Obama's Got One Thing Right About the Mess In Afghanistan-- It's Inexorably Connected To The Mess In Pakistan
Pretty, yes, but worth fighting a war over?
In yesterday's NY Times Magazine chief Washington correspondent David Sanger paints a horrifying picture of Obama's Worst Pakistan Nightmare; it would be more accurate to emphasize that the nightmare starts next door in Afghanistan. Pakistan is light years ahead of Afghanistan by almost any reasonable measurement of modern civilization but what that has led to-- in Pakistan-- is an unstable and primitive society with nuclear weapons. Sanger describes Pakistan as a place "where the military, the intelligence services and an unstable collection of civilian leaders uneasily share power, ...[with] a security structure intended to protect Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal from outsiders-- Islamic militants, Qaeda scientists, Indian saboteurs and those American commando teams that Pakistanis imagine, with good reason, are waiting just over the horizon in Afghanistan, ready to seize their nuclear treasure if a national meltdown seems imminent."
Just last month in Washington, members of the federally appointed bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism made it clear that for sheer scariness, nothing could compete with what they had heard in a series of high-level intelligence briefings about the dangers of Pakistan’s nuclear technology going awry. “When you map W.M.D. and terrorism, all roads intersect in Pakistan,” Graham Allison, a Harvard professor and a leading nuclear expert on the commission, told me. “The nuclear security of the arsenal is now a lot better than it was. But the unknown variable here is the future of Pakistan itself, because it’s not hard to envision a situation in which the state’s authority falls apart and you’re not sure who’s in control of the weapons, the nuclear labs, the materials.”
...As Obama’s team of nuclear experts have discovered in their recent briefings, it is Pakistan’s laboratories-- one of which still bears A. Q. Khan’s name-- that still pose the greatest worries for American intelligence officials. It is relatively easy to teach Kidwai’s security personnel how to lock down warheads and store them separately from trigger devices and missiles-- training that the United States has conducted, largely in secret, at a cost of almost $100 million. It is a lot harder for the Americans to keep track of nuclear material being produced inside laboratories, where it is easier for the Pakistanis to underreport how much nuclear material has been produced, how much is in storage or how much might be “stuck in the pipes” during the laborious enrichment process. And it is nearly impossible to stop engineers from walking out the door with the knowledge of how to produce fuel, which Khan provided to Iran, and bomb designs.
Sanger tells the story of one of Pakistan's top nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a mentally unhinged religious fanatic one would as readily trust with nuclear weapons as Pat Robertson, Thomas Monson (the #46th most loathsome person in America) or Fred Phelps. "While [A.Q.] Khan appeared to be in the nuclear-proliferation business chiefly for the money, Mahmood made it clear to friends that his interest was religious: Pakistan’s bomb, he told associates, was 'the property of a whole Ummah,' referring to the worldwide Muslim community. He wanted to share it with those who might speed 'the end of days' and lead the way for Islam to rise as the dominant religious force in the world." Just before 9/11 he met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan to talk about al-Qaeda's quest for nuclear technology and weapons.
Sanger barely connects the mess in Afghanistan with the mess in Pakistan. Almost as an afterthought, he mentions that towards the end of the entirely clueless Bush Regime "suspicions grew that Inter-Services Intelligence [Pakistan's out-of-control CIA] was directly aiding the Taliban and other jihadist militants, seeing them as a useful counterweight to India’s influence in the region." He also ends his 6-page missive with a warning the Bush Regime passed on to Obama's transition team: "a lengthy review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, concluding that in the end, the United States has far more at stake in preventing Pakistan’s collapse than it does in stabilizing Afghanistan or Iraq. 'Only one of those countries has a hundred nuclear weapons,' a primary author of the report said to me. For Al Qaeda and the other Islamists, he went on to say, 'this is the home game.' He paused, before offering up the next thought: For anyone trying to keep a nuclear weapon from going off in the United States, it’s our home game, too."
In an unrelated Times story in the same edition, Richard Oppel and Pir Zubair Shah report that Afghan militants poured over the Pakistani border, guns blazing. Having spent the better part of a year in Afghanistan, I'm not 100% certain what distinguishes an "Afghan militant" from any other Afghans other than operational circumstances. In this instance hundreds of them "poured into northwestern Pakistan in an attack on a paramilitary base in the Mohmand district late Saturday and Sunday that left six Pakistani soldiers and at least 40 militants dead" while "at the same time, an equally bloody fight played out just sixty miles to the south: Gangs of Shiites and Sunnis rampaged through the villages of Hangu district, killing at least 40 members of rival sects," all in the name of an event dating back to 680 A.D. It was another violent weekend in a violent part of out very connected globalized little world.
The area is controlled by Taliban militants and other warlords, and there is little effective civil authority. When Pakistani troops start offensives, the militants typically pull back to other areas only to return later. The region provides sanctuary for guerrillas who routinely carry out attacks inside Afghanistan, an acute problem for American and NATO forces fighting the resurgent Taliban in that country.
But this time, the majority of the estimated 600 guerrillas who attacked the Mahmud Gatt base came from inside Afghanistan, according to officials with the Frontier Corps, Pakistan’s paramilitary force. It was thought to be the largest attack on Pakistani troops in months.
Seems remote? Even with all those nuclear weapons? How about the thousand Afghan "militants" who signed up on Thursday to go to Gaza and fight Israel?
Accusations by Taliban militants and some Muslim clerics that Israel and its main ally, the United States, aim to destroy Islam have a strong impact on public opinion in Afghanistan, where Washington plans to almost double its troop numbers this year.
Scores of young men crowded into the library of Kabul's Milad ul-Nabi mosque, lined with banners reading "Death to Israel" and "Death to America," to sign up to fight Israel.
"More than a thousand brave Afghans registered their names here to fight Israeli troops in Gaza," said Habibullah Assam, the imam of the mosque and organizer of the campaign.
Damn, I hope Obama doesn't ruin his whole presidency trying to prove how tough he is by waging an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. Yes, unwinnable.
After seven years of war, Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.
American intelligence reports underscore the seriousness of the threat. From August through October, the average number of daily attacks by insurgents exceeded those in Iraq, the first time the violence in Afghanistan had outpaced the fighting in Iraq since the start of the American occupation in May 2003. Almost half of the insurgents’ attacks were directed against American and other foreign forces, while the remainder were focused on Afghan security forces and civilians.
“Afghanistan may be the ‘good war,’ but it is also the harder war,” said David J. Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian Army who recently left his job as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s senior adviser on counterinsurgency issues.
The Afs are ruthless and they will do anything to win a fight-- anything and there is nothing that will hold them back-- beyond their capacity. America holds itself back-- even the far more ruthless Soviets restrained themselves. Obama needs to get us out of a fight we're going to go into with one hand tied behind our backs. It's not like Iraq and, even if you think the "surge" worked in Iraq, that experience barely relates to Afghanistan, Petraeus or no Petraeus.
UPDATE: GET AFGHANISTAN RIGHT WEEK
This week, we'll be participating in Get Afghanistan Right Week, in the hope of helping to remind Obama that he needs to get us out of Bush's wars, not dig us deeper into the hole. Escalation is not teh answer in Afghanistan. The link above will bring you to Afghanistan-related posts from across the blogoshere all week.
Debate about the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan intensified in recent weeks as the economic recession deepened and questions arose regarding several key aspects of the Afghanistan crisis:
• The New York Times' Thom Shanker and Christopher Drew revealed that an escalation in Afghanistan would be enormously expensive. "It is significantly more expensive to sustain each soldier in Afghanistan than in Iraq because of Afghanistan's landlocked location and primitive road network."
• The Times' Dexter Filkins reported that "the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. ...[T]he state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it." Rampant corruption in Afghanistan's political apparatus could doom the counterinsurgency strategy that provides the impetus for a surge. According to The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, when countering an insurgency, "legitimacy of the host nation government is a north star."
• Escalation proponents often cite the cause of Afghan women as a reason to put more troops in their country, but the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) recently denounced the Karzai regime and U.S. policy: "...[T]he country has been turned to a mafia state and self-immolation, rape and abduction of women and children has no parallel in the history of Afghanistan....RAWA strongly believes that there should be no expectation of either the U.S. or any other country to present us with democracy, peace and prosperity."
Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation wrote that "an escalation would drain resources that are vital to President-elect Obama's goals for an economic recovery, health care, and social justice at home, while impeding other critical international initiatives such as the Middle East Peace process and a regional diplomacy in South Asia. On national security grounds, a U.S. occupation would be counterproductive to the stated goal of defeating Al Qaeda. This week, I and others will blog on this issue to raise awareness about the need to oppose an escalation and to get Afghanistan right."
This morning Taylor Marsh has a great piece up at HuffPo, Progressive Bankruptcy of Afghanistan, Alex Thurston writes about The Surge in Afghanistan over at The Agonist, and Z.P. Heller's got a powerful one at Brave New Films, along with this video: