Quote of the Day

by Joshua Foust on 4/12/2007 · 1 comment

“In my view we should be giving even greater time to Pakistan. Pakistan, in my view, is the vital country in that region, and to some extent even in the Muslim world as a whole… Pakistan has six times the population of Afghanistan. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. Pakistan has a huge army. And my fear is that what we’re doing is to some extent contributing to the destabilisation of Pakistan for the sake of Afghanistan, which is in my view to get things absolutely back-to-front. Look, I mean to some extent Pakistan is in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is in Pakistan. Because of the Pashtun ethnicity, which spans the border. Remember that the Afghan state and government do not in fact recognise legally that border precisely because they always did think that they had the right – the moral and historical right – to include all Pashtuns in their territory. So, I mean, in a funny way, the non-existence of that border in real terms has always been recognised by the Afghan state as well.

“The truth of the matter is that the Taliban now represent an insurgency, a popular insurgency, which has not go majority support, but very substantial popular support in the Pashtun ethnicity on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. And Pakistan is obviously, therefore, crucial in the end, to…I don’t know whether one can defeat this insurgency…but certainly to containing it.” (emphasis mine)

—Anatol Lieven, a Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and former FSU correspondent for the Times of London, in a podcast for AfghanWire. I highly suggest subscribing, either through XML or iTunes. They get really good guests, and offer some wonderful insights. Lieven, for example, makes it a point to say that the Taliban are not a tribal creation, but a Pashtun one, with generous help from the Pakistani army and ISI.

Much of his interview (about aid, troops, mission, etc.) reminds me of a recent episode of Frontline (which is also worth watching), in which a reporter follows a Canadian unit trying to do “the whole hearts and minds thing” in Uruzgan province last November. It is, sadly, the story of a long string of broken promises, set backs, policy clashes with American special forces, and basic cultural misunderstandings. The role of promises, for example, or the complete lack of polity by the soldiers just eats away at the villagers, and you can see the hope drain from their eyes with each “I’m sorry.”

I don’t blame the soldiers for that; they weren’t trained to navigate village politics in Afghanistan, they were trained to fight wars. Their frustration with the situation was equally evident: with the exception of the woman in charge, none of the soldiers seemed to care much for local norms, and despite her admirable effort to play along, there were some embarrassing gaffes. Then a PRT comes through, does nothing, then they all pick up and leave. It was the story of both security and aid in the country: messy, uncoordinated, no staying power, sorely lacking proper funding and channels—lived out for the camera.

It is, in other words, a disaster waiting to happen. And what is so frustrating is that there remains good hope for Afghanistan, in theory. The place can be saved, if the people in charge would wake up and pay attention to it. Do check out that Frontline site, too. I haven’t explored its nooks and crannies, but it seems to be an excellent general overview of the situation, and the many (self-inflicted) problems that still await us in the future.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Safrang April 12, 2007 at 12:55 pm

It is an unpopular thing to say in Afghanistan circles nowadays, but I have always argued that the current US policy -largely shaped by how some in positions of leadership in Afghanistan view this matter- is counterproductive and can lead to Pakistan’s further destabilization. In its right, the Afghan government does not let up with its own caustic rhetoric either (for a number of reasons, but also because it gives good cover to whatever other failings the government has.) To this extent, I agree with A. Lieven’s views – success in Afghanistan hinges on Pakistan’s cooperation, and a stable Pakistan will be in a much better position (and a lot more forthcoming) to cooperate than one that is in throes of Talibanization or in chaos (as Afghanistanica imaginatively projects in a recent post.)

But the ambiguity about the borders MUST go – the government of Afghanistan should lay to rest this perennial source of worry for Pakistan that as soon as things settle down in Afghanistan, Kabul will eye the Durand and make historic claims to the unity of all Pashtuns. Pakistan should be in Pakistan, and Afghanistan in Afghanistan. Otherwise the current state of affairs will continue: the irredentism clearly fuels the insurgency now, and it has strained relations between the two countries historically. It is about time the matter was sealed once and forever, and the ambiguity about the current borders (which, mind you, does not exist in de jure and international legal terms) should be eliminated.

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