5 years ago
It appears that details of the administration’s plan for Afghanistan is leaking out piece by piece.
President Barack Obama has been given a new Afghan war strategy that calls for linking aid to Pakistan to its willingness to fight extremists and narrowing the U.S. mission to preventing attacks on American soil from there or Afghanistan, said people familiar with the plan.
The strategy will entail increasing Afghan security forces and strengthening crop substitution to deny opium revenue to the Taliban, Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said March 21 …
Previewing the new strategy, Holbrooke said the U.S. favors greater investment in agriculture to wean Afghanistan away from the opium poppy production that finances the Taliban insurgency. Opium is the raw ingredient in heroin …
The draft plan suggests raising U.S. non-military assistance to Pakistan, especially for job creation aimed at those drawn to militant action for money, while conditioning military help on measurable cooperation against extremists in the border province of Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where the Taliban has regrouped.
Measurable cooperation against extremists. This sounds nice, but is naive in the superlative. Regular readers of The Captain’s Journal know about the games of duplicity in Pakistan.
ONE SWELTERING AFTERNOON in July, I ventured into the elegant home of a former Pakistani official who recently retired after several years of serving in senior government posts. We sat in his book-lined study. A servant brought us tea and biscuits.
Was it the obsession with India that led the Pakistani military to support the Taliban? I asked him.
“Yes,” he said.
Or is it the anti-Americanism and pro-Islamic feelings in the army?
“Yes,” he said, that too.
And then the retired Pakistani official offered another explanation — one that he said could never be discussed in public. The reason the Pakistani security services support the Taliban, he said, is for money: after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistani military concluded that keeping the Taliban alive was the surest way to win billions of dollars in aid that Pakistan needed to survive. The military’s complicated relationship with the Taliban is part of what the official called the Pakistani military’s “strategic games.” Like other Pakistanis, this former senior official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of what he was telling me.
“Pakistan is dependent on the American money that these games with the Taliban generate,” the official told me. “The Pakistani economy would collapse without it. This is how the game works.”
Read the whole thing. If Holbrooke thinks that the games are finished because his contacts tell him so, then his is sadly mistaken. Further, we have dealt with this issue of poppy and opium being the sole contribution to Taliban wealth. The Taliban are able to turn a profit from kidnapping, mining operations, taxes on small businesses, and even pomegranates. Stopping opium production only means that the Taliban turn to other means. It doesn’t make them go away.
On another front, Rich Lowry of the National Review weighs in with prose on what hasn’t worked in Afghanistan.
If Afghanistan is far from lost, it isn’t susceptible to quick fixes, either. Scaling back our commitment to focus on only counter-terrorism operations — targeted strikes against high-value targets — risks a generalized collapse that would make much of the country a safe haven for terrorists and empower the extremists across the border threatening the Pakistani government. A regional meltdown would become all too possible. Reconciling with elements of the Taliban is another fantasy, since there aren’t moderate Taliban with whom to reconcile. Less-committed local fighters can be pulled away from the insurgency, but only if the insurgency is first beaten back.
No, the only way we can succeed in Afghanistan — i.e., create a government minimally competent and decent enough to sustain itself — is by undertaking the hard work of counter-insurgency, as we did in Iraq with the surge.
So has someone been reading The Captain’s Journal, we asked Rich? Rich responded:
I’m with you hersch! How can we leave huge chunks of hemand prov open and uncontested to the insurgents and then conclude the war’s not working?? (I don’t think the development piece has been really been tried either)
Right. Helmand Province, Khost, and all of the rest in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan.