Tag: Pashtun

Matthew Hoh: A Great American Patriot

HohFormer Marine captain Matthew Hoh became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war. His letter of resignation echoes some arguments I have made earlier this year, namely, that what we are witnessing is a local and regional ethnic Pashtun population fighting against what they perceive to be a foreign occupation of their region; that our current strategy does not answer why and to what end we are pursuing  this war; and that Afghanistan holds little intrinsic strategic value to the security of the United States.

In his own words:

The Pashtun insurgency, which is composed of multiple, seemingly infinite, local groups, is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified….I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategy message of the Pashtun insurgency.

Click here to read the entire letter.

So, what’s the situations like now? Afghanistan’s second-round presidential elections scheduled for early November will do little to change realities on the ground. Counterinsurgency–the U.S. military’s present strategy–requires a legitimate host nation government, which we will not see for the foreseeable future regardless of who’s president.

What’s the political strategy? President Obama has painted himself into a rhetorical corner. He’s called Afghanistan the “necessary war,” even though stabilizing Afghanistan is not a precondition for keeping America safe. We must remember that al Qaeda is a global network, so in the unlikely event that America did bring security to Afghanistan, al Qaeda could reposition its presence into other regions of the world.

Should we stay or should we go? The United States must begin to narrow its objectives. If we begin to broaden the number of enemies to include indigenous insurgent groups, we could see U.S. troops fighting in perpetuity. The president has surged once into the region this year. He does not need to do so again.

This is the deadliest month so far, thoughts? Eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan still struggles to survive under the most brutal circumstances: corrupt and ineffective state institutions; thousands of miles of unguarded borders; pervasive illiteracy among a largely rural and decentralized population; a weak president; and a dysfunctional international alliance. As if that weren’t enough, some of Afghanistan’s neighbors have incentives to foment instability there. An infusion of 40,000 more troops, as advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, may lead to a reduction in violence in the medium-term. But the elephant in the Pentagon is that the intractable cross-border insurgency will likely outlive the presence of international troops. Honestly, Afghanistan is not a winnable war by any stretch of the imagination.

For Obama, Peace in the Morning, War in the Afternoon

Hours after thanking the world for the Nobel Peace Prize this morning, President Obama will gather with his war advisers to ponder sending 60,000 more troops into a country where our national security objectives are unclear at best.

Instead of embracing General McChrystal’s proposal for a substantial increase in the U.S. military presence — or even adopting a “McChrystal-Light” strategy — the Obama administration should begin a phased withdrawal of troops over the next 18 months, retaining only a small military footprint relying on special forces personnel. Otherwise, America will be entangled for years — or decades — in pursuit of unattainable goals.

We need to “define success down” in Afghanistan. That means abandoning any notion of transforming ethnically fractured, pre-industrial Afghanistan into a modern, cohesive nation state. It also means reversing the drift in Washington’s strategy over the past eight years that has gradually made the Taliban (a parochial Pashtun insurgent movement), rather than al Qaeda, America’s primary enemy in Afghanistan. A more modest and realistic strategy means even abandoning the goal of a definitive victory over al Qaeda itself.

Instead, we need to treat the terrorist threat that al Qaeda poses as a chronic, but manageable, security problem. Foreign policy, like domestic politics, is the art of the possible. Containing and weakening al Qaeda may be possible, but sustaining a large-scale, long-term occupation of Afghanistan and creating a modern, democratic country is not.

More here:

Exiting the Afghan Quagmire

Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, and Anatol Lieven, a professor at King’s College London, discuss in the Financial Times how we can exit the Afghan quagmire:

The west should therefore pursue a political solution, open negotiations with the Taliban and offer a timetable for a phased withdrawal in return for a ceasefire. This should begin with the military pulling out of specific areas in return for Taliban guarantees not to attack western bases and Afghan authorities in those areas. If the Taliban refuses such terms, then military pressure should continue. The point should not be to eliminate the Taliban – which is impossible – but to persuade it to agree to a deal.

Lodhi and Lieven’s argument echoes one that David Axe, Jason Reich, and I made yesterday on ForeignPolicy.com.

… regime change, and democracy, are not necessary for counterterrorism. Propping up President Hamid Karzai’s Western-style government in Kabul does not make operations against al Qaeda any easier or more successful. If anything, it distracts from the conceptually simpler task of finding and killing terrorists. Without U.S. and NATO protection, Karzai’s regime would, sooner or later, probably fall to the Taliban. But U.S. observers should not equate that eventuality with “losing” the war. The war is against terrorists, not Islamist governments. The United States should be prepared to make peace, and amends, with a resurgent Taliban – and to encourage the group to excise its more extreme elements.

I admit talking to the Taliban sounds weird and scary. But my contention is that there is no shortage of Pashtun militants willing to fight against what they perceive to be a foreign occupation of their region. Certainly the Taliban does not enjoy support among the majority of Pashtuns—as Lodhi and Lieven point out—but neither did the IRA in Northern Ireland or the FLN in Algeria. The point is not exclusively about popularity (although that’s a critical component, along with local legitimacy), but the fact that these indigenous groups are willing to fight the United States and NATO indefinitely. Indeed, it is the western military presence that is driving support for the Taliban both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

Moreover, the notion that we must protect Pakistan from the Taliban is ludicrous. Pakistan’s intelligence service helped create the Taliban and they continue to protect the Afghan Taliban to keep India at bay. From this point of view, deploying more troops would be irrelevant to the fight against al Qaeda and counterproductive in our attempts to pacify the region. For more on what we should do, check this out.

Pakistani Nukes: The Solution or the Problem?

The New York Times writes up the revelation that Pakistan is rapidly expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal.  Congressmen and Senators, we’re told, are worried that US military aid might be diverted to this purpose.

Two points here.

1. Insofar as we are giving money to Pakistan, it probably doesn’t matter much if we restrict it to our priorities. Money is fungible – by funding something Pakistan might have paid for itself, we free its funds for other priorities. Maybe it’s the case that the Pakistanis view aid that US gives them for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism capability as purely wasteful – and therefore wouldn’t spend a dime if we didn’t provide it. But probably they would have bought much of this capability if we didn’t, and therefore we are freeing up funds for other purposes like the expansion of the nuclear weapons arsenal. If we don’t want to help them do that, we should quit funding them, period.

2. Lots of people point out that Pakistan’s big problem is India – that its preoccupation with its largely indefensible Indian border prevents it from devoting sufficient resources to pacifying its restive Pashtuns and encourages it to employ high-risk strategies like using extremists to tie down Indian forces in Kashmir. 

What you don’t hear much is that nuclear weapons, and particularly the secure second strike capability that Pakistan is likely pursuing, is a potential solution to this problem. Nuclear weapons are a cheap form of defense. In theory, the security that they provide against Indian attack would allow Pakistan to limit its militarization, stop bankrolling extremists, and focus on securing its own territory as opposed to its border. (Note: I’m not arguing that that’s necessarily right, I’m arguing that if you think vulnerability to India is what creates danger for us in Pakistan, you should consider the utility of nuclear weapons in solving this problem).

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are frightening, no question. But the series of wars Pakistan and India have fought since their split should put that fear in perspective. If they can arrest conventional conflict, the nukes are doing great good.

With our president calling for a nuclear-weapons free world, it’s worth considering whether abolishing nukes makes sense if you can’t abolish war.

The Hazards of Expanding the War into Pakistan

This morning, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration may expand the war in Afghanistan deeper into Pakistan in order to target Taliban safe havens in Balochistan.

The war would have a very different character if the Pashtun and Balochi areas of western Pakistan did not act as de facto sanctuaries for the leadership of al Qaeda and the Taliban. As I’ve written before, NATO’s stalemate will continue so long as Pakistan is unable – or unwilling – to uproot militant sanctuaries.

But I’ve also argued about the hazards of the United States using unmanned aerial drones to strike targets within Pakistan. These aerial strikes lead to collateral damage that undermines the authority of sitting Pakistani leaders, fuels violent religious extremism in a nuclear-armed Muslim-majority country and exacerbates anti-American sentiment even among the more moderate elements of the country.

U.S. policy in this region is beyond complicated. It’s a complete mess. Right now, more than three-quarters of provisions for U.S. and NATO troops must travel through Pakistan’s worsening security conditions to make it into land-locked Afghanistan. But after previous U.S. aerial drone strikes within Pakistan, leaders in Islamabad have more than once closed their main supply route.

As I argue in a forthcoming Cato policy analysis,

Our dependence on [Pakistan] constrains the usefulness of their support… To make matters worse, Washington’s diminished leverage over Pakistan means that elements of its military and intelligence service will continue to take advantage of America’s dependence by failing to tackle terrorism more vigorously.

Other routes for the Afghanistan mission are currently being considered, but the leaders of these countries bring their own problems, as other scholars have written both here and here.

For the foreseeable future, the war in Afghanistan will remain hostage to events inside Pakistan. And sadly, Washington’s attempts to stabilize Afghanistan will likely continue to destabilize Pakistan.