According to Herman Cain, Uzbekistan is a small, insignificant country that is not vital to American security interests.
Now, it’s OK not to know immediately that the president of Uzbekistan is Islam Karimov. Still, it’s best not to dismiss a country’s importance simply because you haven’t read up on it. Uzbekistan, as it turns out, is an important supply route to troops in Afghanistan. It is also the original home of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is currently part of the insurgency in Afghanistan. Getting intelligence from the Uzbekistani government on the IMU would be useful, although I’m not sure President Karimov would like to help a future President Cain as much. And that means more help to Russia and China.
The GOP’s anti-intellectualism used to be confined to domestic affairs, but it’s begun to seep into critical areas of foreign relations. This willful ignorance has consequences, but I’m sure Herman Cain is too busy to be thinking about those.
As you might have gleaned from the headlines, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is in trouble. Early this month, President Obama ordered a raid deep inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, after years of Pakistani officials claiming the arch-terrorist was in Afghanistan. With rampant speculation that OBL was staying in Abbottabad courtesy of official (or semi-official) cover by the ISI, a defensive Pakistan is demanding the U.S. back out of its internal affairs.
Matters took a turn for the worse when Pakistani media released the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. The leak, almost certainly coming from the ISI, marks the second time in the last six months that this has happened. Add this incident to the Davis Affair and lingering concerns on both sides about the Kerry-Lugar aid package and we have ourselves a doozy of a strategic partnership.
Pakistan is an impossible ally. The very reason we are allied with them is because they foster the wellbeing of our enemies, and therefore they are the only ones with leverage to bear against those enemies. They use that leverage sometimes, and other times not — enough to receive American aid money, but not so much that the reason for the aid money will disappear.
The aid money, over $12 billion since 2001, has been horribly mismanaged in Pakistan. The country’s institutions are corrupted from top to bottom, making aid delivery extraordinarily complicated and slow — and reinforcing the unreliability to average Pakistanis of both their government and the U.S. What’s worse, much of our military aid in years past was actually used to build up the Eastern border, across from India, rather than the Western, Pashtun-dominated tribal areas. American attempts to manage the aid more carefully have led to cries of foreign manipulation.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Pakistan (by proxy of the Afghan Taliban) continue to fight in Afghanistan. An endgame is not yet in sight, but a number of developments could be pushing toward some sort of resolution in the not-too-distant future. First is the killing of bin Laden, which simultaneously makes militant leaders appear more vulnerable while making the U.S. army more formidable. Second is what the Pentagon insists is a real blunting of Taliban momentum in Southern Afghanistan. And third is the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which will begin (slowly) in July 2011.
With the U.S. feeling a bit buoyant from the bin Laden operation, Pakistan looking for a way to re-establish some credibility, and the Taliban perhaps not eager to see if American momentum is indeed pushing them back, there’s an opening for a grand settlement in Afghanistan. One important condition created by the U.S. — that the Taliban renounce ties to al Qaeda — is made much easier now that the don of the family has been taken out.
Such a grand bargain would need to accompany a series of understandings between the U.S. and Pakistan regarding relations between the two states. Such understandings would include the role of Pakistan in Afghan politics, security guarantees of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and continued American interest in de-escalating tensions on the subcontinent. We would also be well-served to continue disbursing development aid to Pakistan, even as we decrease our military aid.
With our divorce process beginning in Pakistan, the U.S. is freer to develop a much-sought strategic partnership with India. The Indians distrust us because we have historically supported the Pakistanis, but an opening exists for ties to strengthen — and we ought to take it. (To give you an idea of how bizarre our alliance with Pakistan makes the region, our current calculations make good relations between India and Afghanistan a bad thing.)
India would provide a much more valuable long-term strategic ally than Pakistan would for a number of reasons. First, India’s democratic and stable system of governance allows American political goals to reflect things other than regime security. Second, the large upside of the Indian economy bodes well for future trade, unlike the hapless Pakistani economy. Third, the relatively transparent Indian bureaucracy and dedicated counterterror commitments of the government ensure that our aid money would not wind up in the hands of terror groups. Fourth, good ties with India will be important as its geopolitical stature in Asia rises.
The two potential dangers of the above approach are that Pakistan might treat the U.S. as hostile and more actively foster terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba as proxies, and that Pakistan would develop a more robust strategic partnership with China. In the case of the first one, we can avoid that eventuality by carefully managing the divorce and leaving in place our development aid to signal that we don’t want conflict. In the case of the second, it’s probably unavoidable yet limited in scope anyway. (China doesn’t want to develop a reputation for befriending only “problem” countries like Iran, North Korea, Burma, and Pakistan. Nor can it afford to empower its Muslim separatists in Xinjiang.)
Last week, on the eve of President Obama’s review of the course of the war in Afghanistan, two New York Times headlines tell you what you need to know: “NATO Push Deals Taliban a Setback in Kandahar” and “Taliban Extend Reach to North, Where Armed Groups Reign.” Indeed, it’s a game of whack-a-mole, and as long as Pakistan continues to keep the Taliban safe, we’re going to lose.
David Galula’s fourth law of counterinsurgency states that “Seldom is the material superiority of the counrerinsurgent so great that he can literally saturate the entire territory. The means required to destroy or expel rhe main guerrilla forces, to control the population, and to win irs support are such that, in most cases, the counterinsurgent will be obliged to concentrate his efforts area by area.” The success of a counterinsurgency depends on being able to keep the lesser-concentrated areas secure even while forces are massed in other areas. We fail that test in Afghanistan, where tactical success is not part of a winning strategy.
This right here is a partial map of India’s air defense network. Each green dot is the location of a surface-to-air missile launch site (h/t Sean O’Connor). It’s plain to see that India’s still braced for missile or aerial attacks from Pakistan to its West, as all but only a handful of the SAM sites are along the border. Indo-Pakistani tensions, most recently flaring up in Kashmir, have spilled over into Afghanistan. As the old foes compete for influence through fanning insurgency (Pakistan) and goodwill projects (India) in this poorest and least stable of countries, the U.S. gets screwed over.
South Asia hands have been desperately looking for signs of an Indo-Pakistani thaw, such as reports that Pakistan’s intelligence service is finally beginning to understand that the Taliban presents a more serious threat to the Pakistani state than India does. Still, the good news is drowned out by bad, and Nicolas Schmidle confides in the eager optimism of the U.S. and how silly it must seem to locals:
Last summer, I met with a special ops officer who compared America’s relationship with Pakistan to the recurring “Peanuts” gag in which Lucy offers to hold a football so that Charlie Brown can kick it. “Every time Charlie Brown thinks she’s going to hold the football still, and each and every time, she pulls it away just as he’s about to kick,” he said. Shaking his head incredulously, he added: “And then he just lines up to try and kick it again and again.” That some observers, including myself, had begun to believe that Pakistan had reformed its behavior in early 2010 now seems preposterous.
(I am guilty of such over-optimism, too.) The implications for American policy are enormous. I am not inherently opposed to a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan that takes time, money, and lives, but it must be accompanied by a regional strategy. Fred Kaplan explains:
The main difference—and the difference that’s at the core of the Pakistan problem—is that the Iraq war was mainly about Iraq, whereas the Afghanistan war is mainly about Pakistan, and Pakistan’s worries are mainly about India. …
In other words, what makes the Afghanistan war almost forbiddingly complicated (as if it weren’t complicated enough on its own terms) is that Pakistan and India—the region’s main powers and rivals, both armed with nuclear weapons—view it as a proxy war with each other.
It’s not Israel. It’s Iran:
Iran is having a growing, negative influence in its neighbor Afghanistan, United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said on Wednesday, citing what he said was a shipment of Iranian arms to fighters.
On the heels of news that US and Pakistani forces working together captured the Taliban’s No. 2 leader comes word that the cooperative effort has bagged the group’s “shadow governor” of Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province. The Pakistanis pinched Mullah Abdul Salam last week in the northeastern city of Faisalabad—about the same time, sources tell Newsweek, as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was apprehended.
Mullah Salam was among the Taliban’s most ruthless and effective leaders, Newsweek adds, masterminding attacks on German NATO forces whose deadliness landed him on the alliance’s most-wanted list.
This could be a sign that Pakistan may have finally given up its desire to stay half-friendly with the Taliban hopes of maintaining influence in Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves. (Pakistani-Indian distrust harms the U.S. effort in Af-Pak not just by siphoning Pakistani troops to its Eastern border, but by spurring the Pakistani government to compete — often in unsavory ways — with the Indian government for power in Afghanistan.)
I have a hunch that if President Obama had not sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, this kind of cooperation with the Pakistanis would have been much more difficult. The Pakistanis won’t take out the Taliban by themselves, but with a sustained U.S. effort they seem willing to do so.
EDIT: Steve Coll thinks Pakistan is finally cashing in on the good will it has with Taliban leaders by trying to buy them into compliance with the Afghan government. The intransigent ones, like Mullah Salam, get caught.