Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Excellent Article on Afghanistan...

... in The Nation, of all places!

It taught me stuff I didn't know, for example. I knew a fair amount about the mainline Taliban, and about Hekmatyar who was the favored boy of the Pakistani ISI during the 1980s war against the Soviet occupation, but I didn't know about this gent:
Erstwhile CIA hand Jalaluddin Haqqani heads yet a third insurgent network, this one based in the eastern border regions. During the anti-Soviet war, the United States gave Haqqani, now considered by many to be Washington's most redoubtable foe, millions of dollars, antiaircraft missiles and even tanks. Washington was so enamored of him that former Congressman Charlie Wilson once called him "goodness personified."

Haqqani was an early advocate of the "Afghan Arabs," who in the 1980s flocked to Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union. He ran training camps for them and later developed close ties to Al Qaeda, which developed out of the Afghan Arab networks toward the end of the anti-Soviet war. After 9/11 the United States tried desperately to bring him over to its side, but Haqqani said he couldn't countenance a foreign presence on Afghan soil and once again took up arms, aided by his longtime benefactors in ISI. He is said to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan, a tactic unheard of here before 2001. Western intelligence officials pin the blame for most of the spectacular attacks in recent memory--a massive car bomb that ripped apart the Indian embassy in July, for example--on the Haqqani network, not the Taliban.

The Haqqanis command the lion's share of foreign fighters operating in the country and tend to be even more extreme than their Taliban counterparts. Unlike most of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, elements of the Haqqani network cooperate closely with Al Qaeda. Moreover, foreigners associated with the "Pakistani Taliban"--a completely separate organization that is at war with the Pakistani government--and various Pakistani guerrilla groups that were once active in Kashmir also filter across the border into Afghanistan, adding to a mix that has produced what one Western intelligence official calls a "rainbow coalition" that fights US troops. The foreign connection comes naturally, as the leadership of the three main wings of the insurgency is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, and all insurgent groups are flush with funds from wealthy Arab donors and benefit from ISI training.
It all comes back to this -- if we're going to win in Afghanistan, we're going to need to neutralize Pakistan. And that's not going to happen if we continue the same old strategy of playing nice with a Pakistani military and ISI that is as often working against our goals as they are with us.

So, if Obama is really serious about stablizing Pakistan, the shipping of arms and of foreign aid to Pakistan, which ends up strengthening the military and the corrupt politicians, respectively, is not a winning strategy, to put it mildly.

My thinking is that we need a different approach, one we've not tried to this point: a full-on free-trade accord with Pakistan, wherein we reduce all our ridiculously high tariffs on their main export, which is textiles. This will have the benefit of strengthening the most free market elements of Pakistani society, instead of the feudal politicians like Zardari (Bhutto's widower), who is well-known as "Mr. Ten Percent" for the amount he skims off the top.

This would involve some pain on the part of textile laborers here in the United States, but it would be well worth it if the long-term result is a more stable Pakistan, with reduced influence for its fanatics.

Lastly, this might work well in confluence with a free trade accord with India and Afghanistan, so no one in that region feels left out.

We're not going to have a lot of money for big aid packages anyway in the current environment, so trying a different tack is well worth it!

No comments: