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17 July 2008


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FBA: But the lure of Iraq and a reordered Middle East drew them away

Could you/we please double click on `lure' and discuss its meaning in full?

It seems that hubris, pompous ignorance, etc. preceded the so-called lure of Iraq, no?


FB Ali: I would be interested to hear your views on the probability of the Taliban regaining power if/when the NATO-US forces leave.


FB Ali wrote:

"Several commentators have mentioned the possibility of Pakistan unravelling. This is unlikely...."

Well, maybe somewhat less than a 50% chance, but why way way less as I at least read your comment? And doesn't your comment somewhat conflict at least with the title of your previous post about Pakistan being "on the brink"?

Seems to me you're absolutely right in the idea that we have absolutely no moral obligation to do anything in Afghanistan. The gov't harbored people who whacked us, they refused to turn them over, we had a right to go whack them and then utterly walk away.

But like someone here said that challenge was also an opportunity in terms of showing the moslem world that we do not hate them. So doing reconstruction there and helping them move into the modern world and etc. could have been a great thing, and it's a crime Bush diverted resources and etc. to Iraq from this.

But would look bad if we walked away now and there's still a possible opportunity there seems to me. So why not just ... walk away from the areas near the border with Pakistan essentially? The bad guys, so to speak, got supply problems too in terms of getting much beyond that, which problems we could exacerbate. Meanwhile we concentrate on pouring dough and etc. into the remaining bulk of the country and hopefully turning it into something that would set a good example not only for the rest of the Afghanis but also the non-nutball Paki's and the rest of the arab/moslem world too. E.g., a non-poppy-based economy, decent roads and schools and gov't and etc., etc.

I don't know if that's even possible now with the resources wasted on and still being devoted to Iraq, but in any event it seems to me you are right in that originally at least that seemed "winnable."

So if it is still possible at all what about that idea of not trying to "win" everything everywhere in Afghanistan but just where it's easiest first? Just like you don't fight wars you can't win, you shouldn't try to defend what you can't, true? And if, after all, the idea is to "win" by example, why does the example have to be the arbitrary political lines that a country's borders represent?


Dave of Maryland

So if I understand FB Ali properly, what the US should do to win hearts & minds would not be to send more Marines, but rather, promote cultural exchanges, student exchanges, Peace Corps(?), over the next 10-20 years. Let the natives sort things out for themselves. Stuff like what Senator Fulbright promoted. Worked in central Europe.


FBA: But the lure of Iraq and a reordered Middle East drew them away

"Them": Starting to believe that the Iraq we now see is the bastard child of Bush and not 'them'.

How so?

In 1994, Secretary Cheney


Mr Ali, you stated"

"The Northern Alliance fought the US war to win back their territories which the Taliban had conquered. The insurgency is in the Pakhtun lands to the south, it does not affect them."

Are you advocating a partition of Afghanistan?

Logic to me dictates that the Tajiki should join Tajikistan, the Uzbeks Uzbekistan, Hazaris to Iran with the Pashtuns forming their own country in the South.

What is you opinion?

If you disagree, why hold together a country that will always be a failed state because of games played by Regional powers?

Thank you


Sorry folks.

You all miss the real challenge in Afghanistan.

There are new enemies killing U.S. soldiers and those enemies need to be obliterated.

As the Air Force Print News service reports:

An F/A-18C dropped a GBU-12 onto an enemy building engaging coalition forces near Delaram.
Buildings shooting at coalition forces are easy to fight.

Obama and/or McCain will certainly have no problem obliterating all of these.


The continued existence of al Qaeda and bin Laden was useful and essential to jump up and sustain the GWOT we're still immersed in.

Yes, the Northern Alliance could have been the hammer, classically driving AQ out of Tora Bora and into the waiting anvil of US forces waiting en route to Pakistan. Game over.

That would have eliminated any justification to invade Iraq, to start a project of forced democratization and westernization of the Middle East, to spread military bases throughout the region and establish close links with many governments.

What if we had decided that ISI and elements of the Pakistani military and government were also the enemy?

What if we had waited another week and taken the Taliban up on their offer to hand over AQ?

While your right about your specific criticisms of US actions, I think you missed the larger point. 9-11 provided the pretext to initiate a wider set of actions that otherwise would have been far harder to undertake.

Of course, by not succeeding in destroying AQ, and by staging massive and apparently permanent intrusions on Islamic countries and humiliating their populations, the US made bin Laden's predictions come true, assisting his cause immeasurably.

FB Ali

When I said Pakistan is unlikely to “unravel” I was referring to an explosive disintegration. However, for a long time the country has been undergoing a slow, silent implosion as the institutions, the ideals and ideas, the unwritten contracts, which hold together a state and a people have been corrupted, violated and hollowed out. For a time the army was the guarantor of the state and country, but it, too, is now corrupted at the top and has lost its symbolic status among the people. There is some nascent hope in the newly arisen “civil society” and the budding independence in the judiciary. If they are unable to stop the rot there won’t be any spectacular explosion, just a mournful hiss as the country slides into another failed state.

JM, Jose
Afghanistan has never been a country in the usual sense. It was and is a collection of ethnic and tribal entities ruled by local leaders and warlords. From time to time a more powerful warlord would establish “central rule” in Kabul (even a dynasty for a time), and other tribal leaders would offer him nominal fealty in return for leaving them alone to run their own shows. The Taliban conquest of the country was an aberration, due mainly to Pakistani assistance and general war-weariness. I do not see that being repeated; neither the West nor the other regional powers will let it happen.

I am certainly not advocating the partition of Afghanistan, though it will inevitably remain a fractured country for quite a long time. While the regional powers are quite willing to play games in Afghanistan, none of them is keen to annex another lot of fractious tribes (many of them already have enough of their own).

John Howley

Rashid argues in Descent into Chaos that the US had a "window of opportunity" when we first overthrew the Taliban when the majority of Afghans were on our side. Lasted about two years.

What did Afghans learn during that time? The US wasn't serious about stabilization and reconstruction. (US soldiers with the best language skills were being pulled out in March 2002 to be re-trained for Iraq.)

The new regime in Kabul was just as incompetent and corrupt as every other regime in Kabul. The Afghan people, after decades of war and devastation, are desperate for a modicum of security.

Rashid remains hopeful that the situation can be turned around despite the fact that the "window of opportunity" is now closed. The people are looking elsewhere for salvation.

The question we face is: Does the United States have enough men and money to pry or force that "window of opportunity" open again?

Or does that window, once shut, stay shut? In which case....

Obama should talk to some of those retired Russian generals when he does his Grand Tour.


The problem is the way the Bush administration, which loves to talk tough, always treats Musharraf and Karzai with kid gloves, with the seeming logic of: if we don’t give them everything they demand or if we put the slightest bit of pressure on them then they will collapse and we’ll lose, so there’s nothing we can do to make them change. We need to get tough with these leaders, and threaten to withhold the massive amounts of aid we provide them unless they start pulling their weight.

Remember that Musharraf allowed the radicals at the Red Mosque to operate openly in his own capital, harassing his own police officers. That is until a couple Chinese nationals got kidnapped and the Chinese government applied some pressure. Only after that pressure was brought to bear did Musharraf finally storm the mosque and put an end to the radical threat there. The Chinese were even able to get Pakistan to nab China’s bin Laden, Hassan Mahsun of the "East Turkestan Islamic Movement." Now China has FAR less leverage on Pakistan than we do(several billion dollars less) and yet they were able to get their business taken care of, and in the same way, there’s no reason why we can’t get some of ours done. This would have been easier when Musharraf was a dictator, but hell, we’ve made patsies out of democratic governments before. The Pakistani “street” already hates us, a little more won’t do any harm and it’s not as though they have much impact on the feudal and corrupt politics of Pakistan. There’s absolutely no reason we can’t get the Pakistanis to extend their police state to the border, or at least to actually try.

Karzai has lost his mind and all his best advisors, we should not be propping him up. Afghanistan is like Vietnam in this respect: we’re failing because we’re propping up a corrupt regime that has been repudiated by its people. No build-up of forces in the country can change that sad fact.

William R. Cumming

Isn't there already a de facto partition of Afghanistan? Also, is the original Deputy Secretary Armitage choice supposedly given Pakistan still the only choice Pakistan has? Or is there room for sublety and nuance or diplomancy? Are not Russia, China and India ahead of US in fixing the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or is the great SATAN still the overriding paradigm? Hope someone knows the answers or the path to getting them.


FB Ali,

A good pair of posts overall, but I have some issues with your solutions:

remove the target ! The foreign military presence unites former foes in opposition to it. Set a near date for a pullout.

First of all, what former military foes in Afghanistan are now united against the coalition? There have been no major groups of consequence to switch sides against the coalition since 2001 AFAIK.

The carpetbaggers (Karzai and his clan, et al) will hurriedly depart to enjoy their loot, the old tribes and clans will make their accommodations, as they have for centuries. Their mutual suspicions and hostility (judiciously fed) will ensure they remain inward-focussed rather than a danger abroad.

Tribal accommodation wasn't exactly working like it did in centuries past prior to the US invasion. In some parts of Afghanistan, the old tribal system is gone or very weak thanks to decades of warfare and the influence of foreign religious and other ideologies. You're right about the Taliban as an aberration, but it is an aberration that I think will not be going away anytime soon. US support to some other faction can check their ambitions but not eliminate them.

Prevent meddling by regional players.

That is almost impossible now - it would be completely impossible with no Coalition presence in Afghanistan. Regional players will feel compelled to fill the vacuum and ensure their interests in Afghanistan are protected. How could meddling be prevented? They US may pick a proxy to support and represent its interests, but in that case, the US will be just another meddler.

In all, it sounds to me like a recipe for the creation of a failed state (which may be Afghanistan's fate regardless). While I agree with your analysis in your most recent comment on the warlord history with the occasional "central" ruler, I think the game has changed. The continuing erosion of the old tribal order is a serious concern for the future, IMO, and I am not at all confident that Afghanistan will revert to the historical norm.

Still, a Coalition withdrawal could be the best option, or least-bad, of the bunch. I personally don't believe we can develop a rational policy on Afghanistan and countering terrorist groups until we come with something other than the GWOT or the "long war" as a US grand strategy. As long as the grand strategy remains, the US will remain in Afghanistan.

I also disagree here:

Knowing that al-Qaeda was the real enemy, that they were based in Taliban Afghanistan, and that the Taliban themselves had come to power out of their bases in Pakistan, it focussed its attention instead on invading Iraq. It let the al-Qaeda leadership get away; when the Northern Alliance routed the Taliban it did nothing to ensure that they found no sanctuary in Pakistan. At that time, a little prodding could have got a subdued Musharraf to neutralize the religious parties and take control of their madrassahs (which were the support networks of the Taliban) and deny the latter sanctuaries in the border cities and tribal areas. But the lure of Iraq and a reordered Middle East drew them away, leaving huge unfinished business

The AQ and Taliban leadership got away long before the Iraq war and the rank-and-file either switched to our side or fled to Pakistan or the remote mountains of Afghanistan. And the US did not do "nothing" to try to get sanctuary in Pakistan denied - quite the opposite. The history of the Bush Administration and Musharraf since 9/11 is one of constant prodding on one side and half-measures and vacillation on the other. Even when the Pakistani army tried on several occasions to assert control it often got its ass handed to it. I'm not confident at all that Musharraf could have done what you suggest even if he were inclined to.

Where Bush really erred was in his faith that Musharraf could deliver and that Pakistan had the capability to control the entirety of its territory. Like Iraq, Bush and his administration knew nothing of the history of this region or the implications and effects it would have on policy and the military campaign there.

In short, closing the border to trap or contain AQ and the Taliban were impossible in 2001 and 2002. The border is still extremely porous today despite the scores of additional forces, both Coalition and Afghan. "Controlling" and policing the border is not possible - not now and not then.

Furthermore, had AQ and the Taliban understood the capabilities of the US military, it's doubtful they would have tried to make stands in Tora Bora and the Shah-i kot to begin with and simply slipped over the border en mass. They believed they could operate in these redoubts relatively safely and fight the US as they had the Soviets. We should be thankful for their miscalculation as it resulted in the destruction of significant numbers of fighters and leadership and bought a year or two valuable time.

In my mind, the biggest error was the squandering of and failure to exploit that window of opportunity when the Taliban and AQ were knocked off their feet. And that is really where Iraq comes into play. By switching focus to Iraq, the success of the initial Afghan operation was not quickly exploited to create conditions on the ground hostile to the Taliban's return. So I don't think Iraq had anything to do with AQ or the Taliban getting away into Pakistan, but it had a lot to do with their capability to return and reconstitute.

I do agree with you completely, however, that a US/Coalition incursion inside Pakistan would not be viewed favorably and could easily lead to further destabilization. This does not bode well for the success of the coalition in assisting in the creation of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. You might say that Afghanistan and Pakistan are conjoined twins that cannot be dealt with as separate issues.


In response to a post of mine FB Ali wrote:

When I said Pakistan is unlikely to 'unravel' I was referring to an explosive disintegration. However, for a long time the country has been undergoing a slow, silent implosion... If [their courts] are unable to stop the rot there won’t be any spectacular explosion, just a mournful hiss as the country slides into another failed state."

Ah, well, I see what you meant now, although I wonder whether the passions and dynamics in Pakistan aren't such that any implosion vacuum is gonna see lots of unsavory candidates immediately trying to fill same, none of whom I can imagine as having a fundamentally pacific outlook.

In any event whether exploding or imploding just as I think you believe I think that Pakistan is THE big worry over there in the ME now. Seems to me the mind can just reel with the possibilities if, say, it went fundamentalist, or even exploded into civil war. Too terrible to contemplate, not least for all the poor people there.

That's kind of why I asked your opinion about just kind of ... ceding the real troublesome Afghan border areas to those Paki NW tribal guys while concentrating our efforts elsewhere in the country—as opposed to your idea of us just pulling out of Afghanistan entirely. Would take the pressure off Pakistan I think a bit, and refocus the understanding that to the extent we are interested in Pakistan, it's bin Laden, purely and simply bin Laden.

Otherwise it seems to me all we're doing is cementing the idea into the heads of those wonderful Pathans in those NW territories that we got beefs with them besides bin Laden and al Queda. Who knows, if we'd play our cards right with them eventually we might get 'em to stop fighting their central gov't and turn on bin Laden themselves. Indeed I suspect that if there's anything bin Laden lives in fear of it's getting at daggers drawn with those gentlemen. They'd be playing polo with his and Zawahiri's heads.



Isn't there already a de facto partition of Afghanistan?
Posted by: William R. Cumming | 17 July 2008 at 05:11 PM

I think that's a wrong question to ask. Is afghanistan currently even de facto a united nation?

My impression, it's nothing but giant warlords country, with us being the biggest warlord. (Iran in the west, Pakistan east, German/Russia north, we run the central/mountain/Pakistan border)

There is no effective government, no central authority, no coherent national policy, no functioning transportation network, nada...

The country structure is pretty much how the soviet left it. Big isolated urban area, with rural agriculture doing its own business (primarily run by warlords/opium economy).

In fact taliban was the only real movement that was able to create coherent central authority after soviet collapses. (basic security, relative mobility for the population, connecting rural-urban economy, and some sort of central authority and military control.)

The last 8 years truly was a wasted time. There is absolutely no progress in afghanistan except setting up corrupt government in kabul, and running around chasing something in the mountain. We are basically redoing what the soviet did with fancier gears but less bloody. That's about it.

If it were up to Bush and current Pentagon leadership, another 20 yrs and it will still exact same damned thing. Probably with updated gadgets, but same stupid pointless guerilla war going nowhere. There is no long term national development policy. It will still warlords country producing opium and people shooting each other.


Afghanistan has never been a country in the usual sense. It was and is a collection of ethnic and tribal entities ruled by local leaders and warlords. From time to time a more powerful warlord would establish “central rule” in Kabul (even a dynasty for a time), and other tribal leaders would offer him nominal fealty in return for leaving them alone to run their own shows. The Taliban conquest of the country was an aberration, due mainly to Pakistani assistance and general war-weariness. I do not see that being repeated; neither the West nor the other regional powers will let it happen.

Posted by: FB Ali | 17 July 2008 at 03:59 PM

The entire thing, the idea of "afghanistan" as a nation, has to be regenerated. (the mythology, national history, common culture, etc. etc)

if I were to fix Afghanistan.

1. collect the smartest group of afghan technocrats. Make national planning (create some sort of 5 yrs planning program, with several phases) (South Korean/Chinese model of development)

2. Install strongman, with elected ceremonial leader. (the point is absolute leadership stability. nothing gets changed around while the country is trying to stand on its own)

3. Population control. (growth, movement) settle everything down at sustainable level for several year.

4. create twin city separate from Kabul but connected. This will be (civil servant training center, military training center, teacher training center, new religious center, new ground up economic pattern) Soak up Kabul educated and middle class to the new city. Retrain and spit them back out.

5. Use Kabul to urbanize the entire surrounding, including Pakistan FATA.

(population control and urbanization is key to integrate Afghanistan before post-war population growth getting out of control.)

after that it's a matter of climbing the technological ladder like every other poor country. (agriculture, basic manufacturing, heavy manufacturing, finance, .. etc)

6. slowly integrate urban-rural culture and economy.

7. Slowly kicked out every corrupt/corrupting outsiders. (UN, US contractors, Pentagon, NATO, evangelicals, Pakistan intels, arabs, etc etc. everybody who clearly has no interest in afghanistan should be kicked out.)

I bet the whole thing cost lest than flying B-1 every day bombing remote village.

FB Ali

We may be talking about the same thing. The “target” is in the Pakhtun provinces of the south and east; there is no fighting going on elsewhere. Once you cede these, no military is going to stick around in the rest of the country to protect NGOs etc. Of course, you will need to maintain an air power and Special Forces capability in the theatre lest someone gets too euphoric. And, shore up the defensive capabilities of the northern provinces/areas.

This is all short-term stuff – just to get you out of this mess. You will then need to get some of your bright people, who know the area, to come up with a longer-term plan.

Former foes? How about Gulbuddin Hikmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani?

I had written “at that time”, i.e, just after the Taliban had been routed and the “shock and awe” of the US bombing campaign. At that time Musharraf could have effectively suppressed the Taliban support infrastructure in Pakistan and prevented them from establishing themselves in the tribal areas.


The USGS and the Government of Afghanistan Ministry of Mines and Industry have completed the first-ever assessment of Afghanistan´s undiscovered petroleum resources and have determined that the resource base is significantly greater than previously understood. The assessment was conducted over the past two years, with funding provided by the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

The estimates increase the oil resources by 18 times and more than triple the natural gas resources.

Undiscovered petroleum resources in the assessed region of northern Afghanistan range from 3.581 to 36.462 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas, with a mean of 15.687 TCF. Estimates of oil range from 0.391 to 3.559 billion barrels (BBO), with a mean of 1.596 BB0. Estimates for natural gas liquids range from 126 to 1,325 million barrels (MMB) with a mean of 562 MMB.



Well, afghanistan is dead now. Every other guy in the region will try to grab a piece and hack that place apart.

Count down until big war.


FB Ali wrote:

We may be talking about the same thing...."

Ah, you may indeed be right.

Really liked your posts, hope you keep 'em up.



FB Ali,

Hekmatyar I will grant you as he opposed the coalition since at least Bonn - Haqqani was allied with the Taliban before the US invasion. So there is one former foe that's united in opposition, although if the US had been smarter it might have co-opted Hekmatyar early on.

As for Musharraf's ability to suppress the Taliban in Pakistan, I think we'll have to agree to disagree, though I think the evidence is much more supportive of my viewpoint.


Gentlemen, IMHO, we can not fix Afghanistan unless the Afghans want Afghanistan to be fixed.

The success of "the Surge" occurred because the Sunnis turned on AQ and MNC exploited that change to maximum advantage.

Had the Sunnis decided to support AQ, we would still be fighting in al-Anbar.

Only the "Jacobin neocons" believe it was only our tactics.

The same crowd believes that now we have a template for success in the Middle East whether it's Iran or Afghanistan.

Let us learn from the Iraq debacle to at least know the Anthropological/Cultural differences between Semites and Indo-Iranians.

Let's listen to the experts this time around.

Mr. Ali, thank you for answering my questions.

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