« COIN's siren song. | Main | "The Touro Covenant must survive the attack on the USS Liberty" Sidney O. Smith III »

14 July 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


@FB Ali,

Thanks for a very cogent and clear eyed analysis of the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And thanks to COL Lang for publishing it.



Second that.

I'm intrigued by your comments on Holbrooke. Is it your impression that the "ignorance" on display is genuine, or can it (at least in part) be put down to his perceptions of domestic political necessity?

RAISER William

I find it VERY troubling that the Obama administration does not seem any brighter than that of Bush. There must be a hidden agenda here somewhere.


A very interesting and well-informed analysis.

On the current British position in Helmand, evoked by FB Ali, I was very interested by eye-witness accounts (letters from soldiers) which described the positions of the 'enemy', as being only 150-200m from the British compound, and accusing the 'enemy' of being farmers by day, and Taliban by night.

The obvious reaction one has to that is that the 'enemy', even if they were sectarian in the past, is now simply the population of Helmand.

That is why the high British casualties recently. I guess the US forces don't notice, as their firepower is much greater.


Link for my last remarks:


William R. Cumming

The FB Ali posting certainly has the ring of both sincereity and truth. Again, AF-PAK needs to be looked at as a whole and an international concensus formed as to the hazards of this arena to the developed world. India is probably not a vehicle that can be used fully in this geographic arena but they certainly should have expertise and ideas that might be of interest to any international effort. Note--if the US continues to swagger around this area demonstrating both ignorarnce and incompetence then the OBAMA administration is just digging a deeper hole for US! Thanks for the insight and posting.

N. M. Salamon

Interesting analysis, close to that we read from UK non-poltical commentary. This affair of extending the Afgan "war on terror" to Pakistan, starts to resemble the Vietnam Fiasco, more troops - but far short that needed for control [probably in the3 realm of 300 000+] where the chances of NATO members contributing is getting smaller and smaller - the hearses are busier and busier, while the results in Afganistan is less and less positive form NATO persepctive.


My thanks to the Brigadier. Well thought out analysis. Unfortunately too many of the neocon strategists believe the 'manifest destiny' myths of the settling of the American West. In Pakistan's 'tribal' areas there will be no wagon trains of settlers following the 7th Cav; only the gravy train of consultants and contractors are there, following the resounding call of 'ching, ching' that notes the easy money at low risk for the beltway bandits and HQ heroes.

Once the rest of America gets tired of the sound of taps playing over their neighbors sons' grave will the politicians be willing to stand up the media noise machine that would otherwise label them as 'cut and run' or soft on terror' . (As the Swift Boat Veterans did to Kerry in '04 and country music radio did so well to the Dixie Chicks before then.)

This is certainly a telling section:

"The external pressures due to the US war in Afghanistan, and the internal pressures due to misrule and corruption, poverty and deprivation, and insurgency and terrorism will still push the country in the direction of an Islamist takeover."

To paraphrase: In the US, the internal pressures due to 'misrule, corruption, poverty and deprivation, (no insurgency yet, but plenty of right wing extremism - see the DHS report) will start to push the country in a direction of…… I think not Sarah Palin, nor the 'tax cut' crowd. Perhaps an actual Liberal takeover? (The last one was the New Deal, which gave the US the FDIC - along with the banking regulation -dismantled (starting with Reagan) and Social Security.)

Charles I

Thanks FB. Concise, incisive with a little back-handed flair.

I second SP's thanks to you too PAT. I encountered General Ali in one of Ahmed Rashid's books before I came to SST and we've since struck up a little friendly correspondence, so his appearance here is always an intellectual and personal pleasure.

Hi FB! Going to the cottage NOW. Well, in a minute.

Until someone in Holbroooke's position stops publicly spouting gibberish, and speaks the truth, our soldiers are screwed. If they and Obama actually believe that gibberish, we are all screwed.

I have noticed a lot of generals in the news lately to the effect that the current mission - Democratic Afghanistan - would take decades but I have yet to hear a politician admit it ain't gonna happen.

FB notes that the Taliban in both countries "melt away" as Nato's clock ticks. They know its only a matter of time before the foreigners, or in the case of the FATA, the federal government, go away

Or is there some reason for keeping enough troops there to piss everyone off, but not enough to achieve the current mission, aside from human aversion to PL's tough choices?

Rashid's books have maps in them, pipeline maps.

There are people who would rather have others fight for them, for a myriad of tangled motives, instead of just buy what they want at the market price, or create their own.

North America could grow enough pot and coca to put Mexico and Columbia out of business overnight. Instead we are at war on drugs, on human nature, which has the salutary effect of sustaining ultra-lucrative, synergistic black markets of guns, dope, diamond and women that our governments minions dabble in.

Someone is dying, someone is lying, and someone is profiting. Twas ever thus.

F B Ali


When Obama says that the al-Qaeda (AQ) leadership is the main threat to the West, and Holbrooke says that the Taliban is inseparably bound to AQ, they are publicly advancing arguments for the continuation of the war in Afghanistan. But, as far as I can see, there is no large public constituency in the US for this position that needs to be placated.

So, what’s it all about? Could be just dumb policy-making (and, God knows, there’s been quite a bit of that in the US – and elsewhere). Or, one can start down the dim path of conspiracy theories. There is a powerful lobby in the US that benefits from the war (any war) – the military-industrial complex. Charles I mentioned pipelines. Large sections of the Pakistani intelligentsia (including in the military) believe it’s all a dark plot to neutralize Pakistan’s nukes.

Occam’s razor would lead one to conclude that it’s the usual inertia that strikes executives when confronted with an ongoing program, and a cacophony of ‘experts’ advocating different courses (with a shrill faction ready to scream “Traitor” if you just end it). The US has been down this path before.


Maybe the aim is to destabilize Pakistan, to enable a first-strike (all options on the table) against "Islamic nuclear weapons".

If you heard HRC today, you might understand.

Anthony Nelson

As a newcomer to this forum, I am both intrigued and dismayed. Why does no one challenge the "fact" that we are at war with the Taliban? The Taliban are, first of all, distinct and separate. Baitullah Mehsud's TTP is not Mullah Omar's Taliban. Neither of these groups, despite some reprehensible policies and philosophies, were involved in the attacks of 11 Sept 2001 which are the ostensible rationale for our "War on Terror". In Afghanistan, we are fundamentally involved in a "War on Pashtun" not a GWOT (as if that makes any sense). Most of us seem to ignore the currosive effect of dumping billions of dollars into a totally deprived and desperate society and then screaming about corruption. What else should we have expected? The naive attitudes of generals who should know better is disconcerting. We used to pursue a "mullah of the day" strategy when some reasonably insignificant Taliban cleric would come to our attention. Now we look to General Petraeus or General McChrystal to solve what is essentially a problem for economists, diplomats, and sociologists to deal with. Pray for peace.

Babak Makkinejad

Bruce Riedel on Pakistan's current situation:



no detail. I don't know how reliable the detail of waposh reporting is. Recently most of what they write is wishful thinking. But any progress even if media show is good thing


NEW DELHI, July 16 -- India and Pakistan agreed Thursday to increase communication and information-sharing in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks, and said dialogue was the only way forward in the wake of violence such as November's siege in Mumbai.

The leaders of the two countries spoke for almost two hours on the sidelines of the ongoing Non-Aligned Movement summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. In a statement afterward, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani agreed to "share real-time, credible and actionable" intelligence information about possible terror plots.

F B Ali

The Bruce Riedel article that Babak Makkinejad has referenced above is a remarkable document in the light it sheds on why the US is totally at sea in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Riedel headed the Obama policy review on this area upon which current US policy is based.

In this article he says, “The growing strength of the Taliban in Pakistan has raised the serious possibility of a jihadist takeover of the country.....A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future”.

This is what he thinks the results of such a takeover would be: “A jihadist victory in Pakistan....would have devastating consequences. It would create the greatest threat the United States has yet to face in its war on terror. Pakistan as an Islamic-extremist safe haven would bolster al-Qaeda’s capabilities tenfold. The jihadist threat bred in Afghanistan would be a cakewalk in comparison....The threat would be almost unfathomable. The implications would be literally felt around the globe. American options for dealing with such a state would be limited and costly”.

If this is what Riedel and his inter-agency team believed (he says, “A jihadist, nuclear-armed Pakistan is a scenario we need to avoid at all costs) why is US policy concentrated solely on the Afghan war, with no concern on how this war affects Pakistan and the danger of an Islamist takeover there?

Having painted this danger, and its consequences, in almost apocalyptical terms, the action that Riedel proposes to avert it is laughable: bring “constancy and consistency” to the US-Pakistan relationship, engage “reliably” with the Pakistani people, support the democratic process (Zardari?), improve the literacy rate (“because literate women will fight the Taliban”). Pakistan is buckling under the weight of internal and external pressures, and this is what Washington’s “expert” on the region can come up with!

Ingolf, it seems that the answer to your question is: yes, the ignorance on display is genuine! Dumb policy-making is the culprit!


k. Al qaeda and taliban leadership are definitely intake. Their ability to do coordinated attack, planning and analysis are at the same level as before.

scan google news and observe typical al qaeda style attack. (hotel bombing, plane, car bombing in iraq, pakistan, afghanistan, etc. The one in Philipine and Indonesia are particularly surprising. Turkey seem also big on their target. If something blowing up in Thailand and singapore, then we definitely have confirmation that they have fully regenerate and replace all country level operational leaders.)

They are definitely trying to say : we are still here, and we gonna blow up the whole thing. Pakistan specially. that place is a goner.


The justifiable discontent of a nation deprived of the basic necessities of life may be a significant advantage to the al-Qaeda and TTP forces that desire to wage war against the Pakistani government. The desire of violent religious extremists to destabilize Pakistan is likely motivated by a desire to “teach a lesson” to all nations that seek to join the “West's war on terror.” With regard to Pakistan in particular, the motivation to destabilize Pakistan this unstable nation is due to two primary factors. First, President Musharraf forged an agreement with the U.S. in 2001 to join the “war on terror.” Little tangible action against violent extremism was taken, however, until the Zardari administration launched a massive attack in the Swat valley on May 8.



Do you buy Riedel's thesis?

Although I know nothing about Pakistani politics I am personally skeptical that the jihadists can take over the country. If my memory serves me right the Islamist parties have never really done that well in Pakistani elections in the past. The Army ultimately it seems is the final arbiter in Pakistan and I am not certain that they are by and large jihadists. They have too much to lose if they force an alignment of the West, Russia and India.

As FB Ali points out Pakistani society is under a lot of stress. The question is if the probability the fault lines break wide open high or low? I am optimistic that there is enough of a middle class and economic growth example in neighboring India.

Babak Makkinejad


I persoanlly cannot see the possibility of a Jihadist takeover of Pakistani State being high.

But I also do not know any longer what the words "jihadist", "Islamist", and "Fundamentalist" mean.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

You asked: "why is US policy concentrated solely on the Afghan war, with no concern on how this war affects Pakistan and the danger of an Islamist takeover there?"

Ambassador Bhadrakumar has a (partial) answer:


F B Ali

For an excellent in-depth report on conditions in Pakistan today, see Tariq Ali's article in the London Review of Books at:



And for another view of why the United States continues to march forward with its eyes wide shut (sorry FB Ali!), read the recent speech the esteemed Chas Freeman gave to DACOR:

Foregone Conclusions: Vested Interests and Intelligence Analysis



Lord, Furrukh. My heart grows heavy just reading the articles by Tariq Ali and Bruce Riedel. How it must be for you I find hard to imagine.

It's tempting to wonder what goes on in the head of someone like Riedel, isn't it? The end result is certainly a kind of "ignorance", but what a rarefied (and relatively well-informed) kind it is. Perhaps he's suffering from profound cognitive dissonance; the realities of Pakistan's gradual disintegration (together with the contributions America has made and continues to make to its decline) simply don't fit into any foreign policy template he can imagine. The result is the banal little collection of platitudes he trots out at the end. As you note, the contrast between his prognosis and the remedies he suggests is alarming; almost schizophrenic, in fact.

Probably an apt microcosm of the US itself. While Obama's administration is making some encouraging noises compared to its predecessors, often the actual policies still seem trapped in the earlier paradigm. As SP says, the title you chose for one of your earlier pieces ("Eyes Wide Shut") seems about right.


When Obama says that the al-Qaeda (AQ) leadership is the main threat to the West, and Holbrooke says that the Taliban is inseparably bound to AQ, they are publicly advancing arguments for the continuation of the war in Afghanistan. But, as far as I can see, there is no large public constituency in the US for this position that needs to be placated. "

I think that would be a poor bet to make. Pakistan cannot keep taliban around as a weapon to pad territory. That era is over. All of Pakistan neighbors by now are pissed and want taliban training camp closed. China being the latest one.

So that would make India, US, Russia, Iran and now China. Pakistan has noone left to play double dealing (Russia-US game is over. China-India-US game is about to be over. Asia will shut Pakistan out as more bombing goes on. China will start giving out warning once they figure out who is who.)

Pakistan can try to keep the tool to train taliban groups along with key people, thinking it's all under tight control. But as buildings explode all over the world, rioting, bombing, sooner or later key partners will isolate Pakistan. traveling in and out of pakistan will be scrutinized, and with that trade and investment.

Entire Pakistan scheme ultimately hinges on 2 things: US political patient and perceive usefulness as client state and Saudi willingness to pay. If those two are gone, Pakistan as we know it ends within 2 years. (Think lawyer rioting but done by taliban, using bombs. that was not a big investment.) Blowing up Pakistan to pieces isn't all that hard. (terrorism, market confidence, civilian infrastructure, assassination, collapse of currency, spike of bond cost.)


The establishment of joint Taliban and al Qaeda formations in the Shadow Army has been aided by the proliferation of terror training camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. In the summer of 2008, there were reportedly more than 150 training camps and over 400 support locations in operation in those areas. The Shadow Army has distinguished itself in recent years, particularly in Pakistan’s tribal areas and in the Northwest Frontier Province.

In Swat, the Pakistani military was defeated by forces under the command of Mullah Fazlullah in 2007 and in 2008. Last month, the military launched its third attempt to secure Swat, with little success so far. In Bajaur, the hidden hand of the Shadow Army can be seen in the sophisticated trench and tunnel networks, bunkers, and pillboxes built by Taliban forces. The Taliban have good weaponry and a better communication system. Their tactics are mind-boggling and they have defenses that would take US and Pakistan months to build. Recent Pakistan army’s advance towards Taliban occupied Buner is yet to prove that Pakistan can convincingly defeat the Qaeda-Taliban combines.


In term of fiscal policy, Pakistan is dead man walking. IMF pulling the plug on loan, Pakistan will implode within weeks. (days, if global invement house are recovering and start playing currency)

So, Pakistan really is in a juncture point. It has to choose between keeping taliban as territorial buffer tool, or cleaning up.


Pakistan’s balance of payments came under severe pressure during fiscal 2007-08 and in the first four months (July-October) of the current fiscal year owing, to the unprecedented rise in oil, food and other commodity prices as well as to the global financial turmoil. Absence of effective policy response during the political transition to a new government further accentuated the balance of payments difficulties. It is not surprising that Pakistan continued to lose its foreign exchange reserves at a much greater pace and by end-October 2008 they reached a dangerously low level. The rapid pace of the reserves’ depletion created doubts within and outside the country on the viability of the country’s balance of payments. How to prevent the rapid decline in foreign exchange reserve and save the country from defaulting on its external payment obligations became the single most important economic challenge for Pakistan. Pakistan approached the IMF for balance-of-payments support and received a $7.6-billion package spreading over seven quarters, ending in June 2010. One of the objectives of the IMF programme was to restore the confidence of domestic and foreign investors by addressing macroeconomic imbalances through tightening of fiscal and monetary policies.

F B Ali


Thank you for drawing attention to Charles Freeman’s talk. At least he has his eyes wide open! It was a sad day for the US when he was forced to resign his position as chair of the NIC; allowing him to do so will probably rank as one of Obama’s biggest mistakes. He explains very clearly why US policy so often blunders down blind alleys. I am reassured to see that he views current US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan (its genesis, problems and likely outcome) in terms very similar to the ones I have been expressing here. What a difference it would have made if he was there at the NIC to challenge all those false assumptions and make-believe.


A more charitable view of Riedel’s strange disconnect between diagnosis and remedy may be drawn from Freeman’s statement: “After all, the policy review was begun in the last administration. It was led by the U.S. military and conceived in large measure to vindicate past military sacrifices. Its implicit watchword was “support the troops and stand by the generals,” not “figure out how we can most efficiently deny the region to terrorists with global reach.” If the conclusion is already foregone, you either sign on or get dumped. On second thoughts, maybe that isn’t being charitable – perhaps ignorance would make him look better!


Your description of the situation in Swat and FATA is about two months old. Since then much has happened, including the retaking of Swat, Buner and that entire region by the Pakistan army.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad