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16 July 2008


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John Howley

FB Ali recognizes the complexities involved in stabilizing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

In the U.S. media, this problem is typically over-simplified as "securing the border."

The boundary in question is the Durand Line that the two neighbors have NOT agreed upon.

Which means that each neighbor views military operations by the other along the Durand Line with suspicion. Attempts to create customs and border posts add to the tension.

If I have this right, then it's one more flashing yellow light.


But the military is still fully intact, and Musharraf seems as if he might hang on. Not a beacon of democracy, but somewhat better than unmitigated turmoil.

The role of the ISI in all of this should also be considered. They consider Afghanistan their playground and nurtured the Taliban. They also fund and direct, to some extent, a number of the radical clerics and mujahedin groups. Strains of fundamentalist Islam are not absent elsewhere in Pakistan, either.

I'm also distressed by signs that AQ Khan is being rehabilitated or slipping his leash.

India placing the blame for their Kabul embassy's bombing on Pakistan will not lessen regional tensions. Kashmir hasn't gone away, either, and I'd expect it to flare up, if only out of reflex.

The impetus for the US to act openly in the Northwest territories seems destined to worsen the situation. Any action will turn locals against the US and our proxies. While acting without the invitation of the Pakistani government would lose any remaining support elsewhere in Pakistan, and likely cause the fall of this government. Any successor would be less receptive to US interests.

That outpost in Kunar was a long way up a creek. I sure hope there was a good reason for it to be there.


I have had the feeeling that part of the reason the Bush administration ignored Afghanistan to the extent they did was precisely because they realized how unwinnable it is. In fact, the administration may just have been distracted by Iraq.

We will have to be very careful as a nation not to get caught up in an ever-escalating quagmire in Afghanistan. The political pressure to look "tough" on terrorism is very potent, especially for those who favor winding down our involvement in Iraq.

After all, our involvement in Vietnam was, at least in part, a response to perceived failures in China and Korea. One foreign entaglement led to another. That is history that we must not repeat.


Wow, I hope someone has a more optimistic view of the situation.

I have to agree with Mr. Ali even with my limited knowledge of the area.

P.S. Pakistan is not the only loss here because if the NATO allies start deserting us, then the Cold War Alliance is at it's end.


They are going to whack the hornet nest. This is a giant mess for sure. But highly predictable with obvious result to boot.

They really don't believe the fragility of Pakistan government. No wonder India and China reactivate their Kashmir border troop. They are expecting giant spill over in the entire area.

This is Soviet in afghanistan all over again, except it will bring down both Pakistan and afghanistan this time. (assassination, bombing, market collapse, exiting investment, spiking inflation, down currency, minor civil war, city riot) None of them is military problem of course, but direct result of planned military action.


Last week, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen paid a sudden visit to Pakistan during which he revealed to Pakistani leaders and military officials the possibility of surgical strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda networks operating in the border regions and that coalition forces in Afghanistan would not hesitate to conduct hot-pursuit raids into Pakistan.


DC still don't get it. Military dimension of taliban problem is only a small part. By carpet bombing, they will restart afghan war in earnest, plunging Afghanistan and Pakistan at the same time. It'll be baghdad style car bombing.

There is no quick military solution. The entire area has to be pacify socioeconomically on top of application of military power.

It won't be over in 3-4 months but it's going to take 10-20 years project.

Also: Iran, Russia are now major players. They can say "better to fight them there than here" just as good as us. It's their backyard even.

But Condi and Bush is in charge. They want quick bang.

Just watch until some element in Pakistani secret service turn Taliban against us in earnest.


Dear Gen. Ali,
Thank you for an excellent if disconcerting report. Your insights are invaluable.


Thank you for publishing FB Ali's article, Col. Lang - I've been more and more concerned about the truly terrifying fragility of the Pakistani "context", been following developments fairly closely since the Red Mosque events: Pakistan is already teetering on the brink, it's already "destabilized", heavy-handed/"determined" US transborder actions could send it spinning straight into the abyss... as its leaders and military alike are well aware. The only thing left out of that analysis is the increasing risk of conflict with India over Afghanistan. Hoping both US presidential candidates - or at least their FP advisors - will read that post and reflect very seriously about its implications.


One factor often forgotten are some 1.5+ million Afghan refugees still in on the Pakistani side of the border.

How many of them cross regularly to fight the occupation?

Of interest her might be a recent FPIF piece: The Real Crisis in Pakistan

On my recent trip to Pakistan, every conversation veered toward one of four issues. These topics also fill most news broadcasts and top the headlines in every newspaper. Pakistanis talk about these issues on the streets, in the markets, and at the masjids.

These issues – the economy, the electricity load sharing, the water shortage, and the political instability – cut across social class, gender, and geography. Hardly anyone talks about extremism.
A smarter foreign policy would include efforts to stabilize and boost the Pakistani economy by giving Pakistan easier access to U.S. markets and encouraging other allies to increase trade and investment in the country. Additionally, America could provide technical assistance and help finance water and electricity projects to help ease those shortages.

Washington could also take a step back from Musharraf, and support instead the rule of law and the process of democracy in Pakistan. For such efforts to be credible, the United States must also pull back on military operations and vastly increase its non-military aid to Pakistan.

Bill Wade, NH

An Eric Margolis take on the situation:


David Habakkuk

Brigadier Ali,

Thank you for another most illuminating commentary.

If the supply line through Pakistan is at risk, it would seem sensible to try to open up alternatives from the North -- which means seeking Russian cooperation.

It is difficult to do this when it seems a central objective of U.S. policy to eliminate Russian influence in the former Soviet Union -- as is evidenced by the enthusiasm for incorporating Georgia and the Ukraine in NATO.

But even sorting out the supply lines is of little use, if one cannot define achievable objectives.

I would be most interested in your view as to what achievable objectives for the U.S. (and NATO) might be, both in relation to Afghanistan and in relation to Pakistan.

John Howley

"Majority opinion toward the United States is negative. Large majorities say that the United States cannot be trusted to act responsibly and also believe that it has extraordinary influence over Pakistan. US military presence in the region is viewed as a threat to Pakistan. A large and growing majority believe it is a US goal to weaken and divide the Muslim world. A plurality disapproves of how Pakistan’s government has handled relations with the United States. Only one in four feels that security cooperation with the United States has brought Pakistan any benefit."

From: Pakistani Public Opinion on Democracy, Islamist Militancy, and Relations with the U.S. - A Joint Study of WorldPublicOpinion.org and the
United States Institute of Peace

February 2008


Cold War Zoomie

I have had the feeling that part of the reason the Bush administration ignored Afghanistan to the extent they did was precisely because they realized how unwinnable it is.

I think they thought the opposite...that it would be some cakewalk and we could concentrate on "bigger matters."

Now I really understand Col Lang's use of Archduke Ferdinand's picture in his post about Benazir Bhutto's assassination.


"Hoping both US presidential candidates - or at least their FP advisors - will read that post and reflect very seriously about its implications."

Parvati, wishful thinking IMO. McCain is in cuckoo land - he's still fighting some mythical war where victory sirens are blaring. Obama is saying he is committed to a major military effort in Afghanistan which would imply Pakistan too.

As FB Ali points out the Pakistani economy is deteriorating. The Indian stock market has lost 30+% of its value with double digit inflation. I have read their political coalition is unraveling over the US civilian nuclear deal. Their embassy in Kabul has been attacked. Pakistan has always increased the temperature in Kashmir when domestic issues got hairy.

So I would infer that we are headed to more turmoil not less in that region with whatever spillover that implies. In 2009 the chickens will be coming home to roost economically and geo-politically.


sounds pretty grim. well, at least Pakistan doesn't have The Bomb.


Where there is crisis, there is opportunity! A total collapse of Pakistan's government and an Islamist take-over will lead to a complete re-evaluation of US-Iranian relations.

Jesus Reyes

Some straight talk on Pakistan, my friends. Someone needs to send this to McBush. Also to Obama who somehow thinks that Afghanistan is the good war. A cc to Bill Roggio might tighten things up over at that blog.

Dave of Maryland

The US is in a bind. It has to deny the Pakhtun insurgency (the Taliban are only one part of it) the use of the tribal areas as a base.

Not our affair. Not worth one American life. If they want to kill each other, they can do so without our help.

We don't help them, they're going to do.... what? What? Invade Galveston? Plant IEDs in Dodge City? What can they do the FBI can't handle?


Where there is crisis, there is opportunity! A total collapse of Pakistan's government and an Islamist take-over will lead to a complete re-evaluation of US-Iranian relations.
Posted by: condfusedponderer | 16 July 2008 at 01:32 PM

eh hmmm... do you really think this crew will actually re-evaluate? They will do more of the same. More bluster, more bomb, more lies, more corruption. Covering behind. Same result, except bigger mess.

The Taliban is smarter than these screw ups when it comes to geopolitical strategy. One can almost write the script before they even begin thinking.

Mark  Logan

FB Ali, thanks.

I case you are unaware, the reporting being done by
US jounalists on the situation in Afghanistan suffers greatly from a lack of depth.

Best wishes.

Spider Rider

"DC still don't get it."

Understatement of the year.

The more I see, the more I sometimes think DC is not supposed to get it.

"Military dimension of taliban problem is only a small part. By carpet bombing, they will restart afghan war in earnest, plunging Afghanistan and Pakistan at the same time. It'll be baghdad style car bombing."


I try to look at it as war with an infinite number of factors, none of which can necessarily be evaluated seperately.

What, in the end, is the overall goal?

If we recognize the current brass, and DC, are useless, how would other aspects of the American government act to counter their amateur catastrophic child like strategic, mistakes?

How long would this take?

What is success?

(Am I having a Rumsfeld moment?-- sorry)

What DOES it really take to establish some sort of democracy in the Middle East, and if we are fighting another cold war, and I'm assuming we are, if the first ever really stopped, how do the Russians, the Chinese, the African and Middle Eastern nations fit into the new scenarios? How does a corrupt, and stupid DC, and Pentagon fit into intelligent strategic decision making, by others, say?

The factors almost seem infinitesimal, a word my father used frequently, when I was a child.

But how do we play off of this, and establish the middle east, so the middle easterners WANT a democratic type system, so it emerges, and grows, through sound policy, and not corrupt business?

Won't happen overnight, doesn't even mean our troops have to be there, but how is it accomplished, in light of so much opposition, (and the morons in DC, Peking, and Moscow), how is it accomplished, like a well run, long term construction project?

(If you're in the mood for a few mental gymnastics, just some outside the box thoughts, for the long term. Sometimes I consider Korea and Vietnam part of this same equation, still fighting China, and Russia, or THAT corrupt ideology, all these years, later, now manifesting in the Middle East, and Africa. American corruption a large part of this, too, and oil rights, economic might, of course, the impetus. Like a layer cake, all the seemingly disparate parts have to fit, and work, together.)

And my heart goes out to the families of those who died, so unnecessarily.



eh hmmm... do you really think this crew will actually re-evaluate?
No, I don't.

Certainly I don't hope for Pakistan's collapse to make that happen, that prospect is dreadful, but if the expletive hits the fan, better late than too late. But I guess I'm ever the optimist.

Of course the Bushies are perfectly capable of fumbling every opportunity. Windows of opportunity close. You can count on Dick and his goons doing their very best to subversively undermine any talks with Iran. They have done that before, and successfully so. That was what Bolton's cantankerous speeches on North Korea and Iran, carefully timed to disrupt diplomatic activities, were all about.
So expect some extravagant speeches and old and new accusations and current and former 'senior administration officials' talking 'off the record' about dire Iranian threats.

My deeper point was that in face of what's brewing in Afghanistan and Pakistan the US and Iran sure do have common interests.

Of course, that only is a 'valid' assumption when one abandons the righteous and only truth that evil people don't have any interests but being evil for the sake of being evil, and that they cannot be dealt with because they treacherous and evil - and crazy on top of that ... etc. pp.

The US are well advised to make that 'grand bargain' with Iran asap, common sense suggests as much. But what is common sense compared to the irresistible lure of ideological purity?


This is a terrific website. I have been lurking for years but I am not an expert on anything that isn't electrical. I would like to recap my memory of how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and then ask a question that has been bothering me lately.

I recall that when we got into Afghanistan we went in with relatively few troops and spooks but plane loads of bombs and cash on pallets. I think we started out with less than 10000 soldiers on the ground but could be wrong about that recollection. We then used the cash and other goods on the planes to hire and arm a band of merry warlords called The Northern Alliance. We gave the NA advisers and air support but they did most of the heavy lifting running Mullah Omar out of the country as I recall it. Then we started in on Iraq.

Now all of a sudden we have something like 30000 troops there along with more NATO people and things are seemingly not going too well.

So here's the question(s): Where is the Northern Alliance? They seem to have disappeared while I was watching Iraq. How did we lose them? Why can't we find them and send them more piles of cash and air support and have them deal with the Taliban for us again?



If I were to guess probable Iran move.

They will know that special forces tied up and lost in afghanistan is special force less to use against them. Iran has experienced spike in internal sabotage driven from southern pakistan border.

They also know taliban has fairly limited mobility as an organized operation. The bulk of taliban is "cultural" and they are largely connected to Pakistani intel and political class. I am sure they have contingency plan to create "buffer" in the event of Pakistan collapsing.

So, grind the special force in afghanistan mountain instead of within Iran border. Russia certainly have such interest too with us sending troop in georgia.

It's death by thousand cuts scheme. We pull that against soviet. Now it's the other guys turn to pull same trick. The whole thing is only high power RPG or a type of high explosive away from total fubar situation.

So it's a question how Iran view the collapse of Pakistan will be. If they think they can created controlled implosion, they certainly will play in afghanistan to strengthen their position.

But I hope everybody plays to keep Pakistan together and let taliban wither away slowly instead.

John Moore

See this URL http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/13/opinion/13kristof.html?em&ex=1216180800&en=0a5a5fb5567f6622&ei=5087%0A

The person profiled might be on to something. The solution does not involve decapitation strikes. It involves building schools and educating women who won't let their sons be illiterate fighters in a guerilla war. While it won't cost as much money as weapons and smart bombs, it will take time to implement.


Well common sense suggest, we shouldn't even be tangled with Iran. We have no reason whatsoever having conflict with Iran.

This is pure a) oil/greed b) protecting Israel interest. (Hezbollah) c) and of course now Iraq.

If I were Iranian making a bargain I would ask:

1. change the "hostile law against Iran" (Iran freedom act or whatever) Every hostile law against Iran should be rescinded.

Then Iran will consider the "talk" as serious.

With this Iran should be able to test who actually run the show in DC (Israel lobbyist in Congress)

2. Because logically only after such condition happens that "real bargaining" can happen. (normalization of trade, unfreezing account, reducing diplomatic pressure, etc)

3. If such condition does not happen. Then.... "let's talk" The iranian have another thousand years to "talk" while oil price is perching at $140+ and US banking collapsing left and right.

Is the talk substantive? Or is it one of those Condi run around that the world has been laughing about?

I think the Iranian knows the answer to all this.

Logic of diplomacy dictate, they have time on their side. They also know Bush can't offer "substantive" change except empty promise that congress wouldn't possibly allowed to pass.

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