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12 September 2010


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William R. Cumming

Most organizations, governmental or NGO have their own cultures and not all focus on humanitarian aspects of foreign aid and assistance. Even the multilateral organizations seem to have cultures that are designed to support their elites not results. Perhaps this cannot be reformed but question whether NGO's without adequate security are in fact dealing with the reality of Afghanistani life.


"Infiltration of the northern, largely non-Pushtun".....

Questions about this: (I have no answers, just hunches)

Is this infiltration (to the extent it is true)due more to Pashtun strength or non-Pashtun weakness? If the latter is this a sign that the non-Pashtuns, are, for whatever reason, not up to fighting. IOW...for whatever reason, lacking in motivation.

Or, is this simply a case of the Pastuns being better trained and armed?



Your assumption that the insurgents are pure Pashtun is simply not true. There are local Tajiks and Usbeks that are part of the insurgencies in the north.

I don't think the policy review will be eventful - the military knows what it wants and with Obama will get it.


To my knowledge the Taliban are exploiting Pashtun populations in non Pashtun regions for shelter and support.



Go back and read the post/article. It is not MY "assumption". Do you see the words "infiltration", and "largely non-Pushtun".

My questions/comments are predicated on accepting as facts, the *assumptions* in the article. They indeed may not be facts, but for the sake of the questions I assumed they were facts.

And in any event b, if the "local Tajiks and Usbeks" [sic]are in fact such an integral part of the insurgencies" then this simply more fodder for the argument....get the hell out and get the hell out NOW. If we've 'lost; the Tajiks and Usbeks" (sic) we definitely done. Personally, I think we are done anyway.

FB Ali

The lack of security curtailing the work of NGOs, and the ineffectiveness (or total absence) of government structures, has resulted in deteriorating living conditions for ordinary people in Afghanistan. For an up-to-date, detailed picture, see:



Ordinary Afghans, whether Tajik, Uzbeg or Pashtun, have never been anyone's 'to lose'. For centuries. All that happens is that self-serving 'strongmen' join up with invaders for personal gain (and are equally adept at stabbing them in the back when that serves their purpose).

All of which reinforces your point: Get the hell out!

Patrick Lang

FB Ali

A bit heavy at the end. pl

John Howley

Very little reporting on the Sept 18 parliamentary elections. Disaster anticipated?

FB Ali

Col Lang,

I agree! I couldn't resist jonst's pithy slogan.

However, I still think it'll be better for the US (and others involved in this sorry mess) if offensive ops were ended as soon as possible, and some negotiated settlement arrived at.

The 'surge', COIN, SF killings, whatever, are not going to improve the situation. The dice is too heavily loaded against the US.

What the US should be really worrying about is something I've been warning about here on your blog: things going seriously wrong in Pakistan. That clock is ticking ever closer to midnight.

Stanley Henning

We should probably pull out and allow Afghanistan to fester similar to North Korea.

Patrick Lang

FB Ali

I understand your frustration. pl


An Indian POV, reproduced in full:


Exit Is A Smarter Strategy

KANTI BAJPAI, Sep 13, 2010, 12.00am IST

The Indian strategic community thinks that the US must stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to wear out the Taliban and ensure stability in that deeply troubled country. It would probably be better for the US to withdraw as quickly as possible and turn its attention to its internal problems, its role in East Asia, and much larger global challenges.

Ten years on, the US should consider pulling out of Afghanistan. While it cannot lose against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, it also cannot win outright. If so, Islamic extremism around the world will prosper. Extremists in Pakistan will celebrate the US quagmire in Afghanistan and the radicalisation of Pakistani opinion. The US's presence may be a bulwark against radicalisation, but it is an equal bet that the longer the US stays, the more radical Pakistan will become. When the US finally pulls out, as it must, Pakistan might collapse into civil war if not extremism. Better then for the US to go when the moderates still have a chance.

Taliban rule in Afghanistan may be more palatable this time round. Mullah Omar is likely to be far more circumspect about extremism and terrorism. The US must, of course, continue to monitor, disrupt, and destroy the workings of al-Qaeda and to bolster homeland defence. Washington can use its air power, particularly the drones, to target Afghan extremists and al-Qaeda if the Taliban continues to support terrorism. The threat of US intervention from the air might well deter the Taliban, which in its new incarnation seems keen to rebuild Afghanistan economically rather than reinstall a pitiless Islamic regime.

For the US, this is a more affordable, efficient way of combating terror than fighting in distant lands. A US pullout from Afghanistan will not be a strategic defeat. It may mark the high point of Islamic extremism which might well recede with the US's departure from Iraq and Afghanistan just as global communism peaked after the US's exit from Vietnam.

The problem with the present US course is that the workings of the US political and economic system, its role in East Asia and issues of the global commons are being neglected. The US political system is now in a logjam, fatally divided between right extremism and a moderate centrism. The economy is heavily in debt (due in part to the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), is growing very slowly, and could be heading towards double-dip recession. No one in the US knows whether the country should spend its way out of trouble or curb the role of the state and stimulate market forces.

Washington has been obsessed with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq might yet turn out to be moderately stable and governable. The future of Afghanistan and Pakistan is much darker. Yet what is the worst that could happen a Taliban-led Afghanistan and a radical Pakistan? This could be a formidable combination, but just as likely is that Afghan/Pashtun nationalism and Pakistani/Punjabi nationalism will clash, leaving the two countries in unending contention rather than collusion. Nobody has mastered Afghanistan in the past, and the idea that Pakistan will do so in the years to come is a historical wager that the Pakistani army is likely to lose.

With so much invested in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Americans are not paying enough attention to East Asia and the global commons. China is steadily on the rise. This is not altogether bad: a better balance of power is stabilising for the international system. But the key is balance. In Asia, the balance will be hard to preserve given China's enormous size and potential. The US could wake up very soon to find that Beijing is the hegemon of Asia. Before Washington reacts, the Chinese, who are driving deep into Africa, will also be ensconced in Latin America.

Finally, the US is ignoring the global commons. Global trade and finance, climate change, resource scarcities, and epidemics and disease jeopardise life on the planet far more insidiously and dangerously than Islamic terrorism. The US is the world's most indispensable power, to use Madeleine Albright's boast, in terms of global collective action. It must find its way back to these grand strategic challenges and not lose the woods for the trees.

A US pullout will not be a cataclysm for India. For one thing, the US will no longer be so helpless before Pakistan, and its military aid might reduce significantly. Further, New Delhi has dealt with Af-Pak before, from 1989 to 2001. It could team up with Iran, Russia and perhaps even Pakistan to play a positive role. Islamabad might cooperate to ensure New Delhi does not destabilise Afghanistan, exploit Afghan-Pakistan differences in the future (which are almost inevitable), and draw even closer to the US.

A rampant America, after the Cold War, was not always a progressive force, but at least it provided global leadership. Today, the world faces the possibility of an America riven politically, battered economically and shaken militarily, its forces rattled by the experience of asymmetric warfare. An unconfident America, with a waning sense of power and purpose, fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, is not in India's or the world's interest.

The writer is professor of international politics, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

FB Ali


That was a good article; the argument was sound and mature. The only point he got wrong was to assume that the Pakistan army's goal is to "master Afghanistan".

I doubt very much that the army has any illusions about its ability to do that; its experience from 1990 to 2001 effectively proved that. Its main goal is to prevent Afghanistan from falling under Indian influence, thus leading to a possible encirclement of Pakistan. A secondary goal is to have a friendly government in Kabul which would not stir up trouble among its own Pashtuns.


A second Indian POV, reproduced in full:

How not to exit Afghanistan

Aligning India with long-standing Pakhtoon aspirations may be a potentially potent lever

Shyam Saran / New Delhi September 15, 2010, 0:54 IST

At the recently concluded annual conference of the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in Geneva (September 10-12, 2010), Henry Kissinger had a telling comment on the “exit strategy” being pursued by the US and its allies in Afghanistan. He said that the focus appeared to be more on exit and less on strategy. His strategy for a viable solution? A regional compact among key stakeholders that effectively sanitised Afghanistan from regional and great power competition. This would effectively give the country a neutral status, guaranteed by the international community and respected by the country’s neighbours.

This sounds attractive but, in the present context, is not viable. It is important to recognise this because then for India the challenge will not be how to become part of some such exit strategy but rather how not to exit Afghanistan under different scenarios. Let us see why the Kissingerian strategy is unlikely to succeed.

One, the stakeholders in this proposed compact must, at the minimum, include Afghanistan’s close neighbours such as Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India and, of course, the US as the dominant occupying power. Whoever takes the lead on this, the US will have to at least acquiesce in a major Iranian role, precisely at a time when it is leading an international sanctions regime against that country over its nuclear programme. I consider this unlikely.

Two, the Chinese position is problematical. There is a belief in some quarters that China may be positively inclined towards this proposal because of its fear over a spillover of Islamic irredentism into the adjoining Chinese province of Xinjiang. Chinese concerns are being exaggerated. China had no reservations in dealing with the previous Taliban regime in Kabul. It may also consider a Pakistani-dominated Taliban regime a better insurance for the pursuit of its interests in the country than a neutral dispensation. After all, Pakistan has always been extraordinarily sensitive to Chinese interests.

Three, US calculations are not entirely clear. The recent western projection of the Afghan Taliban, or elements of it, as possibly obscurantist but nevertheless nationalistic and hence acceptable as part of governance structures in Kabul, is one strand in American thinking. Another is the possibility of conceding de facto control of southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, while retaining a strong, deterrent presence in the rest of the country. This would suggest a somewhat more circumscribed “exit strategy” than is often assumed. The US may have objectives that go beyond the defeat of Al Qaeda. It may wish to retain a strong and enduring presence in non-Pushtun areas which enable it to counter Iran, Russia as well as China in Central Asia. Neutrality or even non-alignment for Afghanistan would go against such calculations.

Finally, it is doubtful that Pakistan would play ball. The enduring fear in Pakistan has been the possible erasure of the Durand Line as the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan with the resurgence of a cross-border Pakhtoon movement, encompassing southern Afghanistan, the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (now renamed Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa) as well as Pathan-dominated areas of Balochistan. Despite its reliance on Pakistani goodwill and support, the Taliban regime of Mullah Omar did not accept the Durand Line. The nervous reaction in Pakistan to Ambassador Blackwill’s advocacy of a de facto partition of Afghanistan between a southern Pushtun and possibly Taliban-ruled entity and a non-Pushtun remainder, derives from this anxiety about an irresistible tide of Pakhtoon nationalism, especially at a time when central control over an ethnically diverse and now economically ravaged country is becoming increasingly tenuous. Pakistan may well demand, as its price, an Afghan and international recognition and guarantee of the Durand Line. No Afghan government is likely to concede that.

India, therefore, should really be crafting a strategy to retain a strong presence in Afghanistan and even augment it, irrespective of what other actors decide to do. This is dictated by the need to prevent the country from once again degenerating into a base for jihadi terrorism against India. It is also an useful platform for India’s engagement with Central Asia. India does have convergent interests with some of the stakeholders, both within Afghanistan and including some of its neighbours like Iran and Russia. At the very least, there are those who, like India, cannot accept a fundamentalist Sunni-dominated regime in Kabul. We need to help coalesce them together in the pursuit of our shared interests.

We must be mindful of the tendency among some of our western friends to offer concessions at the expense of India in a dubious attempt to buy Pakistan’s support of their “exit strategy”, however this may be defined. A British participant at the conference wondered whether it would not be wise for India to close its consulates in Afghanistan and retain only its embassy in Kabul, in order to “get Pakistan off your (India’s) back”. This is more like getting India off Pakistan’s back! We should dispel the notion, widely held among the western strategic community, that India’s presence and involvement in Afghanistan has been made possible thanks to the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF’s) security cover and, therefore, it should not be allowed a “free ride” at the expense of western interests. These includes assuaging Pakistani security concerns vis-a-vis India, however paranoid they may be. The reality is that we have been able to sustain a significant presence in Afghanistan and earn considerable goodwill, including in Pushtun areas, precisely because we have been careful not to be associated with ISAF activities, but operate strictly on a bilateral basis with the Afghan government.

India should also revisit its position on the Durand Line. It may be worthwhile for us to signal that we do not necessarily recognise the Durand Line as a legitimate frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Aligning India with long-standing Pakhtoon aspirations may be a potentially potent lever to use as the new version of the Great Game unfolds in our neighbourhood.

The author is a former foreign secretary and currently senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research

FB Ali

The second article posted by Arun (by Shyam Saran) helps to explain why Pakistan is so concerned about what happens in Afghanistan post-US intervention.


FB Ali, I've been trying to find out what India's stand on the Durand line has been over the years. Do you happen to know?

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