Pashtunistan and the Politics of the Anti-India

Call it the central front of the global "war on terror", the fulcrum of the "arc of crisis", Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, "AfPak", no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama's new team.

"The situation there grows more perilous every day," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: "It's tougher than Iraq."

Forget Barack Obama, suddenly it is Richard Holbrooke who might be the most important person in the world for on his shoulders rests the onus of finding a solution to the problem that is Afghanistan, Pakistan and in particular a subset of each called Pashtunistan. It is, I hope, self-evident to the US foreign policy establishment that in Afghanistan and Pakistan we have a failed state and a failing state. Part of the problem is that both states are artificial states. Afghanistan was the rump that neither the British nor Russians could fully dominate. Pakistan was created as a home for Muslims in the British Raj, it was the anti-India.

In 1893,  Sir Mortimer Durand negotiated with Abdur Rahman Khan - the Amir of Kabul, the frontier between British India and Afghanistan. This frontier is known as the Durand Line, named after him and the line remains the international boundary between Afghanistan and modern-day Pakistan but it runs through the heartland of Pashtunistan, the homeland of the Pashtuns.

The Durand Line exists on maps and in the minds of Western policy makers. But in the harsh terrain that is the Hindu Kush range, it does not exist. Neither the British in their day nor the Pakistanis or the Afghans have ever been in control of this frontier. It is, however, controlled by the Pashtuns and has been for centuries.

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"What's the Endgame?"

In public, the President was nothing but a hawk, after all there was an image to uphold and a Cold War to wage. But in the Spring of 1964, LBJ had serious doubts over American involvement in Vietnam. President Johnson would tell his NSA McGeorge Bundy on May 27, 1964 that Vietnam was "the biggest damn mess I ever saw" and would lament "I don't think it's worth fighting for, and I don't think we can get out." A few days later he would confide to his close friend Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, "the more that I stayed awake last night thinking of this . . . it just worries the hell out of me," adding that "it's damned easy to get in war. But it's going to be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you do get in." At the time, the American commitment to Saigon was limited to few thousand US military advisers to help train the South Vietnamese to fight the North in addition to a small amount of equipment.

By August of that year, however, the die was cast and Johnson would prove his dictum correct. The country plunged easily into a war that would see over half a million US military personnel serve, 58,000 of them never to come home. In toto, there would be 350,000 US casualties plus an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Vietnamese deaths. The war once limited to Vietnam would spill over into Cambodia and Laos with lethal and fateful consequences. In financial terms, the war would cost an approximate $584 billion. It's not clear if President Johnson ever answered his own doubts and that nagging question of what's the endgame.

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Biden's Munich Declaration Heralds A New Era of Cooperation

While the attention this past fortnight has been largely focused on domestic issues and in particular on the fiscal stimulus, Vice President Biden outlined US foreign policy goals under an Obama Administration signaling a determination "to set a new tone" noting that Washington intends to "work in a partnership" and "seek ideas and input" from all US allies. Speaking before a number of European leaders including German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy at 45th annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, the Vice President touched on foreign policy issues ranging from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Russia and Iran as well as emphatically declaring that the US will not torture and will uphold the rights of those brought to justice. And for good measure, Biden repeated the Administration's intention close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Importantly, the Vice President declared that the United States does not believe, that the Obama administration does not believe, in a clash of civilizations. It is the clearest rejection of neo-conservative Huntingtonesque view of the world yet.

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The Haqqani Network

It is of grave concern that President Obama is choosing to continue the aerial war in Afghanistan which the Bush Administration in August 2008 extended into Pakistan's tribal areas. From the Washington Post:

At least 20 people were killed in northwest Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan on Friday in two suspected U.S. missile strikes, marking the first such attack in Pakistan's tribal areas since President Obama's inauguration.

A U.S. Predator drone fired three missiles at a compound about two miles from the town of Mirali in the tribal area of North Waziristan about 5:15 p.m., according to a Pakistani security official and local residents. The precision strike leveled a compound, which was owned by local tribal elder Khalil Malik, killing at least 10 suspected militants, including five foreign nationals, according to the Pakistani security official. The site of the attack is about 30 miles east of the Afghan border.

At least 132 people have been killed in 38 suspected US predator drone missile strikes inside Pakistan since August 2008 as the Bush Administration decided to pursue more aggressively Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents inside Pakistan's tribal areas. The use of the specially equipped drones represented a fundamental shift in US strategy. After years of deferring to Pakistani authorities and waiting for them to act, the Bush Administration turned toward unilateral American military operations in the hopes that the increased pressure on Islamic militants would yield quick results but the strategy risks alienating both the populace and government of a country that has been a key if sometimes reluctant counter-terrorism ally. The government of Pakistan, beyond its own incompetence, finds itself caught between Washington's demands for action and the unpopularity of the US aerial campaign. With this attack, it is clear that when it comes to Pakistan nothing has really changed despite a new Administration. An aerial drone war on Pakistan, no matter how well targeted and pinpointed, is bound to fail because the number of civilians killed is disproportionately high. In these attacks, it appears three children were killed. And that will lead to protests on streets of Pakistan and a further hardening of resentment against the US and the West.

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Secretary Rice's "Foundation for History's Judgment"

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an end-of-term interview this morning to Rita Braver of CBS Sunday Morning. There's a lot to chew on given the far-reaching nature of the interview that covered the image of the US abroad, the war in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Sino-American relationship, North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, AIDS relief in Africa, the rise of authoritarianism in Russia and more. But early in the interview is a very telling exchange:

QUESTION: Looking at the big picture of what's the whole foreign policy of this Administration - you come out of the academic tradition so I think it's fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I don't know. It depends on the subject. I'm sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. But what I think this Administration has done is, in the most complicated circumstances after September 11th, to put the country on a course where we have built a different foundation for a different kind of Middle East, where Saddam Hussein is out of power, where that will bring -- where there's an Iraq that is multi-ethnic and multi-confessional democracy and a friend of the United States, rather than an Iraq that is invading its neighbors and using weapons of mass destruction and seeking weapons of mass destruction. We've left a lot of good foundations.

QUESTION: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, "The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere." The most recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows that only 26 percent of Americans approve of the President's foreign policy. It has to be more than just a perception problem.

SECRETARY RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you're talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded. And -

QUESTION: This report says the only place the U.S. is really - you know, people are happy about the U.S. is in some of the southern African countries, but --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, that's no small fact either, that in Africa, the policies of AIDS relief and so forth have been so regarded. But you know, this isn't a popularity contest. I'm sorry, it isn't. What the Administration is responsible to do is to make good choices about Americans' interests and values in the long run, not for today's headlines, but for history's judgment.

And I am quite certain that when the final chapters are written and it's clear that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is gone in favor of an Iraq that is favorable to the future of the Middle East, when the history is written of a U.S.-China relationship that is better than it's ever been, an India relationship that is deeper and better than it's ever been, a relationship with Brazil and other countries of the left of Latin America better than it's ever been, a relationship that has given an umbrella to anti-terrorist activities so that this country is not yet safe, but clearly much, much safer. When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this Administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines.

QUESTION: So you think that people are just short-sighted and they - that the pain that maybe we're going through now because of what's still going on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, is causing people to say, look, you know, we just don't think this Administration has done a very good job. I mean --

SECRETARY RICE: Rita, it's not a popularity contest. It is to lay a foundation for where this will all come out. Do you really think that in 1947 or 1948 or 1949, anybody thought we were going to win the Cold War, flat out, that Germany would unify on Western terms, that the Soviet Union would collapse, that Eastern Europe would be fully integrated, and that this President would welcome nine countries into NATO that are former captive nations? I know that your business is to report today's headlines, and I respect that, but my business is to lay a foundation for history's judgment.

Well she was always a popular professor winning the Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and she was an easy-grader at Stanford. Not sure if these two are correlated, but to be fair Professor Rice was a remarkable and engaging professor. It would be hard to describe her tenure as Secretary of State in such terms.

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