Any outside power in Afghanistan will be at loggerheads with Pakistan
In this month’s issue of the Atlantic monthly (linkthanks Anuj Tiku) Robert Kaplan argues that unless the United States addresses “what’s angering the ISI, we won’t be able to stabilize Afghanistan or capture al-Qaeda leaders inside its borders.” And “given these realities, you would think that the Bush administration would be coaching the Karzai government not to antagonize Pakistan unnecessarily by cozying up to India. Whatever coaching did happen has failed. The Karzai government has openly and brazenly strengthened its ties with India…(and) driven the ISI wild with fear and anger.”
So instead of “simplistic” talk of “sending more American troops to Afghanistan”, Mr Kaplan recommends “vigorous shuttle diplomacy between Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi to address India’s and Pakistan’s fears about Afghanistan.” Mr Kaplan doesn’t say what the diplomacy will be shuttled around, but judging by his argument that the ISI must not be angered, it would perhaps entail the United States asking India to scale down its relationship with Afghanistan.
Mr Kaplan is a self-described realist. But the problem is that his policy prescriptions are based on an incomplete analysis of the situation. For instance, he correctly points out that America’s “interests are now more or less aligned with those of the Soviets 20 years ago.” But he then abandons realism when he says, in the next sentence, “but rather than repeat their mistakes, we need to strive to prevent Pakistan from turning into the enemy of the American-backed government in Kabul”. Mr Kaplan fails to grasp the reality that any regime in Kabul—whether independent or backed by an outside power—will remain at loggerheads with Pakistan. It’s not only the Indian influence that the ISI is angry with. It is first the American influence. It is also the reason why Pakistan was a FATWAT and a backer of the Taliban at the same time for the last seven years.
So what does realism suggest for the United States? Well, as Mr Kaplan says, it should not repeat the mistakes made by the Soviets. One reason the Soviets lost that war was because they didn’t (and couldn’t) credibly threaten to attack Pakistan. The only way the United States can win the war is to create a balance of power in Afghanistan where the Pakistan—despite an angry ISI—cannot destabilise the Afghan government. And that is pretty much aligned to India’s interests too.
Update: Pragmatic Euphony covers recent posts and articles on this theme.