January 21, 2008

Kip on Pakistan and Afghanistan

It with great pleasure that we announce a third member of the blogging team here at Abu Muqawama. "Kip" is a U.S. Army officer who has served in Iraq and -- extensively and recently -- in Afghanistan. He is considered to be one of the brighter young COIN experts in the U.S. military. His academic and professional credentials are impeccable, so we're happy to bring him aboard. This is his inaugural post:

Nothing should surprise faithful followers of our anti-terror errors but recent news on Pakistan and Afghanistan go to the heart of how we are getting this all so wrong.

For my first post, I'd like to look at they-actually-have-weapons-of-mass-destruction-and-are-really-scary Pakistan. Several sources have reported that the CIA believes Baitullah Mehsud is behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Not that the CIA has ever been known to toe the ISI line (we can discount the entire decade of the jihad as an aberration) but the CIA's leaked assessment is is in-line, surprise-surprise, with what the Pakistani government was reporting on December 28, 2007. I'm not one for conspiracy theories--still have not spent enough time in the Middle East--but even if we accept that Baitullah Mehsud was responsible for the Bhutto killing and accept that the destruction of all forensic evidence at the scene was simply an unfortunate accident, it strains credulity to give the ISI a free ride in the killing. A great article in the NY Times this week (which Charlie already posted with as-always insightful analysis) discussed the involvement of retired ISI officers in militant movements. Baitullah Mehsud and other similar militants have been mixed up with the ISI before, and elements including a cadre of retired Islamist officers, continue to support them. The question that keeps coming up again and again is, was the ISI involved in the killing of Bhutto? That's an easy one. At best, there will only be a couple of degree of separation between the ISI and the assassination. There are, however, some more important questions. Who in the ISI knew what, when? Did the ISI and government fail to take actions to preserve Bhutto's life? Does President Musharraf really control the ISI? What steps are being taken to kill or capture ISI dissidents? How much Islamist infiltration exists within the ISI? Did the crackdown on democracy further distract the government and ISI from Islamic radicals and allow the assassination to take place? The US government needs to stop confronting these questions with kid gloves, or we do truly face the potential of a disaster in Pakistan that could someday put nuclear arms in the hands of Al Qaeda.

Certainly the government of Pakistan and the ex-agents of the ISI continue to destabilize Afghanistan (which inherently destabilizes Pakistan's FATA region as well and from there, Pakistan as a whole). An Afghan TOLO television report in October this year featured several reports that Colonel Imam (real name Sultan Amir) was visiting Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan and encouraging the people to rebel against the government. Based on Sultan Amir's previous service in Afghanistan during the jihad and his ideology vis-a-vis the Taliban and America , these reports shouldn't be dismissed lightly. Given the attention supposedly being paid by the ISI to him, Hamid Gul, and Naseerullah Babar, if these reports are true, they indicate either a level of unprecedented ineffectiveness by the ISI and Pakistani government or continued complicity and even outright support for the anti-government, anti-Coalition insurgency in Afghanistan, i.e., killing US troops. The NY Times article that Charlie posted claims that some Western officials acknowledge both outright Pakistani support and complicity for undermining our efforts in Afghanistan:

Senior provincial ISI officials continue to meet with high-level members of the Taliban in the border provinces, according to one Western diplomat. “It is not illogical to surmise that cooperation is on the agenda, and not just debriefing,” the diplomat said.

“There are groups they know they have lost control of,” the Western diplomat added. But the government moved only against those groups that have attacked the Pakistani state, the diplomat said, adding, “It seems very difficult for them to write them off.”

Perhaps nowhere is it clearer than along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border how far astray of our national interests unwavering support of Musharraf has taken us. Smart AM readers may believe that the 1893 Durand Line marks the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In this, they would be wrong, as Sarah Chayes informs us in her must-read account of life in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Over the course of a decade, Pakistan has moved that border westward (also discussed by Ahmed Rashid as part of Pakistan's pursuit of strategic depth). What defines the border now is no artificial Durand line but rather high ground and "key terrain," all held, of course, by Pakistani forces. The response of Coalition countries has been to ignore this and tell the Afghan government to stop complaining about Pakistan and focus on its own problems. Tactically, however, this has made it even more difficult for the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Border Police, and Coalition Forces to prevent massive insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan. As any FM 3-24 reader knows, this is bad news for our COIN efforts. This is especially true as the Pashtun, Pakistani tribesmen who now occupy most of the important terrain are not exactly going out of their way to prevent the insurgents from getting in--certainly far less so than the multi-ethnic, nationalist Afghan National Army and happy-to-kill-bad-guys Coalition Forces would be in those same locations--the Border Police, I admit, are a different story. Moreover, the illegal seizure of Afghan territory (technically, by the way, an act of war) prevents more effective cooperation between Afghan and Pakistani forces as the premise for discussing cooperation from the Pakistani side rests on the border "as is" rather than "as it is marked on the map." No good Afghan officer is going to cede Afghanistan's territory to promote better communication, a fence here or there, and perhaps a little combined patrolling. Also, it doesn't take much to see how these border points can be used by militants, who can overwhelm the poorly trained auxiliaries on the "Pakistani" side, to fire on Afghan forces and initiate firefights between Pakistani and Afghan forces. Moreover, government buildings built by the government of Afghanistan, now stand on the "Pakistani" side of the border to serve as an ongoing psychological reminder to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan of the weakness of both the Afghan government and the Coalition. Whether or not Pakistan is doing all it can against FATA-based safe-havens in its own country (OK, you got me; they are not), Pakistan's illegal seizure of Afghan land ensures ease-of-access from Pakistan-based, militant safe havens. This ensures a near-continuous supply of foreign and Pashtun fighters from the madrassas and both tribal and Al Qaeda networks to fuel the insurgency and kill Americans. Congress got upset enough about Musharraf's anti-democracy crackdown that they almost, sort-of threatened to withhold money from Pakistan. Perhaps the next time we are going to give Musharraf untold amounts of money to spend on building defenses against India in support of anti-terrorism efforts, would it be too much to ask for our Pakistani "allies" to move to their side of the border in order to get access to some of that money?