Is the US AfPak policy on course?

Published: December 21, 2010
The writer is national editor at The Express Tribune

The writer is national editor at The Express Tribune

The first year-end assessment of America’s hyphenated strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan is finally out, with President Barack Obama and his top aides cautiously claiming “gains” in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Nonetheless, he’s upbeat about the success of his strategy. The troop pullout will start as planned in July next year, albeit there’s no word about its scale. For this to happen, the Obama administration says, Pakistan will have to ‘do more’ to shut down Taliban sanctuaries on its side of the border. Ostensibly, he appreciated Pakistan’s counter-terror efforts but said his administration will continue to put pressure on Pakistani leadership to pursue the insurgents more aggressively. And to make this happen, Washington will use a combination of carrots and sticks. The message is unambiguous: If Pakistani troops are reluctant to move into North Waziristan to fight the Haqqani network blamed for fuelling the Afghan insurgency, the US will expand its drone operations to smoke out the insurgents.

A careful analysis of Obama’s speech shows that there were more references to Pakistan than Afghanistan, indicating that the problem lies in Pakistan. This is a skewed assessment, to say the least. It appears to have skirted the issue of rampant corruption in the deeply unpopular government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The fact of the matter is that the Karzai administration, which came to power as a result of a rigged election, does not represent the ethnic mix of the country. And even Afghan security forces, to which the coalition troops want to hand over security operations after 2014, have little representation of the majority Pashtuns. Moreover, increasing civilian casualties in coalition raids are also alienating the Afghans who are already disillusioned by the slow progress of the war.

Pakistan has 140,000 troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations and in plugging the porous Pakistan-Afghan border. Mind that the US has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. So is it realistic to ask for ‘more’ from an already overstretched Pakistan army? No, certainly not.

In fact, the US and Nato forces are bogged down in Afghanistan after fighting an unwinnable war for nine years. And instead of conceding failure, they are putting the blame on Pakistan. It’s advisable for the Obama administration to reassess his strategy and work for a political solution. As his own former pointman for the region, the late Richard Holbrooke, said: a “military victory in Afghanistan is not possible”. And I’m sure top American commanders are also convinced of the futility of this war. But any political solution should be all-inclusive and reflective of the country’s demography. Any hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan or handing over responsibility of security to the Afghan National Army, dominated by Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras or other minority ethnic groups, could spell disaster and plunge the country into another civil war.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2010.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • faraz
    Dec 22, 2010 - 1:18AM

    And pushtoons and non-pushtoons will start from where they left off in 2001, with their very own civil war. Recommend

  • Dec 22, 2010 - 11:41AM

    What is this great sympathy for the Pashtun cause in the military establishment and ex-military types such as Musharraf? Isnt Karzai a Pashtun? I believe Pakistani leaders should desist from projecting their own ethnic affiliations to the future Afghan nation. Musharraf will not be happy unless there is an overwhelming majority of Pashtuns in every field in Afghanistan. Dont the Hazaras, tajiks and Uzbeks count?

    This Pashtun mantra is going to provoke a civil war in Afghanistan – even now it is not too late for the agencies in Pakistan to reach out to every section in the Afghan society. I am reminded of Jinnah’s insistence that only the Muslim league should be considered as the representative of all muslims in India and he pretty much rubbished the congress attempts at pluralism and branded the muslims within the congress as puppets.

    Look beyond pashtuns sir – Afghanistan needs peace and Pakistan can ensure this by not interfering. Recommend

  • NA
    Dec 22, 2010 - 6:19PM

    @Prasad, dear how can you ignore more than 50 percent of population and still think of stabilising Afghanistan. I agree with you that peace has to be restored in the war-ravaged country, it’s in the interests of all regional countries and for peace in the world. But can you even think of peace if in India, Muslims, Jains, or Sikhs or any other minority group is imposed on the majority Hindus? Consider all separatist movements in India. Recommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 22, 2010 - 7:26PM


    A Sikh is the PM of India and a Catholic is the head of the party that rules it. What are you talking about!Recommend

  • Dec 23, 2010 - 1:08PM

    ANoop you forget to mention the Muslim Vice president of India.Recommend

  • Dr Ahmad Rashid Malik
    Dec 23, 2010 - 5:13PM

    There is no as such ‘US Afpak’ policy. The late Richard Holbrooke himself disclaimed it and decided to use Afghanistan and Pakistan separately. So it is not a good idea to start a debate when the policy is itself dead at least from its terminology point of view.Recommend

  • Matt
    Jan 15, 2011 - 3:09PM

    I will use tactical nuclear weapons and I told the Afghan’s to tell David, after I cut his logistics off earlier this year. Recommend

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