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Thread: As They Ponder the Future - US-Pak Relations

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    As They Ponder the Future - US-Pak Relations

    As They Ponder the Future

    Zafar Hilaly
    Friday, November 30, 2012

    The writer is a former ambassador.

    An unusual quiet descended on the normally animated and frazzled Pakistan-US relationship over for the past few weeks. The absence of hard talk and cancelled visits; complaints of the US withholding payments due (CSF) or pledged (Kerry-Lugar), and snubs, jibes and whatever else countries say or do to make known their ire was a welcome change from the earlier goings-on.

    And the foreign minister took pride in personally conveying the good news that all was well with the relationship after “a fairly difficult patch.” In fact, she said, with the “resumption of intelligence and military contacts” relations were on an “upward trajectory” – so much so that the US and Pakistan were close to evolving “common positions” on Afghanistan.

    Of course, all that is so much make-believe. Serious differences, on not only how the war should be pursued but to what end, remain very evident. And much of the damage done over the past year or two is, frankly, irreparable.

    For example, the army will never quite be able to reconcile with the murder of our soldiers at Salala and the disgraceful American reaction that followed. No doubt, the Americans feel the same about the killing of US embassy personnel in Kabul, allegedly by the Haqqanis, in which Washington confidently accuses Pakistan of being involved. And, of course, prior to that there were other deeply wounding events, like Abbottabad and Raymond Davis, the pall of which lingers over relations.

    Presently, what has got Ms Khar excited is that both sides seem to have tacitly agreed that differences should be set aside because the Afghan war is entering a decisive phase and it is in their mutual interest to get along.

    Of course, it is always in Pakistan’s interest to get along with the US, and almost at any cost. Naturally, the compulsion for the US is far less, but having overdone the coercive diplomacy bit and discovering that ramped-up drone attacks and snarling and growling at Pakistan had not worked, the crassly inept Obama administration finds it has no option except to bend a little in our direction to enlist our cooperation to get out of the Afghan mess.

    It’s basically a bit like what happened in the 1980s when, in order to give the Russian bear a drubbing, Washington found it convenient not to remember that Pakistan had an ambitious and ongoing nuclear-weapons programme. Of course, after the Soviets left, it lost no time in strenuously objecting to our nuclear programme and slapped sanctions on Pakistan. In all probability, history will repeat itself post-2014.

    In fact, only a few days before Ms Khar gave us her rosy view of US-Pakistan relations, further evidence of the animus the Obama lot have for Pakistan was on display in Defence Secretary Panetta’s speech at the Centre for a New American Security in Washington.

    When asked about the chances of America prevailing in Afghanistan. Panetta replied, “Success in Afghanistan is dependent on having a Pakistan that is willing to confront terrorism on their side of the border and prevent safe havens.”

    Why on earth Pakistan should consider America’s enemies as its own when, in fact, seldom has either country considered the other’s enemy, or for that matter friend, as its own, is puzzling. And today, too, Pakistanis view the Haqqanis not as terrorists but Afghan nationalists fighting to be rid of American occupation, and rightly consider it a folly to take them on merely to please America.

    Besides, if the Afghan Taliban, of which the Haqqanis are a leading element, are terrorists, why does America want to engage with them? And why do American envoys praise Pakistan for releasing a number of detained Afghan Taliban if they are “terrorists,” especially after having disparaged our policy of “good” and “bad” Taliban?

    As for Panetta’s belief, also expressed in his speech at the American Centre, that America would by now have “completed its job” of eliminating the Taliban but for the safe havens in Pakistan, that’s even more absurd. There are no safe havens in the west, north and east of Afghanistan and yet Taliban activity has picked up. Nor near Kabul, which is nearly 200 kilometres from the Pakistani border, and where Taliban attacks are most frequent and intense.

    Far better, then, that Panetta should heed his own advice and “focus on developing a force in Afghanistan that’s able to provide security and can establish operational capability to confront threats on the Afghan side of the border.” And, as he also said in his speech, “have a regime in Kabul that can govern itself, that can move away from the corruption, that can, in fact, have the capability to provide the kind of governance that you need in order to truly secure that country and govern that country for the future,” although, frankly, that is not remotely on the cards at present.

    What Panetta did not touch on in his speech at the American Centre was what would happen if American forces were to hang on in Afghanistan after 2014, as they intend to – without any sort of an agreement with the other parties of the current conflict or Afghanistan’s neighbours, as also seems likely. That’s going to prove yet another cause for intense friction in the region.

    American analysts Kimberly and Frederick Kagan, in a closely argued article, ‘Why US troops must stay in Afghanistan’, have fired the first salvo in what, I suspect, will be a fierce new debate between those, like India, who want America to retain a sizable presence in Afghanistan, and others, like Pakistan and Iran, who would be happier with a nominal American presence at best, although the US outing itself lock, stock and barrel is by far the preferred option.

    Contending that for America to leave without retaining the option of conducting counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan would be irresponsible; the Kagans believe that America will have to retain 68,000 troops, at the very least, in Afghanistan after 2014. Failure to do so, they say, would render American bases and troops vulnerable and make America “irrelevant” in the fight against Al-Qaeda. They conclude: “We must either stabilise Afghanistan at this minimum level or abandon the fight against Al-Qaeda and its allies in South Asia. Any alternative light footprint strategy is a dangerous mirage.”

    Actually, the contrary is probably true, because an American presence will not only foreclose the possibility of any agreement with the Afghan Taliban but also guarantee the continuation of an unwinnable war; enhance the prospects of a revival of Taliban-Al-Qaeda ties, as the Taliban traditionally welcome anyone wanting to help them in jihad, and to further destabilise Pakistan. The fact is that America can no more stabilise Afghanistan by hanging on there than anyone can stabilise a blob of mercury while riding a merry-go-round.

    The better option for America, although it is one on which the window is fast closing, is to take advantage of the current Pakistani regime’s eagerness to preserve the American alliance – frayed and battered as it is. This is so because no future government, even if by some miracle it is another Zardari-led coalition, will be as well disposed to the US. In other words, no Pakistani government can withstand the haemorrhaging of its popularity by supporting a large US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and thereby prolonging a war now considered the fount of all of Pakistan’s woes.

    As they ponder the future, it would help if Panetta and his kind stopped blaming Pakistan for America’s failure in Afghanistan. Their mistake was to believe Petraeus, a phoney general who led them deeper into a phoney war.

    Email: charles123it@hotmail.com
    As they ponder the future - Zafar Hilaly

    ===========

    I am just as skeptical as ZH about any lasting cooperation between Pakistan and the US post 2014, but recent events such as the US finally taking a clear and official position on the status of the Durand Line, the release of Taliban prisoners and the news today that Pakistan is considering releasing more Taliban prisioners (Pak agrees to release more Taliban - thenews.com.pk) do appear to bolster Khar's comments that cooperation with the US, if not the actual US-Pakistan relationship, is improving.

    What positions/opinions do the members have on the size and scope of the US presence in Afghanistan post 2014, both in terms of what it will actually end up being and what it should ideally be?
    Last edited by Agnostic Muslim; 30 Nov 12, at 17:52.
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    Ideally, none. Yet again western idealism has run up against the cold hard reality that peace, prosperity and some form of democracy aren't ideas that are valued within the region. The best response is simply remove all financial support and dealings from the region, watch, and when necessary rain down death from above. In other words, apply the morality of the region, to the region.
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    Senior Contributor Agnostic Muslim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Parihaka View Post
    Ideally, none.
    So you largely agree with what the author suggests is the preferred Iranian and Pakistani position on a US presence in Afghanistan, non-existent ...
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    Armchair Worrier Senior Contributor bolo121's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agnostic Muslim View Post
    So you largely agree with what the author suggests is the preferred Iranian and Pakistani position on a US presence in Afghanistan, non-existent ...
    Non-Existant only on the ground.
    What he meant is that instead of a ground presence, wait for someone to get out of line and then JDAM their ass.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bolo121 View Post
    Non-Existant only on the ground.
    What he meant is that instead of a ground presence, wait for someone to get out of line and then JDAM their ass.
    A US presence on the ground is what the author, and my question, referred to.

    I highly doubt any country in the region believes the US would not take military action through air-strikes or, less likely, special ops, if needed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agnostic Muslim View Post
    So you largely agree with what the author suggests is the preferred Iranian and Pakistani position on a US presence in Afghanistan, non-existent ...
    Yes, though you'll note I stated region, not purely Afghanistan. The ISAF's issues in Afghanistan are not purely sourced from Afghanistan.
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    I doubt my government agrees but Parihaka's position has been mine for some time. We long ago surrendered any ability to influence Afghanistan in accord with our long-term ambitions. So too Pakistan. We'd be best-served to pour neither a single dollar more in the direction of either and, instead, keep our guard up and powder dry.

    India has compelling and continuing interest in Afghanistan's development. It is, IMV, to them to support elements that can raise forth the best interests of the afghan people provided such coincides with their interests too. I expect India shall largely ignore an overt presence. If so, why shouldn't America?
    Last edited by S2; 02 Dec 12, at 11:03.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Agnostic Muslim View Post
    I am just as skeptical as ZH about any lasting cooperation between Pakistan and the US post 2014
    There is the matter of your aid. if the US quits then that aid dries up. Your present gov, or any future gov that comes to power is not going to turn down that aid. Military aid might reduce but civilian aid will increase. That is all that is required to secure buy in from your public.

    Quote Originally Posted by Agnostic Muslim View Post
    What positions/opinions do the members have on the size and scope of the US presence in Afghanistan post 2014, both in terms of what it will actually end up being and what it should ideally be?
    They will try to get a SOFA, and that agreement will answer all your questions. The troop figures your ambassador quotes are on the high side. They can get by with less.

    To date i cannot see why they will not get it because everybody in the region wants it. Your country, Iran, the afghans even the Americans, Russia, China, everybody. To cut & quit what is a long and still ongoing struggle strikes me as a half measure. if the US already spent billions on this project now is not the time to cut & run.

    To put it simply a US presence acts as a guarantor to future Afghan aid pledged by a number of countries. So long as the money flows the guns stay silent, keep it flowing long enough and life changes for the better in that region.
    Last edited by Double Edge; 02 Dec 12, at 19:23.

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    Double Edge Reply

    "...So long as the money flows the guns stay silent, keep it flowing long enough and life changes for the better in that region."

    You're very generous with American dollars and blood. Have we not given enough lives and largesse for those in Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, Afghanistan and India to pick up the cudgel and responsibly carry on? Or are we the only party with sufficient credibility to act responsibly on behalf of the aforementioned.?
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    Contrary to my government's position and other associated ground realities, I somehow understand and concur to Steve's POV that for tranquility to prevail in AStan, Indian presence has to quantify into armed personnel on the ground. Our ambitions and compelling interests in that country actually warrants Indian boots in that region. I also find the notion of aggravated hostility to our developmental projects, because of a "Infidel Army in Muslim lands', grossly misplaced and self-defeating. The InA won't be any more Infidel than the NATO forces, nor has the IA shown any qualms in confronting the more or less same buggers in Kashmir, supposedly another Muslim land.

    But again, that's something that neither the GoI nor the US government would actually want to let happen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deltacamelately View Post
    Contrary to my government's position and other associated ground realities, I somehow understand and concur to Steve's POV that for tranquility to prevail in AStan, Indian presence has to quantify into armed personnel on the ground. Our ambitions and compelling interests in that country actually warrants Indian boots in that region. I also find the notion of aggravated hostility to our developmental projects, because of a "Infidel Army in Muslim lands', grossly misplaced and self-defeating. The InA won't be any more Infidel than the NATO forces, nor has the IA shown any qualms in confronting the more or less same buggers in Kashmir, supposedly another Muslim land.

    But again, that's something that neither the GoI nor the US government would actually want to let happen.
    I really doubt we have the resources for it Delta. Kashmir itself costs us enormous amounts.
    Maintaining boots on the ground far away in Afghanistan with no common border would be ruinously expensive.
    From a human cost POV, even with all the high tech goodies they have and the vast amounts of fire support on tap, US troops are still taking losses from IEDs and the like.
    Our poor guys would have nothing near this.
    Last edited by bolo121; 04 Dec 12, at 03:03.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deltacamelately View Post
    Contrary to my government's position and other associated ground realities, I somehow understand and concur to Steve's POV that for tranquility to prevail in AStan, Indian presence has to quantify into armed personnel on the ground. Our ambitions and compelling interests in that country actually warrants Indian boots in that region. I also find the notion of aggravated hostility to our developmental projects, because of a "Infidel Army in Muslim lands', grossly misplaced and self-defeating. The InA won't be any more Infidel than the NATO forces, nor has the IA shown any qualms in confronting the more or less same buggers in Kashmir, supposedly another Muslim land.

    But again, that's something that neither the GoI nor the US government would actually want to let happen.
    Major, leaving aside the enormous logistical and financial difficulties in carrying out full fledged COIN ops in Afghanistan that bolo mentioned, what makes you think the IA will be more successful than the ISAF in achieving the objective? The ISAF operation there is doomed because of their inability and/or unwillingness to take the fight inside Pakistan. At least the Americans have some leverage over Pakistan in the form of aid etc. which allows them to do drone strikes which are effective but inadequate. India doesn't have armed drones and the Pakistanis wouldn't allow us to use them in their airspace anyway. And we have zero leverage over Pakistan as well. In fact, the moment the IA lands in Afghanistan, expect the Paksitanis to go full throttle on overt support to the Taliban, instead of the current covert support screened by official denials. The IA has no hope of success in this scenario. The GoI is right to stay out of it.

    It is in our interest to do it, but it is far beyond our capability.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bolo121 View Post
    I really doubt we have the resources for it Delta. Kashmir itself costs us enormous amounts.
    Maintaining boots on the ground far away in Afghanistan with no common border would be ruinously expensive.
    From a human cost POV, even with all the high tech goodies they have and the vast amounts of fire support on tap, US troops are still taking losses from IEDs and the like.
    Our poor guys would have nothing near this.
    Bolo121, Firestorm,

    All of your points are very valid and as I have quoted above, there are reasons due to which the GoI and the US government have dessisted from ensuring armed Indian presence in AStan. However, post 2014 and till times the Afghan Army gets strong enough to defend Astan's geo-strategic interests, external military presence is vital for the country's success, whether Indian or others. Absence of the same will also stall our developmental projects or atleast slow them down. Our commitment size and ambitions warrant OUR military presence, but then there are those problems as outlined by you. We can not piggyback on others indefinitely.
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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by S2 View Post
    "...So long as the money flows the guns stay silent, keep it flowing long enough and life changes for the better in that region."

    You're very generous with American dollars and blood. Have we not given enough lives and largesse for those in Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, Afghanistan and India to pick up the cudgel and responsibly carry on?
    You have but your primary objective remains as true today and into the future as it was soon after 9-11. To prevent Afghanistan from turning into a safe haven for non-state actors. You will not be alone, there are other countries that will be contributing as well. If not militarlly then financially or capacity building.

    Besides the immediate objective is to get the Afghans into the forward theatres with your people serving as advisers.

    Quote Originally Posted by S2 View Post
    Or are we the only party with sufficient credibility to act responsibly on behalf of the aforementioned.?


    The only one whose motives cannot be confused with nefarious designs of the neighbours, any of whom risk queering it up for everybody.

    Quote Originally Posted by Deltacamelately
    there are reasons due to which the GoI and the US government have dessisted from ensuring armed Indian presence in AStan.
    It in effect creates another Kashmir. Preventing our presence helps reduce the chances of drawing the Paks into a fight for influence against us in Afghanistan. Regardless, they will still try.

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    Originally Posted by Deltacamelately
    there are reasons due to which the GoI and the US government have dessisted from ensuring armed Indian presence in AStan.
    Quote Originally Posted by Double Edge View Post
    It in effect creates another Kashmir. Preventing our presence helps reduce the chances of drawing the Paks into a fight for influence against us in Afghanistan. Regardless, they will still try.
    Even without putting boots on ground, there are still a lot many issues that can stir things up, in context to AStan and Indo-Pak relation. Now with the signing of the strategic treaty between India and AStan, these issues will inevitably crop up and test India's resolve in aiding AStan militarily and otherwise.

    Here's the latest test -

    India faces Afghan test, as ally calls for military aid.

    New Delhi fears significant military assistance to Afghan forces could create tensions with Pakistan

    Afghan military commanders and intelligence officials have begun urging India to provide direct military assistance to the country’s fledgling armed forces following a series of skirmishes with Pakistani troops this autumn, highly placed government sources in Kabul told The Hindu.

    Key equipment sought by the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the sources said, include medium trucks that can carry 2.5-7 tonne cargos, bridge-laying equipment and engineering facilities. India was also asked to consider the possibility of supplying light mountain artillery, along with ordnance, and to help Afghanistan build close air-support capabilities for its troops in preparation of drastic scaling-down of western forces in 2014.

    The requests followed fierce fighting along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that raged from July to September, in which both sides used artillery — and comes amidst fears that Afghanistan may be unable to hold together in the face of renewed jihadist assault in the run-up to the country’s Presidential election.

    India’s Afghan test

    For India, the Afghan military demands present a strategic dilemma, as well as the first real test of the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hamid Karzai on October 4. The accord, Afghanistan’s first with any country, opened up the prospect of significantly expanding military cooperation far beyond training the country’s military and police personnel, India’s main contribution so far.

    “India agrees to assist as mutually determined,” clause 5 of the section on political and security cooperation reads, “in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for the ANSF.”

    Now estimated at 3,52,000-strong, the ANSF cost over $4 billion to support—far beyond the government’s resources. Participants at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s summit in Chicago this May agreed to continue to foot the Bill until 2017, but also sought “gradual, managed force reduction” to about 2,28,500. Kabul fears the social consequences of putting over 1,00,000 trained soldiers out of jobs, and worries that recession in the West could lead to a further scaling back of support.

    Nor is there clarity on the precise nature of how many troops the United States will maintain after 2014, though its government has said some numbers of personnel will remain. Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert at the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution, recently warned that “if the definition of [the post-2014] United States mission then is only very narrow counter-terrorism for its own contingents and on-base counter-insurgency training for the ANSF, the United States may be severely constrained in providing crucial and necessary resources to the ANSF.”


    Strategic dilemma

    India, diplomatic sources in New Delhi said, however fears being sucked into a military relationship with Afghanistan that could enrage Pakistan — a country which has long worried that its northern neighbour could be used as a base for aggression by its historic eastern adversary. Islamabad has, in the past, alleged that India’s intelligence services are using Afghanistan to back secessionists in Balochistan, as well as jihadists fighting the Pakistani state.

    “Frankly,” said Sushant Sareen, an expert at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, “I think its worth New Delhi’s while to take the risk. Pakistan says it is happy for Afghans to decide their own future. It is time to put that claim to the test.”

    President Karzai’s administration is engaged in a last-ditch effort to secure Pakistani support for the 2014 transition, by seeking its support for negotiations with Taliban leaders based in Peshawar and Quetta. Mr. Karzai has even offered Pakistan a strategic partnership agreement, like that signed with India. However, Afghan government sources said, the military leadership believe Indian assistance will be critical if these efforts fail — and snowballing violence within the country leads to future skirmishes along their border with Pakistan.

    Fighting along the Durand Line — the 2,640 km frontier drawn by British administrator Mortimer Durand of British India and Afghan Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1893, but never ratified by Kabul — has erupted periodically since 9/11.

    In the summer of 2003, the Afghan government claimed Pakistan established bases up to 600 metres inside its territory, along the Yaqubi Kandao pass. Even though the skirmishes that broke out were local, they set a pattern. In 2007, clashes broke out again when the Pakistan army sought to erect fences inside Afghan territory in the Angoor Adda area, along the border with South Waziristan. Like this autumn, both sides exchanged artillery fire.

    The latest clashes, Afghan army sources told The Hindu, were sparked off by a succession of attacks by jihadist groups operating in the Kunar area, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which are alleged to have the backing of local Pakistan army units.
    The Hindu : News / National : India faces Afghan test, as ally calls for military aid
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