MORE MONEY FOR PAKISTAN — There was good news for Pakistan and bad news for India from Washington this week. Pakistan, which has done a poor job of suppressing Taliban and al-Qaida incursions into Afghanistan at a cost of American and NATO lives, is likely to have an extra $5 billion of the U.S. taxpayers’ money lavished on it in extra aid. This one-time grant would be in addition to the $1.5 billion annual package over ten years now awaiting passage through congress. Meanwhile, the Indian media has interpreted a statement in President Obama’s first address to Congress on Tuesday […]

South Asia’s Regional Insurgency

When discussing the Afghanistan War, the conceit among both advocates and opponents to escalation is to treat the Pakistani border areas as safe havens for Afghan insurgents targeting American forces. Developments over the past few years, culminating in the recent ceasefire in Swat, put the lie to that conceit. Here’s what Lt. Gen. David McKiernan lets slip when asked at the very end of this Chicago Tribune interview whether he’s concerned about the Swat truce: Absolutely. Because the insurgency is a regional insurgency. It’s hardto imagine regional stability without a resolution of these sanctuariesthat militant groups operate from. More precisely, […]

Choosing Between Reality and Legal Fiction in Pakistan

Steve Hynd, writing at the New Atlanticist,makes the good point that a lot of analysis of the Taliban treats themlike a monolithic movement, when the groups referred to are actuallydisparate elements with varying degrees of rivalry, cooperation and agenda overlap.I’m definitely guilty of that, so via Hynd, thisAnand Gopal article is a good start towards getting a better handle on the more precise taxonomy. But whether it’s the Afghan Taliban targeting Kabul (Mullah Omar and Jallaludin Haqqani), or the Pakistani Taliban targeting Islamabad (Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah), over and over, the common refrain when discussing the Talibans’ (as opposed […]

Afghan Supply Routes

In his WPR column on Monday, Andrew Bast wondered which word Americans least wanted to hear regarding Afghanistan: state building or war? If our alternate supply routes are any indication, we might not really have much of a choice. So far, we’ve got the state-building angle covered: Uzbekistan freight routes and Turkemenistan airspace have now been added to the Russian and Kazakh “northern corridor” for non-lethal supplies. But if we’re going to escalate the war effort, we’re going to have to get some guns in there somehow.

Afghan Spring

Back to the balloon metaphor. The flurry of developments in Pakistan,taken in combination, suggests a significant shift in the Taliban’sstrategic emphasis. It’s based on inherently unstable deals andalliances, and is in all likelihood seasonally motivated and thereforetemporary. But in broad strokes, it looks as follows: – Consolidating its bridgeheads in Swat and NWFP through allegedly lucrative (as in $6million in government indemnities) ceasefireagreements with the Pakistani government. – Preparing to meet the U.S.’s 17K troop escalation in Afghanistan witha spring offensive that combines up-to-now divided Taliban elements ina pact brokered by Mullah Omar. (Via John McCreary’s Night Watch.) In other […]

In Defense of Stupid Metaphors

I was pretty self-satisfied with my Afghanistan-Pakistan balloon metaphor. In fact, so much so that I’ll be revisiting it later. But Jari thinks it’s stupid. Now, Jari calls himself The Stupidest Man on the Earth, so that might be a compliment, but I don’t think it is. Then again, Jari isn’t really stupid, he’s pretty smart, and I’ve been meaning to flag his blog for a while, because it’s worth a read. So maybe he’s always wrong when he calls something stupid. In any case, I think that’s what’s happened here. To begin with, Jari expresses skepticism that the Pakistani […]

The Cost of  Air Support in Afghanistan

More on COIN narrative, since the domestic opinion-shaping campaign seems to have been cranked up a notch. The “hearts and minds” costs of imprecise airstrikes in a counterinsurgency are too well-documented to spend much time on. Not surprising, then, that part of the narrative now being constructed for the Afghanistan War is the lengths to which American pilots go to avoid actually dropping bombs that might cause civilian casualties. What I did find surprising, though, was this: From 15,000 feet up, the pilots protect supply lines under increasingattack, fly reconnaissance missions to find what they call “bad guys”over the next […]

COIN for Dummies

If you find yourself going, “Whuh?” everytime I or other bloggers mention COIN, or if you know what it refers to but never had the time or inclination to go through the U.S. Army field manual articulating it, the recently released U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide (.pdf) is a very informative, readable way to get up to speed. If the manual reads like a “lessons learned” from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, that’s because it is. That explains why, for instance, it stresses the difficulties involved in COIN campaigns in the aftermath of forcible regime change. It also explains why, by […]

Sons of Pakistan?

I went scanning the Pakistani English-language press for fallout over the American covert training presence in the FATA (just one low-key item in Dawn). Instead I stumbled across coverage of a proposed Village Defense Council program in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). That’s the province that contains both the troubled Swat valley and larger Malakand disctrict, where the Pakistani government recently agreed to a controversial ceasefire deal with militants. (See Ahmed Humayun’s Briefing.) Both the News and Daily Times report that the province’s governor plans to distribute 30,000 rifles (you read that right) to carefully screened participants, who will be […]

Of foreign policy’s dirtiest words, which do Americans least like to hear: war or state-building? That is the question the Obama administration now has to ask itself about Afpakia, the most volatile swath of South Asia. Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer, is a failed state. Pakistan, chronically unstable, possesses dozens of nuclear weapons. India, the regional power, would typically stabilize all of this, but it has been at war with Pakistan, on and off, for the last six decades. As the new administration in Washington contemplates an Afpakia strategy, at first glance nearly everyone seems to agree on the […]

On Feb. 16, the Pakistani government announced a truce with insurgents in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). In the agreement, the government agreed to promulgate Islamic law in one-third of NWFP. Pakistani officials are arguing that Islamic law is a popular demand, and that the creation of state-led Islamic courts will reduce support for extremism. However, rather than vitiating jihadism, the accord will legitimize radical ideology and demonstrate the efficacy of violence in its realization. NWFP’s citizens have not been agitating for the establishment of Islamic law. True, the province was governed from 2002 to February 2008, by the Muttahida […]

The Pakistan Narrative: Reality or Best Screenplay?

The question to ask with regards to the covert American “training” mission to the Pakistani military on the Aghan border is, Why leak it to the NY Times now? The answer plays a central, if so far unexamined, role in Gen. David Petraeus’ COIN doctrine: narrative. As the heat lowers — real or perceived — in Iraq, American troops aren’t the only thing being diverted to Afghanistan. Outside of a rearguard action planning Iraqi withdrawal routes, the D.C. policy-making brain trust is migrating to the Afghanistan problem as well. The consensus is that the problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan, and […]

Music Diplomacy

I’d actually had this one scheduled for next week, because I wanted to hit the globetrotting theme of Hillary Clinton’s first trip abroad as secretary of state. But then Barack Obama announced a troop increase in Afghanistan and, more importantly, Sam Roggeveen went and casually dropped that he’d interviewed Australia’s minister of the environment, Peter Garrett. Right. The rest, as they say, is history — or something that vaguely resembles it on a drastically reduced scale, anyway — and I had to go with this today. (You made me do this, Sam.) I wasn’t as big a Midnight Oil fan […]

Europe and the Afghan Troop Increase

A lot of people have been questioning the timing of President Barack Obama’s announcement of a troop increase for Afghanistan. Obama had already delayed his decision by a few weeks, and some, like Joe Klein, wondered why he didn’t wait for the outcome of his much-heralded strategic reassessment. James Joyner doesn’t connect the dots, but his write-up of yesterday’s NATO defense ministers’ summit suggests a speculative explanation to Obama’s Tuesday announcement: As widely foreshadowed, the United States used the occasion of ameeting of NATO defense ministers in Warsaw to call on its Europeanallies to contribute more troops and resources to […]

In Defense of the F-22

Depending on who you listen to, the F-22 is either a boondoggle, or the key to America’s air superiority in the coming century. One thing that’s interesting to note, though, is that Israel, Japan and Australia would all love to get their hands on it, but can’t due to the U.S. export ban on the aircraft. (Okay, there’s a bit of sticker shock, too.) One of the big arguments against expanding orders for the F-22, besides the fact that we’re kind of hard up for cash these days, is that it plays no counterinsurgency role. My hunch, though, is that […]

The Afghan Paradox

In the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s announcement of an American troop increase in Afghanistan, Germany has signaled a troop increase (600 additional troops) and French planners are formulating contingencies for a troop increase (up to 800 troops) as well (both items via Secret Défense).Both moves represent token increases compared to the 17K Obama justannounced (12K in combat troops, 5K in support troops), although theFrench increase, if ultimately agreed to, would solidify an upcomingreorganization of French forces into a unified brigade. The increasesare also significant political gestures that reflect Obama’s politicalcapital here in Europe. So the Afghan “surge” is not […]

The Afghan Surge Begins

As a vocal skeptic of plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan, I should be dismayed by President Barack Obama’s approval of 17K additional troops. But for various reasons, I think it’s a smart move. His initial delay in making the announcement led me to believe that he might be having second thoughts about doubling down. But after the delay, the announcement of a very muscular increase demonstrates the kind of resolve that won’t necessarily win the war, but will allow us to eventually withdraw at a time of our choosing, rather than under duress. That’s not an insignificant gesture, […]

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