’s Afpak
strategy, just as it came under terrorist siege as a consequence of the
Reagan-era U.S. policies in that belt. A Talibanized Pakistan with a Taliban
in Afghanistan would encourage every violent
Islamic group that can inflict mass casualties on civilians in

The U.S., separated
by a cushion of thousands of miles, thinks it can get away by playing dangerous
games in the Afpak belt. But as a friend,
should be openly advising the
against seeking to
unwittingly repeat the very mistakes of past American
policy that have come to haunt Western and Indian security.
That’s what friends are for.
To toe
the U.S.
line on Afpak
is to become an accessory in the current lurch toward disaster.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic
studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

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