The Coming Civil War in Afghanistan

At ForeignPolicy.com, I discuss the dangerous centrifugal forces inside Afghanistan that could push the country toward civil war once again. I conclude with some advice on how to avoid such a scenario. The article is available here.

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Attacks on Afghan Shiites Highlight Pakistan’s Policy Failure

My latest article analyzes last week’s anti-Shia attacks in Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif for the subscription-only World Politics Review (WPR). To view the article, you can subscribe to WPR or sign up for a free trial.

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OPED — Only way to end the Afghanistan war: US peace deal with the Taliban

Here’s my latest, an oped in the Christian Science Monitor.  I will try to discuss the topic more expansively in a blog post here.  Stay tuned.  My apologies for the extended absence.  I’ve been busy.

“Nearly six months into the United States surge in Afghanistan and six months prior to the White House’s review of the Afghan war strategy, it’s clear our mission in Afghanistan is not only failing, but beyond repair.

Only a political solution can bring lasting peace to Afghanistan and extract the US from this messy conflict. And given Washington’s bleak military predicament, it must begin to give precedence to a political reconciliation process with the senior Taliban leadership now, rather than next year…”

Read the rest here.

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Pakistani-U.S. Raid Nabs Mullah Baradar: Kayani Doctrine in Full Effect

The New York Times reveals this evening that the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, was arrested in Karachi on Thursday in a joint raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  The move is clear demonstration that the Pakistan Army, under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has a more flexible approach toward Afghanistan, guided by the realization that it has permanent interests, not permanent allies in its neighbor to the northwest.

In a recent briefing to foreign correspondents, Kayani said that Pakistan seeks a friendly government, stability, and ”strategic depth” (meaning, at the very least, that Kabul is not allied with New Delhi) in Afghanistan.  The Pakistan Army is willing to play by more conventional rules and begin to engage so-called good actors to secure these goals in Afghanistan.  Toward this, Kayani offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  Having denied India a strategic pivot into Central Asia and northwestern/western Pakistan via Afghanistan (note India’s minimal role in the London talks and absence from the Istanbul talks), the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment feels more secure to broaden its ties in Afghanistan and engage the current Afghan leadership.

In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so.  In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.  Pakistan has an opportunity to come in from the cold and project its regional influence through more conventional and “legitimate” means.  In doing so, it can secure its interests and the respect and trust of others, while also containing the Taliban contagion infesting its border areas with Afghanistan.

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The Kayani Doctrine

On Monday, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani briefed foreign correspondents in Rawalpindi and was unusually candid.  

In the briefing, Kayani articulated his Afghanistan doctrine.  Pakistan, he said, seeks a friendly government, stability, and “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  He also added that Pakistan does not seek a Talibanized Afghanistan and offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

Kayani, like many others in the region, is preparing for a post-American and post-ISAF Afghanistan.  Many actors fear the emergence of a security vacuum in such a context.  Kayani is expressing Pakistan’s willingness (or better put, desire) to fill the void, prevent an outbreak of instability, and even come to support the Karzai government.  His message to Karzai is: if you become our ally (because strategic depth really calls for an alliance, not just friendship) and ditch India, we can help keep you alive and in power.  And, it seems as if there’s an implicit message to the Afghan Taliban — key as both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia try to pull the group away from al-Qaeda: you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted. 

Kayani’s doctrine is not revolutionary.  Its objectives are no different from Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy from the past thirty years.  But, for the first time, he is publicly demonstrating great flexibility in terms of choice of alliances.  Kayani is essentially a cold realist.  He believes Pakistan has permanent interests, not permanent alliances, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  And he and the Pakistan Army will do business with the entity that best facilitates achieving those objectives.  Behavior, not personalities, is key.   

Pakistan’s army chief also said that he impressed upon NATO that Pakistan’s “strategic paradigm” needs to be realized.  In that strategic paradigm, India remains a natural, long-term threat and Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence – the latter being a perspective no different from America’s Monroe Doctrine.  Pakistan’s desire to be the predominant foreign power in Afghanistan is, as I said on a recent radio appearance, a policy that began in the late 1970s with military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.  But the key difference between the two is that the Kayani doctrine is largely agnostic, while the Zia doctrine was heavily religious.

The Pakistan Army’s behavior since 9/11 and India’s isolation from the two recent conferences on Afghanistan in Istanbul and London, demonstrate that Rawalpindi, at the very least, has a veto power on the key decisions regarding Afghanistan’s future.  Pakistan is not simply a nuisance or basketcase, but a regional power that has the capability to leverage a superpower’s depedency on it and check the regional growth of India, a rival, neighbor, and potential superpower. 

In the midst of this high wire act, Pakistan neared bankruptcy.  It has mastered the art of making a dollar out of fifteen cents.  Some would say, it’s done this by getting the United States to pay the remaining eighty five cents.

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(Not-so) Silent Spring

The Afghan Taliban’s spring offensive has begun.

This afternoon in Kabul, two Taliban teams executed a well-coordinated attac on a military parade celebrating Mujahideen Day.

One group fired mortars while sharpshooters targeted dignitaries seated in bleachers. Two Afghan officials seated within 90 feet of Hamid Karzai were killed.

A Taliban spokesman said that his group did not intend to kill Karzai. Even if he is covering his group’s failure to do so, the operation was still a success. The massive security breach–occurring with inside help–gives an impression of Taliban strength and Karzai’s impotency. The Afghan leader, derided as the mayor of Kabul, is apparently now also vulnerable in the capital.

The Afghans recently took control over Kabul’s security.  But today’s incident, reminiscent of Anwar al-Sadat’s assassination, suggests the present government lacks the political legitimacy and cohesiveness to fulfill its basic obligations.

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Two Reports on Pakistan-Afghanistan Insurgencies

General Accountability Office, “The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” [PDF]

  • “The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region. Since 2002, the United States has relied principally on the Pakistani military to address its national security goals. There have been limited efforts, however, to address other underlying causes of terrorism in the FATA by providing development assistance or by addressing the FATA’s political needs. Of the over $10.5 billion that the United States has provided to Pakistan from 2002 through 2007, we identified about $5.8 billion specifically for Pakistan’s FATA and border region; about 96 percent of this funding reimbursed Pakistan for military operations in the FATA and the border region. According to Defense and State Department officials, Pakistan deployed up to 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and killed and captured hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives. In October 2007, State reported that it had determined that Pakistan was making ‘significant’ progress toward eliminating the safe haven in the FATA. However, we found broad agreement, as documented in the unclassified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), State and embassy documents, as well as among Defense, State, and other officials, including those operating in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA.”
  • “We are recommending that the National Security Advisor and the Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and State, the Administrator of USAID, the intelligence community, and other executive departments as deemed appropriate, work to develop a comprehensive plan using all elements of national power to combat the terrorist threat and close the associated safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region.”

Daniel Korski, “Afghanistan: Europe’s forgotten war,” European Council on Foreign Relations. [PDF]

  • “The international coalition should agree on a strategy led by political rather than military goals. This should include: outreach to the Taliban…regional cooperation…”
  • “It will also be necessary to address the causes of Pakistan’s quest for ‘strategic depth’ – its fears of encirclement by India. Delhi’s assistance to Afghanistan has been considerable with Indian-donated Tata buses now an obvious part of Kabul’s public transportation system. India is also making important contributions to Afghan education, including rebuilding Habibia High School in Kabul, and President Karzai – who was educated in India – has visited Delhi several times. But this support is seen in Islamabad – and perhaps even more so in the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalphindi – as part of a deliberate strategy to encircle Pakistan.”
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Is NATO Moving Beyond Pakistan?

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently said that he would like his organization to have a “political dialogue” with Pakistan as “instability there breeds instability in Pakistan.”

Pakistan, he said, is “part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

But NATO is actively considering the reduction of Pakistan’s role in its operations.  As much as 80% of NATOs fuel and other supplies for its Afghanistan mission pass through Pakistan.  Increasingly, supply lines in Pakistan are under attack, particularly in the Khyber Agency, and the new civilian government in Islamabad is reviewing Pakistan’s war on terror role. [Though Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asserted today that the United States and Pakistan are "allied" and "partners in the war on terror" that "have many shared interests."]

NATO and Russia are engaged in talks in Bucharest on having the latter and former Soviet republics serve as an alternative supply route.

Anwar Iqbal of Dawn writes:

“Under the proposed agreement, Russia and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a military alliance of former Soviet republics, will jointly guarantee an interrupted supply of essential goods to the Nato forces.”

The specific route is unclear, but it will likely run from Russia and Kazakhstan through Uzbekistan.  The 1980s Soviet supply route into Kabul and Bagram ran down the Salang Highway, via Termez in what’s now Uzbekistan.  Relations between Washington and Tashkent have recently warmed a bit after three years of decline.  Russia also has plans to connect Termez and Mazar-i Sharif by a rail bridge.

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Pakistani Taliban: We Won’t Interfere in Elections; We Didn’t Kidnap Pakistani Ambassador

Maulvi Omar, the spokesperson for the Baitullah Mehsud-led Tehreek-e Taliban-e Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) tells BBC Urdu that his organization will abide by its pre-election ceasefire commitment and would not derail the process.

He told Reuters, “Neither do we support the process of the election nor do we have any opposition to it and if any attack takes place before or on election day, our mujahid won’t be involved in it.”

Omar also stated that his group has no links to or knowledge behind the kidnapping of Pakistan Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

A report from al-Jazeera (apparently by Ahmad Zaidan), channeled through GEO TV and some Pakistani dailies, claims that local Taliban seized Azizuddin with the intent to exchange him for Mansoor Dadullah, an Afghan Taliban figure arrested by Pakistani security forces on the same day.

Since Mehsud has limited control over other Taliban factions, it is conceivable that Taliban local to the Khyber Agency (one of the seven tribal areas) are responsible. The area, however, is also proliferate with general bandits.

Aside from the major question of who kidnapped Azizuddin, it remains unclear why the Pakistani ambassador traveled to Kabul from Peshawar, his home city, by car when flights are regular. One report claims he was to stop by the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad. Was his specific business could be related to his disappearance? Interestingly, while the Pakistani government has not yet confirmed that Azizuddin was kidnapped, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai seems to insist that he was, which begets the question of what does he know.

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New Report on Afghanistan Calls for Some Big Changes

The Afghanistan Study Group of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, one of the sponsors of the Iraq Study Group, issued a report yesterday recommending several changes in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

Who’s Behind the Report
The report was produced by a 22-member team led by retired General James Jones and Ambassador Thomas Pickering. Pakistan specialists involved in the study group include Heritage Foundation Fellow Lisa Curtis, former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderfurth, former Ambassador Dennis Kux (author of an excellent study on U.S.-Pakistan relations), and former State Department analyst Marvin Weinbaum. Input was also received from senior Afghan, American, and Pakistani diplomats. The study group was funded by Malik Hassan, a wealthy Pakistani-American entrepreneur and Republican donor.

Major Points
The Jones-Pickering report features a large number of recommendations, including:

  • de-linking Afghanistan and Iraq policies and funding;
  • appointing a U.S. special envoy who would function as an Afghanistan czar;
  • increasing and accelerating infrastructural and industrial development aid;
  • improving regional cooperation for Afghan development and Pakistan-based security challenges;
  • and helping Hamid Karzai with national reconciliation.

Relevance to Pakistan

New player, new dynamics
The idea of creating a special envoy who would manage all aspects of the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan is, as the report acknowledges, somewhat controversial. The new appointee would supplant the present ambassador as well other U.S. civilian and military officials. Above all, it would introduce a new player into relations between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The envoy’s responsibilities would inevitably bleed into Pakistan as well, and it is possible that the dynamics surrounding the appointment would result in greater U.S. weightage toward perceived Afghan interests vis-a-vis Pakistan.  In other words, Pakistan might be further pressed to act in a manner more consistent with the interests of Karzai and/or the U.S. than its own.
Ending the not-so-great game?
In more general terms, the report lists “reducing antagonisms between Pakistan and Afghanistan” as a “top priority” for the United States.   At the heart of this would be an exchange of definitive Pakistani deliverance vis-a-vis the flow of militants and other security issues for “encourage[ment]” of Afghan recognition of the Durand Line.

Achieving the latter would be difficult, considering Afghanistan’s historic obstinacy on the issue. Nonetheless, it remains an imperative.  Cementing the Pak-Afghan border, at least on paper, would provide a significant paradigmatic shift in Pak-Afghan relations.  It would help allay mutual suspicion of interference and intrigue, and need not inhibit the flow of people and goods along the border.

At this point, however, it is difficult to see Washington pressing Karzai to make any definitive moves in this regard.  The Pak-Afghan border issue has largely been ignored in the Western policy discourse.  And when it comes up, the difficulty of Karzai’s political position is often used to brush it aside.
And so an interesting alternative comes in a proposal offered in a recent addition of the American Interest by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann.  He writes:

“we must find an acceptable way to express a middle ground between the Pakistani demand for Afghan legal acknowledgement of the frontier and the inability of weak Afghan governments to compel its people to accept division. This formula makes the border essentially permanent by officially recognizing what is, after all, the real situation, but it stops short of asking for a final and formal Afghan concession to Pakistan. Acceptance of this or similar language would be a compromise by both sides.”

The essential principle would be that:

“Both sides must agree that the current frontier is not to be modified without the consent of both governments and their peoples.”

In other words, there would be a de-facto recognition of the Durand Line by both Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Neumann’s proposal has a strong short-term value, but anything short of a final status accord beyond that time period would make this band-aid measure wear off.  The Pak-Afghan border issue would remain the elephant in the room and make easy a quick reversion to mutual intrigue.  As a result, Karzai will eventually have to exercise political courage on the Pak-Afghan border issue, and Washington should help him get there.

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Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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