Archive for November, 2008

Why Mumbai?

Posted in Afghanistan, Global War on Terror, International Terrorism, Middle East Conflict, War on Terror with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Now that the terrorist attack on Mumbai (Bombay), India, has officially been declared over, questions will now be raised about why it occurred where it did, and what the episode means for the continuing campaign against international terrorism. Particularly to answer the latter question, the place to start is, Why Mumbai?

Although officials from the terrorism community either do not know for certain or are not sharing what they do know publicly, it appears that the terrorist group responsible for this large, well coordinated, even “sophisticated” act of barbarism probably came from Pakistan. The leading candidates seem to be Kashmir-based, an indication that the somewhat dormant competition for the control of Jammu and Kashmir has not disappeared. The New York Times lists a number of candidate organizations of Muslims opposed to the continuing status of Kashmir as an Indian state as the possible perpetrators; all the candidate organizations are essentially unknown in the West, and even in the terrorism community. What they suggest is that the status of Kashmir is still on the table, and if that is the motivation, the spectacular nature of the attacks is slightly reminiscent of the airline hijackings of the early 1970s that made the world aware of the plight of the Palestinians. In those instances, the targets prominently included Europeans and Americans, who were apparently the targets in the major hotels in Mumbai that were attacked.

If Kashmir (or even possibly the Federally Administered Tribal Areas–FATA) were the source of the attacks, what does that tell us. One thing is that Indian-Pakistani relations, which have warmed in recent years, are a target–militants see Pakistan’s sidling up to India as selling out their militant causes. Targeting westerners suggests that the militants view Americans and Brits in particular as underlying causes of their misery. Attacking Mumbai, one of the leading beacons of India’s entrance into the world economy, suggests some symbolism in terms of rejecting westernization and secularization–recurrent themes in religious terrorism–as well.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that Al Qaeda has not been centrally implicated in the violence. It has been suggested that some of the terrorists may have been trained in Afghanistan by Al Qaeda in the 1990s, but the distinctive fingerprints of an Al Qaeda operation seem to be missing. Moreover, the fact that the terrorists chose to attack Americans in Mumbai rather than closer to home suggests that while they may be sophisticated at their deadly craft, they have limited reach beyond their apparent Pakistani sanctuaries.

If there is truly bad news associated with the attack, it may be what it says about Pakistan. Pakistan, rather than Afghanistan, may now be the terrorist capital of the world, and there is little indication the Pakistani government has any capability to deal with the problem and that any attempt to pressure them into an effective response might only display their fragility and make a bad situation of governmental instability worse. Does one need to be reminded that an unstable Pakistan with nuclear weapons is a very scary prospect? Moreover, it is not clear what anyone, particularly the United States, can do to change the situation. An Afghanistan-like response is simply not feasible–Pakistan is too big and too nuclear-armed to send in the cavalry.

Why Mumbai? may prove to be like the Churchillian analogy between Russia and the onion. The more layers that are peeled away, the more are revealed. The answer may lie across the border in Pakistan, and that is a very real problem for the United States and the rest of the world.

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Secretary Clinton and Israel-Palestine

Posted in Diplomacy, Foreign policy and 2008 election, Israel-Palestine Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict with tags , , , , on November 23, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Growing reports that Hillary Clinton will become President Obama’s Secretary of State naturally raise questions of how she will do the job and what perspectives she brings to it. Among the hottest areas of speculation are how Secretary Hillary Clinton would deal with the Israeli-Palestiniant peace process, which is sure to be one of the new administration’s priority items.

This is, of course, a very emotional issue that does not bring out the objective best in analysts. The apparent Arab view is that as junior senator from New York (and thus reliant on the Empire State’s Jewish vote), Senator Clinton has so bought into the pro-Israeli position that she cannot be an honest broker in the process. At the other extreme are fears that her espounsal of support for a Palestinian state means she may be willing to compromise vital Jewish survival interests. Who is right?

Part of the problem is the extreme emotionalism surrounding the analysis. Take the idea of being “pro-Israeli.” For the last eight years, pro-Israeli has effectively meant being pro-Likud, supporting that Israeli political party’s intractable position of not negotiating with the Palestinians while pursuing an aggressive settlement policy on the West Bank that, with nearly 400,000 Israelis now living in what is supposed to become Palestine, essentially precludes the practical possibility of a two-state solution (sovereign Israel and sovereign Palestine). Likud does not, of course, admit that it is opposed to a Palestinian state publicly, but that is the effect of its policies.

If there is no two-state solution, that leaves only a one-state solution that can have two manifestations. One is a perpetual Israeli occupation of Palestine and the progressive populating of that territory by Jews. Since no Muslims can or will accept that solution, it is tantamount to a perpetuation, probably exacerbation of the current situation. The other solution is an evolution toward a bi-communal state encompassing both the Palestinians and Israelis in a single state in current Israel and Palestine. The demographics of such a state would leave the Jewish population in the minority. Despite what it might be called, would this be Israel?

The reason for this diversion is to raise the question of what policy is effectively pro-Israeli. Is it the Likud solution, which protects Israel in the short run but could emperil it in the long run? Or is it a position that attempts to force the Israelis to pull back from the sttlements and return to the possibility of a two-state solution that would leave Israel basically with its pre-1967 borders but secure within those borders? It is possible to consider oneself pro-Israeli and supportive of either one.

Where does Hillary fit into this? The answer is ambiguous. She has been a staunch defender of Israel in the sense of suggesting a robust military action if Iran attacks Israel (no one ever quite explains why this is a likelihood) and condemning discussions with Hamas (the duly elected officials of part of Palestine) until they renounce terrorism and the intent to destroy Israel. Sounds very pro-Likud. At the same time, she has supported the creation of an independent Palestine (the two-state solution) since 1998. Not so pro-Likud.

Which she will end up being, of course, depends critically on what her boss the new president decides. His position is also not entirely clear. The exigencies of pursuing the Jewish vote in states like Florida lead to a pro-Likud stance (the position is more popular in the United States than it is in Israel), but Obama has also argued for a negotiated settlement. Since the two-state solution is the only basis on which the Palestinians and their supporters will negotiate, does that put Obama at odds with pro-Likud elements?

These matters are subtle and confusing, but they must be addressed when the current economic crisis passes and the new administration turns its attention to the foreign policy nightmare that the Bush administration has bequeathed it. Hopefully Obama and his foreign policy team will have worked through this problem before the time arrives.

Usama and Obama

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, Foreign policy and 2008 election, Global War on Terror, War on Terror with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Unlike the portable sign outside a Georgia church featured recently on CNN, this is not a column drawing invidious comparisons between the terrorist leader and the president-elect. Rather, the title is intended as a “grabber” to draw attention to the fact that dealing with Al Qaeda will be a major priority for and potential thorn in the side of the 44th president of the United States. Indeed, incoming President Obama has acknowledged the problem and embraced capturing or killing Usama bin Laden as one of the top priorities of his foreign policy. Were it that easy!

The embrace of pursuing bin Laden had at least two functions in the campaign, both serving to draw a contrast between the apparently feckless pursuit of the terrorist leader by the Bush administration. One point was to accentuate Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War, which, among other things, he depicted as a misguided diversion from the chase for Al Qaeda, captured in his phrase that the United States had taken its “eye off the ball” by attacking Iraq and diverting resources away from catching Al Qaeda. To complete that argument, the new administration says that it will reassign some of the military forces wirhdrawn from Iraq to pursue Al Qaeda. Second, this tough-sounding position was intended to deflect some of the predictable criticism any Democratic candidate receives as being “soft” on national security by arguing that Obama would be tougher, smarter, and more effective than Bush in the war on terror.

The problem with this position is that it makes a promise on which some will expect the new president to deliver, and that will be far easier said than done. At one level, that conclusion is obvious: if expunging Al Qaeda was easy, it would already have been accomplished. That it has not suggests the problem is formidable, possibly for reasons the Obama administration will discover are difficult to overcome.

Obama’s not surprising inclination is that we can succeed if we do more–get our eye back on the ball, as it were. Whether that approach will produce the hoped-for result depends on whether the problem was lack of adequate effort rather than the nature and direction of the effort. The initial tactic in the new emphasis is supposed to be the dedication of additional resources to Afghanistan. The applicability of this response to snuffing out Al Qaeda is at best indirect: presumably it will aid in the containment or defeat of the Taliban insurgency against the American-supported government of Hamid Karzai, and since the Taliban are providing the host conditions on which Al Qaeda exists, weakening the Taliban also makes the pursuit of Al Qaeda easier.

Or maybe not. Al Qaeda is, after all, located in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Assuming American and NATO forces are indeed capable of bringing about the victory of the Karzai government over the Taliban (a questionable assumption), how will that lead to capturing or killing bin Laden? Their defeat might drive the Pashtun Taliban back into the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan (where they went to regroup after their defeat in 2001), but will that turn the Taliban against Al Qaeda? If it did, the Pashtuns might be more willing to cast out bin Laden and his cohorts. On the other hand, American military action in Afghanistan may be viewed as simply anti-Pashtun, which is hardly what we want. Moreover, successful banishment of the Taliban could create two undesirable effects exacerbating the problem of capturing bin Laden. First, it could drive more Pashtuns into the arms of the Taliban (air raids on villages that kill innocent Pashtun civilians have this effect), thereby increasing rather than diminishing that threat. Second, the result could be to make the Taliban threat in Pakistan worse. Since the Pakistanis played a role in creating and sustaining the Taliban, this may be a fate they deserve, but it is not a problem with which the weak (but nuclear-armed) Pakistani government can grapple successfully. Increasing the military temp in Afghanistan, in other words, may make regional matters worse, without yielding bin Laden.

Instead of doing more, maybe we should be doing something different–and smarter. General David Petraeus has suggested a kind of divide-and-conquer strategy among the Pashtuns (discussed in an earlier posting). The idea is to split the non-Taliban Pashtuns from the pro-Taliban Pashtuns and to nurture their support. If successful, such a strategy would cut off the Taliban recruiting base and possibly force them to negotiate a peace with the Karzai government. The Afghan government, of course, would have to cooperate in this, particularly by increasing Pashtun presence in the armed forces and defense ministry. Wooing the Pashtuns would be easier if military pressure in the Pashtun regions was decreased crather than increased (the opposite of current proposals).

Courting the Pashtuns may also be the key to getting bin Laden in Pakistan. The key problem there has always been obtaining accurate, actionable intelligence about his location, and the problem has been local–which means Pashtun–unwillingness to turn on their guests. The successful courtship of the Pashtuns might change that. The Zawahiri rant of earlier this week suggests the weakness of Al Qaeda in a world where the Muslims do not harbor a universal hatred of the U.S. president. Driving a wedge between Al Qaeda and its Pashtun hosts could be just what is needed to expose the terrorists. It may be a smarter policy than simply “pumping up the volume” of military action.

What is suggested here is not more than a possible alternative to the present–and projected–course, It is not a magic bullet, but doing more of the same isn’t either.

Iraqi SOFA Update

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq, US Occupatio with tags , , , on November 16, 2008 by whatafteriraq

With the 2008 U.S. presidential election now decided in favor of the candidate who opposes the Iraq War, progress has finally been made toward a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) allowing American troops to remain in Iraq after the UN mandate under which they have been officially deployed expires at the end of the year. The new agreement represents a compromise on both sides and one that should be acceptable to the new Obama administration (which presumably has signed off on it). The new SOFA has been approved by the Iraqi cabinet (an historic roadblock) and has only to be approved by the Iraqi parliament to go into effect. While that approval is not a given, the only organized group that opposes it are those allegiant to Muktada al-Sadr, who will accept nothing less than an immediate, full US withdrawal.

The agreement is a compromise in which both sides have given something to get something. It has two major aspects. The first is the continuing tenure and status of US forces in the country. Under the agreement, that tenure is bounded: all American forces must leave by the end of 2011. While that seems a long way off (and a longer period than Obama has said he wants), it represents a compromise on the part of the Bush administration, which wanted either no set withdrawal date or one that was flexible based on conditions on the ground. It gave in. The conditions of tenure are also limited: American forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities and suburbs by June 30, 2009, effectively limiting them to rural garrisons and patrols of rural areas–presumably where Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia remnants may still exist. It means they will be away from urban areas where the people do not want them, where their presence is a negative politically, and where they might get into trouble because of what they might do. This is also a small victory for the Iraqis and is also intended to reduce Iraqi opposition to letting the Americans stay until 2011.

This latter consideration affects the second aspect, which is the status of those forces. The largest source of contention in negotiations to this point has been whether American forces would be subject to American or Iraqi legal jurisdiction when they were accused of breaking Iraqi laws. The two sides were very far apart on this issue: the Iraqis insisting that off duty Americans in particular should be subject to the Iraqi legal system; Americans argued that Americans should be under U.S. law at all times. The Iraqis gave on this point, leaving even off duty troops under American jurisdiction. Presumably, the fact that Americans will have been banished to the countryside after June 30 made this concession more palatable, since GIs will not physically be where they can get in trouble. 

Both sides can say they won in this. The Iraqis get a time certain American withdrawal date, if one further in the future than they would have preferred, and they get the Americans out of their hair in the urban, populated parts of the country, a political positive. The Americans, on the other hand, do not face the dilemma of what to do when January 1, 2009 arrives and their mandate has evaporated, and they maintain control over Americans in a legal sense.

Can the Obama administration live with this deal? The short answer is yes. The part of the agreement on which they have voiced an opinion is that of tenure: Obama has said repeatedly he expects to have all American troops out within 16 months of being sworn in. That would mean the last combat troops out around June 1, 2010, and there is nothing in the agreement to preclude that–the date is well in advance of when we have to leave, and nothing in it says we cannot leave sooner. His position does not preclude keeping non-combat Americans (contractors and those who provide security for them) in place until the end of 2011. Thus, the Bush administration hands the Obama team an agreement with which they can live and within which they can accelerate leaving if they decide.

The only sticking point is that pesky Iraqi parliament. Is a time-certain withdrawal date enough to gain their approval? We will see in the upcoming weeks.

Petraeus, The Reconcilables and Irreconcilables in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, Diplomacy with tags , , , , on November 13, 2008 by whatafteriraq

In a recent interview, General David Petraeus, the recently installed commander of Central Command (CENTCOM) and a centerpiece of John McCain’s national defense platform, granted an interview wherein he took a decidedly Obama-like view of improving the situation in Afghanistan. The heart of that advocacy was to suggest that a fruitful approach would be to try to separate what he called “irreconcilable” elements of the support base for the ongoing civil war from less committed, “reconcilable” portions of that support base. The target of these distinctions and strategy, of course, must be the Pashtuns, who form the basis both for the Afghan Taliban “insurgency” and the who occupy the territory in which Al Qaeda is located, principally in Pashtun regions of Pakistan.

Why has Petraeus made this apparent change of direction? There are at least three reasons which, in some combination, may have come into play. The first surrounds Petraeus himself. He is apparently a very smart person, with a strong, solid academic as well as military background. He did, for instance, earn an MA and PhD in international relations from Princeton, has served as an assistant professor of international relations at West Point, and has held various other positions within the Army’s educational system, including command at the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth and the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). None of this experience would have won him great support among the often anti-intellectual leadership of the “muddy boots” army (although his military branch is infantry). That he has risen to a four-star position given the amount of time he has spent in areas considered peripheral by the more conventional army speaks very well to what an impressive person he is. Moreover, he must be a superb military politician, or he would never have gotten multiple stars on his shoulders.   

Second, his approach suggests at least some sophistication in his understanding both of the situation in Afghanistan and the preferences of his incoming commander in chief. Somewhere along the way at Princeton or Ft. Leavenworth, he must have tripped across enough Afghan history to know the improvidence of trying to conquer and occupy Afghanistan, as argued in this space. Moreover, the politician in him must have told him that a change in strategy that incorporated taking to the opponent would probably be wise if he wants to stay in the good graces of his incoming commander in chief. Indeed, it is not impossible to imagine that the election was liberating for Petraeus, facilitating his ability to pursue a course that his experience suggested anyway, rather than being tied to the neo-neanderthal approach of the Bush administration.

Third, trying to identify and encompass the “reconcilables” is very much a “hearts amd minds” approach to the problem, which is at the heart of the counterinsurgency doctrine with which Petraeus is most closely identified. Petraeus has admitted that a strategy of simply killing the insurgents will not succeed, and that stripping the political support of the Taliban to a manageable minimum is the only way to prevail. All of thid, of course, is classic COIN doctrine.

Will this change of emphasis work? The observation that the insurgents’ population base (the Pashtuns) is not uniformly sympathetic to or supportive of the Taliban is undoubtedly true: not all Pashtuns are predisposed toward the Taliban. The heart of the Taliban appeal, however, is to a very conservative religious ideology, and that has some resonance, particularly among rural Pashtuns who are the problem on both sides of the Durand Line. In other words, is it possible to reach the reconcilables and bring them into the pro-government fold?

There are at least three major impediments to this effort. One is logistical and military. Classic COIN doctrine requires clearing and holding liberated areas to facilitate he hearts-and-minds political conversion process. That requires much larger forces than are or are ever likely to be available to Petraeus. This is an extension of the COIN problem in Iraq; one estimate I have seen suggests about 300,000 troops would be needed in Afghanistan to implement fully the COIN strategy. Current force levels hover around 100,000; any approach to 300,000 requires many more competent Aghan National Army (ANA) forces than are or will become available anytime soon.

The second problem is political. It has two related aspects. One regards the current government. It is one of the world’s most corrupt, has little popular support, and indeed, its venality is one reason the Taliban is doing so well. David Petraeus can’t solve that. At the same time, one of the political characteristics essentially ALL Pashtuns share is that they dislike and are committed to expelling outsiders, particularly armed outsiders. It is not clear how one liberates and gains the confident support of people who view your presence as a unifying evil.

The third problem is the border question. A successful military action against the Taliban (as well as Al Qaeda) would simply drive them back into Pakistan. As Petraeus himself admits, coming to some accord with Pakistan for joint action is necessary for success. Given the instability of the Pakistan government, it is not clear how that problem can be overcome.

Petraeus’ latest revelations do not represent a clear blueprint for solving the Afghanistan morass. Talking to those Pashtuns who are not irreconcilably pro-Taliban may be a useful start, but there will still be a lot left to tackle. For the time being, what the General has done is to inject a bit more reality into US policy toward Afghanistan and to extent an olive branch toward President-elect Obama. Let’s hope it is a useful start, but don’t hold your breath it will lead to a quick resolution.

The Law of Unintended Consequences in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2008 by whatafteriraq

One of the first foreign policy problems the new Obama administration will have to confront is the war–or, more precisely, two wars–the country is waging in Afghanistan. To summarize previous comments in this space about the effort, it is a mess. The United States and its NATO allies are simultaneously attempting to confront and eliminate Al Qaeda (especially its leadership) and to support the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai by assisting in the government’s efforts to thwart the Taliban attempt to overthrow it. Neither is going well, and in neither case is it even vaguely likely that continuing the present course, even if tweaked with more forces, will result in an acceptable outcome for the United States.

The problems are multiple, but at heart the reason failure is assured is that the two goals the U.S. and its allies are pursuing are contradictory at the operational level, and actions taken to accomplish one goal have the unintended consequence of making the other worse. Presently, the United States is concentrating its efforts on supporting the Karzai government. That is not working and is making it less likely that the U.S. will get the kind of local assistance it needs to run down and smite Al Qaeda.

The heart of the dilemma is the position of the Pashtuns, about whom I have commented in previous postings. To reiterate, the Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (about 40 percent of the population) and the largest minority group in Pakistan. Historic Pashtun lands lie on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (the so-called Durand Line, which Pashtuns do not accept or honor). The Pashtuns form the heart of the Taliban movement seeking to overthrow the government in Kabul, which makes them our opponents. The Pakistani territory where Al Qaeda is imbedded is similarly Pashtun territory. Since one of the major problems the United States faces in getting at Al Qaeda is finding them, the cooperation of the local tribesmen in Pakistan (meaning the Pashtuns) would certainly simplify that effort considerably. That, in turn, would seem to militate toward befriending the Pashtuns. Washington, we have a problem here!

This situation creates a conundrum for U.S. policy. If the major U.S. goal in Afghanistan is eradicating Al Qaeda, that suggests coopting the Pashtuns, a course that would require denouncing (or forcing the major reconstitution) of the Karzai government. The reason is that the Taliban (and thus their Pashtun supporters) reject Karzai (a former Pashtun war lord) as a turncoat who has formed a government that is disproportionately non-Pashtun, especially in the security area and army, which are heavily ethnic Tajik and Uzbek. The Pashtuns think of themselves as the Afghans, and thus many support the Taliban as the representatives of the Pashtuns, despite some of the Taliban’s strange policies and behavior. The Afghan civil war is really a Pashtun-anti-Pashtun affair, and the United States has chosen its side.

This means, of course, that the Pashtun must consider the United States the enemy. If they need any further proof of the anti-Pashtun character of the United States, all they have to do is to point to where the United States stages its operations in Afghanistan from: leased bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This latter arrangement demonstrates particularly clearly the law of unintended consequences in operation. The United States did not negotiate bases in those two countries because we are anti-Pashtun, but because we needed a staging ground from which to support operations in Afghanistan. The other countries bordering Afghanistan are Turkmenistan, Iran, and Iran. The selection of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was expedient, not principled, and although there is little record on the subject, there is virtually no indication that anyone considered the possibility that choosing bases in these countries would actually make it harder to get Al Qaeda than it would have been otherwise. But it almost surely has.

The hope of American policymakers has been to reconcile the two wars: propping up a “democratic” government in Afghanistan will make that country impervious to Al Qaeda and make its capture and destruction easier (it will have less places to hide). Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, Pashtuns must think the United States is their enemy, following in a long line of foreign invaders to be repulsed. As long as an appreciable number of Pashtuns feel that way, they are going to oppose the United States in both its wars: the Taliban will continue to assault the Afdghan government, and the Pashtuns will continue to provide safe haven for Al Qaeda. That is certainly not what the United States intended as it crafted its policies, but it certainly has been the consequence. Figuring a way out of this conundrum is the major Afghanistan burden the Obama foreign policy team faces.

The Afghan National Army (ANA)

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, Current Events in Iraq, Iraq War with tags , , , , , , , on November 1, 2008 by whatafteriraq

The election and the assumption of the command of Central Command (CENTCOM) by General David Petraeus has renewed interest in a solution to the quagmire in Afghanistan. Petraeus’ solution, at least implicitly accepted by both presidential candidates, calls for an application of the cointerinsurgency (COIN) doctrine applies in Iraq to Afghanistan. Has COIN worked in Iraq? Will it work in Afghanistan? The answer to the first question is that the jury is still out; answering the second requires answering the first.

The heart of the approach in Afghanistan is directed at reducing the insurgency/civil war there while simultaneously byulding up the Afghan National Army (ANA) to manage the post-war situation. The same approach has been undertaken in Iraq. In Iraq, the insurgency has been downgraded by coopting former Sunni insurgents against the U.S. and Iraqi forces and turning them against Al Qaeda in Iraq. Fortunately, the Sunnis did not like Al Aqeda (which is made up almost exclusively of foreigners) and was willing to be coopted, which means bought off by the Americans who agreed to pay their salaires in return for a change of loyalty. The long-term calming effect depends on whether these Sunnis will be integrated into the regular Iraqi army. If they are, they will continue to be a source of support and stability; if not, they could go back into opposition. No one is sure which; we hope they will wait until we leave before going one way or the other.

In Afghanistan, there are dual tracks to the strategy. One seeks to identify and convert “moderate” Taliban into opposition to the Taliban insurgency. The idea is to apply classic COIN theory to the Taliban areas; convert, then provide protection to these people so that they can resist the Taliban and be integrated into the national structure. At the same time, the ANA is to be strengthened into a force that can provide long-term stability and stability to the country. Meanwhile, U.S. and other NATO forces are to be enlarged (Iraq “surge” style) to provide assistance in achieving both goals.

Will this work? As discussed in previous postings, the insurgency/civil war in Afghanistan is really a Pashtun-government civil war, where the government is basically composed on the same, non-Pashtun coalition that, with American help, overthrew the Taliban (and thus the Pashtuns) in 2001. Converting Taliban to support the government means finding and converting anti-Taliban Pashtuns) in the tribal regions. As the inability to get anyone to turn in bin Laden for seven years suggests, buuying them off may not work as well as it has with the Sunnis. Moreover, since the Pashtuns resist the incursions of all outsiders, it is not clear whether helpful NATO forces will be greeted as protecting lierators or as the next invaders. Those who have been perceived by the Pashtuns as invaders have historically not enjoyed great success–ask Rudyard Kipling.

The key here is the ANA. At the moment, it is basically a non-Pashtun institution, and indeed, some of the Pashtun disenchantment with the current government and its Pashtun leader Hamid Karzai comes from the Pashtun belief that the ANA is too heavily Tajik and other non-Pashtun tribal in composition. For the ANA to be a truly national army, it will require Pashtuns roughly in proportion to their incidence in the population, almost half. If the ANA does not have this composition–which it apparently does not (no one is very anxious to provide statistics on this)–it is going to be perceived as an anti-Pashtun force, in which case the Taliban are not going to lack for Pashtun support.

One response to this dilemma may be–so what? Although opposition to the Taliban has been a central datum of U.S. policy in the region since 2001, why do we really care who rules Afghanistan? The answer, of course, is that the effort to capture bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda means getting cooperation from those among whom Al Qaeda is imbedded. And that means the support of the Pashtuns. That, in turn, means turning the Pashtuns into a less disruptive force (from our viewpoint). Representation in the ANA is not the only pillar of gaining a foothold with the Pashtuns, but it is certainly a part.

So, does the United States care about the composition of the ANA? Only if we want to have any chance of catching bin Laden.