Monday, October 27, 2008

FROM GREAT GAME TO GREAT BARGAIN. Ending chaos in Afghanistan & Pakistan



Authored by : Barnett R Rubin and Ahmed Rashid.

Barnett Rubin is one of the foremost scholars alive with impeccable insider knowledge on Afghanistan having worked in “special diplomatic” and other capacities in helping Afghanistan through its turbulent period. He is currently Director of Studies and Sr Fellow at the Centre on International Co-operation at NYU.

Ahmed Rashid is an immensely respected journalist synonymous with the seminal book “Taliban” and the recent best selling author of “Descent into Chaos.” Ahmed Rashid had an interesting life earlier, along with the likes of Najam Sethi, in the mountains of Baluchistan.

Both the above gentlemen are extremely important, they form the core group that Gen Patreus has formed to understand the ground situation (historical, ethnic, religious etc) in Afghanistan – hence any article of theirs should be given due importance.

NEWS AS ON OCTOBER 30TH 2008: Dr Rubin's allegiance to the quaint concept of civilian control over foreign policy may have cost him a seat at General Petraeus's round table of knights questing for the counter-insurgency grail. Jim Lobe reports that Rubin's collaborator on the think-piece "From Great Game to Grand Bargain", one of the seminal documents of the Taliban engagement policy, Ahmed Rashid, was invited to join the general's brain trust. But Dr Rubin apparently was not.


"The Great Game has never been 'fun' for anyone except the Pakistani elite and their Western drinking buddies - the Great Game has meant death to thousands and hundreds of thousands if not millions of less privileged innocents in the region at every turn of the chakkar.

Each time the West panders to the Pakistani elite in the name of the Great Game, millions end up dead and Pakistani elite ends up richer by millions, with hundreds if not thousands of acres of more land in each one's name, a fatter foreign bank balance, a more ironclad grip over their hapless subjects and of course their 'sense of seige' intact to scam the West yet again in the future.

Whenever the West pandered to the Pakistani elite's sense of seige, first a million odd Punjabis died, in 1947, then a million odd East Bengalis died in 1971 and ultimately a million odd Afghans, if not more have been killed since in the two decades since the Soviets left.

Far from accepting or assigning any responsibility for these millions of deaths and prolonged conflict fueled by Pakistani rulers, the West seeks to continue to pander to Pakistani elite and to continue to justify the violence this ruling elite perpetrates on unarmed innocents in the name of 'insecurity'.

What the West must understand is that it(the West) is becoming more and more complicit in these close to genocidal acts and in the continuing irresponsible attitude of the Pakistan elite about their sins of omission towards their own 'subjects'(ordinary Pakistanis can be called nothing else) and their sins of commission against the region.

It is disappointing that the two authors whom I consider have done the most to honestly and bravely document these acts of commission by Pakistani strategic elite have been taken in enough by the said elites' smooth talk and 'sweet reasonableness' into rationalising them.

For instance, the Taliban, Afghan or Pakistan, or the Pak Army will not give up their links to Al Qaeda or global jihadi groups, because they can't. Jihadis don't magically transform into 'secular' or 'political' or 'nationalist' activists because America decreess they can only attack Indians and Afghan Shias, Uzbeks and Tajiks, jihadis still remain Al Qaeda fellow travellers deriving funding from Sunni Wahabis, and ideological justification from whatever Islamist mishmash the Pak govt allows its school system and religious madrassas to propagate.

Offering to give up links with Al Qaeda does not translate into actually doing so, because those offering know that the West cannot enforce any agreement on them to give up links to Al Qaeda.

What is needed is a combined top-down and bottom-up approach in Afghanistan on the ground not an elite compromise in some foreign city(which will never ever be sustainable as long as Pakistani top brass is part of it, as history in the last 20 years is witness).

The Afghan government and the West must win over Taliban fighters at the grassroots, and then take that strength of support with them to the puppet-masters in Pakistan to COERCE them to compromise.

Begging for compromise which you cannot impose by your own strengths will never work, and will only be taken as weakness. Working at reform and rehabilitiation of Taliban fighters from village to village, district to district, region to region is hard hard work, but will be the only durable solution. Anything else(such as taking the Pakistani military or Mullah Omar or Haqqani or Hekmatyar's words for anything) will be just yet another unenforceable military-political compromise (of which Afghanistan has seen dozens), which will collapse on the whims of any single party."

Summarizing the article:
Rubin & Rashid (R & R) state that Afghanistan is a poor country. 50% of its GDP is in illicit form (opium). The Afghan govt collected 7% of a licit GDP est at $ 9.60 Billion in revenue = $ 670 million. R&R go on to extrapolate increasing collection efficiency on an increasing GDP and state that at best in 10 years time, the total domestic revenue of the Afghan govt would be $ 2.50 billion.

The current expense on the Afghan National Army (@70,000 troops today) is $ 2.50 billion and another $1 billion for the police. Thus R&R argue – Afghanistan economy will not be able to sustain this economically. The funding has to come from US & NATO budgets, which probably will not work because ANSF might have to take actions that foreign taxpayers might find reluctant to fund.

R& R solution : The conditions in the region must be changed so that Afghanistan no longer needs such a large and expensive security force. Changing those conditions mean changing the behavior of actors not only inside but outside the country.

My 2 bit: US has decided to increase the ANSF numbers to 122,000. It flies in the face of the suggested R&R solution. The US feels it is a far cheaper long term option that its own “boots on street” which will cost many billions more and in the face of the economic meltdown – simply unsustainable. There are too many players in Afghanistan and Afghanistan simply does not have the luxury of time to wait out the R&R option of “conditions in the region must be changed”. Afghanistan will have to be internally strong to thwart designs from any / all of these actors that are detrimental to its national interests. Assuming for a moment that R&R&Co. manage to change the conditions TODAY conducive for a small Afghan force, can R&R&Co guarantee that these "conducive conditions" will be frozen ad infinitum. Realistically, conditions change and evolve over time - and in an adverse climate in future, Afghanistan will find itself hostage and vulnerable with its small force. Reducing forces as R&R suggest – will be disastrous for Afghanistan.

R&R state : The Pakistani military does not control the insurgency, but it can affect its intensity. Pakistan kept this area deliberately under developed and over armed as a barrier against invaders and also to conduct asymmetric warfare in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. Pakistan’s military command wants to incorporate Kashmir into Pakistan and considers Afghanistan as within Pakistan’s security parameter. Pakistan does not have a border agreement with Afghanistan, which has never recognized the Durand Line. This strategy for external security has undermined its internal security.

R&R solution: Integrate FATA into Pakistan as one of its provinces.

My 2 bit: DURAND Line was a border imposed ON the Afghans by the British Empire in 1983 to mark the frontier between British India and Afghanistan. This ARBITRARY line through the mountains had purposefully divided the Pushtun population of the region. It was agreed at that time that, on the HONG KONG model, after 100 years all of what became the North West Frontier Province (NWFP which incl FATA) would REVERT TO AFGHANISTAN. Hence R&R what you are stating is just the reverse and would help Pakistan but not Afghanistan, and you are going against a historical pledge to right a wrong.

R&R state: Unless the decision makers in Pakistan decide to make stabilizing the Afghan government a higher priority than countering the Indian threat, the insurgency conducted from bases in Pakistan will continue. The Pakistani security establishment believes it faces both a US-Indian-Afghan alliance and a separate Iranian – Russian alliance, each aimed at undermining Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and even dismembering the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s strategic goals in Afghanistan place Pakistan at odds not just with Afghanistan and India, and with US objectives in the region, but with the ENTIRE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.

R&R solution: Do not place Pakistan in a revised “axis of evil”. The international community should genuinely assuage legitimate sources of Pakistan’s insecurity while increasing the opposition to its disruptive actions. Pressurizing or giving aid to Pakistan, without any effort to address the source of its insecurity, cannot yield a sustainable positive outcome. China, being the largest investor in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, should play an increasingly significant role as should Saudi Arabia being the former supporter of Taliban and custodian of the two holiest Islamic shrines.

My 2 bit: China and S. Arabia are more Pakistan’s friends than Afghanistan’s. It was the erstwhile princes of S. Arabia that used to come to Afghanistan for “gaming” under Taliban patronage riding rough shod over the local Afghan population. R&R prescribes that Pakistan should be forgiven for its past sins, overlooked and pardoned and then compensated by integrating NWPF for its evil acts. Looks like R&R –your heart and mind are set with Pakistan while paying lip service to Afghanistan.

Short term – Long term solutions:
R&R state: US & Global objectives would require to acknowledge two distinctions:

1. Between ultimate goals and reasons to fight a war (eg: Preventing Al Qaeda from re-grouping – justifies war)
2. Among the time frames for different objectives (eg: strengthening the state & economy of Afghanistan – does not justify war.)

This medium to long term objective would require reducing the intensity of armed conflict, including by seeking a political settlement with current insurgents.
Therefore goals before international community:

1. Do they want to guarantee that Afghanistan’s territory will not be used to attack them?
2. Do they want to impose a particular government in Kabul?
3. Do they want to use the conflict to establish permanent bases in Kabul?

My 2 bit: Withdrawal of foreign troops are linked to number one above – but R&R do not say who will be providing the “guarantee” that the soil of Afghanistan will not be used for terrorism. By past history, only one country comes to mind and that is PAKSITAN.

R&R state that the Pakistani security forces lack the numbers, skills, equipments and motivation to confront the growing insurgencies in the two countries (Pakistan & Afghanistan) or to uproot Al Qaeda from its new base in FATA.

Dear R&R, in that case why are you both having selective amnesia and forgetting that Pakistan took $11 billion from US to buy hardware to fight the terrorists in FATA and Pakistan has blown up this money mostly into buying hardware that will help them militarily against INDIA and not against these forces in SWAT.

Can we trust Pakistan? The answer is NO. Be it Nuclear Wal – Mart, or jehad factory, the duplicity of Pakistan has been laid bare.

R&R state that US should make discussions credible by speaking with Islamists who have national objectives (as against Al Qaeda who have international objectives).
Dear R&R: Is there any distinction between Al Qaeda and Taliban anymore? Is Lashkar e Jahngvi an arm of Al Qaeda? Is Haqqani or Hekmatyar better than Mehsud – depends on which country you represent?

For the distinction between Taliban, the distinction between Taliban and Pakistan army has eroded. Zia’s Islamisation of Army and state has come to a full circle. Forget the fact that Pakistani army regulars were fighting side by side the Taliban before the “life-saving” evacuation at Kunduz. Three recent incidents:

1. After the Kargil cease fire, the Indians had informed their Pakistani counterparts that one of the peaks in Kargil – Drass was occupied by Pakistani soldiers contrary to the terms of cease fire agreement. A senior officer investigated and ordered the Captain in charge of the peak to return to the Pakistan side of line of control. The Captain accused his senior officer and the military high command of betraying the Islamist cause and shot the Senior Officer dead. The Islamist officer was finally disarmed, tried by a secret court martial and executed.

2. British officials covered up evidence that a Taliban commander killed by special forces in Helmand in 2007 was in fact a Pakistani military officer. The commander, targeted in a compound in the Sangin valley, was one of six killed in the past year by SAS and SBS forces. When the British soldiers entered the compound they discovered a Pakistani military ID on the body.

3. Blowing up of the Indian embassy in Kabul. American and French secret service have picked up telephonic intercepts beween ISI and Jalaluddin Haqqani led Taliban planning and orchestrating the attack. The Pakistani embassy in Kandahar was the local staging ground and planning was made in the Afghan desk of ISI. The Americans have so far to say that the Army chief Gen Kayani was aware of this plot. And why not? ISI falls under Pakistani Army. Since ISI is headed by a 3 star general, he is incumbent on keeping his Army boss fully on the loop - even for "deniable operations".

Pakistan army gives daily cover fire to infiltrate insurgents across to Afghanistan and to Kashmir, which actually led to a US retaliatory raid on Pakistan post killing 11 soldiers.

Dear R&R – these are not isolated incidents. The Talibanisation is not only the Pakistani army apparatus, it has seeped into general life too. Its cricket team has vociferous members of Tableeghi Jamaat (Inzamam Ul Haq, Md Yousuf and Mushtaq Ahmed – just to draw attention to the glamour world too). Recently, Hanif Md., author of the brilliant "A Case of Exploding Mangoes", left his self imposed exile in London and came back to Karachi, only to find nearly all the beautiful villas lining the Defence area going vacant. The original landowners are fleeing a more "Talibanised" Pakistan and are moving lock, stock and barrel to Dubai, London, Toronto make a decent living and providing their children a better future.

R&R – that Afghanistan possesses 5 million cell phones and as a nation incomparably stronger than it was 7 years ago does not make it a blank cheque on whose body the Taliban can come again, rape women and burn girl’s school and regress it back to stone ages. Afghanistan is in the dark ages, as it is today.

Please do not prescribe a pill that is ONLY good for Pakistan to digest and cause serious angst all around. Forget India, the serious concerns of Iran and Russia have not even been discussed. Note that - the prime benefactors of ANTI-TALIBAN forces in Afghanistan i.e. The NORTHERN ALLIANCE were : IRAN, INDIA & RUSSIA.

RUSSIA: At a press conference in the UN headquarters, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that in a spirit of "prejudiced bias", the US was blocking the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization from helping to stabilize Afghanistan. Indeed, cracks are appearing in the US-Russia understanding over the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan. A turf war is ensuing - Washington is determined to exclude Russia from Afghanistan and Moscow insisting on its legitimate role.

IRAN: Tehran has invited former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led the anti-Taliban coalition (Northern Alliance) in the 1990s to visit Iran. Iran has curiously propped up Alaeddin Broujerdi - the principal designer and architect of the Northern Alliance and a key strategist of the anti-Taliban resistance in the 1996-98 period. Iran has dropped hints and more: If US is planning to bring any form of Taliban rule into Afghanistan, IRAN will unleash its contacts in Northern Alliance as counter.

Dr. Rubin, recently came out with an interesting article :The US & IRAN in Afghanistan: Policy Gone Awry - a must read.


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