Pakistan has been featuring prominently in the news for quite some time now. Questions abound regarding why Pakistan seems to be a willing host to terrorists and insurgents. In the aftermath of the death of bin Laden on Pakistani soil the Pakistanis are expressing righteous indignation about their violated sovereignty and muted approval for the death of the poster child for international terrorism. Still, questions remain about the nexus of complicity and incompetence in the Pakistani security apparatus. “Why,” we ask, “do the Pakistanis harbor our enemies from Afghanistan and permit the most wanted man in the world to dwell right under their noses?”
Did the Pakistanis know that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad? The world may never know. Of course, it may… but that will undoubtedly take time. Eventually we will likely know the truth. In the meantime, why does the Pakistani government appear to be duplicitous in their relations with us? The Afghans don’t really wonder about it. Many, if not most, I’ve spoken with view Pakistan with a jaundiced eye. They have their own understanding of the history of Afghan relations with their populous and well-armed neighbor.
Everyone looks out for their perceived interests, we all know that. How is the Pakistani government likely to view their interests? Pakistan has only existed as a nation since 1947. A goodly chunk of what is now Pakistan was traditionally the land of the (then united) Pashtun. Roughly 60% of the Pashtun ethnicity currently reside in the under-governed areas of Pakistan’s northwest. The other (roughly) 40% of the Pashtun live in Afghanistan. They are separated by a border which was artificially and vengefully laid out by the British and named after its architect; the infamous Durand Line. Only one Afghan government… ever… has officially recognized the Durand Line as the rightful border of Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Taliban. Presumably this recognition was in return for the Pakistani patronage that sponsored the Taliban in their growth from local uprising to national power in the 1990’s.
Afghanistan has, historically, had good relations with India and Iran and poorer relations with Pakistan, including the severing of diplomatic relations in 1955. Pakistan claims to have repelled a major cross-border incursion by Afghanistan in Bajaur in 1961. While Pakistan may have made inroads in Afghan eyes due to their support for the Mujaheddin during the Soviet occupation, any good will was squandered with their seizing upon the Taliban as their opportunity to further their influence in post-Soviet Afghanistan. Average Afghans and government officials alike take a fairly dim view of Pakistan and particularly of the ISI, sometimes blaming them for more trouble than the ISI can actually cause. The ISI is the bogeyman of the Afghan man on the street.
Sometimes it was a chore to redirect the Afghans away from the problems they could not solve (Pakistani machinations) and back onto problems they could solve.
Pakistan does not likely view a strong and viable Afghanistan (with its own national interests) on its western border. Their paranoia is not unfounded, as I have heard otherwise reasonable Afghans, good friends, express optimism that one day Afghanistan will be strong enough to push out to what they view as the natural border; the Indus River.
That’s a big chunk of (currently Pakistani) real estate. Pakistan is not enamored of this idea, regardless of how viable the concept.
It’s not the threat of Pashtun reunification that realistically disturbs the Pakistanis, though. It’s not likely that they view an Afghan invasion to seize the NWFP as a real danger to their security. They are threatened by the concept of a stable Afghanistan, which will likely see good relations with India as being more beneficial than Pakistani goodwill. This idea irks the Pakistani security apparatus. So our desired end state is not necessarily how all Pakistanis see their best interests being upheld. But that’s only half of the equation.
Anyone who sees a foregone conclusion coming down the pike will get on the train and ride it. We view our commitment to Afghanistan as strong (well, sort of), but the Pakistanis do not see the commensurate commitment of what they would consider to be the resources necessary to make it a foregone conclusion. The Pakistanis have the sixth largest military in the world, with a couple of the largest land armies on the planet camped out on their borders; India (viewed with enmity), and China (viewed as a useful ally).
Yes, I know the People’s Liberation Army is not literally camped on the Pakistani border, but you get the idea. The Chinese are not viewed as a threat by Pakistan. Neither Pakistan nor China views Indian power as a joyful thing.
In any case, Pakistan has a large army and a not-insignificant air force. But they are not as adept as humanly possible. Being somewhat clumsy by our standards, the Pakistanis must dedicate several times as many troops-to-task as we normally would. They cannot fathom how we can expect to subdue a pernicious insurgency with such paltry numbers as we have committed (certainly in the early days… the first 8 years). To their minds, we cannot possibly be trying to achieve our stated goals. Add to this the Pakistani view that America is by its nature capricious and you have a deep conviction that the American presence in, and support for, Afghanistan is transitory. Pakistan must position itself for post-America (and Coalition) Afghanistan. Without Pakistani support and interference, there is a chance that GIRoA can succeed. With Pakistan hedging its bets, the issue remains in doubt and Pakistan has a shot at maintaining influence in post-GIRoA Afghanistan.
A couple of disclaimers are in order. First, the Pakistani government is not by any means monolithic. President Zardari, shortly after taking office, declared that the ISI would fall under civilian control. Shortly thereafter, the ISI announced that this was not the case… and that was the end of that. We have a military that is totally subservient to the civilian authorities in the United States. Pakistan has been ruled by it’s generals no less than three times since its inception… and that wasn’t that long ago. Pakistan’s short history has been rife with warfare, and on no less than three occasions, the Pakistanis have felt abandoned by what they perceive as a “sometime ally” in the United States. The US has imposed an arms embargo against both the Indians and the Pakistanis on these occasions of confrontation between Pakistan and India, but the Pakistanis were more reliant on US aid than the Indians.
The Pakistanis then turned to China, who is eager to stoke the coals of conflict between India and Pakistan. The Pakistanis build a license-built copy of the Chinese version of the T-72. The Pakistanis call their version the “Al Khalid.” They also build a licensed copy of a Chinese fighter-bomber that the Pakistanis call the JS-17. The Pakistani nuclear program had significant outside support as well, which did not come from the United States.
Then comes yesterday’s declaration by Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani that China is Pakistan’s “best and most trusted friend.” While this is seen as a being a “dig” at the United States, it is really a clear statement of how Pakistan views their relationships and has throughout the past several decades. They view us as powerful, currently angry, and capable of considerable largesse; but capricious and untrustworthy. They view the Chinese as having goals and interests that are mostly aligned with their own and likely to remain that way in the future.
It is important to understand how Pakistan views the relationship between them and ourselves. It is important to understand why they see things the way that they do. Understanding does not mean agreeing with their viewpoint, but it does help in reviewing their behavior and the disconnects between what they sometimes say and do.
The above is the work of an amateur, so take it for what it’s worth. But it is taken from the experiences and conversations of an amateur who has spoken with Afghans and Pakistanis as well as having been briefed by intelligence officers who have worked with the Pakistanis. Nothing classified has been disclosed. Academics would no doubt find the synopsis above to be less than adequate. It is by no means complete, but it is my understanding, and the actions of the Pakistanis seem to agree with this depiction of their mindset and motivations. Also, I’m not seeing strong attempts being made to “break it down” for people who are asking why the Pakistanis and ourselves seem to be at such great odds when we should see each other as natural allies in the struggle against extremism.
After watching the latest Frontline report on Afghanistan and reading their “Presidential Briefings,” I am left with the impression that things are grim indeed.
I’m also under the impression that this impression is exactly what was intended.
While a number of experts on national security and counterinsurgency were consulted, the two who were quoted at the outset, eerie central Asian music in the background, setting the tone for the program, were the most negative of the experts. When you read the “What the next President will face” portion (under “Briefing,”) you will see that Mr. Nasr and Mr. Scheuer are the most negative. Mr. Scheuer has written articles for Antiwar.com. You can draw your own conclusions about his objectivity as a commenter on Afghanistan from there.
Mr. Scheuer’s grim prediction that the next president will find that his “dreams of straightening things out with two brigades are exactly that; they’re dreams,” sounds dire indeed. It actually sounds like it comes from someone that objectively analyzes information and has come to a profound conclusion. This is not true.
From a review of Michael Scheuer’s book, “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq,;”
Scheuer holds that the U.S. was safer with Saddam Hussein in power, that America’s defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan is a foregone conclusion, that federal support for democracy abroad is a terrible policy, that America’s alliances are a hindrance, that “freedom fighter” is often a more apt term than “terrorist,” that the theory of the Democratic Peace is “silly,” that the U.S. should have little concern for civilian casualties in its war against terrorism and that Israel’s continued existence isn’t worth a single American dollar.
Most compellingly, Scheuer argues that we should take Osama bin Laden at his word: Al-Qaeda is attacking American foreign policies — support for “Arab tyrannies” and Israel and U.S. boots on the ground in the Middle East — not America’s liberty and way of life.
Scheuer has a penchant for dubious statements, some of which include:
» “There’s a clear necessity to have religion in order to have morality.”
» After 9-11 we should have “firebombed Kabul and Khandahar, demolished whatever ruins were left, and sown salt over the length and width of both sides.”
» Woodrow Wilson was “a human scourge who is not often enough ranked with the twentieth century’s top bloodletters.”
I disagree strongly with Michael Scheuer this very basic point; we are part of the world. Focusing on ourselves and our own interests only is the type of narcissistic self-fascination that we are famous for. Our foreign policy has been clearly flawed in many areas that have been dissected by far smarter people than myself. I don’t have all of those answers; but I believe, because I have seen, that what happens in little valleys on the other side of the world sends tiny ripples across the face of the globe that reach into our neighborhoods here. It’s like ecology.
If you pour a can of motor oil into a tiny stream up in the mountains, it will poison the lake miles and miles away. It will affect the river that flows from that lake, and it will pass through hundreds of not thousands of miles of countryside on its way to the ocean.
Butterfly in the Amazon; whatever. We are part of a big world, and we not only affect it, we are affected by it. It shouldn’t take thousand-foot towers crashing to the ground in New York to see that. The world has become polarized, and Mr. Scheuer says that we should not take sides. While egalitarian of him, I agree with the statement that “all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” He wants to be the fat kid who sits rocking in the corner counting his own candy and muttering to himself self-righteously, but who wants everyone to like him.
This fails to recognize that we are one of the poles. That’s the way that it is. We have a job to do. One thing that I know of our allies, from having served with them, is that they expect us to lead and to support them. While they don’t appreciate it when we are demanding and arrogant, what really pisses them off is when we don’t lead. Leading is by example.
Mr. Scheuer has a relationship with PBS, having been a source for them before. That’s the only reason that I can see why he is included in this panel of experts who are quoted throughout the report. Granted, Mr. Scheuer’s bona fides should stand him in good stead; 22 years in the CIA and at one point the head of CIA’s “bin Laden unit,” he has also been complimented by bin Laden. He teaches at Georgetown. Well, Bill Ayers teaches at UIC, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a nutcase.
All I can say is that there is a chip on that man’s shoulder.
He makes some good points; like when he says that we are fighting in Afghanistan “on the cheap.” No doubt. I’ve said that. I’m still surprised, with his bent, that PBS included him on a panel with men such as LTC(R) John Nagl. I wonder if Dr. Nagl knew that Mr. Scheuer was also included. Mr. Scheuer is quoted more pointedly than Dr. Nagl, who is an expert on counterinsurgency and a strong critic of Big Army’s failure to develop into a truly effective counterinsurgent organizational culture.
While Vali Nasr makes strongly worded statements, he is very strategic and, while critical, does not appear to be defeatist or isolationist. Mr. Nasr has been a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and is currently a professor at Tufts University.
One of Frontline’s basic errors is in concentrating on the most isolationist and violent little valley in Afghanistan. Focusing your study of counterinsurgency on the Korengalis is like focusing a study of the economic picture of America on Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood.
The most egregious errors in Frontline’s examination of counterinsurgency is in focusing on Americans doing forays into Afghan villages without ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces.) Americans can keep the hard-core Korengalis bottled up in the Korengal so that the Pech is not infected further, but the failure to look at what can and is happening in areas where the ANSF are actually able to do their job is a tremendous failure indeed.
The Korengal is not Afghanistan. It is in Afghanistan. It is a trouble spot like no other, but it is not representative of all of Afghanistan. It makes for compelling television, but it is a keyhole shot of Afghanistan; the worst part of Afghanistan.
Nuristan is likely to be just as tough a nut to crack. The Korengalis are originally from Nuristan. Look at the reddened beards; that’s a Nuristani thing.
In any case, Frontline has chosen the most dire of situations on which to focus, with no mention given to areas where the ANSF are doing well, where the IRoA holds sway or is at least contending strongly. Those areas would paint a more accurate picture of the challenges of counterinsurgency than a snapshot of vicious battles in the Wahhabist Korengal.
Most of Afghanistan is not Wahhabist. Does that matter? Yes.
The report fails to explore the issues that are concerns for Afghan men-on-the-street. Frontline fails to look at the tendencies in the Afghan government that are losing support for Kabul. It fails to examine and make recommendations on how to clean up the Afghan MoJ (Ministry of Justice) and MoI (Minstry of Interior.) These two ministries could have more impact on security in the huge area of Afghanistan that is not the Korengal than the Korengal has on them.
Frontline’s examination of the state of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) of Pakistan is timely. In the later parts of the program, Frontline examines how the Taliban have taken a strong role in Northwest Pakistan and are attempting to threaten the Pakistani government itself. It also discussed the failures by the Pakistani military and government to effectively control their own territory. One of the key roles of the Korengal is in its facilitation of movement across the Pakistani border; but that is not the only route (rat line) by far.
While Frontline’s examination of the situation in Pakistan gives insight into the situation across the border and the challenges facing the Pakistanis in governing their own country, this program is fundamentally flawed in its examination of the state of affairs in Afghanistan as a whole. An excellent study of the Korengal, it totally ignores the development of the ANSF except for in a few comments by Dr. Nagl, a champion of advising and mentoring indigenous people to handle their own governance.
This failure to carry the only message that will bring success in Afghanistan or any other developing country casts this documentary into the “interesting view of the worst valley in Afghanistan” category. Frontline has showed us the freaks of Afghanistan; even the Afghans view the Korengalis as crazy.
Successful counterinsurgency in Afghanistan cannot be performed by Americans. We can add combat power in the hot spots, we can add mentoring, advising, logistical support and expertise to the ANSF, and we can demand good governance. We can treat corrupt officials as the great threat to security in Afghanistan that they are. We can push for economic development, opening markets to Afghan goods and Afghanistan to development of their own (tremendous) natural resources; but we cannot, must not attempt to govern Afghanistan.
Frontline’s documentary is a great story of the Korengal, a poor study of Afghanistan on the whole, and an interesting primer on the Pakistani Taliban. As a briefing for a new president, it falls far short. As a briefing for Americans (its true audience,) it is deceptive. I don’t know whether the deception was intentional, theatrically dramatic, or journalistically and intellectually lazy, but it is deceptive all the same. You never see 98% of the picture.