Saturday’s Washington Post lays out in excruciating detail why the US strategic plan in Afghanistan will never succeed. The article opens by noting that one “key to success in the Afghan war” is “the elimination of havens inside Pakistan where the Taliban plots and stages attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan.” That element of the strategic plan of course relies on the cooperation of Pakistan’s military. Such cooperation will never happen, because Pakistan’s chief military officer, General Ashfaq Kayani, does not believe that the US and Pakistan will ever achieve their goal of eliminating the Taliban. Instead, he views the Taliban as a useful long-term insulation against the influence of India in the region, and so he refuses to take positive action against them. With such a huge primary obstacle to its success, this makes the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan a cruel and meaningless waste of lives and resources.
The Post states outright that Kayani believes US efforts are headed for failure:
Kayani, who as Pakistan’s army chief has more direct say over the country’s security strategy than its president or prime minister, has resisted personal appeals from President Obama, U.S. military commanders and senior diplomats. Recent U.S. intelligence estimates have concluded that he is unlikely to change his mind anytime soon. Despite the entreaties, officials say, Kayani doesn’t trust U.S. motivations and is hedging his bets in case the American strategy for Afghanistan fails.
We also learn that Kayani was personally behind the closing of Torkham Crossing in retaliation for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in a botched NATO raid into Pakistan:
In recent months, Kayani has sometimes become defiant. When U.S.-Pakistani tensions spiked in September, after two Pakistani soldiers were killed by an Afghanistan-based American helicopter gunship pursuing insurgents on the wrong side of the border, he personally ordered the closure of the main frontier crossing for U.S. military supplies into Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
After that near meltdown in US-Pakistani relations, the US continued its efforts to court Kayani, even bringing him to Washington for direct talks with President Obama (although I can’t find any official photographs with Obama and Kayani together), only for Kayani to reject the requests to cooperate:
In October, administration officials choreographed a White House meeting for Kayani at which Obama could directly deliver his message of urgency. The army chief heard him out, then provided a 13-page document updating Pakistan’s strategic perspective and noting the gap between short-term U.S. concerns and Pakistan’s long-term interests, according to U.S. officials.
Despite this undeniable evidence that Pakistan will not take the actions that the US needs in order to achieve its objectives, December’s “strategy review” produced no changes in US strategy:
The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country. Specific components of our strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are working well and there are notable operational gains. Most important, al-Qa’ida’s senior leadership in Pakistan is weaker and under more sustained pressure than at any other point since it fled Afghanistan in 2001. In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation, and enhanced exchange and assistance programs. And in Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible.
While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of al-Qa’ida, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable. With regard to al-Qa’ida’s Pakistan-based leadership and cadre, we must remain focused on making further progress toward our ultimate end state, the eventual strategic defeat of al-Qa’ida in the region, which will require the sustained denial of the group’s safe haven in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, among other factors. And in Afghanistan, we are confronting the inherent challenges of a war-torn nation working to restore basic stability and security in the face of a resilient insurgency that finds shelter in a neighboring sanctuary. More broadly, we must continue to place the Afghanistan and Pakistan challenges in larger and better integrated political and regional contexts.
And, of course, as that failing strategy is still being pursued, drone attacks inside Pakistan continue at their accelerated pace, with missiles fired from drones killing fifteen people on Saturday alone.
It is long past time to end the stalemate in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, withdraw our troops and embark on a new plan that does not have killing as its central thesis.