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Afghanistan: No Withdrawal, No Reconciliation

2:12 pm in Foreign Policy by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Back in the summer of 2007, there was a debate in the Democratic presidential primaries over whether or not the United States ought to negotiate without preconditions with our enemies. Senator Obama said he would meet with Iranian president Ahmadinejad, among others, and Senator Clinton replied that this was naive, that it would be used for propaganda purposes, and so on.

Obama eventually won out, but the criticism of his position continued into the 2008 general election. The McCain campaign doubled down on the Bush policy of negotiations as a “reward”, and they relentlessly attacked Obama as weak on national defense, cozying up with dictators – you remember the commercials.

Despite all that, candidate Obama held firm in his position that the US should negotiate with its enemies. And not just dictators and foreign leaders, mind you, but even militant groups like the Taliban. Here Obama explains his rationale to NBC’s Brian Williams:

So far, so good. He uses some really unhelpful language (what the heck is a “moderate Taliban”?) but he admits that the process will not be easy or quick. . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Pakistan: Diplomacy vs. Giving It All Away

3:01 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

How are we going to deal with Pakistan when they’re openly flaunting their proxy war against the United States? How should we respond when they say stuff like "we know where the [Taliban] shadow government is"? Or this:

“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.

Again, "we protect the Taliban." Pakistan protects the Taliban. That’s in addition to them training and equipping various Taliban militias and even funding suicide attacks and IEDs against American troops. We, as in you the American tax payer, give Pakistan billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, including directly reimbursing them for their army operations (down to paying for the bullets fired). And yet they’re killing our troops and protecting insurgents/terrorists.

Our relationship with Pakistan is deeply, deeply flawed. How do we fix this?  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

General Kayani’s “Silent Coup” in Pakistan: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

7:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Pakistan’s General Kayani, the man our leaders in Washington fawn over and who sits atop the intensely destabilizing "Strategic Depth" networks in Afghanistan, has just been handed a three year extension of his term as Chief of Army Staff by Prime Minister Gilani:

The Pakistani government on Thursday gave the country’s top military official, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, another three years in his post, a move that analysts said would bolster Pakistan’s anti-terrorism fight and cement its role in neighboring Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced the extension in a late-night televised address to the nation. "To ensure the success of these [counter-terrorism] operations, it is the need of the hour that the continuity of military leadership should be maintained," he said.

The impact on our war in Afghanistan is obvious, as both McClatchy and I included it in the lede; Call it "strategic depth" or "cementing its role," it all adds up to influence on Afghan President Karzai’s government, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qa’eda, and the future of all of these players in Afghanistan.

The short of it is that Kayani’s extension is bad news for us, due to his cozy relationship with militants and terrorist organizations, as well as his undermining of the democratically elected civilian government. But the details are important, especially as they could mean the difference between uncontrolled escalation and our planned military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

For the complete picture, we’ll take a look at what a few experts (read: bloggers) are saying to determine the good, the bad, and the ugly ramifications Kayani’s extension has on the US war in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry →

Individual Acts and the Collapse of Pakistan

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Earlier this week, I wrote about an impending civil war in Pakistan, projecting a possible "complete collapse of Pakistan as a recognizable entity," referring not to its geography (it has survived breakaway provinces before, with national identities still intact) but rather to its structure as a modern, democratic society.  Some readers were understandably skeptical.

Beyond the violence and anti-Americanism we see in western press, Pakistan is actually very recognizable to us as foreigners. They have powerful military and civil society institutions much like the West, but it’s also Pakistan’s fervent patriotic pride, their struggles with women’s and minority rights, and their constant battle between secular progressives and conservative fundamentalists that will be instantly familiar to any American. Far from the alien, failed state portrayed on television, Pakistan is a vibrant cosmopolitan society dealing with the same grand cultural questions as the United States, or most other countries for that matter.

So how then do you get from that to the complete collapse? How could their painstakingly constructed democracy just disintegrate away, and how could their powerful, western-backed military fail so miserably to protect the nation in the face of what seems only to be illiterate, fascist hill people and their sickeningly backward superstitions? Read the rest of this entry →

Pakistan’s “Strategic Depth” and endless war in Afghanistan

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

If everything works out perfectly in our counterinsurgency strategy, or if congress forces a binding timetable in line with popular support, the United States will begin slowly drawing down its forces in Afghanistan in July 2011. It’s only the start, it will be tremendously slow, and the military leadership will likely fight it every step of the way (if Iraq is any indication, that is).

July 2011. That’s one year from now – 12 months. If June’s casualty numbers remain constant, that’s over a thousand Americans who’ll die before then, at minimum another 80 billion dollars down the toilet, and then we just start leaving. After that there’s no clear evidence of exactly how long it will take before the US has completely removed its military presence from Afghanistan, and possibly Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc, although there’s no evidence we’re planning on leaving those places either.

As I’ve said many times before, this is a good thing. It’s good that congress is starting to listen to its constituents, and is taking action to hold President Obama to his timetable for withdrawal. Afghanistan is America’s longest war, and with such ethereal objectives as "stability" and "preventing safe havens for extremism," the war can seem endlessly un-winnable, stretching on for decades as long as we’re content to let it happen. That we have a goal in sight, July 2011, is absolutely a victory.

Unfortunately, it’s not good enough. Pakistan’s national security policy of supporting terrorist groups and militias as proxies against India, known as "strategic depth," is accelerating out of control, and they are either deliberately or inadvertently engineering a globalized religious war, a Clash of Civilizations. Both terrorist and insurgent elements are evolving, with the Taliban co-opting Al-Qa’eda’s idea of religious war to legitimize its fight against the Pakistani state, and Al-Qa’eda in turn co-opting the Taliban’s objective of confronting India to legitimize the sub-continent as the premier theater of global jihad. Hawkish India, for one, will not take these developments lightly.

If pressure on congress is not increased, if the US remains on the slow, ambiguous timetable it is on now, it will be caught right in the middle of this clash. The bloodbath of Iraq in 2006 was only a preview of what will happen if there is a civil war in Pakistan, or a (nuclear?) war between Pakistan and India. Or both. If the US does not expedite its withdrawal, as well as dramatically reform its policies toward the region as a whole, we will very quickly be sucked into that conflagration. Read the rest of this entry →

What’s worse: Steele’s Afghanistan comments or the reaction?

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

It shouldn’t be breaking news to anyone that the Chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele, said something stupid, his silliness is well known. Pretty much every time he opens his mouth in public, something bad happens to Republicans.

Only this time, it’s actually somewhat relevant to us. Here’s Chairman Steele on Afghanistan:

"The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by building a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…"

That’s a mess, but it’s a piece of conversation taken out of context, so the incoherence is to be expected. Steele’s decision to Rethink Afghanistan is very much appreciated, especially since he’s joining the majority of Americans on that point of view, but unfortunately I’m not sure his comments are particularly helpful. It’s not a complete disaster, but Steele’s comments likely won’t change a lot of minds on his side of the aisle, if any at all.

But there’s also reaction from the left, and I’m sorry to say it isn’t any better. If anything, it’s worse, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. On the positive side, we learn once again that President Obama’s policy of war in Afghanistan is absolutely not a left/right issue at all. And that’s the most important thing we can take away from this whole affair. Read the rest of this entry →