Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Pakistan Fights Back

Posted by K.E. White on April 29, 2009

From ForeignPolicy.com’s Morning Brief:

The Pakistani military is fighting to retake the Buner district, just a few dozen miles from Islamabad, from Taliban militants. Both air and ground forces were deployed in Tuesday’s assault. Military commanders now claim to have retaken control of the strategic down of Daggar and to have killed 50 Taliban in the fighting.

Pakistan’s redeployment of troops away from the border with India its troubled Northwest comes after heavy U.S. criticism that it was not doing enough to fight the Taliban on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and domestic outrage over the unchecked spread of the Taliban.

The Taliban’s advances into the Pakistani heartland will likely prompt a shift in emphasis in the U.S. Af-Pak strategy toward the “Pak.”

What’s left to add?

Dawn offers the best recap of military moves in Buner.

How did Buner fall to the Taliban? And what was the “sweet” logic of the Swat peace deal that set these events in motion?

And before writing off this crisis to a paroxysm of Pakistan’s internal, self-made (and perhaps terminal) flaws, let’s not forget other forces that brought this crisis to fruition.  

Finally, the Taliban are planning their own Afghanistan surge.

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Sunil Adam’s Abominable Foreign Policy Advice: “A collapsed Pakistani state is better than a toxic state precariously perched.”

Posted by K.E. White on April 22, 2009

Yes, you read that right. Yesterday’s Huffington Post features Sunil Adam’s review of Obama’s first hundred days. And while it touches on many topics, it’s real aim is U.S.-Pakistan relations–and pushing for a ‘hands off approach’.

It is not too late for him [President Obama] to change course — hands off Pakistan, follow a containment policy in Afghanistan and secure the homeland. Tacitly, this amounts to not propping up the Pakistani establishment through any form of aid — arms or developmental — and letting it sink or sail by its own volition. A collapsed Pakistani state is better than a toxic state precariously perched. Only the likelihood of collapse will galvanize the democratic and modernizing forces within Pakistani society and culminate in a popular revolution.

On the flip side, by taking itself out as a political, economic and military factor in the existence of Pakistan, America will probably help Pakistanis to have an objective national debate about the identity, direction and destiny of their country. Thanks to American influence on the one hand and the avowed threat of India on the other, Pakistan never really had a chance to introspect.

Meanwhile, the most effective policy President Obama could pursue would be to insulate the U.S. and its democratic allies from the likely fallouts of a collapsed Pakistan, including the possibility of Islamists laying their hands on nuclear weapons. In other words, his approach has to be the exact reverse of President Bush’s — making the homeland secure so that “they” can’t follow us home. 

Is such an inward turn really worth the risk? The first question to answer is just how critical is American support to maintaining the current Pakistani regime? Critical, but not vital. First, Pakistan’s “leaders have so far demonstrated a surprising ability to muddle through periodic crises.”* So, on a point that may lend credence to Adam, the world need not fear the imminent threat of nuclear detonation if American support dries up. 

But will this move force Pakistan to change?

Pakistan can find support from other nations, specifically China. (Read this CFR report reviewing their bilateral relationship, and this TIME article highlighting its recent tensions.) In return America loses an imperfect partner, and turns their interest inward–not towards fighting shared enemies, but getting through the day. Expect flare-ups along the Af-Pak  border and Kashmir as Pakistani military seeks 1) retaliation and 2) attempts to turn fundamentalist impulses away from Islamabad.

But there’s a deeper flaw in Adam’s portrayal of Pakistan as merely a client state that sucks resources and changes little. The main determinants of Pakistan’s policies are Pakistan, not outside players. Pakistani leaders–whatever their policy differences–desire nation-state integrity and pursue that policies that foster stability. Adam’s suggestion that Pakistan has only America for support greatly simplifies the Pakistan’s role in the world, and the challenges it faces.

And the idea that the Pakistani public or regime is not lacking ‘self-reflection’ is bewildering. A nation that threw out Musharraf by public protest and returned to liberal rule does not suggest a lack of ‘self-reflection’.

Yes the current government has challenges: the liberal parties are battling amongst themselves, and cannot wrestle power away from the military establishment. But this is not a two-step game of ‘failure’ and ‘success’. Rather its a series of steps–that in many combinations–bring one closer or further away from stability. Abandoning Pakistan does not guarantee reform: it guarantees antagonism and Pakistan aligning its security interests away from America’s security interests.

Imagine the Pakistani viewpoint. Pakistan throws out Musharraf, ushers in liberal rule and (however imperfectly) works with the United States in its Af-Pak mission and in return gets slapped. Something tells me that those predator drone operations will stop, and the Pakistani public will not stomach the site of American forces near their border.

The best strategy for America is to show itself a reliable partner that both puts down a long investment in Pakistan’s future (not just buy-off Pakistan for short-term interests in eradicating terrorists that threaten American interests) that then expects a return on its investment.

And in regards to dealing with Afghanistan, whether it’s Adam’s containment (ie apparently let the current regime crumble and have that country return to it’s fractured past) or active engagement, Pakistan is a critical part of success. Without cooperation from Pakistan, America has no way of either ‘fixing’ Afghanistan through our mini-surge or containing the fail-out of a failed state. 

What is guaranteed by Adam’s policy perscription is ever-expanding lawless areas, which not only destabilize neighboring countries, but pose a threat to America’s homeland and allies.

The key to Afghanistan is following through on an American commitment to bring security and development to that nation. And the key to Pakistan is not (a false) task of forcing it to choose ‘success’ or ‘failure’, but linking Pakistani and American priorities.

A collapsed Pakistani state might never recover, unleashing unpredictable fall-out; a ‘toxic state precariously perched’ can be engaged and strengthened over time–primarily from within.  But, let’s make one thing clear, Pakistan is not a toxic state: it is a challenged nation in need of reliable, long-term partners.

Update (7:10 pm): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton states Pakistan faces a “existential threat”; Dawn reports on the Taliban’s recent moves in Buner–the district neighboring the Swat Valley.

 

*Krepon, Michael. ‘Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb’

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Cracking The Iranian Nuclear Dilemma: Does Success Run Through Kabul?

Posted by K.E. White on March 31, 2009

Today’s meeting between a top Iranian and American foreign minister is big news. But perhaps bigger than the historical nature of this official contact, is its delivery method. Choosing Holbrooke makes clear that the Obama administration is serious about improving relations with Iran, but that success might just first flow through Kabul—not DC or Tehran. While by no means a risk-free strategy, Obama’s determination to engage Iran and others does not merely set the stage of diplomacy (which might very well fail). Neo-conservative critics would do well to realize Obama’s strategy also sets the stage for possible punitive action against Iran.

The Holbrooke-Adhundzadeh meeting in the Netherlands marks the first high-level contacts between Tehran and the Obama administration. The unplanned and brief meeting described as “cordial.” But Iran mixed signals: having this positive development shaded by criticism of the White House’s recently unveiled Afghanistan plan and refusing to send high-level Iranian officials to the Dutch meeting.

Today’s meeting reminds us of just how difficult the Iranian dilemma remains for the Obama administration.  On one side are voices demanding tougher action on the Iranian regime—whether through a military strike or greater economic sanctions. To these voices engaging in high-level negotiations with Iran before it suspends its nuclear enrichment program only will embolden negative Iranian behaviors. First and foremost, America must negotiate from a position of strength—i.e. be tough on Iran.

Such an issue becomes more pressing with the possible transfer of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. There purpose? To deter an Israeli strike. Will this force Israel’s hand? (Probably not, at least right now, given the messy state of Israel’s newly confirmed Netanyahu government)

On the other side are calls for a fleshed out diplomatic plan. Such a plan requires a developed set of increasing consequences for Iranian defiance and clear carrots; coordination (currently lacking) between Russia, China and the United States; and, finally, a comprehensive approach, linking the Iranian nuclear dilemma with global nonproliferation in general.

But first it’s useful to illustrate just how far US-Iranian relations have a way to go. Today’s LA Times editorial page offers this message from Ali Akbar Javanfekr, an aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

The policies of previous U.S. administrations led to a rise in hatred, anger and worries. In all corners of the world, it is worth noting, the only flags being set ablaze belong to the U.S. and the occupying Zionist regime. 

President Obama has proclaimed a policy of “change,” and the American people have embraced it. But to remedy its image in the world, the U.S. needs to truly change its past methods.

Change is mandatory for the U.S. administration. For as history demonstrates, either you change, or you are forced to change. 

But it seems that before picking between ‘dove’ or ‘hawk’ response, the Obama administration is buying time. And this is a smart move. Obama’s public message to Iran, presently cooler rhetoric and today’s brief diplomatic meeting all show an administration intent gathering a clearer picture of the Iranian dilemma.

Tightening the screws, a la Jim Bolton, now does not seem prudent. If the Obama administration can get time to chat with Russia and China over Iran and possibly change their stance on Iran’s nuclear program, suddenly the diplomatic calculus changes.

But laying the ground work for a coordinated diplomatic approach on Iran seems inexorably tied to Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan—and Pakistan. It’s no coincidence that Richard Holbrooke, Special Envoy to for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was the chosen emissary. Beyond the procedural rationale (deputy ministers meet with deputy ministers), three messages were being conveyed:

-Attention-Grabber: Holbrooke brokered the Dayton Peace accords. A respected deal-maker initiating a converstation with an Iranian minister conveys status and respect to Iran. It also makes America appear inviting to dialogue with Iran.

-That United States is serious: Holbrooke earned his reputation for getting things done; Adhundzadeh agreed to keep in touch, a key means or communication and deal-making was opened.

-Muscle-Flexing: Choosing Holbrooke, the point-man for diplomatic strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan also holds a muscular, symbolic resonance. It signals the overlap of two Obama administration goals: victory in Afghanistan and improved Iranian relations.

This third component is the most important. Victory in Afghanistan, tied with a continuing presence in Iraq, seems to be the lynch-pin in the Obama administration’s attempt to mold dialogue with Iran from a position of strength:

1)      It puts Iranian aspirations for hegemony on note

2)      Allows Obama to frame future discussions with Iran from an image of strength, at least relative to the image of America in 2005-2006. In this light he is not only a dove to Bush hawk, but a dove who fights and wins.

3)      It strengthens the faith of our allies in the region that the United States will not simply cut a deal with Iran and jump ship

4)      It signals our priorities to other key nations—Russia and China—about what is important: chiefly Iran’s nuclear program. When this is tied other discussions—for example, discussions over missile defense with Russia or modernizing our nuclear arnsenals—deals can be made

In short, it allows the Obama administration—in conjunctions with many other moving parts—to both whip up the international support it needs for any diplomatic break-through and pushing (not begging) Iran to the negotiating table.

Now neoconservative voices, such as John Bolton, may disagree with this ‘doveish’ approach. But what these voices fail to recognize is that these steps are also needed to make punitive action against Iran—whether through economic sanctions or military strikes—work.

Sanctions only work if they are enforced. Attempting to win Russian support, tied with greater efforts at screening supplies that go through Gulf States are key to 1) punishing Iran economically and 2) keeping dangerous materials out of Iran.

Furthermore any military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities are more likely to succeed with support—however mild from major powers. If a military strike is seen by countries as a unilateral power grab on the part of America, American stature and partnerships will be seriously damaged. But if over time the Obama administration can successfully turn the narrative to patiently dealing with a ‘bully’ state consequences of military action—while severe—will be minimized.

Success with Iran—whether through tough-talk & proxy competitions for influence (Iraq and Afghanistan) or military strikes (most likely through Israel, but seen as green-lit by the United States)—both require the moves the Obama administration is making.

Make no mistake: Obama is taking a big gamble. In putting his chips on Afghanistan, it has become his war—one with little support in the United States. And some suggest he’s doing this on the cheap. If Obama’s Afpak strategy does not work, pushing Iran back from the bomb—let alone our allies in the region—will become more difficult.

But some critics of diplomatic accommodation may point to the issue of time. Is there time to put all these moving parts in place before Iran builds the Bomb? I believe such an objection is a red herring.

A premptive military strike against Iran will not stop an Iranian nuclear weapon, but guarantee it. And done brusquely, such a strike will diminish America’s ability to a) stop nuclear proliferation worldwide and b) hurt America’s standing in the region irrevocably, let alone predictable flare-ups in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Keeping materials out of Iran is the key, along with a robust inspection force. Getting there requires cooperation (yes, from a position of strength), not preemptive military action.

To get there, the Obama administration must work with the time it has.

And the administration needs success in Afghanistan, ideally paired with stability in Paksitan.

Even if this ‘tough-diplomacy’ does not fail to deter Iran from virtually possessing or acquiring an operational atomic weapon, it places America in the best position possible to justify action against Iran.  The Obama administration is taking a breath and insuring America the widest possible range of action possible: something we should be thankful for.

Let’s just hope the Afghanistan gamble pays off.

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Trouble in Afghanistan: Wither NATO?

Posted by K.E. White on February 10, 2008

The Canadian-led NATO mission in Afghanistan has run into some considerable trouble.

Canada called for more troops from NATO partners, even threatening to pull out if their request went unanswered.

While Germany has softened its opposition to granting more troops, the United States has increased diplomatic pressure on NATO allies to solve the Afghan dilemma.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Defense Secretary Robert Gates openly pressed NATO members to send more troops to Afghanistan.

From the New York Times:

After weeks of calling on NATO governments to send more combat troops and trainers to Afghanistan, Mr. Gates made his case directly to people across the continent in a keynote address to an international security conference here. Mr. Gates summoned the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, to say that Europe is at risk of becoming victim to attacks of the same enormity.

“I am concerned that many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European security,” Mr. Gates said. “For the United States, Sept. 11 was a galvanizing event one that opened the American public’s eyes to dangers from distant lands.”

In a hall filled with government officials, lawmakers and policy analysts from around the world, Mr. Gates added: “So now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied leaders on the continent and speak directly to the people of Europe. The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real and it is not going to go away.”

While Iraq dominates headlines in America, Afghanistan remains a vital front in the war on terror. The Afghan-Pakistan border still stands as a critical hotbed of extremist activity.

But getting more troops from war-weary allies is no easy task. France has elevated political success over military success in Afghanistan; Australia refuses to send more troops; and Merkel faces stern opposition to any German troop increase.

From AFP:

According to an opinion poll due to be published in Monday’s edition of the magazine Focus, 84 percent of Germans oppose sending combat troops to the south.

And 63 percent believe the current deployment in northern Afghanistan does not serve German interests, according to the TNS Emnid poll.

Germany, whose troop level deployment in Afghanistan currently stands at about 3,200, earlier this week announced it would take over responsibility from Norway in July for a quick reaction force in the north of the country.

The Sunday Herald—a Scottish newspaper—illustrates just how high the stakes are for NATO in Afghanistan:

The problem is that Nato is not geared up to that kind of thinking, even though it is beginning to concentrate on training the Afghans to take over responsibility for their own security. The alliance was formed to defend the West against attack from the Soviet Union. During that time it never fired a shot in anger, and now it has been tasked to fight what many believe is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Afghanistan is still considered by the security community as the make-or-break mission for Nato, and the urgency of the situation cannot be overstated,” argues Kate Clouston, an associate of the Royal United Services Institute, in a paper on the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan for the independent think tank. “Substantial reform by Nato allies is needed now if the alliance is ever going to be ready to hand over control of the currently unsecured provinces to Afghan national forces.”

The British publication Telegraph has a detailed article on John McCain’s foreign policy, in particular his views on Afghanistan:

A future President McCain would be expected to win favour with European governments critical of the Bush administration’s approach to combating Islamic extremism, by closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in the first weeks of his presidency and declaring that the US will no longer tolerate torture.

British and American pressure on Germany appeared to bear fruit yesterday when it emerged the German government might send an extra 1,000 troops to Afghanistan. But Mr McCain will continue to work to broaden its restrictive rules of engagement.

The Afghanistan offensive will form a major plank of Mr McCain’s outreach to the world, as he battles to win over conservatives in his party.

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Tensions in NATO’s Afghanistan Mission: Canada Wants More Troops, US Paints Dire Picture, Germany on the Fence

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2008

Canada—who heads up NATO operations in Afghanistan—is becoming a bit antsy about its peacekeeping role. Earlier this month, a review of Canada’s military operations in Afghanistan—chaired by John Manley—demanded more NATO troops be sent or Canada should terminate its mission there.

Canada’s departure from the NATO mission could be a major blow to the alliance. From Canada.com:

“I think if NATO can’t come through with that help, then I think, frankly, NATO’s own reputation and future will be in jeopardy,” Harper told reporters after endorsing that recommendation from a panel headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley.

Canada, with roughly 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, has lost 78 soldiers and one diplomat. All three opposition parties are pressuring Harper’s Conservatives to end Canada’s combat mission by no later than February 2009, with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois demanding an immediate withdrawal.

 

 

The response from other NATO countries? Not fantastic. From Spiegel Online:

 

Meanwhile, Germany‘s Green Party warned on Wednesday that the deployment of combat troops to northern Afghanistan could lead to the spread of the German mission to the volatile south of the country. Party defense spokesman Winfried Nachtwei told the Leipziger Volkszeitung that the Quick Reaction Force should not “open the door for the Bundeswehr in the south,” and that the government should “guarantee that the limits of the mandate up to now are maintained.” Nachtwei insisted that the combat troops should only be allowed to support troops in the north and not be sent to fight the insurgency.

The German media on Wednesday looked at the implications of the NATO request, which could see Germany further embroiled in Afghanistan.

How coalition partners react to the deteriorating situation is critical to American security. The Afghan-Pakistan border is a terrorist hotbed: threatening not only Afghanistan’s security, but that of the volatile–and nuclear armed–regime in Pakistan.

 

President Bush pledged to send additional American troops to Afghanistan during his State of the Union address:

“In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country. Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for al-Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school, new roads and hospitals are being built, and people are looking to the future with new hope.

“These successes must continue, so we are adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan army and police. Defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America‘s vital mission in Afghanistan.”

A report released today paints a bleak picture in Afghanistan. From BBC.com:

The study by former UN ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Marine Corps General James Jones is due to be released later on Wednesday.

“The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat from resurgent violence, weakening international resolve, mounting regional challenges and a growing lack of confidence on the part of the Afghan people about the future direction of their country,” it says.

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Foreign Policy, international relations, Manley, NATO | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »