Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced plans to draw down U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. The 30,000 “surge” troops assigned to Afghanistan in December 2009 will be out by summer 2012, and more will be withdrawn as security is handed over to Afghanistan’s government in 2014.
If it were up to me, I’d do this: Collect together all the evidence we have of Pakistan giving aid to the Taliban and insurgent forces in Afghanistan, give a public presentation of that evidence, and at the end of it, say, “We will no longer provide Pakistan with the $2 billion or more we give them in aid every year, since they persist in either aiding our enemies or casting a blind eye on those who do.”
Of course, Pakistan won’t take this lying down, they’ll refuse to give us any more help in Afghanistan, meaning we’ll have to withdraw from it completely. But things were heading in that direction anyway. This way, the main focus for what’s going wrong in Afghanistan will be right where it should be: Not with the U.S., not with Afghanistan, but with Pakistan.
Pakistan — particularly Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its intelligence agency — has long been suspected of ties to the Haqqani network, an insurgent group that operates in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and which supports the Taliban. Pakistan uses the Haqqani network to influence what goes on in Afghanistan, in particular to have a partner there in case the U.S. leaves. It’s become a self-activating Plan B, sort of like keeping a mistress so you can have her as a fallback relationship in case your wife divorces you.
As often as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and others insist that Pakistan stop playing both sides, it keeps doing it. Whether it’s failing to find Osama Bin Laden when he’s an afternoon stroll away from Pakistan’s version of West Point or tipping off bomb-makers, Pakistan keeps coming up short. If they’ll only allow us on the boat so long as they get to drop anchor while we row, then we should get off the boat, because it’s not going anywhere and it’s a waste of rowing.
We had similar problems in Iraq, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki turned fairly decisively against the Shiite militias there, in a way that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan have never done when it comes to the Taliban. Iraq, post-“surge”, is now in far better shape than Afghanistan now that the U.S. is ending the “surge” there.
That’s not to say I like abandoning Afghanistan. The people there suffer in one of the last outposts of feudalism, and the Taliban are the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan. Both groups are chauvinists who believe that the world has to live according to their bigoted hierarchy — a racial one for the KKK; a religious, misogynist one for the Taliban — and they’re willing to kill in order to preserve it, even if it’s children. Whether it’s the Klan bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four girls, or the Taliban bombing schools or strapping a suicide vest onto an 8-year-old, these are the worst of the worst. I hate the idea of not crushing the Taliban just like I hate the idea of not crushing the KKK. But, logistically, we need Pakistan to get the Taliban, and Pakistan is toying with us, sleeping with its Haqqani mistress while we stay in the marriage for the sake of the kids (i.e., Afghanistan).
Yes, Afghanistan is where 9/11 came together, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. We’ll have to find a way of dealing with those problems without boots on the ground, which will be difficult. But ten years of double-dealing, dead soldiers and wasted aid isn’t obviously the easier path. As much as I pity Afghanistan, Pakistan must be identified as the pariah that they are. We wouldn’t ally with Iran, given their support of Hezbollah. Pakistan isn’t much different.
Again, I don’t like abandoning Afghanistan, but Pakistan has already done it, which makes it impossible for us to do otherwise. Let’s do it in a way that puts the spotlight on Pakistan where it belongs.