Monday, August 03, 2009

Afghanistan - The Road to Peace

For years I've been writing that the biggest obstacle to sorting out Afghanistan was India or rather America's tolerance of Indian meddling in Afghanistan. I might just have been right.

Those watching Bill Maher's show, Real Time, this weekend were treated to a fascinating discussion of the Afghan problem by CNN's Aussie-born veteran war correspondent, Michael Ware. He stunned his host and panel by claiming that a negotiated settlement to end the insurgency/civil war may not be that far off. The key, said Ware is Pakistan or, more accurately, India and Pakistan.

Those familiar with this blog will know the scenario. Pakistan fears India, seeing it as its mortal enemy. India likes to keep Pakistan off-balance and wants Afghanistan as its "client state." That leaves Pakistan bounded by one known adversary on its eastern border and a potential adversary on its western border with the Indian navy capable of sealing off Pakistan's southern coastline at will. At one point India was even talking about sending troops to Afghanistan to help fight the Pashtun (Taliban) insurgency. Pakistan, home to what has been called the "Islamic Bomb," has a large army but its generals believe they need almost all of it to defend Pakistan's border with India. Pakistan doesn't really have the forces or the money to truly secure its border with Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance thugs and warlords who prop up Karzai and who, collectively, are then propped up by NATO and the United States like the idea of Afghanistan being a client state of India. The US, which has its own agenda for India, mainly focused on containing China, has tolerated the Delhi-Kabul relationship.

Pakistan's generals and especially its military intelligence mafia, the ISI, knows that the West isn't going to win in Afghanistan. They know, beyond any doubt, that we're not going to defeat the Taliban no matter how many troops we send, no matter how many bombs we drop. It isn't going to happen and they know that we know it too. So it's in their interests to tolerate, if not directly support, the insurgency to keep Afghanistan destabilized until Kabul and Washington are prepared to deal. Meanwhile the Pakistanis are telling Washington that they can bring the Taliban to the table if the Americans are willing to meet Pakistan's terms.

Here's the deal. India out of Afghanistan entirely. No client state of India deal. Pakistan and Afghanistan to accept some sort of Pashtun state (half of the Pashtun territory is in each country). On the creation of an acceptable Pashtun homeland the Taliban, whose objectives have always been nationalist anyway, will drop the insurgency which will also avoid the civil war that was bound to resume when we left in any case.

When you boil that down, what does it mean we're fighting for in Afghanistan? In reality we're fighting for a few things and none of them are pretty. We're fighting to retain the power and influence the Northern Alliance thugs and warlords snagged when the US helped them drive out the Taliban in a half-assed and utterly failed effort to destroy al-Qaeda. We're fighting to preserve India's interests in Afghanistan as a client state for the purpose of destabilizing Pakistan. We're fighting because we can't think of anything else to do ever since we lost the war way back in 2003 when al-Qaeda was allowed to slip away and decentralize throughout the Muslim world, Europe and North America.

If Michael Ware is right and if Pakistan is able to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table we (the US) had better grab that opportunity and do what's necessary to make it work which will include laying down the law in Delhi and Kabul. India and the Karzai criminal enterprise need to know that their game is over - for good.


Anand said...

In the Feb, 9, 2009, Afghan public opinion poll, 92% of Afghans had an unfavorable view of OBL, 91% had an unfavorable view of the Taliban and Pakistan.

Do you really think the Afghans will ever let the Taliban rule them again? The ANA and ANP will fight the Taliban until the end.

The Mound of Sound said...

To answer your question with a question, why do you think the Brits, the Americans and Kabul are so desperate to negotiate with the Taliban if the Afghan public are going to have some genuine say in this?

The ANA fight to the end? The "end" might come via their dissolution back into ethnic militias. Do you really think the ANA can survive without a viable central government to defend? In my view, only if the ANA gets powerful and large enough that it can oust the "criminal enterprise" that passes for a central government.

As for the ANP, they'll probably be in an uncomfortable spot sooner or later anyway but that's of their own making.

If the views and wellbeing of the Afghan people truly mattered to the West, we would have dismantled Afghan warlordism when it was still possible - sometime prior to 2003. Instead we embraced them and allowed them to take the reins of power.

Everybody's clamoring to negotiate with the Taliban not because they want to but because they have to. In an insurgency, that's tantamount to running up the white flag and the Talibs know it.

Anand said...

Mound of Sound, I saw your post via a google search.

The ANA is a professional diverse force with many Southern Pashtu in their ranks. It is as anti warlord as you get. Try talking to one of the advisers or trainers of the ANA. {Many of them have their own blogs.} 87% of Afghans in the June, 2009, poll, had a favorable view of the ANA.

There has been a lot of success in dismantling the war lords in Afghanistan. Once the war in the south stabilizes, the ANA will be able to return units to the North and West; which will continue the de warlordization of Afghanistan.

The ANA will not break up unless its funding (entirely foreign) is cut off. The ANA has a high degree of esprit de corps, and love of their nation.

On negotiations, 68% of Afghans wanted negotiations with the Taliban (in the Feb 9, 2009 poll; the June, 2009 poll had similar results.) The vast majority of those in favor of negotiating with the Taliban dislike the Taliban. This is the Afghan way. Always reach out the hand of friendship and compassion to your enemies. If the enemy continues to fight, then the Afghan people would have done all in their power to avoid it.

The Afghans haven't agreed to give major concessions to the Taliban; only to negotiate with the Taliban. In their hearts, Afghans understand that even if they smash the Taliban; in the long run they need good relations with the Taliban and Pakistan. Bad relations with Hindustan (South Asia) haven't been good for Afghans in their history.

If you want to write about Afghan challenges, then you could argue the following. The entire GIRoA only has revenues of $600 million a year, which is a lot less than Afghanistan's education system gets per year. Total steady state GIRoA expenditure might be $6 billion a year, or ten times Afghanistan's annual tax revenue (the balance is funded by foreign grants.) Now this is a huge long term problem.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anand, even assuming the Taliban could be tamed on terms acceptable to Islamabad, how is Afghanistan to overcome its hopelessly corrupt government, bureaucracy and police service? Karzai was willing to pick Hekmatyar as one of his two VP running mates! Dostum kidnaps two guys off the streets in Kabul and retreats to his compound where he holds off the police until they simply go away!

How can the Afghan National Army succeed if this is the sort of power structure it is obliged to uphold and defend?

The time for sorting all these things out was in the first two years following the ouster of the Taliban. Time was never on our side in this or any other insurgency and yet in Afghanistan was squandered time and opportunities shamelessly while Bush-Cheney went to play in the sandbox we call Iraq.

In any case I think Michael Ware is dead right - this situation is going to be solved, if it is to be solved at all, in Pakistan.

Anand said...

If you want to research Afghanistan, why don't you visit some Canadian blogs from advisers for the ANA?

Christopher Hitchens said that the real war in Afghanistan was the war that dare not be named: the war between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So yes, a majority of violence in Afghanistan is a collateral effect of instability in Pakistan. If Pakistan evolves into a prosperous free democracy, this would substantially help Afghanistan, India, China, Russia, Indonesia, Philippians, Thailand, Europe, and the international community in general. Pakistan is the biggest epicenter of global Takfiri terrorism. {Although there are other big epicenters such as Somalia, Sudan, KSA, etc.}

"Karzai was willing to pick Hekmatyar as one of his two VP running mates!" This was an offer to pacify Pakistan since Hekmatyar has long been supported by the ISI. Any negotiated settlement would have to include something like this.

"Dostum kidnaps two guys off the streets in Kabul and retreats to his compound where he holds off the police until they simply go away!" Can't help it. I know Dostum is a tough guy, but I kind of like him (he helped liberate Afghanistan.) In any case, Dostum isn't involved with the IA or IP right now. This is the right way to treat him. Give him a civilian ministry and force him to execute.

"how is Afghanistan to overcome its hopelessly corrupt government, bureaucracy and police service?" The Afghans have to elect less corrupt leaders. And the international commitment has to be conditional on Afghan governance and economic reforms. Since foreign grants pay for almost everything, international pressure can be effective.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anand, I'd be pleased to check out some of those blogs if you could provide links.

I wouldn't get too worked up over Chris Hitchens' take on Afghanistan. The fellow has succumbed to demagoguery for several years now and has become increasingly dogmatic. I much prefer the opinions of the Royal Institute (Chatham House), the International Crisis Group, on-the-ground journalists like Ware and commentators like Fareed Zakaria.

Remember, Hitchens believes he WAS waterboarded after his farcical, 5-second charade. If he's unable to distinguish that wee sip he got from the real thing - months of incarceration, preliminary tune-ups, real belief in death and utter helplessness from the "oh did we get you wet?" kid glove demo he got, he's not worth listening to.

Anand said...

Two Canadian blogs:
Some US blogs:

There are many more, but this don't want to overload you.

The Hitch water boarded himself as part of his campaign against water boarding. I respect him for doing so. The Hitch visited Pakistan and India in the 1990s and 2000s. This is the source for his deep antipathy towards extremists he met in Pakistan, and his affection towards India. He is emotional on this subject.

I don't think Ware knows what he is talking about on Afghanistan. He wasn't all that informed about Iraq either.

Fareed knows his stuff. I have been a regular reader of his since the mid 1990s.

bookz said...


Behind all the political troubles of Karzai, there is real improvement happening in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, much of that has to do with India building Afghanistan's infrastructure from scratch.

To get India out of Afghanistan is to deny Afghanistan all that development, all in the name of serving Pakistan's supreme national interest.

Here is an article that should provide a picture of the comparative roles of India & Pakistan in Afghanistan.

It is astonishing that Pakistan expects the international community's support for it's Afghanistan position.

The Mound of Sound said...

Bookz, you take a wonderfully isolated view.

Why is India, with so many impoverished citizens at home, with its looming agricultural crisis and its environmental woes, pumping money into Afghanistan?

Better yet, where else will you find such Indian altruism? Just what is India getting out of this? In your argument you stop well short of that point.

And Amand, thanks for the links. I will check them out.

As for "Hitch" as you so fondly call him having been waterboarded, let's come back to planet Earth.

The whole purpose of torture, any torture, is physical AND psychological. It is to place the subject in a state of utter helplessness and despair.

Victims are thoroughly prepped for the experience - imprisonment, sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions - the lot. Then they're taken, quite by surprise, and manhandled to the torture instrument. They're harshly lashed down and given the full treatment. They don't know when or if it's going to stop, they don't know whether they're going to survive.

"Hitch" lasted exactly five seconds and HE at all times was in control. He had the whole procedure explained to him in advance. He didn't have to endure days, weeks or months of preparatory torture and abuse. He knew that, when he'd had enough, it was over and the demonstration would stop and those instructors would dote on him to ensure he was fine.

You would have to be incredibly intellectually dishonest to call that waterboarding, Anand. It's like strapping a reporter in the electric chair only not pulling the switch.

Torture is domination, terror and pain. That "Hitch" would claim what he received was waterboarding speaks volumes to the credibility of that jumped up blowhard. And of course he topped it all off by exonerating those who practice the real art on real victims. Only a chump would do that.

The Mound of Sound said...

One more thing I'd like you to consider, Anand, is what you read and saw "Hitch" endure and then contrast it to this account of a French journalist who got the real treatment from French torturers in Algeria in the 50's:

This account of waterboarding is taken from the 1958 memoir of French journalist Henri Alleg. Any doubts about waterboarding as full-bore torture are put to rest by Alleg's account:

"Together they picked up the plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. They rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. Lo - fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap, which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag and held my nose. He tried to jam a pice of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me, 'When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.' And he turned on the tap.

"The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs as long as I could. But I couldn't hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save myself from suffociation. In spite of myself, the fingers of my two hands shook uncontrollably. 'That's it! He's going to talk,' said a voice.

"The water stopped running and they took away the rag. Iwas able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw up the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows. "Well then?' I remained silent. 'He's playing games with us! Put his head under again!'

"This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxiation right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time fighting with all my might not to die. I did not move my hands, but three times I again knew this insupportable agony.

"In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water. The last time, I lost consciousness."

That account makes "Hitch" look like a total pussy. Here's something else to consider. That's not the worst account of waterboarding to be had and nowhere does it mention what Henri Alleg was treated to before and afterward.

So, please, don't insult my intelligence by holding "Hitch" up as a waterboarding experience. That's nothing short of fraud.

Anand said...

Mound of Sound, India's economy has grown 8% per year over the last 7 years. India has a strong interest in a rapidly growing Afghan economy, and in the defeat of the Taliban.

BookZ, Afghanistan's steady state expenditures are about 10 times their tax revenue, with the balance funded by foreign grants. Therefore recent Afghan economic growth is not yet sustainable.

Remember that the education budget for Afghanistan is greater than the annual revenue of the Afghan state. It is easy to say that Afghanistan's education system is doing great, and to praise America, India, Europe, Japan, China and other contributors to Afghanistan's education system. However, Afghanistan's education system isn't sustainable, unless Afghanistan finds a way to collect more tax revenue.

Why has the education budget skyrocketed? Afghanistan now has 45,000 freshman college students versus one to two thousand in 2001. 7 million Afghan children, 33% girls, are now in Afghan schools.

The Mound of Sound said...

Okay Anand, I'll bite. What trade does India have with Afghanistan? What is the volume of Indian imports fron Afghanistan?

Do you not think that India's presence destabilizes Pakistan, leaves them fearful of containment?

You still haven't given a single compelling reason that India should maintain a prominent presence in Afghanistan other than that Pakistan lies betwixt and between. Let's drop the pretence, it's not helpful.

Anand said...

Mound of Sound, have you been to India many times? Indian perceptions of Pakistan are not nearly as negative and intense as Pakistani perceptions of India.

Far more Pakistanis have visited India in the last two years than in the 60 years before that. There is popular support within India for a free trade and free investment agreement with Pakistan; as well as more people to peole interaction via business and tourist visas.

I'll admit that Pakistanis see it differently and that Indians do not understand Pakistani concerns and fears. Part of the issue is that India has 1.2 billion people, see themselves as a great global power, think in global terms and rarely read news about Pakistan; whereas Pakistanis are almost obsessed with India, America and China to the exclusion of almost everything else (except Saudi Arabia to some degree.)

Afghanistan, and Northern Afghanistan/Uzbechistan use to be called Gandhara and Kekaya in ancient history. Gandhara and Kekaya are central to many of India's ancient "histories," legends, myths, and spirituality. Many of the holiest spots of Hinduism and Buddhism are in Afghanistan. There are deep cultural, religious and ancient trading links between Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most of these four countries were part of the same Mongol Moghul empire for two centuries until the early 1700s, when Persia conquered Afghanistan. After the death of the Persian emperor in 1747, a great and revered Persian general created modern Afghanistan. At that time much of Pakistan and India were part of Afghanistan (Kashmir, Punjab and many Pashtun areas.)

Today, there is a large Afghan expatriate community in India.

Besides this connection, there is also the threat of global Takfiri militant extremism. Most of the world shares this threat including Afghans, Pakistanis, Chinese, Indians, Bangladeshis, Russians, North Americans, Europeans, Indonesians (an AQ plot to kill the Indonesian president was stopped three days ago), Malaysians, Thais, Philipinos, Australians, Turks and the Stans.

This is why it is strongly in India's national interest that the Afghan people, the GIRoA and the ANSF win this fight. Afghan public opinion is also music to Indian ears. Afghans are more anti Al Qaeda than any country on earth except for maybe Iraq.

India also has a strong interest in a successful free plural democracy emerging in Pakistan. I think the Indian government would likely offer large economic grants to Pakistan as part of a peace settlement with Pakistan.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anand, I do understand that it is Pakistan, not India, that poses the greatest strategic threat in South Asia. I also see Pakistan as inherently unstable, a barely tenable union of Punjabi and Sindh, Pashtu and Baloch. I truly don't understand how those disparate factions can ever unite into a stable, viable country.

We know that the majority of Pakistan's army is deployed in the vicitinity of its border with India. The Pak military clearly sees India as an existential threat. India's launching of its indigenous nuclear missile sub has given the Pak military fits.

I think it's very easy for them to see themselves as penned in, surrounded, with the formidable Indian navy now capable of launching missile attacks out of Pakistan's southern frontier, the Arabian Sea.

We've watched corrupt civilian and despotic military governments come and go in Pakistan but has there every been anything truly resembling stability there?

I'm convinced that the focus has to be on Pakistan because that's where the danger is to the entire region, Afghanistan and India.

I think we need to create conditions where Pakistan doesn't stand to gain so much from playing both sides of the street. Bullying hasn't worked, bribery hasn't worked. Why? I'm guessing that neither the carrot nor the stick is sufficient to overcome Islamabad's insecurity that borders on outright phobia, insecurity that sees threats both domestic and foreign.

No matter how persuasively you argue the case for Afghanistan the fact is that we cannot afford a nuclear-armed failed state. Much as you may not like it, that has to be our priority.

Here's a question for you. How much would India like to see Pakistan fall under the protection of China? How would India feel if China began to establish a powerful political, economic and military presence in Pakistan, perhaps with a Chinese (or worse, Chinese-Russian) naval base at Gwadar? Who would be contained then? Whose sea-lane access to the Middle Eastern oil fields would be vulnerable then?

I think India has everything to gain from facilitating stability in Pakistan even if that means withdrawing its hand in Afghanistan. At times it seems that the Great Game is in play again.

Anand said...

"How much would India like to see Pakistan fall under the protection of China? How would India feel if China began to establish a powerful political, economic and military presence in Pakistan, perhaps with a Chinese (or worse, Chinese-Russian) naval base at Gwadar?" This is already happening. I think China is a positive and moderating influence on Pakistan. China's connections with Pakistan probably benefit India. Note that China is India's second largest investment, trade and business collaboration partner, and will soon be her largest. Indians view Chinese favorably.

"Whose sea-lane access to the Middle Eastern oil fields would be vulnerable then?" India and China's economic interests are almost identical. India would almost certainly prefer closer collaboration with China, NATO, Japan, South Korea and other countries to keep global sea lanes and the Persian gulf open.

India and China both share a large common interest in the Afghans "winning." However, India and China would rather free ride on others to help the Afghans win if they could.

In my view, the Afghans need as much help as they can get from any nation. The vast majority of Afghans want and need Indian help (and Chinese help and Japanese help and the help of other countries.)

Anand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Mound of Sound said...

Anand, with great respect, you seem to keep coming back with platitudes and bromides. Do you agree that Pakistan instability is the greatest strategic threat to the South Asian region? If not, what do you think is a greater threat?

Do you think India's wooing by America is considered irrelevant by China? Let's put that question another way. Do you think the Chinese are fools?

Are you familiar with the naval doctrine expressed by the Indian Navy? How do you think that affects China? Do you think the Chinese are fools?

Do you think India's sharp turn from its non-aligned, historical position to its pro-Western (US) status can be effected without a seismic effect on the balance of power in the south/east Asian region? Do you believe in fairies?

Stop ducking the hard questions. I'm not into boiled sweets.

Anand said...

Facilitating Pakistan becoming a prosperous successful free democracy with a vibrant civil society that is capable and willing to resisting Takfiri extremists is strongly in the interests of the whole world, including North America, Europe, Russia, India, China, Japan, and everyone else.

The dominant interest group in India is not the "security establishment" but economic interests. The same is true of China. Both India and China, and America for that matter, don't look at the world the way you seem to. To the degree both countries care about "national security," the most important issue for both of them is salafi extremism, and the terrorism that derives from it.

"Are you familiar with the naval doctrine expressed by the Indian Navy?" No. "How do you think that affects China?" I think Indian navy expansion benefits China the way Chinese naval expansion benefits India. Both countries are deeply concerned about managing global piracy, and facilitating international trade. This is the largest responsibility of both countries' navies. I hope that both navies increasingly cooperate

To understand my "world view" maybe you should read Thomas Barnett:

I think that India, China, and the US share 90% of the same interests. I favor far closer cooperation between all three countries on the vast majority of issues. Not everyone thinks like I do. I admit that.

I don't agree that India sees itself as "pro Western." Rather India is focused on economic growth and to a significantly lesser degree terrorism. For this reason, India generally favors facilitating a prosperous and globalizing world economy. India also favors multinational cooperation to dismantle and manage Takfiri militant extremist networks. This necessarily involves very close cooperation with NATO, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries. If you call this "pro western" . . . that is your choice. I would call it advancing India's national interests or common sense.

For the record I am a US citizens. My perceptions of India are shaped by my visits to India. Very few Indians know about or care about the "naval doctrine expressed by the Indian Navy." Less than 1% of Indians maybe.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sorry Anand, I don't buy what you're saying. India hasn't spent billions developing, building and deploying its own nuclear missile submarines with their own, made-in-India nuclear capable missiles, to fight piracy. That's preposterous.

Likewise China hasn't constructed its elaborate subterranean submarine base on Hainan Island to fight piracy.

It's irrelevant that, as you claim, 99% of Indians don't know their own navy's doctrine. It's enough that the 1% who decide these things know - and approve.

You may choose not to acknowledge it but there is a very real arms race underway in the south and east Asia region. Closing one's eyes won't make it go away.

The Mound of Sound said...

One more thing, Anand. You might find interesting the article in today's Sydney Morning Herald about the latest standoff between China and India over the Himalayan border.

A think tank associated with the Chinese army publishing a report suggesting India be broken up into 30-separate states and that Pakistan, Tibet and Nepal help secessionist movements in northern India?

You're right, the two countries do have a common interest - in who is going to be able to lay claim to the Himalayan glacier headwaters.

Anand said...

You have a cynical mind "Mound of Sound." I believe in the intrinsic goodness of people.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anand, don't confuse realism with cynicism. Do you think I make up this stuff? I am very focused on environmental and military developments in South and East Asia because I believe it's in Asia that global security throughout this century will be decided.

I like to think all people share an intrinsic goodness but I also know history shows us how that trait is shaped, even warped, by events and conditions.