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26 October 2010


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William R. Cumming

Helpful post. So here goes from far left field. US withdraws except for economic assistance. Put Pakistan in the role of responsibility for control of its own territory and Afghanistan's border controls. There apparently is some evidence that US after 9/11 issued the threat to Pakistan you are either with US or against US. Whatever the merits of this choice, perhaps it could be restated to Pakistan and indicate that unless Pakistan controls its own population and border areas with Afghanistan then sanctions or whatever will follow from US.
Of course the problem I have with this is that the it appears to me that Nation's that cannot control their own territory and allow usage by non-state actors really reveal their inability to operate as Nation-states and the many consequences that follow require some hard choices. So perhaps the existence of Nuclear weapons not good governance is the ultimate basis for the claim to nation-state status for Pakistan. If that is the case then the nuclear surety and safeguards should be under some kind of International Inspection regime which I understand it is not now. Personally I think the dynamics of S.Asia are about to change drastically in the next two decades. The only question is the ability of persons in that area to mount international threats.
Does this make any sense?


In reporting on the attack on the shrine of Baba Farid, the Dawn reports:

"In fact, Sufi shrines all over Pakistan have been attacked over the past five years. They have been targeted by a mix of sectarian and jihadi militants, whose interests have increasingly begun to dovetail. In 2005 a suicide bomber struck the Pir Rakhel Shah shrine in Balochistan’s Jhal Magsi area killing over 30 people, while the same year a suicide blast targeted the Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad. In 2009 militants attacked the mausoleum of Pushto mystic poet Rehman Baba while 2010 saw the devastating attack on Lahore’s Data Darbar in July as well as the one targeting the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi earlier this month."

-- From the article above:

"It is quite unrealistic to expect that Pakistan will thus undermine its own future security...."

-- Since the perpetrators share the same ideology and the same name (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan), either Pakistan has undermined its own security already;

or else, as paranoid writers put it - these are Hindu/Zionist/CIA agents out to give the Taliban a bad name. But if India, US, etc., can assemble a "Taliban", it undermines this idea: "The major attraction they have for Pakistan is that they can be relied upon to never come under the influence of India or Russia or the US."

--- IMO, Pakistan is burying its future with its Afghanistan obsession. Do inform us, how much was Ahmed Shah Masoud his own man and how much a tool of India, Iran, etc.? If the Rabbani govt was hostile to Pakistan, it was probably primarily because Pakistan was backing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - who inflicted more damage on Kabul than in all the years of the Soviet war.

--- IMO, Pakistan's behavior to Afghanistan mirrors its attitude towards East Pakistan - "we ought to own you" - and Afghanistan is not even part of Pakistan.

There is not enough good luck in the world to make the Pakistani strategy work, so I won't bother.

Norbert M. Salamon

Thank you for clarifying Pakistan's dilemma with respect to USA relations. Greatly appriciate such, for I was ignorant on this issue.

ex-PFC Chuck

Thank you, Mr. Ali. It's astonishing what one can learn when making an attempt to observe a situation from someone else's perspective.

jaffar khan

Thank you speaking the truth for once. pakistan armymen in uniform never speak the truth and once out of it, they rattle it. This is a classic strategy of creating pressure points on the opponents. here the opponent is ISAF -US/NATO.

First of all let me burst this myth of Afghans never been defeated. They have been defeated many a times. Alexander did that and subdued them. They were suryavanshi rajputs and pas were ruling them. As per the Caroe's book 'pathans' they were subdued by islamic hordes and left the faith(Budhism) of their ancestors.

As recents as 150 years back, they were defeated by Maharaj Ranjit singhji and yes many times. I hope you have read the story of the ranjit singh's favourite horse - Chandni.

Every Sikh general had a Durrani wife. Only Punjabi Muslims have never defeated them and actually converted under the onslaught of these Afghan/central asian swords. The cattle herders/farmers of punjab who got converted under the afghan swords could never think about rising against the afghans who would loot and pillage and rape women. this myth has been created by these people.
No doubt Afghans are hardy people and anyone living in such harsh conditions would be. British beat the Afghans twice and then created the Durand line. Yes the massacre of british army happened at night but the repercussions were severe for Pathans.
Ranjit singhji's general Gerald used to throw 5 Pathans from the balcony of peshawar fort every morning. So stop creating myths around them. Russians went back because of the background and recuperation facilities afghans got in pakistan and the weapons given by America.

As Obama says,"The cancer is in pakistan". Once that is dealt with taliban (Gilzai pathans mostly) will pack off under onslaught. The time for daisy cutters is coming soon along with B52's. pakistan has refused to be seen as responsible member of the world and it is paying a price. This crazy strategic depth theory will lead to paksitan becoming an 'strategic depth' for the Talibs. De-facto it has already become. Pashtoons don't care about the Durand line and this will be erased on maps also.
This spilling of Pakhtoon blood will have to be answered and already NWFP and agencies are no go for pakistan army. they are pakhtoon lands and Punjabis will not be tolerated there.


Thanks for the insight.

There always has been and will always be conflict between the agricultural lowlanders and mountain people. The Hindu Kush is not any mountain range. It is at the crossroads of South and East Asia and Europe. Any peoples living up there have survived wars, conquests and overlords. For Punjabis it is paramount that no faction in the mountains gains control of all of the tribes and comes sweeping down to rape and pillage their villages and cities, as in the past. Note: this is why nuclear weapons will never be dismantled; city folks need them for defense.

The United States is like the colonial powers of the past that invaded and attempted to control the tribes but all to no avail. The war has continued for 10 years because most Americans have no involvement. The war is the only stimulus that Democrats and Republicans can agree on and it keeps their cash contributors in the money. However, a Crash is coming. In the next two years, after the GOP takes control of Congress, the Federal Government will shut down. When the Social Security and military pension checks stop coming, the USA will be out of Afghanistan in a flash.


Per Gen. Musharraf's logic - engaging the Haqqanis and the Taliban (and other Pastun Ubermesnch) was supposed to keep the Pashtun nationalist desires under Pindi's control. It had nothing to do with keeping the US on a leash in the region.

Any problems this created for the US were supposed to be an unintentional toxic byproduct of keeping Pashtun identity politics under control. And all the cost incurred to the US-Pak relationship was supposed to be acceptable because ultimately this was about keeping Pakistan in one piece.

Now you are saying that despite all this support even the Haqqanis will not remain beholden to Pakistan's strategic interests after they are an established power in Kabul. Then what was the point of supporting them?

So I ask you - what if any direction is there to Pakistan's policy in Afghanistan?

Your kind of thinking simply says there is no alternative for Islamabad - it simply has to keep stoking the fires of internal unrest in Afghanistan. Even if Jalal Haqqani is made emperor of Kabul, Pakistan will have to create some neo-Taliban to oppose him just so that he doesn't turn into another Karzai or Najibullah.

Given that this way of doing things has done little to help Pakistani society - and that any violence in Afghanistan now radiates effortlessly into Pakistan - do you at least get the feeling Islamabad's policy is stuck in a self destructive loop?

Driving the Soviets from Afghanistan crippled Pakistan society. The extremism that we see today in Pakistan - first bloomed in that period. Now the Pak Army is investing in these Haqqani type people. They are operating under the notion that the Americans can be driven from Afghanistan.

I ask you - okay perhaps that can be done - but at what cost to Pakistan?

I can understand a desire in Westridge to control opiate revenue streams from Afghanistan but are there more ways to kill a cat then to hit at with blunt objects?

Have people in Aabpara chowk bothered to think about that? or are mass casualties in Pakistan no longer relevant in the rarefied airconditioned air there?

FB Ali


Your post highlights how the US’s belief in “hard power” has not only corrupted policy making in Washington but also infected public discourse. It is all about threats, pressure, sanctions, strikes (Taking harder stance towards China, Obama lines up allies ‒ NYT today).

Sometimes it seems that US foreign policy suffers from bipolar disorder. One pole is We’ll bomb you back into the Stone Age unless you kiss our a**e. The other: Here’s 2 billion, now kiss our a**e. [I prefer the Brit version!]

The world has become too complicated for such policies to be effective. They tend to produce pushbacks and blowbacks. Better results are likely from policies that cater not only to US desires but also take into account the needs and interests of others.

FB Ali


I wrote about external security; you are talking about internal security. The former is the purview of the military, and it is doing a reasonably good job (especially under the present command). The latter is the responsibility of the civil administration, and its performance is pretty poor.

Pakistan is not “obsessed with Afghanistan”. Afghanistan is a security issue, and the Pakistan military, like its counterparts in other countries, is obsessed with security. That’s their raison d’etre.

The Pakistan and Afghan Taliban are completely separate organizations with different aims and spheres of operation. Conflating them is a mistake.

Charles I

jaffar khan , re:

The cancer is in pakistan". ONCE THAT IS DEALT WITH taliban (Gilzai pathans mostly) will pack off under onslaught."

Dealt with? a la Iraq, Afghanistan? Don't we have to "deal with" Iran first?

And whatever after the "onslaught". Just fly the bombers home as all the people you predict flee into the Central Asian Republics and open a theater there, commence blowing up everyone's pipeline but Iran?

We, nor the Israelis, nor anybody else can't daisycutter a suitable result - what ever one fancies that to be - by such blase projections of will. As FB concludes, we must deal with the complicated world as it is and not as simple as your prescription seems to be.

Whatever would China think of us dealing with their second main enemy's main enemy in such a way?

The cancer is unbridled militarism.It is now in league with pathologically interbred intelligence and financial cabals that have festered unchecked in dark ignorance to the point where Richard Sale's economic warfare analysis predicts unprecedented devaluation and attendant impoverishment as a desired policy while hinting that blowback is indeed coming.

Can a daisycutter help with that Gordian knot?

different clue

FB Ali,

Are the Pakistani authorities prepared to take into account the needs and interests of non-Pashtun peoples and regions within Afghanistan? If those non-Pashtun peoples say that one of those needs is freedom from any trace whatsoever of Taliban influence within the non-Pashtun areas, are the Pakistani authorities prepared to take those stated needs and interests of those non-Pashtun non-Pakistani Afghan others?

If the Pakistani-army pursuit of external security
in Afghanistan creates such social destabilization and regional secessionism within Pakistan that the internal security forces are not able to contain or even manage the insecurity; then does Pakistan's pursuit
of external security degrade
Pakistan's internal security to the extent that the external-security pursuit actually makes Pakistan more insecure? Isn't the point of protecting external security to enhance internal security?

Once the US drops out and gives up in Afghanistan, will the on-scene players stop playing? Should the Pakistani authorities assume that China, Iran, and the Central Asiastans will accept a Taliban base for Islamist agitation on their borders?


Thank you for your excellent and illuminating contribution Gen. Ali.

Thank you also for your cogent reply to Mr. Cumming. I was going to write something to him about how framing some problems in a binary (bipolar) mode - 'either/or' precludes finding any solution at all, but you beat me to it.

In reply to Mr. Khan, it is sufficient to say that framing issues in racist terms is extremely unproductive when nuclear weaponry is involved.

different clue

(Now that I think about it, 'Iran being concerned about Islamist agitation on its borders' is a silly way to have asked that. In Iran's case, would Iran be concerned about Suni-ist Taliban-sheltered agitation on its borders after America departs)?



Thank you for your response and frankness. I am a amateur at military history and strategy. But if I get as well as many others who are even more knowledgeable that I here at SST. What is Washington's elite not getting? What is the pentagon not getting? What's the press not getting? What are the republicans and democrats not getting? And what is Palin and her zombies not getting?

I know what our guys and gals in the US Military and the civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are getting.... Screwed....

I will say, when we screw with Pandora's box. We really screw with it.


"In reply to Mr. Khan, it is sufficient to say that framing issues in racist terms is extremely unproductive when nuclear weaponry is involved."

There is one thing you can put money on. Nuclear weapons know no racism. You might even say nuclear weapons hate everyone equally....

William R. Cumming

Thanks General Ali and Walrus! You got my point because I was not really trying to force a choice between Hard Power and Harder Power but instead to indicate other options in the spectrum of diplomacy. I find our foreign relations and policies to be quite primitive given the hand delt the US but others may disagree. Why is it that we always want to look "tough" whether we are or not. The problem I see is coming down to proliferation issues wherein the US and others with nuclear capability just don't seem to understand that our own postures dictates certain responses in others. Apparently original thinking is in short supply in the EMBASSIES of the world. I would argue the two countries with the most successful foreign policy today are Germany and China. Both are skilled at reaching their goals long term without deviating for short term gain. After all, Germany has gained de facto dominance of the EU and China has gained de facto dominance of Taiwain and soon Japan and Koreas. The key blocks for the 22nd Century appear to be lining up. The Western Hemisphere like Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa are destined to be dominated by extractive industry, andbeing commodity suppliers including Agricultural. Does the history of deindustrialization as in the US have any precedent?


Marvellously clear overview, Furrukh. Thank you.

Just to clarify one point, am I right to come away with the impression that the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani insurgent groups are in no way involved in all of the internal disruptions within Pakistan?


FB Ali:

"The Pakistan and Afghan Taliban are completely separate organizations with different aims and spheres of operation. Conflating them is a mistake."

They may have started as such but since they are both confronting a common enemy one would expect, at a minimum, to find them to be allies. And to act as each other's safe havens. Further, to the extent that 'the Jihadists' have influence, there will be pressure to unify and money directed at that aim.

The Americans experienced blowback from the forces they enabled to fight the Russians. The Pakistani elites should not consider themselves immune from the possibility of the groups they are enabling as they endeavor to curb potential Indian influence in Afghanistan. (By all accounts, a strong Afghanistan is unlikely to accept any influence but its own.)

The announced aim of the Pakistani Taliban may be the right to be left alone and conduct their portion of the state according to strict sharia but one of the lessons of history to my mind is that no religion attaining power fails to seek to expand.

Your position on this point seems to me both be be based on a much greater knowledge of the area than I so much as aspire to but also on wishful thinking. So, since you disagree, where did I go wrong?

FB Ali

Different Clue,

May I suggest that you re-read my post? I don’t think it contains any suggestion that Pakistan is aiming to run Afghanistan (and thus needs to take into account the needs and interests of non-Pashtun peoples and regions within Afghanistan). Let me summarise what I said (for you and some others who appear to have their own pet ‘red rags’ in it) :

The ending of the US war will unleash a power struggle in Afghanistan. All the interested outside powers are picking their favourite Afghans, and trying to strengthen their position. Pakistan is backing the Taliban and the Haqqani group, mainly because they will not come under the influence of India.

The internal problems in Pakistan that you and Maverick mention were caused or exacerbated by the US invasion of Afghanistan. (I have written about this several times earlier on this blog). They cannot be ascribed to Pakistan’s reaction to that war. Pakistan will try to deal with them once the war is over.

I have also written here earlier about the difference between religious and political Islamists. The Taliban are the former type; they don’t go around pushing ‘Islamist agitation’ in other countries.

Charles I,

Welcome back!

Adam L Silverman

Brigadier Ali: thanks for the excellent piece. I'm curious for your, as well as COL Lang's take on this Guardian report:
I can't imagine that Russia would really want to go down this path, or that the NATO planners could really be so ignorant of history that they'd think this was a good idea. The second, third, and fourth order effects among the Afghan population would be overwhelmingly negative.

Adam L Silverman

Jake: as a colleague of mine likes to say, in his best Peter Sellers from Dr. Strangelove accent: "you may not be interested in nuclear war, but nuclear war may be interested in you..."

FB Ali


Thanks! No, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group have not been involved in any way in the internal security problems in Pakistan. For obvious reasons, since they depend on Pakistani goodwill to conduct their operations. In fact, the Haqqanis appear to have been quite helpful in making the FATA-based Pakistani Taliban (TTP) cease attacks in Pakistan. All that is occurring now are suicide attacks by in-country splinter groups on their religious opponents (eg, the attacks Arun mentioned).


I think where you are going wrong is in not distinguishing between political and religious Islamists. The aim of the former is to establish the political, economic and military power of Islam – by repelling Western encroachments on Muslim countries and ultimately taking them over. The primary aim of religious Islamists is to establish their brand of orthodoxy among Muslim populations; they are not too concerned about political and economic issues. The Taliban (Afghani and Pakistani) are religious Islamists, and thus focussed on their own countries. The Haqqani group is more political.

For a long time, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqanis are going to need Pakistan’s support in the power struggles that will occur in Afghanistan in the years to come. They will not jeopardise this by foolishly supporting the TTP in destabilizing Pakistan.

AJ Brickmeier

Brig. Ali,

You neglect one aspect in your otherwise excellent observations.

Pakistan's choice of the Haqqani clan as its primary Afghan proxy comes with a huge risk that it refuses to account for.

The Haqqanis are now organically tied to Al Qaeda and other elements whose only purpose is to launch spectacular attacks in the US, Europe etc. This is the same externality that led to the current mess in the first place.

The set of choices for the US changes dramatically if there are deaths in the homeland. No force on earth, no worry about budget deficits or supply lines will stop the US from whatever retaliation it chooses to do if there's another 9/11.

This time around the Pakistan army will not have the Afghan Taliban to blame. Instead, the political consequences for that will be laid directly at Rawalpindi.

I don't buy the idea that either Siraj Haqqani or Omar will disavow Al Qaeda. They did not do so when faced with B-52s and "Shock and awe". Why would they do so now when they think they are winning?

As much as Obama wants to leave Afghanistan, I'd be willing to bet my month's salary that no US administration will allow either Haqqani or Mullah Omar even an iota of a stake in Afghanistan.

Rawalpindi is choosing to play a game of chicken with uncontrollable wildcards like the Haqqanis holding some of the control.

However badly Kayani and co hate a Karzai-led Afghanistan, they are likely to find that a fractious Haqqani/Omar influenced Afghanistan may just be beyond their worst imagination.

Pakistan is allowing its India obsession to blind itself to the existential danger posed by uncontrollable proxies and their global jihadist aspirations.

AJ Brickmeier

Brig. Ali,

A quick addition to my previous post.

Please do expound on exactly why or how a Siraj Haqqani or Mullah Omar controlled area of Afghanistan would no longer offer sanctuary to jihadists with global aspirations.

Also what magic wand or potions does Gen. Kayani possess that would help Pakistan persuade Omar or Haqqani to not help the Al Qaeda types?

Unless the Pakistan army has means to do the above, it is merely setting the stage for the next "We'll bomb you to the stone age" moment.

s nadh

While the clock ticks for all, the Karzai regime, such as it is, has a longer life-line then one may guess - including the anticipated withdrawal (whatever that will be) of the US. I think he'll continue to prove a useful vehicle for those involved, especially so for Pakistan despite the Taliban.

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