Development Issues

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The Binds That Tie Us

Overcoming the Obstacles to Peace in Afghanistan
Foreign Affairs, by Greg Mills and David Richards, November 24, 2010

Following the 9/11 attacks, Washington opted for a troop-lite approach to removing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over the next four years, the civilian and military components of the international presence in Afghanistan grew, even though the strategic focus of the United States and the United Kingdom shifted to Iraq. During this time, the remnants of the Taliban slowly regrouped and began preparations to launch a large-scale insurgency, which erupted in 2006. Since then, the number of international forces in Afghanistan has increased each year, as the 47-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has attempted to tame the Pashtun-dominated south, the Taliban’s heartland. The U.S. troop surge in 2010 heralded a further evolution in the West’s strategy.

Yet peace will remain elusive unless the international community can deal with the five binds that have proven difficult to escape in Afghanistan.

The first is the country’s overall strategic, political dilemma: Should ISAF focus its activities solely on countering terrorism and leave Afghans to run the economy and politics as they want? Or, as Mao would have it, should the international community attempt to transform the swamp in which the Taliban swim — that is, affect major political and socioeconomic change in the country? Inevitably, this will mean incorporating some of the Taliban and their mostly Pashtun supporters into the political fold. Although there is a danger of extrapolating too much from the Iraq experience, the manner in which the U.S. military brought the Sunni minority on board — through assiduous tribal cooptation and the harnessing of tribal antipathy toward foreign fighters — is instructive. But unlike Sunnis in Iraq, the Pashtun and the Taliban represent the majority of Afghans, at least in the south. They have to be converted en masse.

Progress will to an extent hinge on managing the second bind: finding a way for ISAF to work more productively with the Afghan government. Many Afghan warlords have transformed themselves into businessmen, and many of them are well connected in the political world. Curbing the excesses of these powerbrokers is essential. At the same time, however, the stability that they and their private militias offer can be utilized for the good of Afghanistan.

The international community’s first priority is to find the means to make aid more than just a feeding trough for local warlords. For example, the border town of Spin Boldak, located south of Kandahar, serves as the gateway to and from northern Pakistan. It is controlled by its own generalissimo, Abdul Razziq. The thirty-something de facto commander of the 3,500-strong border police is said to earn an estimated $5 million-$6 million per month from his various border businesses. But he also contributes to stability, not only in the border region but in Kandahar City itself, as his positive military contribution in the Afghan-led Malajat operation in August illustrated. Following the failure of an earlier operation hastily organized by the regional governor, Razziq’s forces quickly swooped down on the area, arresting Taliban and seizing explosives.

Whether Western leaders like it or not, powerbrokers such as Razziq have a positive role to play in developing Afghanistan. But that role can only be fulfilled if the government can stop them from perniciously distorting the country’s economy. To date, the government has been focused on ensuring security and distributing profits by concentrating on foreign diplomacy (for obtaining continued aid) and local patronage (to maintain control). Consequently, the economic system is characterized by widening inequality, fueling grievances and greed. Afghanistan is now the third-most unequal society in the world after Angola and Equatorial Guinea. The Asia Foundation’s 2010 public opinion survey shows that just under half of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction. High levels of insecurity, corruption, poor government, and unemployment are cited as the main reasons for pessimism.

The third bind concerns the effectiveness of aid. By 2010, the international community was spending more than $100 billion annually on in-kind military and other assistance in Afghanistan. This includes over $10 billion in development aid annually, amounting to $333 per Afghan per year. Yet given the lack of development impact — as measured by the existence of an economy independent of donor money — it may have been better (and considerably more efficient) if the international community had simply airdropped bundles of money throughout the country.

Afghanistan has not one but three economies: the aid economy, the largest one; a second illicit economy centered on drugs and smuggling; and a tiny licit economy, both formal and informal. There is very little industry (a traditional route for export-led development in low-wage countries), virtually no mining (despite considerable potential), and only an embryonic service sector. The relatively glitzy world of Kabul contrasts starkly with the grinding poverty of the rural areas.

Aid not only disincentivizes normal entrepreneurial activity and distorts key economic factors, such as overvaluing the currency due to large donor inflows, but also offers local politicians convenient means to externalize their choices, problems, and failures. The Afghan state’s shortcomings when it comes to service delivery are commonly blamed on a lack of external aid or on Pakistan, and the solutions are generally expected to come from outside as well. If nothing else, recent revelations over Iranian “soft aid” (cash flowing directly to the Afghan government) illustrate the limits of the political influence that can be achieved simply by sending prodigious sums of Western aid.

The fourth bind is regional dependency; peace in Afghanistan depends on stability in neighboring Pakistan. Yet Pakistan needs its own state-building project and to address the dynamics of its relationship with India. And Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is complicated by Kabul’s refusal to recognize the border that separates them and bisects the Pashtun; three million Afghans and 20 million of their largely Pashtun relatives live inside Pakistan. A regional solution also necessitates finding a formula in Pakistan and Afghanistan for two societies — one a centralized, Western-styled democracy; the other localized and tribal-based — to coexist, while ensuring sufficient economic growth.

The final bind is that of time. From Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the window in which foreigners can make a notable difference in peace-building missions is generally assumed to be approximately one decade, after which voters at home tend to grow weary as other priorities take over, and locals view foreign aid less as welcome assistance than undue outside interference. As the Taliban saying has it: they have the time, and the rest of the world has the watches.

The international community’s first priority is to find the means to make aid more than just a feeding trough for local warlords. It could be much more productively used to assist entrepreneurs in turning good ideas into businesses. One of the few available approaches to creating jobs is to add value to Afghan agriculture, especially in the conflict-ridden south. Kandahar, for example, produces more than 70 percent of the country’s annual 80,000-ton pomegranate crop, and the Arghandab region to the north of Kandahar City produces 80 percent of that figure. The return for pomegranate farmers exceeds $6,000 per hectare, compared to just $2,000 for poppy farmers. If the lower-grade pomegranates could be turned into juice for the burgeoning international market, even more value could be added. Establishing what is described in contemporary consultant-speak as a pomegranate “value chain” offers one of the few opportunities to spur job growth in Afghanistan.

Second, ISAF must play a role in setting the conditions for reconciliation between the Taliban and other Afghans, but it must also encourage the Karzai administration to focus on the affairs of the provinces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s executive style of governance has led Kabul to deal with the provinces primarily through proxy powerbrokers. This “representation deficit” is exacerbated by the current system of rotating governors and the appointment (rather than election) of district-level representatives. For all of the international community’s attempts to instill a structure of democratic governance, the one system that has endured Afghanistan’s political ebbs and flows is the one controlled by tribal elders. It must remain a force for stability.

Third, working with Kabul also means choosing when to get tough with local partners. It demands getting more out of aid programs, setting scorecards for evaluating their positive impact on job creation, improving policy, developing infrastructure, and encouraging more efficient and responsive government. It means simplifying governance procedures, identifying where local capacity exists, and working with local actors to prioritize resources and build their capacity to govern. The fact that there is no Afghan school of public administration eight years after the Karzai government took office speaks volumes about missed opportunities. Afghans themselves must make economic reform a priority.

Fourth, a regional solution will require working closely with the Pakistani government to keep it onside and assist it with its own fraught path to development and good governance. It will also entail addressing regional insecurities by enabling rapprochement between India and Pakistan — not least a resolution in Kashmir. It is no small order, but it is a crucial issue that is closely linked to the duration of international commitment to Afghanistan.

A culture of impunity gave rise to the Taliban in the 1990s and continues to feed the organization today.
Much has been achieved in improving Afghan-Pakistani trade, which has increased from $40 million to $1 billion in a decade, but much more can be done. Incentives for smuggling, notably the external tariff differential between Afghanistan and Pakistan — which encourages cheap entry of goods into Afghanistan and then smuggling back into Pakistan — must be reduced or eliminated. At the same time, there must be a greater focus on creating opportunities for trade through, for example, instituting regularized exchanges between chambers of commerce and curtailing transloading requirements, whereby goods are reloaded at the borders because Afghan and Pakistani trucks are not allowed to drive in each other’s territory.

In addition, the international community must tackle corruption within the Afghan government, or the counterinsurgency effort will be doomed. A culture of impunity gave rise to the Taliban in the 1990s and continues to feed the organization today.

Changing how ISAF contracts are granted could be a key means of demonstrating a different way of doing business while bringing about a modicum of power for the international community. It may not cut the powerbrokers out altogether — not least since they control the only companies capable of carrying out many essential tasks — but it could change their behavior. One mechanism for achieving this would be to establish a contractual scorecard for ISAF contracts to ensure that contractors are not only seen to be complying with governance requirements but are made to think about the need to spread their wealth around. Such a scorecard would include rankings on local ownership and procurement, female participation in management and ownership, records of tax payments, and employee equity.

Increasing the responsibility of the powerbrokers by elevating them from informal to official positions would check their authority by appealing to their reputations and transforming their concerns over image and honor into key ISAF weapons.

The final need is for the international community to express its commitment to long-term state reconstruction. Failing such a commitment, space will open for other actors, including Iran, to fill. Moreover, recent work by the World Bank shows that the probability of success for development projects (most notably in promoting the private sector) increases as peace becomes durable.

The principal obstacle to peace in Afghanistan is not a cultural phenomenon or the country’s martial traditions. Rather, Afghans have reacted in an entirely logical and rational way to a set of incentives and circumstances. Stability demands changing these conditions and ending the powerbrokers’ culture of impunity while moving Afghanistan off its addiction to foreign assistance and drug money.

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Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century

By Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010

Summary: To meet the range of challenges facing the United States and the world, Washington will have to strengthen and amplify its civilian power abroad. Diplomacy and development must work in tandem, offering countries the support to craft their own solutions.

Today’s world is a crucible of challenges testing American leadership. Global problems, from violent extremism to worldwide recession to climate change to poverty, demand collective solutions, even as power in the world becomes more diffuse. They require effective international cooperation, even as that becomes harder to achieve. And they cannot be solved unless a nation is willing to accept the responsibility of mobilizing action. The United States is that nation.

I began my tenure as U.S. Secretary of State by stressing the need to elevate diplomacy and development alongside defense — a “smart power” approach to solving global problems. To make that approach succeed, however, U.S. civilian power must be strengthened and amplified. It must, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued in these pages, be brought into better balance with U.S. military power. In a speech last August, Gates said, “There has to be a change in attitude in the recognition of the critical role that agencies like [the] State [Department] and AID [the U.S. Agency for International Development] play . . . for them to play the leading role that I think they need to play.”

This effort is under way. Congress has already appropriated funds for 1,108 new Foreign Service and Civil Service officers to strengthen the State Department’s capacity to pursue American interests and advance American values. USAID is in the process of doubling its development staff, hiring 1,200 new Foreign Service officers with the specific skills and experience required for evolving development challenges, and is making better use of local hires at our overseas missions, who have deep knowledge of their countries. The Obama administration has begun rebuilding USAID to make it the world’s premier development organization, one that fosters long-term growth and democratic governance, includes its own research arm, shapes policy and innovation, and uses metrics to ensure that our investments are cost-effective and sound.

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Microlending in a War Zone

Wednesday 03 November 2010
by: David Smith-Ferri, t r u t h o u t | Report

In a small storage shed at the edge of town, we watched as 14-year-old Sayed Qarim signed a simple contract agreeing to borrow and repay a no-interest, 25,000 afghani loan (roughly $555). Daniel from the Zenda Company, the loan originator, counted out the crisp bills and handed them to Qarim, who smiled broadly and shook hands. Qarim, whose family farms potatoes and wheat, plans to use the funds to purchase a cow and her calf. “There are great benefits of owning a cow,” Qarim explains. “Our family gets to use the milk and we can sell the calf for a good profit.”

No one walking by outside on the narrow dirt road would have known an important business transaction had just occurred, one that could in fact help a young man and his family gain economic traction and greater security. The transaction didn’t take place in a bank. No village leaders were present. Only a 14-year-old boy, the representative of a private business company and a witness. And while the signed agreement constitutes a business relationship, the Zenda Company sees it as primarily personal.

Qarim was recommended for a loan by Faiz and Mohammad Jan, two other young men who live in his village and who have themselves recently received and repaid loans. Following this recommendation, Zenda spent much time getting to know Qarim, meeting with him, assessing his knowledge, his resources (such as access to grazing land) and his character, answering his questions and describing to him his responsibilities as a borrower.

Now that the transaction is complete, Qarim is required to send a picture of the cow and her calf as “proof” that the money was used as agreed. In addition, Hakim, another Zenda Company representative living in Bamiyan, who is fluent in Dari, the local language, will visit Qarim periodically. Along with Faiz and Mohammad Jan, he will try to provide whatever support Qarim needs to succeed.

Eighteen months ago, Mohammad Jan borrowed funds to purchase a cow and her calf. Three times in the intervening months, he has fattened the cow, raised the calf, sold them and used the money from their sale to purchase another cow and calf. He has repaid the loan in full and netted a profit thus far of nearly 7,000 afghanis. Faiz has been equally successful, using borrowed funds to purchase lambs; he repaid his loan, took out another and now owns ten sheep and two goats, prized locally both for their meat and for their fleece.

Zenda Company’s small business loan program has evolved gradually through trial and error in Bamiyan and Hakim, a Singaporean medical doctor and ex-pat living now in an outlying village, is central to its success. Hakim (a name given to him by local people which means “learned one”) originally came from Singapore to Quetta, Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border, where he worked for two years with Afghan refugees. “I essentially lived within a refugee settlement and I was treated as a local.”

While there, however, Hakim wanted to do more than treat the symptoms of war. Six years ago, he came to Bamiyan as a development worker with an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Today in Afghanistan, NGOs involved in development work are as thick as wheat stalks in a field and their presence and operation has a significant impact in the country. But Hakim found that “the NGOs, too, have problems. They hold all the aid power, because they have all the money.” Because of this, says Hakim, despite their intentions, despite their mission, despite even their best efforts, international NGOs in Afghanistan often have a colonial relationship with Afghan communities, encouraging dependence rather than local initiative and sovereignty.

And then there is the intractable question of results. As one Afghan person told us, “The world says it is helping us. Where is this help? None of it reaches the people who need it. Here in Afghanistan it has been going on so long that we have to joke and laugh in order to manage our anger and disappointment.”

Seven months ago, Hakim left his position with the NGO. When he first arrived in Bamiyan, he was invited to visit and later to move into a small village. “The villages are very conservative. The only way to enter the community, even for a visit, is to be invited.”

Hakim has been in the community now for six years, living as people in the village do, eating only what people in the village have to eat. Like a member of the family, he participates in work. “I help in the fields, too,” he says with a self-effacing laugh, “but I’m not very good at it. I cannot work nearly as long or as fast as others.

“With time,” he says, “I’m realizing what it takes to practice what a young Afghan boy once told me, that without peace, life is impossible.” As he sees it, “morality, democracy and intellectual honesty are dying. Here we have forty-three countries [in the ISAF] trying to solve the problem of violence in Afghanistan. How can we allow these countries to say that more violence will solve the problems of violence, without asking them for evidence, for results? Where is intellectual inquiry? Moral skepticism? Why is war always the next solution? Why not reconciliatory talks; who dictates that talks are impossible for human beings? Why are we so willing to accept that violence and terror are the norm? If ordinary people don’t question this, academics at least should, but they don’t. A local shepherd boy knows this is not normal.”

In a country where villagers typically do not farm enough land to actually subsist, where malnutrition and stunted growth are in fact the norm and where the situation is worsening as land is divided and passed on to children, Hakim began to realize that peace cannot be pursued separately from economic security and food security. With this in mind, Hakim took his current position with the Zenda Company.

Through Zenda’s revolving loan fund, dozens of Afghan individuals have borrowed money for business start-up. These businesses include not only loans to villagers for livestock purchase, but also loans to shop owners and a number of loans to existing street vendors, who might, for example, benefit from having the funds to purchase a cart as well as additional inventory. The repayment terms on these loans are simple: one half due at the end of one year and the full amount due at two years. People interested in applying for a loan do so by supplying a simple handwritten proposal. At present, Zenda has received requests for loans totaling far more than it has funds to lend.

According to the United Nations, during the period 2005-2010 in Afghanistan, life expectancy at birth was less than 44 years. Child mortality (before the age of five) is the highest in the world and mortality for women in childbirth is among the highest. Eight hundred and fifty children die daily in Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, in the 2003-2008 period, an astounding 59 percent of Afghan children under the age of five are considered “stunted,” and for 9 percent of Afghan children under five, malnutrition is so severe it is considered wasting. “Is this normal?” Hakim asks.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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What Oman Can Teach Us

OP-ED COLUMN, By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
NYT, Published: October 13, 2010

MUSCAT, Oman
As the United States relies on firepower to try to crush extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, it might instead consider the lesson of the remarkable Arab country of Oman.

Just 40 years ago, Oman was one of the most hidebound societies in the world. There was no television, and radios were banned as the work of the devil. There were no Omani diplomats abroad, and the sultan kept his country in almost complete isolation.

Oman, a country about the size of Kansas, had just six miles of paved road, and the majority of the population was illiterate and fiercely tribal. The country had a measly three schools serving 909 pupils — all boys in primary grades. Not one girl in Oman was in school.

Oman’s capital city, Muscat, nestled among rocky hills in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, was surrounded by a traditional wall. At dusk, the authorities would fire a cannon and then close the city’s gates for the night. Anyone seen walking outside without a torch at night was subject to being shot.

Oman was historically similar to its neighbor, Yemen, which now has become an incubator for Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. But, in 1970, Oman left that fundamentalist track: the sultan’s son deposed his father and started a stunning modernization built around education for boys and girls alike.

Visit Oman today, and it is a contemporary country with highways, sleek new airports, satellite TV dishes and a range of public and private universities. Children start studying English and computers in the first grade. Boys and girls alike are expected to finish high school at least.

It’s peaceful and pro-Western, without the widespread fundamentalism and terrorism that afflict Yemen. Granted, Yemen may be the most beautiful country in the Arab world, but my hunch is that many of the young Westerners who study Arabic there will end up relocating to Oman because of the tranquility here.

It’s particularly striking how the role of women has been transformed. One 18-year-old university student I spoke to, Rihab Ahmed al-Rhabi, told me (in fluent English) of her interest in entrepreneurship. She also told me, affectionately, about her grandmother who is illiterate, was married at age 9 and bore 10 children.

As for Ms. Rhabi, she mentioned that she doesn’t want to bog herself down with a husband anytime soon. Otherwise, what if her husband didn’t want her to study abroad? And when she does eventually marry, she mused, one child would be about right.

Ms. Rhabi was a member of the Omani all-girls team that won the gold medal in an entrepreneurship competition across the Arab world last year. The contest was organized by Injaz, a superb organization that goes into schools around the Arab world to train young people in starting and running small businesses.

The stand-out young entrepreneurs in Oman today are mostly female: 9 of the 11 finalists in this year’s Oman entrepreneurship contest were all-girl teams. The winning team bowled me over. The members started as high school juniors by forming a company to publish children’s picture books in Arabic. They raised capital, conducted market research, designed and wrote the books and oversaw marketing and distribution.

“We’re now looking at publishing e-books,” explained Ameera Tariq, a high school senior and a member of the board of directors of the team’s book company. Maybe one of the customers for a future electronic picture book will be her grandmother, who was married at the age of 12 and has never learned to read.

In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all.

Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict. One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.

Sorry if this emphasis on education sounds like a cliché. It’s widely acknowledged in theory, and President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he’s spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don’t have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.

The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.

For me, the lesson of Oman has to do with my next stops on this trip: Afghanistan and Pakistan. If we want to see them recast as peaceful societies, then let’s try investing less in bombs and more in schools.

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United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan – Allies in War, but the Goals Clash

By HELENE COOPER, NYT, October 9, 2010

IN the panoply of national security conundrums facing the Obama administration, there is one that stands central.

Can the United States ever succeed in the Afghanistan war if its two principal allies mistrust each other? Indeed, can the war succeed if one of those two principal allies is in cahoots with the enemy?

The enemy, of course, is the Taliban. And the allies are the Pakistani and Afghan governments. Troops from both countries, as well as American forces, have been fighting elements of the Taliban on their respective soils.

But Pakistan has also been accused of pulling its punches in that fight, because it fears the day when a strong Afghanistan might align with India. It would be convenient for Pakistan if the Taliban remained a force to prevent that.

That explains why suspicions of such double-dealing were the talk of Washington last week, spurred by the multiple attacks on NATO convoys that just about every diplomat, foreign policy official and Beltway taxi driver laid at the feet of the Pakistani government.

In retaliation for American helicopter strikes that killed three Pakistani border soldiers on Sept. 30, the Pakistani government had shut down a border crossing used to supply the Afghan war effort. That offered Taliban and Qaeda insurgents a golden opportunity to blow up the NATO convoys, and within a week, three major attacks destroyed dozens of trucks.

Although the United States responded by blanketing Islamabad with mea culpas for the helicopter strikes, the incident has laid bare the fundamental challenge of the American-Pakistan alliance: When it comes to Afghanistan, America and Pakistan have very different national security interests.

President Obama defines American national security interests in South Asia as revolving around the need to prevent the region from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States and American allies.

That’s why, Mr. Obama says, American troops are in Afghanistan, and that’s why the United States is pushing the Pakistani government to act on its soil against militants like the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda and the Haqqani network. That’s also why American troops were engaged in cross-border strikes.

But Pakistan, for its part, defines its national security interests as revolving around India, its nemesis in a tangle of disputes that have proven intractable for six decades. Every step that the Pakistani government takes is seen through that prism.

What Pakistan wants most in Afghanistan is an assurance that India cannot use it to threaten Pakistan. For that, a radical Islamic movement like the Taliban, with strong ties to kin in Pakistan, fits the bill. That is why the Pakistani government’s intelligence agencies helped the Taliban in its initial rise to power in the 1990s.

Now, Pakistan wants to ensure against the possibility of an Afghan national government with a strong army emerging on its border and aligning with India. So supporting the Afghan Taliban is again a hedge, as it was in the 1990s.

What’s more, the Pakistanis don’t believe that the United States will stay in Afghanistan, and Mr. Obama’s announcement that he will begin a pullout starting in July 2011 has exacerbated that belief. And if the United States leaves, the Pakistanis believe, it is only a matter of time before the Afghan Taliban return to power. When they do, Islamabad wants to make sure that it has kept in the Taliban’s good graces.

Finally — again because of India — the Pakistani government wants to make sure that its historic allies, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, will be deeply entrenched in any efforts to reach a political settlement that would involve power-sharing in Afghanistan.

“The Haqqanis represent a powerful element of the Pashtuns,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. “Those are the tribes that straddle the border.” The Pakistani government, Mr. Nawaz said, “feels that if the Pashtuns are in power, Indians are less likely to have a strong hold, because the Indian relationship has been very overtly with the Northern Alliance.” He was referring to the group of largely non-Pashtun Afghan militias that ousted the Taliban in 2001 with American assistance.

Moeed W. Yusuf, a South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace, adds: “Pakistan sees that any political settlement in Afghanistan that does not include groups that are friendly to Pakistan, like the Haqqani network, will mean that Pakistan will have gotten the rough end of the deal. It will not be able to ensure an Afghanistan which does not allow inroads to India.”

Why not give the Pakistanis the strategic hedge that they want? For anyone who hasn’t read the latest policy brief on the Haqqani network, here’s a quick summary: From its base in the frontier region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani is suspected of running much of the insurgency around Kabul, and across eastern Afghanistan; that insurgency has carried out car bombings and kidnappings, including spectacular attacks on American military installations. It is allied with Al Qaeda and with leaders of the Afghan Taliban branch that answers to Mullah Muhammad Omar. Though he is now based in Quetta, Pakistan, Mullah Omar was in charge when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan and sheltered Al Qaeda there, notably on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since then, Western officials have blamed the Haqqani network for a string of attacks, including the 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the kidnappings of the British journalist Sean Langan and the New York Times reporter David Rohde, and hundreds of attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani is believed to be in the top tier of the allied forces’ “kill or capture” list.

In short, the Haqqani network has a lot of American blood on its hands.

“The aims of the U.S. and Pakistan in Afghanistan,” says Mr. Nawaz, of the Atlantic Council, “are not congruent.”

So given all this, the logical thing to do might be to focus on the Pakistan-India problem. After all, if you remove Pakistan’s fears of India as a threat, maybe the Pakistanis will stop working against American interests in Afghanistan?

Not so fast.

“It’s unfixable,” said C. Christine Fair, assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “That’s why we’ll be working on this for the next 50 years.”

Professor Fair argues that because India is on the ascent, and will be even stronger militarily and economically in 10 years than it is now, the Indian government has no reason to negotiate seriously with Pakistan over the host of issues that bedevil the two adversaries now, when it can throw its weight around much easier later.

“If there was an easy way out of this, someone would have figured it out,” Professor Fair said. “But I don’t think it’s possible to untie this Gordian knot.”

Of course, Alexander the Great managed to conquer the Gordian knot. But we shall leave musings of how well he did in Afghanistan for a later article.

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