"US will hand over Afghanistan to Pakistan" - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 11 March 2009

"US will hand over Afghanistan to Pakistan"

(Photo: courtesy The New York Times)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Mar 09

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama suggested to The New York Times that hope in Afghanistan lay in reaching out to the “moderate Taliban”. For India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), this is their worst nightmare coming true. After handing the “moderate Taliban” a share of the power in Kabul, say Indian officials, America will pull out troops, allowing the Pakistani army to run Afghanistan on its behalf.

True, the US’ immediate plans are to boost its presence in Afghanistan by another 17,000 soldiers. But that is being seen as a temporary, Iraq-style surge, aimed at putting in place a suitable government before pulling out the forces.

Top Indian policymakers tell Business Standard that the Obama administration’s goal is clear: rather than trying to win the war in Afghanistan, simply aim at bottling terrorism inside the Pakistan-Afghanistan area, and monitor the borders electronically to prevent any “leakage” of jehadis.

An American “virtual cage” is already in place to keep the jehadis inside. Senior Indian officials point out that Pakistan’s immigration network has been entirely computerised with US help. When travellers’ passports are swiped at immigration, the information goes in real time to US intelligence agencies. The Container Security Initiative allows US Customs to monitor every cargo container that passes through a Pakistani port. It is no accident that, since 9/11, not a single terror attack has reached American soil.

What worries Indian policymakers is that none of this protects India. The MEA has discovered, in its engagement with Pakistan over the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, that nobody is really in control in that country. Explains a senior official, “Pakistan’s government was ready to sign or say anything that we wanted them to. But having signed, they are completely unable to deliver.”

Even if Islamabad wants to deliver, South Block officials say, the frightening reality is that it can’t. The government cannot rely on its police and investigative agencies; the army has discovered over the preceding year that it does not have the capability to control the tribal areas. And now, the recent attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore heralds a new menace: it is the first time the Lashkar-e-Toiba has struck within Pakistan.

The Lashkar is easily Pakistan’s most formidable radical group. Musharraf cracked down on the Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2002 and 2003, leading to several foiled attempts on his life. But he dared not confront the Lashkar, with its far better organised military, political, civil and financial structure. After 26/11, General Kayani moved against the Lashkar. But he has quickly discovered that even the Pakistani army is unable to put the Lashkar down.

MEA officials say, “The Pakistan army has been badly bloodied in the tribal areas; it is in no state to take on the Lashkar. Today, like a typical military hierarchy in the face of defeat, it has turned inward looking. The Pakistan army does not want to be a part of a big anti-terror push.”

To deal with multiple agencies in Pakistan, which are no longer acting in unison, South Block is coming around to the belief that India needs multiple foreign policies. “We need a different Pakistan policy for the government; a different Pakistan policy for the army; different policies for the political parties, for business, for civil society.”

The unpredictability within Pakistan is multiplied, say Indian officials, by the fragmentation within Pakistan’s radical fringe. During the anti-Soviet jehad in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan dealt with just one jehadi leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In 2005, when negotiating a ceasefire in Waziristan, Pakistan had 17 tribal Shoora (council) chiefs sitting at the table. Now there are dozens of shooras, often with competing demands.

While physically moving out of this snake pit of ‘jehadism’, the US will continue to exercise influence by controlling the Pakistan army, as it has for decades, through the flow of arms and grants. In this, the US has little option; the Pakistan army controls a nuclear arsenal.


  1. Sounds like India ought to install a curtain of Synthetic Aperture Radars along the border and LOC as soon as possible. Our tanks and missiles shall be of little use against infiltrators on foot.

    Private defence contractors in India - hope you're listening. Handheld SAR prototypes are a reality in the US.

  2. It sounds like as though Pak wants to fight terror..26/11 and all the army-navy connections should teach us a lesson. Pak is like a cobra.It just cannot be domesticated. We gotta find a 'final solution' to deal with paki..starting with lifting of no-first-use policy regarding nuclear weapons w.r.t pakistan.
    We gotta destabilize pak and let them sort themselves out shia-vs-sunni..whatever..Islamic countries don't need much reason to fight with each other..we can give a good push in that regard..

  3. Why doesnt the US use a tactical nuke against these talibanis in the swat region! all of them will be wiped out once and for all....isnt it realisticlly possible?

  4. My worst imagination is becoming true. Afghanistan under pak occupation! This helps US and NATO a long way!

  5. pakistan can't even help themselves how can they will control afghanistan

    its will b mullah raj there

  6. The way things are moving, there will be no Pakistan to "hand over" Afghanistan to!

  7. Thanx Ajaiji for penning my worst fears. US has always done this with every country it invaded in the name of protecting the world. It ruins the country completely & when it becomes too hot to handle it escapes. Vietnam, Iraq & now Afghanistan - US has ruined all of them. Iraq was a better country than it now is. It was secular & there was nothing called as Terrorism - leave alone Al-Qaida & Taliban. But now suicide attacks have become more frequent than the daily ajaans.
    If Afganistan is handed to Pakistan the situation is going to worsen. How will the Pak army, which is not even capable to defend its own territory, run & protect Afghanistan. Engaging its Army in Afghanistan also means diluting its eastern border with arch-rival India - a mistake Pakistan will never make. That leaves the world with only one possibility - Taliban again ruling Afghanistan.
    I think a better option would be, and India should work towards it, to install a UN peace keeping mission in Afghanistan with India a major contributor. That will ensure our interests are safe there & taliban & pakistan wont be able to inflict much damage.
    India has a good reputation in Afghanistan & using that as an advantage we should work with the Afghanis to institute democratic institutions in that country & make it a better & stronger place so that no US/Taliban/Pakistan can ever destabilise it again.
    Pakistan itself is in tatters. Only US could have trusted such a country to run the show in Afghanistan. After all both of them are the inventors of Taliban & Al-Qaida.
    Poor pakistan is made to bear the brunt alone.

  8. Hey Ajaiji, m being out of context here but a question many wud've wanted to ask - where is NIA (National Investigative/ion Agency).
    Nothing being heard about it these days.

  9. The whole of pakistan and afghanistan will be under pak army and ISI sponsored Taliban rule with in 2-3 years! we can survive only if we can elect a stable and determined govt..

  10. Is anyone planning to buy real estate in afganisthan.....you can make a quick buck as soon as the yankees leave..so hurry up.

  11. Prima facie, it looks like a bum deal for India. Merging Afghanistan and Pakistan for the purpose of controlling/limiting terrorism and letting Afghanistan's affairs be handled by the 'good' Taliban which itself is under the influence of Pak Army, may seem as bad news to India. However there are ways to exploit this and make the best of a bad deal. Pak Army will be preoccupied with Afghanistan in a very major way, much more so than they are now. Perhaps their involvement will be at par with the levels during Soviet occupation. This is bad news for Pak Army. The extremely fractured nature of Taliban and other militarised tribal stake holders in Afghanistan and bordering areas in Pakistan will soon result in eruption of bloody disputes with Pak Army caught in the middle. There is no Soviet Union now to unite these tribal leaders. Many tribals are not inimical to the Taliban(erstwhile Northern Alliance). This will add to the problem. I have not yet factored in the Iranian aspect. We are looking at a situation similar to that existed after the Soviets left Afghanistan.India has influence with many erstwhile Northern Alliance factions which are very powerful and are presently ruling Afghanistan.Many of these factions have friends in neighbouring CAS republics. This is an opportunity for India to expand its beat in the Central Asian Republics. Establish military bases. medical, humanitarian aid etc with the ultimate aim of achieving oil/energy security and encircle Pakistan with a view to limit its influence in the CAS region. India has to do this smartly and in conjunction with Russia. It wont do to step no their toes as the Russians are important stake holders here. Yes Pak Army would have got its strategic depth in Afghanistan, but at what cost? History tells us that these tribes cannot be domesticated. The British failed, the Soviets failed, the Americans are near the point of accepting failure. No NATO member is happy about committing troops to Afghanistan. If the Pak Army wants Afghanistan let them try, I dont see the results being any different.

  12. adding afghanistan to the mix won't tie up PA in any way, even now it is the paramil who are deployed in NWFP and elsewhere, PA appears only when there are TV cameras around.
    this was the first thing kayani did as chief, replace PA with Frontier Corps.

    all that will happen is PA will add the taliban once again to its ORBAT.

    but then, knowing pakistan they will mess it up somehow, without any external assistance.

  13. ajai u promised us a look into lch hope u remember it

  14. Well it seems the ISI and PA have managed to pull wool over everyone's eye again. They used US $$ to arm themselves, they still control the vital jihadi assets which they can use against India and they have everyone by their balls using their nuclear ace. PA is neither defeated nor has it become any less of a force it was earlier. The attack on the Sri Lankan team seems like a well rehearsed stage managed ISI job. India can ignore the ISI and PA factor only at it's own risk. If ever there was a chance to create a second front against Pakistan, it is now. Hordes of well armed Pahstuns can knock the winds out Paki army sail. But a dharmic rajya like India can't do it. We can waddle like a goose and die in our own country.

  15. @Pratik Das

    It is time we wake up and do something proactive rather than try turning India into a fortress. There is no technology in the world that can protect each and every inch of India's vast borders. Nor can we place an NSG commando at every street and shop. We have to weed out the root cause and not just treat the symptoms.

  16. absolutely AR.

    if you want to defend your land do it at the enemy's cities, not yours.

  17. So, Mr.Obama is really following the learnings from Vietnam and recent Iraq engagements.

    Now there is a shift in the US age old policy from "Keep the WAR away from the US main land and to achieve this, involve in fight or in the foreign land war ASAP" to this new policy/doctrine "Leave the warring people at their place..do not involve directly in the war and make sure those people do not reach American shore or hurt US interests".

    That means this is OUT SOURCING of “War against Taliban/Qaida, to Pak ARMY and pay them for their effort and resources”. Again Pak Army will be more than happy to receive increased grants and new fighter planes and other war gadgets to keep them prepared against Traditional Enemy INDIA, where as it still will be cheaper for US, than it’s direct engagements in Afganistan and any way US can not RECOVER the war cost from Afghanistan LIKE THEY ARE DOING IN IRAQ..so what’s the gain ? even US gets an absolute win in Afganistan..only achieving the rooting out of COMMINSTS?
    Any way USSR doesn’t exists …then what is the real gain after spending so much in the WAR in Afganistan ? So the objective of the Afgan engagement has changed now i.e. Safeguard the US interests from future Taliban/Al Qaida attacks….so let’s use technology to Virtual Iron Cage them and let the PAK ARMY and RANGERS be physical components/resources for the same and pay to Pak Army for their services.

    This policy /strategy will also serve another interest of US ..that is keeping the Pak Army little away from fully getting influenced by China and developing a dependency on Chinese..instead it will bring Pentagon closer and Pak will become more dependant on US… a very valuable SWITCH …which can be used(ON/OFF) to control PAK Army or in larger sense entire PAKISTAN itself.

    This is only to encapsulate Taliban/Al Qaida in Afganistan..but what about guys belongs to the same Taliban/Al Qaida but operates from Africa (remember USS Cole incident) or Arabian countries ,even we have seen the network operating from Germany and Spain like countries in Europe too?


  18. US made a mess of both Iraq and Afghanistan and now they just want to get out. However, what are the options available to India once US moves out of Afghanistan? To assume that Pakistan will fight the Taliban is noting more than wish dream. Since the real Jihadi switch lies in the hand of Pakistan, we will soon see Taliban and it's cronies sweeping over Afghanistan in no time. Even if it is not so dramatic ISI will ensure that it has the control of the power centers in Kabul. This will eventually happen and then Indian assets will become sitting ducks in Afghanistan. No amount of roads, hospitals or other philanthropy work will save our as* in Afghanistan. It is the Boots in the ground and guns in their hand that will win the war and not some Gandhian non-violence idealism.

  19. They should give Pakistan to Laloo and Afghanistan to Mayawati.

  20. @AR

    You seem to be quite confident that India can do a better job than the allied forces including US, UK and the elite SAS forces from Australia and perhaps even New Zealand.

    That is great and I hope what you want proves to be true.

    In the meanwhile I'd still want an array of sensors for a more secure border. These sensors can cover far more ground than your boots can.

  21. pratik das, the quagmire in afghn or iraq is not the best place to deploy special forces personnel for a long term basis and nor have the ANZUS committed such a folly.

    it seems you are confused about
    the roles of SAS and similar forces.

    FYI, India has much more experience and success in tackling counter-insurgency than those countries(case in point punjab, kashmir, north-east etc etc)
    truth be told, the allies have made a hash of it in the first few years of their deployment.

    we don't know if India can be more successful than these with our limited resources, but even if resources are provided to them exceeding current normal levels in J&K and elsewhere(it would still be much lesser than what a western nation would require), I'm confident that we would be much more successful.

    India, which is culturally much more closer to afghanistan would certainly be better poised to accomplish that.

  22. @fighterclass

    We were culturally very close to the Sri Lankans too. A whole lot of good that did to the Indian Army, remember?

  23. India of late 80's and that 30 years later aren't the same.

    COIN is a ongoing process and we have come a long way since. we HAVE learnt a lot from our mistakes.
    if you have read about sri lanka you might also have known have about serious shortcomings in army and intelligence equipment and procedures that led to many serious problems, shortcomings that we have since taken care of and guard against.

    in any case, we did much better than any western force could have.

  24. @ Pratik Das
    IPKF suffered in Sri Lanka coz the guerilla tactics LTTE employed were given to 'em by the Indian Army themselves. They were trained by the IA only.
    Even other things have changed a lot since then.
    I agree with fighterclass that it is maybe only the Indian Army tht can take the terrorists better than neone else. It is coz of that US forces are undergoing training at CIJWS, Mizoram.
    CIJWS - Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (a training school of the Indian Army)

  25. Russia lost in Afghanistan because they had the US plotting against them.

    Pakistan's ISI hasn't exactly helping the allied cause. Why would the ISI allow anyone to come and dismantle their self-sustaining militant farm?

    We need to be sure that while the Indian Army is trying to reform Afghanistan, Pakistani and Chinese influences aren't working to the contrary. Afghanistan would be a great place to bleed India without actually attacking India.

    We cannot politically or financially sustain a war of attrition. We cannot achieve victory without the participation or political influence of the US and Russia, if only to keep China at bay.

    Even if the Indian Army is initially supported by major powers and achieves some significant victories in the region, success has many fathers and all these fathers would rush in for Afghanistani oil reserves at a time when the military end game probably isn't over - because they wouldn't want to join the party too late either.

    There needs to be a very strong level of explicit or implicit understanding between India, US, Russia and the Afghanistan government as to what India's mission objectives would be. The point to which the mission must be sustained to make an irreversible change of state in Afghanistan should also be clear.

    Finally, the Indian border to the region is porous to some extent - and protected largely by the hostility of the mountainous environment. The last thing India would want is to see the militants slipping through our border like they do across the Pak-Afghan border. So I consider heightened supervision of our own border as the first priority.

  26. pratik das, russia didn't lose in afghanistan irrespective of what the western media tells you.
    US and Saudi support raised the cost surely and the russians weren't prepared to pay the inflated price, they didn't care enough for afghanistan when there were serious problems back home.

    at most you can say that the russians failed to win.

    that said, I agree with the rest of your post, as a nation we are not ready to absorb the enormous costs of a afghan quagmire, but that shouldn't mean we should stay aloof of afghanistan, or even pakistan for that matter !
    hope you get the drift ! ;)

    my argument was ONLY about the capability of Indian admino-military system to handle an insurgency type situation, it shouldn't be extrapolated from that.

  27. the last line should read :
    "it shouldn't be extrapolated beyond that."

  28. @Pratik Das
    "In the meanwhile I'd still want an array of sensors for a more secure border. These sensors can cover far more ground than your boots can."

    If you really think that all your hi-tech gizmos can save our ass then you are mistaken. US has the most advanced arsenal in the world but still can't win the war in Afghanistan. You see those stealth fighters and AESA radars become useless in the unmarked, uncharted mountains of Kashmirs and Hindukush.

    I am not sure what sort of Radar will protect us against terrorists. Maybe you are referring to the plane or ship launched attacks, but how it will tackle the foot soldiers of Taliban. And I do not want India to get involved in Afghan civil war, all that I want to see is that India create a new front for Paki army to fight. Fighting with the Taliban hordes is not PA's cup of tea and they will surely not be able to handle the attrition. With probably the cost of a few MKIs we can arm enough Pashtuns to take on anyone, especially the PA. Taliban has already captures large swaths of FATA and NWFP on their own, imagine what the hordes will do with better weapons.

  29. Fighting with the Taliban hordes is not PA's cup of tea and they will surely not be able to handle the attrition.

    what attrition ?????

    taleban and PA are one and the same.

  30. Isreal suffering from the hands of US on the issue of cost overrun of F-35...
    “It’s unbelievable, first it was $40 million to $50 million, and then they told us $70 million to $80 million. Now, we’re looking at nearly three times that amount, and who’s to say it won’t continue to climb?”

    isn't it a time for IAF and indian govt to relook at their investment plan into russian PAK-FA .......

    once we committed into the joint venture ...we will be bound to buy the aircrafts .....at a price which still not known........Brazil has already took himself out of the project (rightly so)....
    and we all know what is the status of Eurofighter.....the four countries who were in that project got stuck now to buy that aircraft at $120mn/copy....

    and we also know what is the status of Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.....

  31. and ??

    by your loic we should simply stop all military projects !

  32. Regarding letting Pakistan run Afganistan, isn't that what the US government did before, and look what happened - the Taliban government trained and installed by Pakistan which enabled the 7/11 attacks on the US.

  33. http://internationalinsights.blogspot.com/2009_03_19_archive.html

    The Taliban would rip you starving calcutta skeletons a new a whole.

  34. """And now, the recent attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore heralds a new menace: it is the first time the Lashkar-e-Toiba has struck within Pakistan.????

    What a stupid story.
    what about Indian hand in unrest of Pakistan and running terror campus in Afghanistan? Who is providing money and arms to terrorists in Pakistan?
    What about Indian army 3000 personals in Afghanistan on the name of construction company?

  35. A new report on the plight of lower caste women in rural India reveals a depressing portrait of rape, sexual abuse and harassment, and suggests that it is virtually impossible for victims even to file a complaint at a police station, let alone achieve justice.
    An "extremely high" number of sexual assaults takes place on women from desperately poor Dalit or tribal communities - often by landlords, upper caste villagers and police officers, the study, published yesterday, found. But fewer than 5% of cases make it to court, activists estimate.

    When the perpetrators are upper caste or come from influential local families, policemen invariably refuse to take a statement from victims - and have even been known to assault the women. They also routinely demand bribes, intimidate witnesses, cover up evidence and beat up the women's husbands.
    more at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/may/09/lukeharding.

  36. dear usman,
    when the whole world is shouting over the top abt al qaeda,taliban,lashkar etc nexus and everybody knows including u that they started the jaehadi war wit their middle east mindset..........
    then its ridiculous for u guys to blame 3000 army personnels from indai to forment terror in pakistan...
    What I see 5 years from now that the south asia wud enter into a sporadic war theatre with paksitan continuing its covert operation in india thereby forcing indians to launch their own covert operations against pakistan...
    now the nuclear brinkmanship wont take pakistan far........
    it can backfire as well


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