An interconnection too far

More commitment from the West can secure and stabilise Afghanistan

Over at—that excellent blog on Central Asia—Joshua Foust writes about the India factor in Afghanistan:

Pakistan still supports the Taliban holding its western provinces because they train terrorists to stir up trouble in Kashmir. And Pakistan is terrified of India establishing a foothold in Afghanistan.

After a long official absence, Indian consulates have begun to spring up all over the place, causing worry from Pakistan that they’re inciting ethnic hatreds. Barnett Rubin takes this all at face value, claiming it to be a legitimate concern. In one sense, he could be right, as Pakistan wouldn’t like having an active India on both sides. But in another, he should know that Pakistan will seize on any excuse to keep the training camps open, tacitly if not explicitly approving their use and expansion from Islamabad. [Registan]

But then, he goes on to write:

It is, alas, a tragic example of interconnectedness. Afghanistan cannot be solved without solving Kashmir, which cannot be solved with the current leadership in both countries. [Registan]

The thing about the “everything is interconnected” argument in general is that while it may be proven through a process of induction, it complicates the problem to such an extent to make it unsolvable. Afghanistan cannot be stabilised because Pakistan wants Kashmir but India is unwilling to give it up because it might lead to the Tamils demanding secession along with their Sri Lankan brethren who the Sinhalese Buddhists have oppressed in retribution for the colonial policies of the British government which destroyed the island’s eco-system and traditional way of life by introducing tea plantations so that the English could have their breakfast. That bit about Israel and Palestine should fit in somewhere too. As also the bit about people hating America.

It is possible to stabilise Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban if only the United States and NATO have the appetite for it. The military aspect of defeating insurgencies requires boots on the ground. Security forces must outnumber insurgents many times over. That’s hardly the case today. The economic aspect requires the creation and protection of livelihoods and the rebuilding of the markets and infrastructure. But where’s the Marshall plan for Afghanistan? These are the necessary conditions for Afghanistan’s stability, and the West has failed to ensure that they are met half-a-decade after Mullah Omar departed from Kandahar on a motorcycle.

Despite the obvious fact that it is sponsoring the Taliban insurgency across the border in Afghanistan, there is some truth to Pakistani complaints that the United States and NATO are blaming Pakistan for their own failure. Cutting off the external support is important, but commitment to win the internal war is more so. To be fair, Foust is only too aware of this. For example, he refutes Charles Krauthammer’s claim that Afghanistan is a distraction from the real war on terror. Likewise, looking for remote interconnections is a distraction from the real war in Afghanistan.

12 thoughts on “An interconnection too far”

  1. Nitin: disagree with the basic thesis that Afghanistan can be stabilized. It’s not possible with a brewing Talibanistan right in its backyard. Further, a Marshall Plan presumes internal coherence – besides external resources. Even if the US provides the necessary military and economic resources, its not clear Afghanistan can summon the sufficient coherence as a society to pull it off. They’re really not a nation – just a bunch of tribes cobbled together as an artificial state.

  2. @Libertarian

    Well if the Afghans want an example of a country that is a nation despite great diversity, I dont think they need to look very far.

    About Talibanistan: The Waziristans are traditionally ruled by the tribal chiefs who are losing to the fire power of the Taliban. Otherwise, they have none of the disadvantages that a democratic regime would have – they can afford to be as ruthless as the Taliban itself. If India can help them with money and weapons to defeat the Taliban, we will have their goodwill. It would be a rather cost effective way to fight the Taliban – and score one over the Paki regime.

  3. I think I should have been more clear: the “two countries” I was referencing were the U.S. and Pakistan. Pakistan has a hard time giving up the terrorist campaigns in Kashmir, which means it is unwilling to give up its training camps in the tribal areas. The U.S. is unwilling to commit (as you note) the necessary resources to establish some kind of reasonable stability in the country… something I find deeply frustrating.

    I think we’re actually on the same page.

  4. Kiran: yes, India is a great example of one state with great diversity. By many definitions, though, India is several nations (thankfully we were only split once). Further, we’ve had historical precedent where large parts of present-day India was a single political entity (Mauryas, Mughals, British India). Using us as an example for Afghanistan is like showing an plane to the makers of a bullock-cart and asking them to build one. It just is not going to happen. Too many missing pieces.

    … they have none of the disadvantages that a democratic regime would have. Exactly why they’ll stay in the political (and likely economic) stone age.

  5. Joshua,

    Thanks for the clarification…it seemed to me that you meant the Indian and the Pakistani governments.

  6. Nitin, you quoted Joshua writing “. . . Afghanistan cannot be solved without solving Kashmir, which cannot be solved with the current leadership in both countries. ”

    The “which” refers to Kashmir. Clearly the two countries implicit in there are India and Pakistan. Unless of course I am mistaken and the US has a border with the Kashmir region and therefore “both countries” refers to the US and Pakistan, and has nothing to do with India.

  7. Heres the full quote.. I fail to see how the phrase – “current leadership in both countries” – refers to US and Bakistan. Infact, the rest of the paragraph has even more patronizing platitudes..

    @@ It is, alas, a tragic example of interconnectedness. Afghanistan cannot be solved without solving Kashmir, which cannot be solved with the current leadership in both countries. The U.S. hasn’t helped much, either—alternatively propping up either side depending on the external geopolitical concern of the moment. The U.S. suffers from a lack of strategic vision in the area, a problem shared by neither India nor Pakistan. They know they can keep churning between each other so long as the U.S. remains so aloof, never really forcing or demanding adult behavior from either country. @@

  8. “….never really forcing or demanding adult behavior from either country.”

    Adult behaviour = Behave like Uncle Sam in Vietnam, Latin America, Afghanistan part 1, Iraq part 1, Afghanistan part 2, Iraq part 2.

    Right, Joshua?

  9. Now that I see the context (a more complete quote posted by Sudeep above in #7), I am even more convinced that when Joshua writes “both countries,” he clearly means India and Pakistan. Otherwise the paragraph does not make sense.

    Can he explain away “[the US] alternatively propping up either side depending on the external geopolitical concern of the moment” by saying that “either side” refers to “the US and Pakistan”?

    Far be it from me to suggest that Joshua is lying, but I am willing to believe that he is dissimulating a tad perhaps.

  10. your view that insurgencies can be defeated by boots on the ground has many counter examples. the french experience in Algiers is best one. Iraq is also playing out the same script.

    insurgencies can be defeated only with people that can help play “snitch” in the insurgency groups and help bleed them from within. It is not a war.

  11. The insurgency in Iraq is far more complex than the Americans’ seem capable of understanding. Iraq ia actually three countries not one – Kurdish, Sunni and Shite states which the colonial British forged into the artificial state of Iraq. The three underlying countries that make up Iraq are the three states that the previous Turkish regime governed the area under – the states of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, which before the Turkish occupation existed as separate and independent countries. These divisions have not gone away during Turkish rule, and the rule of Saddam Hussain and it certainly won’t go away just because the Americans turn up all of a sudden. The American mistake is to try to run an Iraq made up of three countries as one.

    The problem for the Americans is that the Shites in the South (who make up the majority of the population) are understandfully distrustful of the Sunnis having experienced the takeover of power in a united Iraq by Saddan Hussain. Being surrounded by powerful Sunni states like Syria, Saudi Arabia, who backed Saddam Hussain rise to power, and the fact that democracy has never worked in any Islamic state, they are not confident that another Sunni dictator like Saddam Hussain will not take over a united Iraq, with the backing of bordeering Sunni states. Understandably, they are not too trustful of the Americans either. The Americans after all were the most fervent backers of Saddam Hussain, and even went to the extent of halting their advance when they rebelled against Saddam Hussain after the first Gulf War to allow Saddam Hussain to finish off the Shite rebels.

    The result of all of this is that the Shites are allying themselves with Iran, America’s arch enemy, rather than being the pro western happy-to-be-liberated-by-America people the US thought they would be. The only hope the US had to set up a pro-American government in the region was to split up Iraq into the three states – Kurd, Sunni, and Shite, and ensure the oil rich Kurdish and Shite states remained friendly to them. If the Shite state ruled itself as an independent country, then they would feel secure from take over of the government by Sunnis, and the Shites of Iraq (who are Arab) would exert their own independence and not ally themselves to Iran. Unfortunately I think the Americans foreign policy advisors are too ignorant to do anything otherwise, and the Americans will end up with three states hostile to them – an anti-American Kurdish state in the North hostile to the Americans because of the US’s alliance with Turkey, an anti-American Sunni state in Baghdad, because of the US overthrough and suppression of the Saddam Hussain regime and it’s supporters, and an anti-American Shite state in the South, allied to and controlled by Iran.

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