Archive for the ‘Haqqani Network’ Category

Making Peace With the Taliban

January 25, 2010

Western officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai hope that a peace agreement can be reached with the Taliban as a way of ending the insurgency in his country.  The topic will almost certainly be discussed at an upcoming conference in London where world leaders will confer about the future of Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of foreign military forces from the war-ravaged nation.

Gen. David Patraeus, the head of Central Command, told reporters that “The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taliban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility” when it comes to counterinsurgency efforts.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, said “I think any Afghans can play a role if they focus on the future and not the past” after he was asked if Taliban leaders should be allowed to serve in government posts.

But the prospects of a broad peace deal with the insurgents are slim for two main reasons.  One is that the insurgency is comprised of muliple factions with different aims and interests, including Mullah Omar’s Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG).  Mullah Omar and his comrades want to return to power in Kabul where they once governed before they were overthrown by the Northern Alliance with critical assistance from the US, whereas the Haqqani network is more like a criminal organization and HIG is a tool of warlord Gulbuddin Hekatyar.  All three factions have ties with Al Qaeda or have expressed support for the terrorist movement.  The situation is further complicated by the fact that various tribal leaders and other powerbrokers are connected with the insurgency out of loyalty, self-interest or fear, and it would be difficult for the central government to win their allegiance.

A second key reason that the outlook for a peace agreement is bleak is that the insurgents, many of whom are radical ideologues and hardcore nationalists, do not appear to be at all interested in laying down their arms.

Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said “We cannot say how soon we will achieve victory.  Our mission is sacred.  Victory and defeat are in the hands of God.  But Afghans will defeat this regime as they did that of the Russian-backed regime.”

Mr. Hekmatyar also claims that the US will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan as the Soviet Union, which withdrew in defeat after 10 years of fighting guerillas.

Even if some sort of tentative peace pact or ceasefire were reached, it would likely be fleeting and merely give the Taliban and other anti-government forces the opportunity to regroup and rearm before returning to battle.  Offers of reconciliation may ultimately succeed in luring some low level fighters away from the insurgency, but militant leaders and most of their followers will probably reject such overtures for ideological, political and financial reasons.  Therefore, Western policymakers and Afghan officials should not be too optimistic that extending olive branches will bring an end to the war anytime soon.

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Pakistan’s Dilemma

December 8, 2009

Last month, James Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, reportedly warned Pakistani officials that the US would escalate attacks against militants in Pakistan if the Pakistani government does not do more to combat them.  The escalation would entail expanding drone strikes into Baluchistan, which is outside the tribal areas where the bombing campaign has been confined to, and launching more cross-border raids by special operations forces.  Leaders of Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network are based in the tribal regions of Waziristan, and Taliban leaders are believed to be in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province.

The threat of an intensified American campaign poses a dilemma for the Pakistani government.  On one hand, it does not want to sustain high casualties in an offensive against militants who would likely retaliate by bombing civilians and government facilities, nor does it want to alienate Taliban leaders in case they come back into power in Afghanistan.  On the other hand, refusing to act and inviting more American attacks in Pakistan would be problematic because the incursions would likely be perceived as violations of national sovereignty by army leaders and the Pakistani public, a perception which could arouse intense opposition to the weak civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and threaten his hold on power.

The US also faces a dilemma with regard to Pakistan.  America wants to attack Afghan insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists based there, but it also fears instability in a country that has nuclear weapons and many Islamic extremists.  If the Taliban and other militant groups continue to have a safe haven in Pakistan it will be extremely difficult for the US to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan, where the US has been fighting since 2001.  But destabilizing Pakistan would be a strategic disaster that might be worse than allowing the Taliban to take over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The prospect that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and anger some Pakistanis enough to join anti-American militant groups also complicates the US decision calculus, although the Obama administration appears to have decided that the benefits of the Predator campaign outweigh the risks.

The Two Talibans

October 23, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent piece by Scott Shane which analyzes the complexities of the insurgencies underway in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) region (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/world/asia/23taliban.html?hpw).  Mr. Shane does a nice job of highlighting the differences between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban, which have similar ideologies but different strategic goals.  I highly recommend the article to anyone interested in learning more about the Af-Pak situation.

Ironically, the Pakistani Taliban might pose more danger to the Afghan Taliban than any other political force.  The Afghan Taliban currently have a sanctuary in the tribal regions of Pakistan which they use as a base to launch attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.  But the Pakistani Taliban, which share the same territorial haven, have been attacking government installations in Pakistan, and the Pakistani army recently responded by launching an offensive into militant-controlled areas.  The perception that the Pakistani Taliban is a grave threat to Pakistan’s national security is the only thing that could motivate the Pakistani military to occupy the tribal regions and take away the safe haven that the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups now possess. 

On another ironic note, the Pakistani Taliban might prove to be a great help to the US if they provoke the Pakistani establishment to make a sustained effort to eliminate the militant stronghold where the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda reside.  The only way that the American-led coalition can achieve its strategic objective in Afghanistan is for the Pakistani security forces to prevent the Afghan Taliban from using Pakistan’s tribal areas as an insurgent base, and the Pakistani Taliban might compel the Pakistani government to adopt such a policy.

What is the US Strategy in Afghanistan?

October 7, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama met with Congressional leaders of both parties to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.  The president is considering a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, for 40,000 more US troops to battle the Taliban and other militants.

Republicans generally favor sending more troops immediately.

Sen. John McCain, a fervert advocate for a larger American military presence, told the president “Time is not on our side.  This should not be a leisurely process.”  He later said “Half measures is what I worry about,” and argued that they “lead to failure over time and an erosion of American public support.”

But many leading Democrats are wary of deploying more soldiers and Marines.

Sen. Carl Levin, who has proposed accelerating training for Afghan security forces rather than sending more Americans to fight, said “There were a number of people who spoke out with a lot of caution about getting in deeper and what the end point is.”

Sen. John Kerry said “It would be irresponsible” to send more troops before ascertaining “what is possible in Afghanistan.”

There are basically three options for the Obama administration when it comes to force size in Afghanistan: reduce the US military presence; maintain current troop levels; or deploy more soldiers and Marines.

The prudent choice depends on what strategy the administration wants to pursue.  Some have suggested that the US focus almost exclusively on counterterrorism missions and rely mainly on special operations forces, including drone aircraft, to eliminate Al Qaeda members in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.  Such a strategy would require fewer American troops.

President Obama has already ruled out that potentiality.

A senior administration official said “There is no option that would entail a dramatic reduction in troops.”

Gen. McChrystal is largely focused on counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and he wants more forces to protect Afghan civilians and decrease the size of the territory that militants control.  A long-term nationbuilding strategy would also require a larger military presence to provide security for governmental and non-governmental personnel.

A middle-ground strategy would be to continue, or increase, special operations against Al Qaeda and simply use regular forces to prevent the Taliban from completely retaking large swathes of Afghanistan.  It would constitute a more balanced mix of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts.  Current troop levels might be sufficient to accomplish that mission in the near-to-medium-term.

The latter two strategies would ultimately require training large numbers of Afghan forces to take responsibility for securing the country.  It is doubtful that such a task could be accomplished in the foresseable future as Sen. Levin hopes because most Afghan recruits are illiterate, which makes it impossible to use training manuals.  In addition, the Afghan National Police is an organization plagued by corruption which will be difficult to curb.

President Obama is expected to make a decision about Gen. McChrystal’s proposal as early as this weekend.  Before he does so, the administration needs to more clearly define the American strategy in Afghanistan because strategy will determine how many troops are needed.

Pakistani Army Preparing for Major Offensive Against Militants

October 2, 2009

According to the New York Times, senior military officials in Pakistan have said that the Pakistani army is preparing to launch a major offensive operation against Taliban and other militants in South Waziristan, which has been under Taliban control for years.  Previous campaigns to dislodge the Taliban from the area have failed after the Pakistani army suffered high levels of casualties.

In the past, American officials have complained that the Pakistani government has not done enough to take on Taliban and Al Qaeda elements that use Pakistan as a base from which to launch attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan.  Some members of the security forces in Pakistan maintain ties with Taliban leaders for ideological and strategic reasons. 

Pakistani military leaders have traditionally focused on rival India and considered the Taliban to be a lesser threat deserving less attention.  Leaders in the weak civilian government have been wary of antagonizing military leaders by ordering them to make the Taliban their main priority and sustain operations that lead to a high death toll for army personnel.  But the killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the result of an airstrike by an American drone, and the subsequent disunity within the Taliban have made Pakistani commanders more confident that a new offensive will be successful and their forces will suffer fewer casualties.

If the Pakistani army manages to eliminate a large number of militants in Pakistan, it might change the calculus of the Obama administration, which is debating whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqini network.  South Waziristan has been described as the “epicenter” of miliant forces in Pakistan, and its capture by the Pakistani army would be a major victory for the Pakistani government and the US, and it would tighten the noose around the insurgency.  However, there are still militant bases in the North-west Frontier Province and insurgents may relocate there if they lose the fight in South Waziristan, so the defeat of the Taliban in South Waziristan would not completely eliminate the threat posed by militants.