Sunday, July 12, 2009

Understanding Afghanistan and the Taliban

Pakistan, the ISI, and the Taliban

[First published at Islamic Danger to Bharat (India) on Saturday, April 11, 2009]

"Why the Pakistan intelligence agency's close ties with the Taliban should not be condemned"
--Robert D. Kaplan

from Wider still yet wider
at Pajamas Media
April 11th, 2009 4:13 pm

Richard Fernandez writes:

Robert Kaplan describes the logic for negotiating with the Taliban in order to “make progress and find an exit strategy” in Afghanistan. But halfway through the article the reader will come to the realization that Kaplan isn’t talking about the War in Afghanistan at all, but about something much larger: Pakistan, India, Pashtunistan, the Great Game. The discussion is about the Taliban only in the sense that when you talk about a dog, it necessarily includes the tail. Kaplan places the origins of the Taliban in Islamabad — and the region.

Remember, it wasn’t radicals burrowed deep within the ISI who made the decision to help bring the Taliban to power in the mid-1990s: it was the democratically elected government of the western-educated Benazir Bhutto who did that, on the theory that the Taliban would help bring stability to Afghanistan. This history indicates the degree to which talking to the Taliban has broad support within the Pakistani political establishment.

[quoting excerpts from the Robert D. Kaplan article at The Atlantic]

The Pakistani military and political establishment both view Afghanistan through the lens of their conflict with India. When they look to the west they envision an “Islamistan” of Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries with which to face off against Hindu-dominated India to Pakistan’s east. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with his pro-western and pro-Indian tendencies, gets in the way of this Pakistani vision. But even if Pakistan were to come to terms with Karzai, it would still need to have lines of contact with all Afghan groups, including the Taliban….

. . . Sugata Bose, a history professor at Harvard, in 2003 described the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier area as “historically no frontier at all,” but the very “heart” of an “Indo-Persian and Indo-Islamic economic, cultural, and political domain that had straddled Afghanistan and Punjab for two millennia.” The fact, which we all keep repeating, that there is no solution for Afghanistan without a solution for Pakistan, is itself an indication of the extent to which both countries are joined. This makes it even more crucial for the ISI to maintain contacts and highly developed networks with all principle Afghani political and guerrilla groups.

[end quote from The Atlantic]

[quoting again Richard Fernandez at Pajamas Media]

You can see where this is going. The idea is to resolve The War in Afghanistan in the framework of some grander regional bargain which will ’suck the life’ out of radical groups like al-Qaeda.

Where have we seen this before? Veterans of the Bush Administration, who were reviled for accepting the doctrine that terrorism was largely state-supported or state-enabled, may now be watching a revival of their doctrine under a new brand name: shut down the state support for terror with diplomacy and voila! once you mop up the puddle it won’t come back. Except this time, the job is going to be accomplished not by a demonstration of military action, but a still undetermined combination of demonstrations of resolve and diplomacy. But since the Bush doctrine was never wholly reliant on arms and never completely without diplomacy, what this probably means is that the Obama administration simply means to alter the proportions between these two ingredients. They are going to get their chance to try out the new approach. How they will fare only the future will show.

The original The Atlantic article "Talking to the Taliban" can be found at

[This concludes the reprinted post Pakistan, the ISI, and the Taliban from Islamic Danger to Bharat (India)]

Here's More from "Talking to the Taliban" by Robert D. Kaplan


Of course, we can and should demand that Pakistan cease helping the Taliban to plan and carry out operations. But cutting links to the Taliban altogether is something the Pakistanis simply cannot do, and trying to insist upon it only worsens tensions between our two countries.

So what do we do? There are those who say we should abandon the Afghanistan enterprise altogether, with the exception of direct strikes against al-Qaeda. But President Barack Obama has already decided against that, and is adding both troops and civilian experts to the campaign, which amounts to Afghan nation-building in all but name. The hope is that by turning the tide of the war in our favor, the Pakistanis will, for the sake of their own self-interest, cut a better deal with the pro-western Karzai, even as they continue to maintain less-harmful, low-level links with the Taliban. That is the best we can expect.

Related references:
Trouble in Afghanistan! Who's Winning?

The Situation in Afghanistan
Fighting Wars to Lose . . .
or "Why Since World War II, the U.S. has lost every war it ever was drawn into."
also--from before the injection of U.S. Marines into Afghanistan:
The "War in Afghanistan"--Is This How It Looks For Us Also?
excerpt from A British View of this War:

Also, check out these linked references:

British leader defends Afghan mission

Understanding Afghanistan
Atlantic articles from the 1950s and the 1980s offer background and perspective on a nation in conflict.

All Counterinsurgency Is Local
By Thomas H. Johnson and M. Chris Mason
Prosecuting the war in Afghanistan from provincial capitals has been disastrous; we need to turn our military strategy inside out.

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