Pakistan’s Endgame for Afghanistan

Scott recently raised some skepticism about the potential impact of the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former operational commander of the Afghan Taliban.

Today word is out that another high ranking Afghan Taliban was captured by the Pakistanis.  This time it was Mullah Abdul Salam, Governor of the so-called Afghan Shadow Government in the Province of Kunduz.

Add to this Jane Perlez’s brilliant piece last week in the New York Times and I think Pakistan’s strategy in the region begins to come into focus.

Perlez:

Pakistan has told the United States it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions who use its territory and have long served as its allies, American and Pakistani officials said…What the Pakistanis can offer is their influence over the Taliban network of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, whose forces American commanders say are the most lethal battling American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

So after reading the (chai?) tea leaves on this one, here is my take:

The Pakistanis are making their move and want to make clear to the Americans (and NATO) that they are going to be the power broker in the post-occupation government of Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s military appears to be deploying its own version of a “reconcilables” vs. irreconcilables” COIN strategy with respect to the various anti-Western insurgent groups in Afghanistan and even their own tribal territories. The Pakistanis have (I think) decided which Afghan Taliban (the so-called Quetta Shura) are unable to be converted/dealt with and are turning them in.  This puts pressure on the Taliban left in Afghanistan ito make the deals that the Pakistanis are now going to push for and that President Karzai has previously said he is willing to make—in essence amnesty, payoffs, and probably government/military posts.

Furthermore, the Pakistani Army has taken on the southern Waziristan strongholds of the so-called Pakistani Taliban (Tehri-i-Taliban), allowing the US to assassinate (via drone) various leaders within the movement–first Beitullah Mehsud and more recently, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The Pakistanis, however, have a long standing (since the anti-Soviet jihad) relationship with the Haqqani network and the Hizb i Islami party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyr.

The Pakistanis seem to be playing good cop/bad cop with the Haqqanis, telling them that they (the Pakistanis) are the only thing holding back more drone attacks.  If the Haqqanis and the Hekmatyr forces see the Afghan Taliban leadership as increasingly vulnerable, maybe this brings them to the negotiating table.

The Pakistanis did not participate in the Bonn Conference negotiations which brought to power the Karzai government, a deal that was largely struck with the Iranians and the Indians – in other words, Pakistan’s two biggest regional rivals.  The Pakistanis now see a couple of things:

1. The occupation has failed and the new COIN strategy, however effective militarily, is too heavily dependent on the corrupt Karzai government to be long-lasting.

2. The Bonn Conference paradigm of Afghanistan (2001-2010) is also a failure: cf the rigged elections from last fall.

The Pakistanis now see their opening to force the US (and other regional actors) to accept a post-Bonn Afghanistan, which will not be a total return of power of the Taliban as in the 1990s but will include a number of anti-Western insurgent groups in the eventual governing structure.

It’s a shrewd if very dangerous game on the part of the Pakistani military–who in everything but name is now back to running the country, at least with respect to foreign policy.

To answer Scott’s skepticism, all of this again points to the fact that the US should just eliminate the middle man by ignoring the failed Afghan national government in favor of buying off local groups.   Scott suggests the Taliban are practicing a form of 4th generation warfare, complete with their own version of “winning hearts and minds.” Still, the Taliban continue to rely a strategy of body count terrorism—roadside and suicide bombs, etc.   I believe the Afghan Taliban are vulnerable to a joint US military “surge” plus a program of buying off and even deputizing various insurgents and/or tribal leaders (including whole swathes of former Taliban operatives), keeping up the pressure on Taliban leadership with assistance from the Pakistani military, and accepting the likelihood of amnesty for the Haqqanis and Hekmatyr in Afghanistan.

It won’t be a pretty situation but this would probably allow the US to keep a sufficient presence in the area to prevent al-Qaeda’s re-emergence.  This strategy would also allow the US and NATO to exit (I would guess) within the next two to two-and-a-half years.  A strategy of clear, hold, build, and hand over to the Afghan National Government, however, is a complete non-starter and would give plenty of time for the Afghan Taliban to re-group, hide out, and bide their time, while preventing any movement towards a deal with Haqqani and/or Hekmatyr and their forces.

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15 thoughts on “Pakistan’s Endgame for Afghanistan

  1. First: Huzzah for another installment of Dierkes On The War. I was going to request it, but just figured it was on the way.

    My main response would continue to be that you’re right on on the substance but that you’re a bit credulous with the official statement of policy, while also having slightly unrealistic expectations about the extent to which basic deference to formal diplomatic requirements can be. Which is to say do you really think that a) we haven’t been dealing with (counting on) Pakistan all along or b) we can really cut out Kabul entirely?

    We have to assume (at least I feel like I do) that the U.S is just as aware as the rest of us that the prospects for long-term Afghan state influence of events in much of the country, and certainly places like Helmand, or indeed for the national force that could even notionally do such a thing. At the same time, there will always be an Afghan national government that needs to seek some basis of legitimacy with the people in its purview. It will never possess control of much of Afghanistan by force, but at the same time it needs to reach a state of peaceful coexistence with those it (doesn’t) “govern.” And here is where Pakistan comes in. by all accounts the Pakistanis look to be in the catbird seat for dictating the terms of a settlement. All evidence is that the U.S. has been quietly seeking just such a role in Afghanistan for a Pakistan that shows willingness to address its own Taliban insurgency in a way the U.S. wants to see. Where does this leave the Karzai and future Kabul governments? As the beneficiaries of a regional peace settlement in which they do not face an insurgency but do not have de fact control over a large part of their country, and are not the drivers of the regional security arrangement. Just as they were always going to be. But there’ll have to be formal nods to their legitimacy, and even token substantive ones. That’s all subject to the talks — which have to go thru Pak. In that vein, if in fact Pakistan picked up Baradar b/c he didn’t want to go thru Islamabad and instead went rogue to Karzai, that’s all to the good. My big hang-up is why we can’t seem to get ANY message thru to Karzai, but especially this one: “You’ll be dealt in almost every hand, but you’re playing with our money. So just sit there and don’t do anything dumb.” I’m talkin’ to you, Karl.

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        • well….I wouldn’t underestimate the degree to which countries talk past each other and just hear what they want to hear. My read is that if Gen. Kiyani has to go to NATO twice to make his point, something isn’t really being followed up on. Also if he had to re-explain to them that for them India is the real issue, there’s something not getting through. That should be a totally obvious point.

          My guess (and it’s just that) is that Pakistan is still being asked to essentially sign on to the US policy which they don’t want. Sure the US is happy about Pakistan taking on the Pakistani Taliban, but at the end of the day that doesn’t really signal a potential endgame for the US in Afghanistan.

          My sense of Karzai is that he is perceived as damaged goods and might be left out to dry in order to make a deal. I have a hard time seeing guys like Haqqani/Hekmatyr entering into a deal that doesn’t involve Karzai being pushed out.

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          • Steve Coll seems to think the Pakistanis have a pretty conscious interest in Afghanistan…for reasons not unrelated to India (they perceive India and Iran to dominate Afghanistan, and strongly desire not to have NWrn and SEtrn fronts). And the notion is that what Hekmatyar and Haqqani will do can be strongly influenced by Pakistan, if we give them the right incentives. But hey, seriously, I do not know sh**.

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            • …but yeah, why wouldn’t we hang out Karzai at this point if it gets us a deal. Yglesias thinks it’s because of his ethnicity, but that’s making the assumption that the function of holding together a quasi-real state is actually necessary, I think.

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        • Hey, Art! I never heard back from you about the debate.

          Are you willing to debate? I’d settle for an answer something to the effect of “I’m not willing to debate gay marriage with you” (with a “and here’s why”, if you’re feeling generous, of course).

          Lemme know!

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          • I am not sure why you are interested in an elaboration on my opinions as opposed to someone else’s, other than perhaps that I am the only vociferous objector in these parts. Nothing I might have to say has not been said elsewhere and by people more knowledgeable and persuasive than myself.

            I do not devote much time to all this and generally limit myself to brief and sour comments on other people’s remarks. Forensics I do not do. I did at one time, but that was along time ago and among friends who could happily scrimmage. A discussion I can manage, but likely not in the next week. (Trouble on the home front). If you leave a comment on my (inactive) blog, I can post it and offer a reply of sorts, and then you can reply to my reply. I have a feature which requires moderation of comments on posts over a certain age, so it will not immediately appear.

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            • Dude, I’m interested in a *DEBATE*.
              Like I open with my opening remarks.
              Then you open with your opening remarks.
              Then I post my viewpoint expressed the best as I can tell.
              Then you post yours.
              Then I post my closing remarks in which I say that I won.
              Then you post your closing remarks in which you say that you won.

              It’ll be fun.

              I’ve no doubt that I can get one of the gents to sidebar it.

              I’ll even let you pick the ground rules.

              You game?

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  2. Chris, I really hope you’re right on this issue. Frankly I hope you’re right and that Obama and his peeps figure it out. I hope he packs Hillary onto a cargo plane filled with numnums for Pakistan and just flat out buys the whole country. How much money would we have to bribe them with before it’d be more costly than the current military work in Afghanistan. Pay the buggers off, then get out. If India gets uncomfortable then, I don’t know, do something nice for them. More nuclear co-operation. Maybe a free trade deal. They’re a democratic regional super power and they’re a practical bunch, we could work things out with them.

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