A recent New York Times editorial lamented that
“Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has a clear military strategy. We are less certain about the administration’s political strategy.”It should be pretty obvious to anyone that if these two strategies are not in sync, failure is no longer an option, but becomes almost certain. We were experiencing a similar situation in Iraq until late 2006, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was fired and the current Defense Secretary Robert Gates took charge. Secretary Gates quickly aligned the Bush Administration’s political strategy namely, to defeat the insurgency and stabilize Iraq, with its military strategy, which was to surge forces with a clear, hold and build objective – and, thus ensured success. Today, the U.S. is on target to withdraw most of its combat troops from Iraq by late summer.
More curiously, the Times editorial appeared to have analyzed the Karzai problem strictly within the confines of Afghanistan, ignoring its larger geopolitical context. Pakistan’s influence on the outcome in Afghanistan is as much, if not more relevant than, what Iran’s influence would have been to the outcome in Iraq without the surge. President Karzai’s weakness is, in part, due to the Pakistani military’s ongoing covert relationship with the Afghan Taliban.
The Obama administration’s political strategy in Afghanistan is thus compounded by the “what do we do about Pakistan” factor? Gen. McChrystal will not be able to effectively clear, hold and build in Afghanistan until President Obama delivers an enforceable ultimatum to the Pakistan military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. President Obama should warn the ISI in no uncertain terms to cease and desist from further meddling in Afghanistan – a good start would be to give the Pakistan military a deadline to begin its much-delayed operations in North Waziristan to flush out all of the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Only then, can President Obama seriously expect to achieve his own goal of starting to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by mid-2011.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, wrote recently in the Washington Post about the selfsame Pakistan factor. Mr. Rashid’s analysis of the dilemma facing the United States boiled down to “Karzai vs. the ISI.” Even he acknowledged that Pakistan is trying to influence the outcome in Afghanistan to its advantage. The ISI is again hedging dangerously with respect to the Taliban – turning against them at home to satisfy the U.S., but coddling them in Afghanistan to counter the Indians.
The bottom line is just as the “Sunni Awakening” preceded the Iraqi surge, the U.S. needs to feverishly work with Karzai on a “Taliban Awakening” in Afghanistan to guarantee the success of the surge there. The United States cannot let the ISI dictate the terms of its Afghan policy; else it is bound to fail. Pakistan must focus its energies internally to rid itself of a compounding “Jihadi” menace; else it will continue to degenerate into chaos akin to a Somalia of the subcontinent – a situation that would not be beneficial to the world at large. Pakistan must accept the role of the Predator drone in today’s war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership as it did the role of the Stinger missile launcher in yesteryear’s war against the Soviets – as a necessary instrument to drive out foreign fighters from Afghanistan. Only then can Afghanistan achieve a lasting peace with a stable government.