Second Opinion: The AfPak Review as seen in Pakistan
Date: April 22, 2019
THE AfPak review for 2010 is charting a familiar course. It reiterates the Obama administration’s emphasis on defeating Al Qaeda in Afghanistan while simultaneously investing in governance and state building. The gains made so far in pursuing the Taliban are important but stand in danger of being reversed if military efforts are not sustained in the future. Over the last year the Taliban’s capacity to prepare and conduct terrorist operations is said have been diminished and their sanctuaries in Pakistan made much less safe. However, terrorist outfits affiliated with Al Qaeda continue to work against the US and its allies on both sides of the AfPak border and will remain a challenge that the US must counter.
In Afghanistan this entails forestalling attempts by the Taliban to overthrow the national government while developing the institutional capacity and quality of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Greater emphasis needs to be placed on Afghan-led security and governance measures. Moreover, national and sub-national institutions need to be strengthened with a view towards making governance more effective.
In Pakistan, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts have come at great cost. Strategic dialogue commenced in 2010 to improve mutual trust and address Pakistan’s development objectives. There is commitment to a long-term relationship that addresses the imbalance of recent years. In this regard, unlike the past, the US is unlikely to disengage from the region.
Officials from Pakistan’s Foreign Office have expressed reservations about the review’s mention of what it refers to as an exaggerated level of the threat emanating from Pakistani borderlands. There is a difference of opinion between Washington and Islamabad on strategic solutions for this conflict. The Foreign Office holds that in order to succeed in Afghanistan, a broad-based reconciliation process should be undertaken.
Jinnah Institute asks seven analysts from the Pakistani policy community for their opinion on the AfPak Review and its strategy for the region:
1. In the AfPak review President Obama stated that the US would continue its focus on breaking the momentum of the Taliban and invest in better governance in Afghanistan. Do you think the US-NATO forces will be able to achieve its military goals?
2. Will securing stability and governance in Afghanistan be accomplished by the strategy outlined in the Review? What should be the roadmap for a post-conflict transition to a stable political equation?
3. What are Pakistan’s stakes in the endgame of this conflict? Should Islamabad review its own strategy?
Journalist and author of Taliban and Descent into Chaos
1. No, I don’t think so, because the military goals need to be supplemented by strategic talks with the Taliban, the US and NATO. There can be no military victory as the surge won’t be successful, because it is not sustainable and lacks support from the Afghanistan government and police.
2. What the review needs fundamentally is a change from a military strategy to a political strategy. That, and talks with regional countries that have a stake in Afghanistan. At the moment, the focus of the AfPak review was on the success or the failure of the military strategy, and as I said, there is a lack of support from the Afghan police. There also have to be talks with the Taliban.
3. I think Islamabad has an extremely confused strategy. It is sending out very confused signals to the outside world “” even if that may not be the case, that is what it seems like. They are sending out signals that they want to dominate the peace talks. The Taliban too are nervous about the signals that Islamabad is sending out. Then, the strategy is conducted solely by the military and the ISI; there is no civilian involvement.
1. If they couldn’t achieve that in nine years, how are they going to achieve it now when they have already declared that the withdrawal momentum will begin from July 2011 onwards and culminate by 2014? It will not happen because they have used every practice in Afghanistan, [yet] they have not subdued the Taliban and they have recently announced a policy of reconciliation and reintegration. The Afghanistan president had already constituted a high level peace council for this purpose but if the Obama administration is now focussing on military success, then where is it going? Why is he bent upon moving the goal posts? That will not bring the desired peace into the region.
2. The only roadmap for success in Afghanistan is through negotiations. The Afghanistan groups should be brought to the negotiating table. If the US and Nato are sincere in bringing peace to Afghanistan, it should be left to them to agree about this. But if conditions are made or imposed, then Afghanistan’s history is full of such examples; it will never work. This is a war inside Afghanistan, between the Afghan people, and foreign forces will have to leave.
3. Obviously Islamabad has to seriously reconsider its policy towards Afghanistan. Islamabad and Rawalpindi are not very serious about a policy towards the tribal areas of Pakistan, what to say of Afghanistan? The tribal areas of Pakistan cannot be totally separated from the issue. If conditions are good in Afghanistan, it will bring stability to FATA and vice versa. Pakistan has to seriously re-evaluate its policy towards Afghanistan and particular emphasis has to be laid on reviewing its own tribal areas. Political leaders also have to come into the field regarding FATA, which they have left to the army to handle for so many years.
1. It depends on how this strategy is executed. If it is like what happened at Marjah, then the strategy is doomed. The high civilian casualties by the Isaf offensives and the avarice and incompetence of the Afghan government have alienated the population in the Taliban-affected areas. Winning hearts and minds will require some serious, concerted effort.
2. The success of strategy will depend on how much trust and confidence the people in the conflict areas have in the Afgan government’s ability to provide security from the Taliban. Presently, people depend on the Taliban to save them from the excesses of the Afghan officials, particularly the Afghan police. The Afghan government has to pull its act together and be in the forefront of providing governance and security. The Americans should be providing just backup support; [they should] stay in the background. Enough Afghan army and police personnel have been trained. We should not forget that the Taliban have not been trained at any military academy and their number can’t be more than 20-30,000 at the most. Soldiers afraid of getting killed can’t fight and that is what is wrong with the Afghan security forces. The US can train another 200,000 and even then the Taliban will remain a threat if the Afghan army displays the present levels of commitment and courage.
3. Pakistan should concentrate on its own governance in FATA. If our tribal areas are with us, we would not have any threat from Afghanistan “” whatever the dispensation there. There is need to worry about our own multiple insurgencies which are weakening the state, rather than worry about what kind of dispensation we want in Afghanistan. No government in Afghanistan can afford to be unfriendly towards Pakistan. Our fears are a bit exaggerated.
In case we have any influence with the Taliban, we should lean on them for a negotiated settlement. We should also clear FATA of all the Arab, Uzbek and Chechen “˜guests’ who are terrorising the local people.
1. The stated primary military goal for the US in Afghanistan is to remove Al Qaeda’s ability to conduct terrorist strikes against US targets. This is not an achievable military goal, because Al Qaeda and its allies are a multinational and regenerating force. In short, if there are only 10 senior Al Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing all of them does not guarantee the outcome the US seeks “” because Al Qaeda can simply re-emerge at a different location, such as Yemen.
If the military goal is to exit Afghanistan, then that is much more achievable. However, to do so, the US and NATO need to find a viable solution to the problem of governing Afghanistan. In the absence of such a solution, the risk of Al Qaeda’s re-emergence in Afghanistan will remain high, and that is an unacceptable risk for the United States.
No viable solution in Afghanistan exists through the exclusion of the Kandahari Taliban, who are now an Afghan political force with few equals, at least in the Pakhtun areas. The military goals of the US need to be calibrated with that political reality, regardless of the putative achievements of the Petreaus doctrine in Afghanistan.
2. The current strategy, which is rooted in the Bruce Riedel review ordered by President Obama early into his administration, is incapable of delivering on any of the four key, interlinked, objectives that the US has in AfPak. America wants security in Afghanistan, a better-governed Afghanistan than the one it took over in 2001, an Al Qaeda-less AfPak region, and a stable and prosperous Pakistan.
However the US is constrained by the instruments available to it. These objectives require the instruments currently employed by the US in the region “” military forces, diplomacy and development assistance. However, the most important instrument required is time. US political cycles and domestic economic imperatives make time in AfPak a most impossible commodity. Simply put, US objectives could be achieved with a re-calibration of military force, diplomacy and development assistance “” but they cannot be achieved under the duress of timelines such as July, 2011, and December, 2014.
Given the limitations of American power, because of time constraints, the roadmap for a stable political equation in Afghanistan needs to be altered. The use of military force is a poor bargaining instrument, especially when the ultimate solution will involve handing over power to parts of the groups against whom force is currently being employed. Reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban requires the availability of the threat of the use of force, not the actual use of it. The only rapid outcome that will resemble success for the US in Afghanistan will be one that involves negotiations with the Taliban that ensure human rights for the Afghan people, a cessation of all Taliban support and succour for global terrorist networks inspired by, affiliated with or directly working as Al Qaeda.
3. There is no endgame in Afghanistan for Pakistan. Pakistan is situated in a location that makes a strong and vibrant relationship between the two countries an essential ingredient to the mix of regional conditions that could be described as stable, secure and prosperous. Both the weak Afghan state and the ever-weakening Pakistani state have a fundamental interest in pursuing stability, security and prosperity for their people. Islamabad has allowed Rawalpindi, and a range of global capitals that includes Washington D.C., Riyadh and London to consistently influence the shape of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. The time has come for infusing this relationship with facts and reason.
The bonds of fraternity between Afghans and Pakistanis are infinitely more powerful instruments of foreign policy for both countries than the various ideologies injected into the narrative “” be they Islamist, non-Islamist, nationalist, or Westernised. Millions of Afghans have roots and interests in Pakistan, and reasonable leaders in Afghanistan have always expressed deep and sincere gratitude for Pakistan’s open doors towards the Afghan people.
Linguistic, cultural, tribal and geographical bonds between the two countries are also not subject to external factors. They predate conflict, and will exist long after the dust has settled.
Islamabad must invest in a constitutional government in Afghanistan that is a product of democratic processes, as the current government is. It must encourage its friends in Afghanistan to reconcile and make common cause with the constitutional government, and to eventually participate in formal politics. Pakistan must support economic growth in Afghanistan, and allow special access to Afghan citizens to visit Pakistan, live in Pakistan, do business with Pakistan, and learn and seek health in Pakistan.
None of this requires Pakistan to concede its legitimate concerns about Indian hegemony in the region. However, imposing Pakistani fears onto the relationship with Afghanistan is a toxic policy posture that can only do damage to long-term prospects for stability in the region.
Journalist, Director Current Affairs at Dunya TV
1. There is stark contradiction between the AfPak review, the US intelligence assessment and even between various members of the administration. While the review claims that the military strategy is working and “the enemy is losing”, intelligence agencies have briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee on how “large swathes of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban”. Mounting war costs in human and monetary terms have prompted greater criticism of a “larger footprint” calling for troop withdrawal. Major sections of the US media and the US public, as reflected in recent ABC-BBC polls, believe it is a costly and losing war. While Defence Secretary Robert Gates holds the view that the current strategy is “turning around the Afghanistan war”, the facts on the ground contradict such optimistic assessments.
It is in recognition of the creeping failure of the US-NATO Afghanistan strategy that President Hamid Karzai has opened dialogue with the opposition, including the Taliban and Hekmatyar. In recent weeks, Karzai has also engaged extensively with the Pakistan government, especially the army and the intelligence chiefs, to bring the crucial “˜Pakistan factor’ on board with any reconciliation effort. A parallel Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey trilateral engagement is also emerging as an initiative to end the violence and militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Perhaps guided by such an initiative, the Nato-US forces’ chances of achieving the goal of constructing peace in Afghanistan may increase considerably.
2. The problem with the review is the denial of the scale of the problem, not the failure to identify the elements required to solve the problems of violence and insecurity. The review correctly mentions good governance, dialogue with the Taliban, ending Pakistan-based sanctuaries, military force and the Pakistan factor amongst others as prerequisites for securing stability in Afghanistan. However, it leaves out important factors such as a commitment to women’s participation and the need to factor in Pakistan’s security concerns. Similarly, it does not acknowledge some critical elements that influence the effort to stabilise Afghanistan. These include the Taliban’s military strength, war fatigue at the popular level, the “˜occupation’ nature of the US-NATO forces, public support for Karzai’s dialogue initiative and the near failure of the NATO effort to build up the Afghan National Army, etc.
The roadmap for a post-conflict transition should include entering into a dialogue with all the Afghan forces willing to acknowledge the Afghan constitution as the document that sets the parameters for governing the country. This must be a Karzai-led process, in partnership with Pakistan, which should undertake to “˜deliver’ the Pakistan-based Taliban at the negotiating table. This process will also need the tacit but low-profile backing of the US-Isaf forces. Depending on the conditions set by the warring factions, while retaining their presence these forces may need to maintain a low profile and perhaps de-escalate their military operations to create favourable conditions for dialogue. Additionally, international support for the dialogue and the endorsement of a transitional roadmap will also be required.
3. Pakistan has the highest stakes in the endgame in Afghanistan. Its security, ideological orientation and political system are vulnerable to politico-military developments in Afghanistan. Beyond the 2,070km-long shared border, tribal and trade links, Pakistan’s involvement in the 30-year-old Afghan conflict has deeply impacted the country’s politics, ideology and security. This involvement has been the principal contributing factor to the existential crisis that Pakistan faces. Structures, ideologies and narratives have been born out of this engagement, all of which are strengthening the anti-democratic, obscurantist, divisive and militarised mindset at the state, political and popular levels. The logical outcome of these linkages has been the proliferation of what appears to be an unstoppable wave of terrorism and religious fanaticism. A crucial part of any strategic calculus to comprehensively reorient Pakistan’s security institutions and popular ideological moorings towards a genuine liberal parliamentary democracy is also an Afghanistan where militant groups are not politically and militarily ascendant.
Pakistan’s own counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies need to be revised for greater coherence and effectiveness. Policymakers must address the key question: to what extent can the tactical “˜good’ Taliban and “˜bad’ Taliban divide compromise Pakistan’s strategic objective of rolling back militancy?
Given the deep impact that Pakistan’s, Afghanistan’s and the US’ counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism policies have upon Afghanistan and Pakistan, only a genuinely collaborative policy review and policy revision can help to create conditions for stability in Afghanistan.
Head of Department, Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-e-Azam University
1. This is largely a question of operational strategy. The Americans have made gains against the Taliban but have yet to push them out of the main areas, particularly in the south. This requires expending many more resources, which may not bring about as many results. America must develop the Afghan National Army as a credible alternative to the NATO forces to bring order to Afghanistan. Unless governance is handed back to the Afghans, it will not be sustainable.
2. A significant political dialogue needs to commence. This can take the form of tripartite meetings or other mechanisms available for reconciliation. A stable political equation cannot develop unless the Karzai government takes the initiative to start a serious dialogue process with the Taliban.
3. Pakistan should realise that the Americans are not going to achieve their goals in Afghanistan and develop their own strategy, particularly in FATA. It must review its position and develop political and military alternatives.
Former General, Defence Analyst
1. The military goals depend on how the transition takes place and the transition depends on how the Afghan army is able to take on the responsibility of security in Afghanistan. Considering the fact that at the moment there is hardly any representation of Pashtuns in the armed forces, the army, the police and other services, it is somewhat problematic for these to be able to acquire a national character. That is one of the major flaws. The other thing is that there is a lot of resistance on part of the Pashtun community to join the army because they think that it is the adversary, because the Northern Alliance has been used against them by the US. The cleavage between the Tajiks and them is quite wide. So they are finding it difficult to recruit them. Much would depend on how the armed forces are constituted and have been trained and have acquired a national character. It is very difficult to foresee this happening by 2014, considering the reaction of the Pashtuns, since I believe their representation is barely 4 per cent.
2. Again, it’s very important for there to be representation of all the power centres in the post-withdrawal period. That doesn’t seem to be the case as of now, because the present Karzai government is represented by Tajiks and Uzbeks, rather than Pashtuns, in the real sense. It also has to acquire national character, and the major ethnic community has to be associated with it. If that doesn’t happen then it is very likely that Isaf and the American forces will withdraw, and the Taliban will fill the ranks. Corruption and governance are also very important factors. Corruption will have to be controlled and governance has to be improved in order to truly achieve any tangible results and get the people’s support, who will then be in a position to support a future government. Otherwise they will lean on the Taliban or other local power centres.
3. Pakistan has to work as much as possible with the international community to see that Afghanistan is stable, because the future of Pakistan’s stability is linked with Afghanistan’s stability. Pakistan should work in a cooperative and positive mode. In case Afghanistan slips into anarchy after the withdrawal, then Pakistan should take all measures to contain the situation and ensure that Pakistan suffers as little damage as possible. We should be guarded and protected against adverse consequences if this situation arises.