U.S. Adventures in Afghanistan and Pakistan: “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”

Edward Kenney Afghanistan Study Group

Sometimes what seems like good policy at first can turn out to be a bad idea with the benefit of hindsight.  The support for Mujahidin leaders such as Hekmatyar and Haqqani seemed like a great idea in the 1980s when they were fighting the Soviets.  Now that these figures make up key parts of the Afghan insurgency…not so much.

Or to take another example: the death of Osama bin Laden.  There is no question that this raid was worth it.  It eliminated the founder and leader of al Qaeda and potentially dealt a crippling blow to the international terrorist group, but few could have predicted the extent or speed to which U.S.-Pakistani relations have deteriorated in the wake of the operation. Mere days after the bin Laden raid, Pakistan had leaked the name of the CIA station chief and had arrested the Pakistani citizens who assisted the CIA in scouting the Abbottabad compound. Now even the doctor who helped collect bin Laden’s DNA samples has been arrested.

The U.S. had hoped that the embarrassment of bin Laden hiding out in the same vicinity as a major military academy would prod Pakistan into taking greater action against militant strongholds in the FATA region.  Well…it hasn’t quite turned out that way.  A week after a “joke” (Pulitzer worthy?) article published in the satirical Onion quoted ISI Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha telling insurgents the exact place and time for a joint U.S. operation, a Karen DeYoung report, (in the no-joke Washington Post), strongly suggested that Islamic militants had been tipped off about a IED factory raid by elements in the Pakistani military.

Meanwhile Pakistani army chief Ashfak Parvez Kayani has had to fend off an insurgency from within his own ranks due to his “cozy relationship with the United States.”  Kayani is easily the most pro-American soldier in the Pakistani high command and the only one with training in the United States.

So far the Pakistanis have resisted U.S. demands that it move into North Waziristan; but this doesn’t mean Pakistan is laying low.  In an ironic twist, Islamic militants are now using Eastern Afghanistan (particularly Kunar and Nangarhar) to stage attacks against Pakistan, and the Pakistani military has retaliated with over 700 rockets into Afghanistan.  The U.S. had no problem pushing Pakistan to go after militants in the FATA, but as soon as the army launched an attack into Afghan territory, the U.S. had to deal with the political repercussions.  Guess what?  Afghan civilians really don’t like the Pakistanis shooting at them, particularly when civilians are accidentally killed.   Is there a lesson here? Hint: The Pakistanis may have similar feelings about some of our missile strikes in Pakistan.

Now the U.S. is going to try a different approach; we are going to cut off $800 million in military aid to Pakistan [1].  The Pakistani response has been both quick and predictable.  A hefty chunk of these funds ($300 million or so) went to forces on the Af-Pak border conducting counterterrorism operations.  The Pakistani Defense Minister has now threatened to remove these critical troops.  Beyond these foreseeable consequences, the future of Pakistani-U.S. relations remains very much uncertain and their implications for vital U.S. national interests remain in doubt.

Unforeseen consequences are also playing a role in the other big news item of the day: the death of Ahmad Wali Karzai (AWK), the controversial provincial council chief and half brother to President Hamid Karzai.  AWK was called the “most powerful in Kandahar” and likely candidate to replace Tooryalai Wesa the current governor. Ahmad Wali was also considered one of the largest drug runners in Afghanistan and allegedly helped stuff the ballot boxes in the tumultuous 2009 presidential elections.  Indeed, he epitomized everything that’s wrong with Afghan governance-corruption, criminality and political exclusion.  Will things improve now that he has been eliminated?   As controversial a figure as AWK was, he was also strong enough to at least attempt to rule the province.  It’s not as if representative democracy will magically appear in Kandahar with his passing.  More likely a smaller weaker AWK type will replace him, and the violence will continue.  However, the true consequences of Ahmad Wali Karzai’s death will not be known for some time to come.

[1] The final straw apparently was Pakistan’s decision to expel 100 trainers and other military personnel last week.

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