Thursday, March 26, 2009

Parag Khanna's reading of the situation in Afghanistan

I have much respect for what Parag Khanna writes but I wonder about some of the things he says in his recent article on what the US should do to get control of the situation in Afghanistan [Link to the Atlantic Community version by clicking on the title; a longer version appeared in Foreign Policy Feb09].

He says, and he would know, that "Despite American activity in the region, it's by no means clear if Washington is any closer to understanding the dynamics in South-Central Asia." Not a reassuring statement: so far, we await evidence that the Obama team will do better than the previous one. But his proposal that the solution is to "go regional" is certainly on target.

But the following seems off the mark: "If the additional 30,000 US troops being deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan succeed at pushing Taliban fighters into retreating into Pakistan, they could destabilize that country's already volatile Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).On the Pakistan side, newly armed tribal lashkars (militias) would be unable to cope with the Taliban influx." Khanna is overlooking how much the Taliban is a creation by Pakistan. He seems to suppose that the Taliban movement is still essentially an Afghan movement. Not so -- see the several article in Crews and Tarzi The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan. The more we know, the more we are sure that Pakistan was and still is behind the Taliban. And today's NYTimes says -- again -- that in fact a certain wing of the ISI is still provisioning and advising the Taliban. There is no threat that a huge influx of Taliban will be driven into tribal territory by the American forces. The impetus of the Taliban is Pakistani -- and if we are to believe Nojumi [in his book and his contribution to Crews and Tarzi], they have always been a creation of the Pakistanis.

And what Khanna himself says about Saudi support seems eminently plausible and consistent with what we know about Pakistani investment in the Taliban: "Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is thought to be channeling money to Wahabbi mosques and the Taliban, and the country's leadership is brokering the latter's negotiations with the Karzai regime."

So Khanna's view on a crucial matter seems to me mistaken. And if the government is listening to him -- and I hope they do -- I would hope that he will recognize the controlling influence of Pakistan in the Taliban movement, as that will certainly be crucial in the development of policy.

Indeed, his proposal of a joint Afghanistan/Pakistani force to go after the Taliban seems feasible and wise.

[Link to the article on the Atlantic Community site by clicking on the title.]

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