War on Terror
Could Mr Obama’s commitment to fight the “good” war in Afghanistan be fading? Two recent developments are bound to influence his thinking. First, support for the war is declining. A national CNN/Opinion Research poll in mid-September found 39% in favour of the war in Afghanistan compared with 58% against. Embarrassingly for a Democratic president whose concessions on health reform have already annoyed many on the left of his own party, most of the support comes from Republicans. A second factor weighing heavily on the administration is the blatant ballot-stuffing that occurred during last month’s fraud-ridden presidential election in Afghanistan.
NATO is running out of time in Afghanistan: On August 31st he submitted his long-awaited review to NATO leaders, saying “the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable.” The assessment is confidential (and bleak, it is said) but the commander’s priorities are known, not least from a directive to his troops of five days earlier containing the bull-and-matador simile. They are: protect the Afghan population rather than kill or capture insurgents; build up Afghan forces; boost the legitimacy of the government in Kabul and improve the co-ordination of civilian aid. The Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government are fighting for the allegiance of the Afghan people, says the general; the people will decide who wins. -- The Economist
There are three ways to change security conditions in Afghanistan. First, increase American troops. Second, increase Afghan troops. Third, shrink the number of enemy forces by making them switch sides or lay down their arms. That third strategy is what worked so well in Iraq and urgently needs to be adopted in Afghanistan. A few years from now, we can be sure that Afghanistan will still be poor, corrupt, and dysfunctional. But if we make the right deals, it will be ruled by leaders who keep the country inhospitable to Al Qaeda and terrorist groups like it. That’s my definition ?of success. -- Fareed Zakaria
There’s not much to show for the last eight years of Western presence in the country and there’s little time to turn things around.
Western forces first went in to combat Al Qaeda in 2001. That seemed to be largely ineffective and the remnants of Al Qaeda nipped smartly across the border into Pakistan, which almost ever since has been seen as the major base for the projection of international terrorism across the world. When British combat forces were first deployed in 2006 the mission was billed as being an effort to provide security for development projects, instead that morphed into an all-out battle with the Taliban, which resulted in the British deploying heavy weapons to defend themselves at grievous cost to the Afghan population getting caught not only in the crossfire but being at the butt of search and interrogation techniques deeply offensive to their culture. Thousands were turned into internal refugees. -- Andrew Small
We almost lost sight of a profound pre-9/11 background to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. The U.S. intended to recognise the Taliban regime in Kabul in 1996. Senior Taliban officials were welcomed in the U.S. Big Oil financed the Taliban. The U.S. encouraged the Central Asian states to work with the Taliban. Key U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates generously helped the Taliban and accorded it diplomatic recognition. A major NATO ally, Turkey, kept up official consultations with the Taliban regime right till 2001...
Islamism will remain a principal instrument of geo-strategy for the U.S. towards Central Asia, North Caucasus and Xinjiang. The rehabilitation of the Taliban in Afghan mainstream politics is on the cards even without its formal disarming. India needs to factor in what the ascendance of political Islam in the region will entail for its security. Equally, there should be clarity of thinking to differentiate between shades of Islamism. The imperative of seriously engaging Russia, China, Iran and the Central Asian states on issues of regional security as powers affected by extremism emanating from the AfPak belt cannot but be stressed. -- M. K. Bhadrakumar
Potpourri of comments: Some Optimistic, a lot Pessimistic
THE August 21 Presidential election in Afghanistan will not immediately change the fundamentals of the situation there, whatever the final outcome. The deficiencies of the principal political protagonists, opportunistic alliances, the ethnic divide, warlordism, the development deficit, poor governance, the Taliban insurgency, foreign military presence, poppy cultivation, drug trafficking, Pakistan's strategic ambitions in Afghanistan — all are established realities on the ground. -- Kanwal Sibal
Whatever the outcome of last week's Afghan elections - the results are due Sept. 17 - the cruel fact is that the Afghan war is a deadly trap. It makes no difference whether Hamid Karzai or his former foreign minister Abdallah Abdallah is declared the winner. Rather than pouring in more troops, the United States and its NATO allies should urgently seek an exit strategy from that unfortunate country.The war in Afghanistan has lasted eight years, with no end in sight. It has claimed 780 American lives and more than 200 British ones. It has cost the American taxpayer $220 billion which, had it been spent on development, could have transformed not only Afghanistan but its neighbors as well. The war is being widely compared with Vietnam. The time to get out must surely be approaching. -- Patrick Seale
The West is spending a fortune
Despite being among the poorest people in the world, the inhabitants of the craggy northwest of what is now Pakistan have managed to throw a series of frights into distant Western capitals for more than a century. That's certainly one for the record books.
And it hasn't ended yet. Not by a long shot. Not with the headlines in the U.S. papers about the depredations of the Pakistani Taliban, not with the CIA's drone aircraft striking gatherings in Waziristan and elsewhere near the Afghan border. This spring, for instance, one counter-terrorism analyst stridently (and wholly implausibly) warned that "in one to six months" we could "see the collapse of the Pakistani state," at the hands of the bloodthirsty Taliban, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the situation in Pakistan a "mortal danger" to global security.
What most observers don't realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It's at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire. -- Juan Cole, author of most recent book Engaging the Muslim World.
Unfortunately, the United States has acted in ways that have often empowered the militants. We have lavished more than $11 billion on Pakistan since 9/11, mostly supporting the Pakistani Army. Yet that sum has bought Pakistan no security and us no good will. In that same poll, 59 percent of Pakistanis said that they share many of Al Qaeda’s attitudes toward the United States, and almost half of those said that they support Al Qaeda attacks on Americans. One reason is that America hasn’t stood up for its own values in Pakistan. Instead of supporting democracy, we cold-shouldered the lawyers’ movement, which was the best hope for democracy and civil society. -- NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Coming Home to Roost?
In addition to fighting against the regime in Algeria, Algerian militants have also been very conspicuous on jihadist battlefields such as Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Iraq. Some studies have even concluded that Algerians were the single largest group of foreign jihadists who fought in Iraq during the height of the insurgency.
One of the things we have been anticipating for several years now is a boomerang effect as foreign jihadists leave places such as Iraq and Pakistan and return home. While many foreign jihadists have been killed in such places, those who survive after fighting sophisticated foes like the American military are not only hardened but also possess insurgent tradecraft skills that make them far more lethal when they leave those battlefields than when they entered them. Indeed, we have seen a migration of IED technology and tactics from Iraq to other theatres, such as Afghanistan.
With developments in Iraq over the last few years that have made Iraq increasingly inhospitable to foreign jihadists, and with Pakistan now quickly becoming less friendly, many of the Algerian militants in those places may be seeking to return home. -- Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, Stratfor
Why is an Aussie anthropologist coaching American generals on how to win wars? David Kilcullen, an Australian army reservist and top adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus during the troop surge in Iraq, has spent years studying insurgencies in countries from Indonesia to Afghanistan, distinguishing hard-core terrorists from "accidental guerrillas" -- and his theories are revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West. Kilcullen spoke with Outlook's Carlos Lozada on why Pakistan is poised for collapse, whether catching Osama bin Laden is really a good idea and how the Enlightenment and Lawrence of Arabia helped Washington shift course in Iraq. Excerpts:
David Kilcullen: Pakistan is 173 million people, 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. Army, and al-Qaeda headquarters sitting right there in the two-thirds of the country that the government doesn't control. The Pakistani military and police and intelligence service don't follow the civilian government; they are essentially a rogue state within a state. We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today.
In my mind, this is one of the big problems with using the phrase “war on terror.” It gets people in a frame of mind where they’re thinking of analogies like “what would I do to a Nazi tank column?” rather than “what would I do to a crime-plagued neighbourhood?” And when trying to figure out the right approach here, the right thing to do isn’t to ask yourself whether international terrorism is “really” a kind of warfare or “really” a kind of crime. The right thing to do is to ask yourself what kind of strategic goals you have and what kind of tactics are likely to achieve them. What we want is for Muslim communities around the world to cooperate with various governments around the world to smoke out and apprehend would-be violent extremists. That’s more like a crime-fighting mission. -- David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum
…now that the Pakistani security state has strictly been ordered by its paymasters to stop its own creation and its children from the mayhem they were at, it is imperative for the government to immediately order an extensive probe by a high-powered commission to investigate the delay in taking on the Yahoos and related matters to do with their sudden rise. This is imperative because the intelligence failure and the consequent delay resulted in the Yahoos getting stronger, which in turn allowed them to look for other prizes after Swat i.e. Buner which they took in a matter of days, and which “victory” in turn spread fear and despondency across the land because districts like Haripur and Hazara were next in line, some villages in Haripur already in their thrall. The body, set up on the lines of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, should be made up of the many eminent gentlewomen and men we have in Pakistan….
The commission must go into the details of the Commando’s and his coterie’s handiwork: from giving Sufi Mohammad refuge in the Dera Ismail Khan jail in 2001 when his own people wanted to lynch him for getting their innocent children killed in the American assault on Afghanistan, to the rise of Fazlullah and Baitullah and Mangal Bagh and other such Yahoos, to the complete detriment of the country.
It must be noted that the security establishment will oppose this investigation (for that is what it will be, and will seek to apportion blame) with all its might but the political leaders simply must take the bit between the teeth and go for it. Let me add here that the commission might well find that politicians are to blame, or civil servants. Well, so be it, but it is high time that all those that have made the country a plaything to kick about as it takes their fancy be held to account and be firmly told that this is the end of the line for them. -- Kamran Shafi
Unless the U.S. President can break his hard-line posture, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan could prove his Vietnam. -- Pankaj Mishra
Let us, not, therefore depend on the US to deliver on Pakistan unless we show much greater determination and will ourselves. We have concentrated far too much and too long on verbosity, when reciprocity should have been the keyword. When Hillary Clinton arrives, we need to tell her that we will resume the dialogue with Pakistan in our own time, when our security concerns have been met, not just US security interests. We need to assert that if another Mumbai-type attack takes place, when US state department advisories claim is possible, then it would be politically unacceptable in India to respond only with a diplomatic response. In such an event, we expect the US and the West to warn Islamabad in no uncertain terms that India’s reaction would be justifiably harsh. In fact, it may be wiser to send messages to Pakistan in advance, advising restraint. The onus of preventing another war lies with Pakistan, not with India. Good relations with the US is important for us and also for Americans (though in their present state of confusion they might not think so); but this cannot be at the cost of India’s security. Kashmir is not on offer, and India is not willing to be the sacrificial lamb. -- Vikram Sood
Yep, it all comes down to black gold and "blue gold" (natural gas), hydrocarbon wealth beyond compare, and so it's time to trek back to that ever-flowing wonderland -- Pipelineistan. It's time to dust off the acronyms, especially the SCO or Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the Asian response to NATO, and learn a few new ones like IPI and TAPI. Above all, it's time to check out the most recent moves on the giant chessboard of Eurasia, where Washington wants to be a crucial, if not dominant, player.
We've already seen Pipelineistan wars in Kosovo and Georgia, and we've followed Washington's favorite pipeline, the BTC, which was supposed to tilt the flow of energy westward, sending oil coursing past both Iran and Russia. Things didn't quite turn out that way, but we've got to move on, the New Great Game never stops. Now, it's time to grasp just what the Asian Energy Security Grid is all about, visit a surreal natural gas republic, and understand why that Grid is so deeply implicated in the Af-Pak war.
Every time I've visited Iran, energy analysts stress the total "interdependence of Asia and Persian Gulf geo-ecopolitics." What they mean is the ultimate importance to various great and regional powers of Asian integration via a sprawling mass of energy pipelines that will someday, somehow, link the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, South Asia, Russia, and China. The major Iranian card in the Asian integration game is the gigantic South Pars natural gas field (which Iran shares with Qatar). It is estimated to hold at least 9% of the world's proven natural gas reserves.
As much as Washington may live in perpetual denial, Russia and Iran together control roughly 20% of the world's oil reserves and nearly 50% of its gas reserves. Think about that for a moment. It's little wonder that, for the leadership of both countries as well as China's, the idea of Asian integration, of the Grid, is sacrosanct. - Pepe Escobar
Afghanistan is not Iraq
In a country already teaming with militiamen, more militias are being set up. But just as the existing Afghan militias took to terrorism after being armed during the Ronald Reagan presidency to fight Soviet forces, the new militias will begin terrorising local populations before long. Yet such is the rush to establish new militias that in an unusual decision to remove a wartime commander, the Obama administration last week fired the top American general in Afghanistan, David McKiernan, because he was overly cautious in creating such militias.
It is unlikely that the dubious Iraq experiment can work in Afghanistan, whose mountainous terrain, myriad tribes, militants operating from across national frontiers, patterns of shifting tribal and ethnic loyalties, low level of literacy, lack of natural resources, special status as the global hub of poppy trade and a history of internecine civil conflict set it apart from any other Muslim country. Also, unlike the internally confined Iraq conflict, the AfPak belt already is the springboard of international terrorism. -- Brahma Chellaney
ALL THE components of the state seem to have finally come out of the state of confusion and ambiguity.
They seem to have all determined that the Tehreek- e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the gravest danger to the Pakistani society. The government has called on the military to take action against the rapidly advancing Taliban, in spite of the much touted deal between the provincial and federal governments and Sufi Mohammad’s Tehreek Nifaz- e- Shariah Muhammadi in Malakand Division.
The deal stipulated that in return for enforcing the Sharai Nizam- e- Adl ( Islamic system of justice), the dreaded Taliban would not only cease their activities in the division, but would lay down their arms. Instead, of disarming themselves, the Taliban pushed into the nearby districts of Buner and Shangla. There they did exactly what they had done in other places. They extorted money from the locals, closed down schools, barber shops, CD and video shops, and eliminated anyone who tried to resist them. -- A. H. Nayyar, Pakistani scholar
Pakistani elite now willing to counter militants with force
The Obama administration counts on pinning down Pakistan to a military campaign against extremists. On the eve of the Washington consultations, the Pakistan military launched a high-profile operation against the extremists in the Swat region. The operation commenced against the political backdrop of an apocalyptic threat posed by the Taliban to the Pakistani state. Senior U.S. officials underscored the threat perceptions in existential terms as threatening Pakistan’s survival. Yet, they apparently fell on deaf ears. What probably swung the case was the ultimate threat on April 30 by Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus of dramatic changes in U.S. policy if the Pakistani government and military did not take more concrete action within the next two weeks. The “psywar” helped. The slide in the Pakistani thinking is supposed to have been sparked by an ill-advised slur against democracy by Sufi Mohammed, which ended his détente with Pakistan’s Islamist politicians (who enjoy links with the security establishment) and set the stage for a war of words that questioned the Taliban’s religious legitimacy. At any rate, the Pakistani elite is no longer questioning the wisdom of countering the militants with force. -- M.K. Bhadrakumar
‘Islamic Terrorism’ receives consistent support from the West
Adil said officers with machine guns told him to put his hands up, grabbed his wrists and tied his hands behind his back while pointing guns at him. They told him he was being arrested as a terror suspect. He was taken to police station where he was kept for several hours before being released. Adil, who came to Britain two years ago, said his experience had changed his view of Britain. “They are clearly identifying Muslim students. It’s a big insult…The first thing I will do is leave this country as soon as possible,” he told The Guardian. So, thanks to the police, we have another “alienated” young Muslim out there. Which is exactly what the extremists need. -- Hasan Suroor
Tomgram: Filling the Skies with Assassins
In 1991, after 73 years, the Soviet Union, that Evil Empire, simply evaporated, leaving but a single superpower without rivals astride planet Earth. And then came the unexpected thing: the arms race, which had been almost a century in the making, did not end. Instead, the unimaginable occurred and it simply morphed into a "race" of one with a finish line so distant -- the bomber of 2018, Earth-spanning weapons systems, a vast anti-ballistic missile system, and weaponry for the heavens of perhaps 2050 -- as to imply eternity.
The Pentagon and the military-industrial complex surrounding it -- including mega-arms manufacturers, advanced weapons labs, university science centres, and the official or semi-official think tanks that churned out strategies for future military domination -- went right on. After a brief, post-Cold War blip of time in which "peace dividends" were discussed but not implemented, the "race" actually began to amp up again, and after September 11, 2001, went into overdrive against "Islamo-fascism" (aka the Global War on Terror, or the Long War).
-- Tom Engelhardt
The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbour, Pakistan. In the nearly eight years since 9/11, al Qaeda and its extremist allies have moved across the border to the remote areas of the Pakistani frontier. This almost certainly includes al Qaeda's leadership: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. They have used this mountainous terrain as a safe-haven to hide, train terrorists, communicate with followers, plot attacks, and send fighters to support the insurgency in Afghanistan. For the American people, this border region has become the most dangerous place in the world. ...
A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. ...
There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. That is why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated. And we will continue to support the basic human rights of all Afghans - including women and girls. -- President Barack Obama
Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. The Taliban’s widening campaign in southern Afghanistan is made possible in part by direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, despite Pakistani government promises to sever ties with militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, according to American government officials. The support consists of money, military supplies and strategic planning guidance to Taliban commanders who are gearing up to confront the international force in Afghanistan that will soon include some 17,000 American reinforcements. Support for the Taliban, as well as other militant groups, is coordinated by operatives inside the shadowy S Wing of Pakistan’s spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the officials said. There is even evidence that ISI operatives meet regularly with Taliban commanders to discuss whether to intensify or scale back violence before the Afghan elections. - Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt
The 'Minimalist' Path Is Wrong for Afghanistan
Let there be no doubt: The war in Afghanistan can be won. Success -- a stable, secure, self-governing Afghanistan that is not a terrorist sanctuary -- can be achieved. Just as in Iraq, there is no shortcut to success, no clever "middle way" that allows us to achieve more by doing less. A minimalist approach in Afghanistan is a recipe not for winning smarter but for losing slowly at tremendous cost in American lives, treasure and security.
Yes, our vital national interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from once again becoming a haven for terrorists to plan attacks against America and U.S. allies. But achieving this narrow counterterrorism objective requires us to carry out a far broader set of tasks, the foremost of which are protecting the population, nurturing legitimate and effective governance, and fostering development. In short, we need a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency approach backed by greatly increased resources and an unambiguous U.S. political commitment to success in Afghanistan over the long haul. -- John McCain and Joseph Lieberman
Ironically, the real X-factor in how the Afghan War will be pursued in the years to come probably lies nowhere near Afghanistan. Just how severely, and for how long and in what complex ways, the global economic collapse will affect the United States and Washington's revenues may be the true determinative factor in whether the Obama administration slowly makes its way further into, or out of, the war. Will this president, with so many giant programs and problems on his plate, really be capable of fighting an Afghan war at more intense levels and in more expensive ways for long? Certainly, the Europeans and the Canadians, who think they've seen which way the wind is blowing, doubt it. According to an unidentified "senior French official" speaking to Agence France Press, "We are lowering our ambitions... The Americans are now looking for a way out; they no longer regard Afghanistan as strategic. It'll take two to five years, but we're in a logic of disengagement."
Whatever the truth of the matter -- and the Obama administration may be the last to know what that is right now -- here's the saddest thing: When it's all over and we finally do leave, as Pratap Chatterjee, the author of a new must-read book, Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, discovered on a visit in November, the Afghans of Bamiyan Province will be at least as poor as they ever were in what will remain a devastated country. It's rare for us to get a view of the areas of Afghanistan where Americans are
Reflections on the bombing of the mausoleum of 17th century Pashto poet Abdul Rahman
What I see instead is an attempt to relinquish responsibility by blaming the “other” without, on the basis of that very logic, looking inside and taking care of those who might be carrying out such an agenda (I am, of course, going by the logic of the argument). This is most amazing and incredibly disturbing. Also, such an attitude can only be begotten of either utter naivety or deliberate perfidy. I suspect the latter is at work here since the logic of the argument of “othering”, which supposes which supposes help from inside, is so obvious that it could not escape anyone save a village idiot. …
It becomes our war not because America is fighting for its interests but because we are under threat ourselves (even if we accept that this is a foreign conspiracy against us). Posited thus, even if America were to pack up and leave, we would still be left holding the baby. Do we want that? -- Ejaz Haider
Afghan Faces, Predators, Reapers, Terrorist Stars, Roman Conquerors, Imperial Graveyards, and Other Oddities of the Truncated American Century -- Tom Engelhardt