Don’t Sell the Afghans Out to Pakistan

 

Noah Millman, reacting to Ross Douthat’s call for a long slog in Afghanistan:

The key questions are: what does Pakistan (or the Pakistani army) really want; is it well-aligned with what we want; can they deliver; and can we live with giving them whatever it is they want that doesn’t dovetail with what we want.

My sense is that Pakistan wants a docile Afghanistan dominated by the Pashtun majority that is beholden to Islamabad and, in particular, doesn’t have any meaningful relations with India. Al Qaeda is more a threat to their regime than to us, so I should think if our preeminent war aim is to separate al Qaeda from the Taliban, that our aims are well-aligned in that regard. Whether we can live with Afghanistan being turned into a Pakistani puppet is another question – but it’s a question worth asking.

Whether Pakistan can deliver is another story entirely, but it strikes me as very peculiar indeed to believe simultaneously that the Pakistani army can’t be relied on but that after a decisive effort we could hand the reins over to the Afghan army.

Two things. I’d settle for an Afghan regime that includes the Taliban — but not one that’s a Pakistani puppet. Honestly, the Pakistani army can’t be relied on; there just isn’t another option, like there is — for now — in Afghanistan. Turning the Afghans over to the Pakistanis is something of a disgraceful move, but it’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder. Neither the world, the region, nor the US needs more Pakistan, literally or figuratively; and it is unimaginable to me that the Indians would have anything other than the natural and appropriate reaction to such a move on our part — exasperation. Obama’s failure to make good on Bush’s seriously important improvement of relations with India is already a black eye for the US. Shunting Afghanistan into Pakistan’s pocket would add insult to injury.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @TheMugwump

    The question “what does Pakistan want?” assumes that Pakistan is a viable nation-state. I don’t believe that’s a legitimate starting point. If Russia is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, then Pakistan is something utterly inpenetratable. To understand the problem would require a knowledge of Pakistan’s internal factions, their respective power bases and the vested interests of each group. Such knowledge is probably only available from British intelligence given that Pakistan’s ruling elites have all been educated in British universities. I fear any analysis from the likes of us is mere speculation.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Editor
    @RobLong

    I’m not sure an Afghanistan “that includes the Taliban” would be so easy to cordon off. A Taliban-ish faction in Kabul would mutually reinforce a Taliban-ish faction in Islamabad. The two groups would have one aim: an alliance between two radical Muslim states. Which they’d probably achieve. So now we’d have two big problems rather than one.

    I think the solution here is what no one really wants to face: we’re going to be there for a long time.

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  3. Profile Photo Contributor
    @JamesPoulos
    ~Paules: The question “what does Pakistan want?” assumes that Pakistan is a viable nation-state. I don’t believe that’s a legitimate starting point. If Russia is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, then Pakistan is something utterly inpenetratable.

    Rob Long: I’m not sure an Afghanistan “that includes the Taliban” would be so easy to cordon off. A Taliban-ish faction in Kabul would mutually reinforce a Taliban-ish faction in Islamabad. The two groups would have one aim: an alliance between two radical Muslim states. Which they’d probably achieve. So now we’d have two big problems rather than one.

    I think the solution here is what no one really wants to face: we’re going to be there for a long time.

    I agree with you both. And, ultimately, it could be a lot worse.

    • #3

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