Thursday, December 07, 2006

Afghanistan's Pakistan problem--and ours (Fareed Zakaria)

There is no question that Afghanistan is much better off since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001--most Afghans report that their lives have improved, most foreign observers agree, millions of refugees have returned home, and so on. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Afghanistan still has desperate problems, and some of them have begun to get worse over the past six months, including a resurgence of Taliban violence in the Pushtun-dominated south and southeast of the country. Some of the causes lie within Afghanistan, and some of them can be traced to inadequate post-2001 assistance for security and reconstruction from the US and the rest of the so-called "international community." But as Fareed Zakaria points out in this recent piece, a range of expert analysts agree that another crucial factor lies in Afghanistan's relationship with its much larger neighbor, Pakistan.

Not only is the main base of the Taliban in the Pushtun regions of western Pakistan, rather than inside Afghanistan itself. There is also increasing evidence that at least some elements in the Pakistani military & intelligence establishment are giving significant assistance to the Taliban, and are doing so because they believe that Pakistan has a strategic interest in politically destabilizing Afghanistan and bringing it back within Pakistan's sphere of influence. The results could well be disastrous all around (and not just for Afghanistan).

The political and diplomatic implications of this Pakistani dimension are unsettling and important. It goes without saying that if Afghanistan's problems are to be solved, they will have to be solved primarily by Afghans themselves, ideally with intelligent and effective foreign assistance. Bur since some important roots of Afghanistan's problems lie outside Afghanistan, those problems cannot be solved exclusively inside Afghanistan. Addressing them effectively also requires political and diplomatic attention to a bigger and more dangerous country whose political instability is potentially even scarier than Afghanistan's, namely Pakistan.
We have tried to handle Afghanistan with an Afghan strategy. But it is now clear that the only way to stabilize the country is to have a Pakistan strategy.
Actually, this is a point that informed analysts like Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid have been making urgentlly since 2003. But any such Pakistan strategy will have to be very carefully conceived and delicately executed. Read the rest.

--Jeff Weintraub
August 11, 2006
Afghanistan Could Be Next Iraq
Having confronted Islamic extremists on many issues, Musharraf seems to believe he need not thwart them on the goal of Afghan jihad.
By Fareed Zakaria

As Iraq has descended into chaos over the last three years, Washington policymakers have often pointed to Afghanistan as the success story in the war on terror. Even those who worry about the situation on the ground agree that the United States and its NATO allies have the right strategy in place; they just think we've devoted too few resources to the problem. In fact, Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a version of Iraq, where the central government has collapsed, disorder is rife and a Qaeda-backed insurgency controls large swathes of the country. In addition, the policies that the United States has in place are at best inadequate. We have tried to handle Afghanistan with an Afghan strategy. But it is now clear that the only way to stabilize the country is to have a Pakistan strategy.

In a forthcoming article in Foreign Affairs, Barnett Rubin, a leading Afghanistan expert, reports after four visits this year that the country is "approaching a tipping point." The Taliban-led insurgency is gaining ground.

In some areas, parallel Taliban-run governments have their own courts and administrations. The insurgents now conduct suicide bombings—-unprecedented in Afghanistan—-and use improvised explosive devices like those in Iraq. In their southern strongholds, 35 percent of schools are closed. "As a result of the government's shaky legitimacy and weak powers," Rubin writes, "the international troop presence is coming to resemble a foreign occupation—and an occupation that Afghans will ultimately reject."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his counterpart in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, have openly quarreled about the cause of the Taliban's re-emergence. Musharraf blames Karzai's incompetence and weakness. Karzai argues that Pakistan has been tacitly—and often actively—supporting the Taliban along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and in Pakistan itself. Having spoken to a number of senior Western officials and independent observers in both countries, I think it's clear that, in the words of a senior U.S. administration official who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject, "the weight of the evidence supports President Karzai."

Americans want to believe that all good things go together. But here is a telling example of why that's not always true. President Musharraf is a genuine modernizer who has saved his country from becoming a failed state. Despite the compromises he has had to make, he has been more forward-looking on economics, law, religion and even women's rights issues than any government in Pakistan since the early 1970s. But having confronted Islamic extremists on such matters, Musharraf seems to believe that one area where he need not actively thwart them is in their goal of jihad against Karzai's government and its Western backers.

This attitude is part of a traditional Pakistani world view. The Islamabad strategic elite, which essentially means its top military officers, believes that establishing "strategic depth"—-having some sway over events in Afghanistan—-is crucial for Pakistan. This mechanistic view comes out of the cold war, when India and Afghanistan tilted toward the Soviet Union, and has gained ground as India and Afghanistan have both become pro-American.

There are even those in Islamabad who believe that to counter these trends, Pakistan should help drive Western forces out of Afghanistan—-even establish a pro-Pakistan, Taliban government in Kabul. That would explain Islamabad's constant refrain that the Taliban must be rehabilitated within the Afghan political system.

At the dinner that Bush threw for both presidents in September, Karzai was extremely blunt, according to those familiar with the discussions (who wish to remain anonymous because of the private nature of the event). Karzai warned that if the United States was forced to leave Afghanistan, Kabul would ally far more closely with India and Russia, which would not be in Pakistan's interests.

He also urged Musharraf to recognize that in supporting the Taliban and its doctrine of ethnic Pashtun nationalism, Musharraf was creating a problem for himself since there are millions of dissatisfied Pashtuns within Pakistan.

The United States and its NATO allies should push Musharraf to recognize that what Pakistan needs right now is not strategic depth but stability. Its economy is on a roll thanks to a strong reform program established and overseen by its savvy prime minister, Shaukat Aziz. With India and Pakistan growing at 8 percent a year, the Subcontinent could move into a win-win world in which peace and prosperity reinforce each other in an upward spiral of success. South Asia could then look a whole lot more like Southeast Asia, a region where economic growth has alleviated historical tensions and border disputes.

For the United States, too, there is an upside to success but, more important, a real downside to failure. If Washington is not able to persuade President Musharraf to crack down on the Taliban, it will inevitably mean the renewal of Al Qaeda, the only organization that has launched terror attacks across the globe directed at America and Americans. That's not just a problem for the United States' credibility. It is a problem for the safety and security of its citizens.