…and a Catastrophe for Pakistan and China
Well, I guess President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is going to go into the record books with a big, fat asterisk next to it.
I have an article up at Asia Times Online Beijing broods over its arc of anxiety addressing the implications of the U.S. plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
As long-time readers of China Matters know, I’ve consistently argued that Pakistan is the collateral damage in our Afghan policy.
Under U.S. pressure, Pakistan’s army is forced to go to battle a united Pashtun insurgency that would otherwise be split into murderous factions battling each other for control of the broad plains of southern Afghanistan and using Pakistan’s mountainous FATA as little more than a secure and inaccessible redoubt for rest, recreation, and resupply.
Instead, we expect Pakistan to go to war against its own Pashtun areas for the sake of the distinctly ungrateful Hamid Karzai.
For Pakistan, it’s an extremely difficult and costly battle with few tangible benefits. The dean of South Asia journalists, Syed Saleem Shahzad analyzes Pakistan’s problems with the current U.S. Afghan strategy—and America’s attempts to address them--in his Asia Times Online article, Pakistan at odds with Obama’s vision. It’s well worth reading.
The anti-Taliban war is dangerous for Pakistan as a nation because the Pashtun/Deoband/extremist nexus has a tremendous ability to make mischief throughout Pakistan by exploiting the enormous Pashtun underclass in Karachi, the vulnerability posed by the borderline-heretical character of the dominant Baralvi Islamic observance in Punjab and Sindh, and the smoldering resentment of the tens of millions of urban and rural poor throughout the country against the corrupt, pro-Western elites that rule them.
What might push Pakistan’s military over the edge and demand that the Pakistani government be reorganized and abandon the war is the awareness that India is not only profiting from Pakistan’s misery; it is actively encouraging the Obama administration to continue its ruinous involvement in Afghanistan and deny Pakistan the relief of a prompt withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.
India, thanks to the “world’s biggest democracy” meme and the unpopularity of China’s Communist, Tibet-and-Uighur repressing single party state, gets an undeserved free ride from the Western press.
Actually, New Delhi is a serial and callous meddler in the matters of its neighbors (see Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim). It is impossible to view India’s involvement in Afghanistan (and the anti-Taliban war) as anything other than a conscious effort to exacerbate and prolong the miseries Pakistan is suffering as a result of the U.S. policy.
It is revealing that virtually the only nation egging on the Obama administration to stay the course in Afghanistan was India. A weakened Pakistan not only diminishes Islamabad’s ability and appetite to do mischief in India and Jammu/Kashmir; it deprives Beijing of an effective ally in China’s intensifying struggle with India along their long and disputed border.
As to why President Obama chose to surge Afghanistan, I think he recoiled from the idea that, come the 2010 elections, the Republicans could make hay with pictures of Taliban dancing in the streets of a reconquered Kabul.
Since the President is apparently a decent and intelligent man, he also shrank from the idea of racking up another 500 or so U.S. fatalities over the next 18 months just so the Democrats could limit their losses in the congressional elections.
So I think all the well-publicized debating and handwringing over the Afghan policy involved in-depth consideration (and, if there are any practitioners of the Chicago school of cost benefit analysis in the White House, literal calculations) concerning the lives saved and improved that would balance the scale against the increased number of U.S. dead and maimed the surge will bring.
But even if the United States is able to defy the demographic, political, and military forces driving Afghanistan toward a Pashtun triumph and achieve victory (or a bloody stalemate) every day the Pakistan is forced to support the U.S./NATO strategy, the greater damage it suffers.
The only nation that benefits clearly and immediately from the Afghan surge, it would appear, is India.