It’s not about “lines of communication”
Q: What do you get when you take Realist doctrine and apply it without regard to ground realities? A: This article by Robert Kaplan (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony). He writes:
No matter how much leverage you hold over a country, it is rare that you can get it to act against its core self-interest…
The U.S. demands that Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its spy agency, sever relations with the Taliban. Based on Pakistan’s own geography, this makes no sense from a Pakistani point of view. First of all, maintaining lines of communications and back channels with the enemy is what intelligence agencies do. What kind of a spy service would ISI be if it had no contacts with one of the key players that will help determine its neighbor’s future?
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.[The Atlantic]
Mr Kaplan arrives at these conclusions because he fundamentally misunderstands both the ISI’s relationship with the Taliban, and the threat they pose to the interests of the Pakistani state.
There is a huge difference between “lines of communications and back channels” that all intelligence agencies have, and the cat-and-paw relationship between the Pakistani military establishment and the global jihadi groups. To use Mr Kaplan’s analogy, while the US used the “back channels” of the PLO to help evacuate American families from Beirut, the CIA—to our knowledge—does not use Palestinian terrorist groups to carry out terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. What needs severing is not the ISI’s lines of communications, but its use of the Taliban as a strategic proxy.
But Mr Kaplan’s greater mistake is the acceptance of the notion—that even some Pakistanis reject—that the ISI’s cat-paw relationship with the Taliban is in Pakistan’s interests. It is not. The Taliban pose the most serious threat to the survival and security of the Pakistani state. This fact is dawning on more and more Pakistanis. Yet, it escapes Mr Kaplan. The interests of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex are not quite the same as that of the Pakistani state. Mr Kaplan, however, conflates the two, and, unfortunately, ends up with a conclusion that could not be more wrong.
Actually, the relationship between the military establishment and jihadi groups has gone even beyond that of patron and client. It is now appropriate to consider them a military-jihadi complex. It is this complex that the United States must seek to dismantle. To equate the problem to mere lines of “lines of communications” is laughable.
Related Post: Robert Kaplan misses the plot: his earlier piece arguing that the ISI’s insecurities must be assuaged.
…when holding up the jihadi end
“The reason is that I’m not a target for the extremists because from day one I opposed the War on Terror. The terrorists don’t consider me one of the American puppet politicians in Pakistan.”
From the moment he heard the news about this week’s attack in Lahore, he was convinced that Pakistani extremists were being made the scapegoats….In his view a “foreign element” was almost certainly involved. “It could be India, Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers. The motive is to damage the state of Pakistan and end cricket here. The shocking thing is that there was so little security for the players.”
H e denies that Pakistan is now a breeding ground for terrorists. “The madrassas may be producing fundamentalists but there is a difference between fundamentalists and militant extremists.”
He says he does not condone suicide bombing. “Suicide bombing is a result of extreme desperation where you have such hatred and anger that you are willing to use your body as a weapon. God forbid anything happened to my family but I can understand that if something happens to your dear ones then in anger…” [Times Online]
You see Imran Khan is one of those people—like Pervez Musharraf was—who seems almost reasonable because he is so presentable to middle-class drawing rooms. Take out the face, the voice and the identity of the speaker. Just look at the words in cold print, and you realise that the person saying them is an unvarnished apologist of jihadi terrorism, seeking to exploit the sympathy in Pakistani society for the jihadi cause (if not for their methods) into a platform that he can use to gain power. [He exploited religious outrage and he has expressed, err, rather quaint, views on the Indian psyche]
He is dangerous—just as General Musharraf was—because such a person is likely to have no compunctions about feeding the jihadi monster to stay in power.
Sequels in real life
What a remarkable coincidence. First, Charlie Wilson writes an vitamins-is-good-for-kids type of op-ed in the Washington Post that suggests he’s back in the lobbying business, this time handling Georgia’s brief. Previously, he had formally signed-up as a lobbyist for Pakistan a month after 9/11, but then quit in 2005 due to health reasons.
And then, Sepoy shocks us by publishing an open letter written by some American academics to their bosses at the University of Texas at Austin, protesting against the institution of the “Charlie Wilson Chair in Pakistan Studies.” The Charlie Wilson couch or hot tub would have been the appropriate piece of furniture to endow. Whatever they call it, Sepoy is eminently qualified to occupy it.
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.
Related Posts: Nikolas Gvosdev and Joshua Foust get it.
Update: Pragmatic Euphony covers recent posts and articles on this theme.