Aired on Aaj TV Pakistan February 2, 2018.
Commenting on a BBC study, which claimed that the Taliban is still openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan, Shuja Nawaz, Distinguished Fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, told Sputnik about the chances of beating this militant group.
NOTE; SERIOUS TRANSCRIPTION ERRORS! LISTEN TO ACTUAL RECORDING BELOW! SHUJA NAWAZ
Sputnik: Some experts have said that Trump’s comments suggest that he sees a military victory over the Taliban, do you think this is likely?
Shuja Nawaz: The military doctrine has not been defined by anyone so we don’t know what the criteria will be that will be applied to victory in Afghanistan.
We had much reduced the US presence and even with the mini-surge, it’s not going to be more than a fraction of what a total of 150,000-odd US and coalition forces were at the peak.
So it’s not clear what it is meant by a military victory. The only change that has occurred is the fact that for the first time the United States is not declaring any date for exiting the country.
That is what deepened the Taliban engaged in the fight because the principal demand is that the United States and coalition forces should leave Afghanistan and that demand has been satisfied with the fact that the US is now staying there indefinitely.
Sputnik: What can you say about the effectiveness of the US policies and what do you think is their aim in currently keeping their presence in the country?
Shuja Nawaz: This has been the issue of the US war in Afghanistan, the so-called forever war. The aims have been shifting overtime and it’s not clear what the aim is this time.
If the aim is to restore the sovereignty of the Afghan government and to assist in providing governance of overall territory, then that it can only be done by working with the Afghan government and the regional governments.
And the regional part of the American strategy is not yet fully articulated. There is very little effort, for instance, to draw Iran into the process because if you look at the map, a substantial proportion of the territory Taliban controlled and even the ISIS (Daesh) is in the Iranian sphere of influence. It is not bordering Pakistan.
So there’s a need to bring Iran into the process and Iran would want a stable Afghanistan on its border so it can also prevent the outflow of narcotics into Iran which has been initially prevented.
Russia needs to be involved [because] it has expressed its desire to be a partner in this process and it has actually hosted some meetings [on the matter]. China needs to be involved because it has huge investments in Afghanistan and also has partnership relationship with Pakistan.
The views and opinions expressed by Shuja Nawaz are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik’s position.
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On January 4, the United States announced the suspension of nearly all security-related assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad could prove its commitment to fighting terrorism and cut its ties with militant groups such as the Taliban. This decision came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump had accused Pakistan, on Twitter, of giving “safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.” Pakistani leaders responded with a familiar refrain, claiming to have moved against all militant groups without distinction and pointing to the enormous costs in terms of money (over $120 billion) and lives (nearly 80,000 civilian and military dead) sustained by Pakistan in the fight against terrorism since 2001.
For Trump, it may feel good to vent his frustrations about Pakistan, especially now that his administration is desperate to salvage something from the United States’ prolonged and losing conflict in Afghanistan. These new sanctions, however, are unlikely to influence Pakistani behavior, which is rooted in realities on the ground that the United States has little ability to change.
Pakistan is a complicated country in a tough neighborhood. Its main strategic concerns are to contain the surging power of its neighbor and rival, India, and to combat Islamist militancy inside its own borders—in particular, it wishes to fight the Pakistani Taliban, which now operates from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Pakistan launched a military operation in 2014 to clear the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of insurgents, including the Pakistani Taliban, many of whom escaped across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, is reluctant to please the United States, which it considers a distant and fickle ally, by moving against the leadership of the Afghan Taliban. The United States, for its part, regards Pakistan as a duplicitous partner that is willing to take U.S. funds but unwilling to cut ties with militant groups or eject Afghan Taliban leaders, particularly those affiliated with the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based faction that has orchestrated high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul.
The dwindling and now relatively small amount of financial assistance that the United States currently provides Pakistan is another reason to suspect that its threats will be ineffectual. Pakistani officials have been defiant. Miftah Ismail, the adviser to the prime minister for finance, revenue, and economic affairs, told Reuters, “Aid cuts will not hurt us,” since U.S. aid has been “reduced drastically over the years.” (Annual U.S. aid to Pakistan peaked at about $3.5 billion in 2011, before declining to about $1 billion in 2016.)
Pakistan also has its own leverage against the United States. Islamabad could, for instance, threaten to cut off the United States’ air- and ground-based supply routes to Afghanistan. That leverage has been diminished somewhat in recent years, both by Washington’s reduction of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan (thereby lessening its need for supplies) and by the proven efficacy of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which moves supplies through Russia and Central Asia. In 2011, for example, when Pakistan closed its ground routes to the United States, the NDN allowed the International Security Assistance Force commander, General John Allen, to store nearly six months of reserve supplies inside Afghanistan. Yet Pakistan’s ability to threaten U.S. logistics is still formidable: in 2015, Russia shut down the NDN, and there is always a chance that Moscow could decide to play hardball if the United States sought to reopen it. In 2014, the United States lost the use of its Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, the last U.S. base in Central Asia, as the Kyrgyz government sought to win favor with Russia. Another option is for the United States to use an Iranian land route moving through the port of Chabahar, but this is likely off the table given the heightened war of words between the Trump administration and Tehran. Depriving the United States of its air routes into Afghanistan, moreover, would end Washington’s ability to conduct air support with Gulf-based fighters and bombers.
The current standoff is further complicated by this year’s electoral calendar. The United States faces midterm elections in November, Pakistan has a parliamentary election in June, and Afghanistan has one in July. India, too, might bring forward its elections, currently scheduled for 2019, to this year. In all of these countries, then, domestic politics will dominate decision-making for the foreseeable future. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif’s belligerent, rapidfire Urdu tweets on the U.S. sanctions, which pronounced the death of the alliance, are a good illustration of how this domestic focus could make compromise with the United States difficult. Trump, meanwhile, is anxious to show that the United States is winning in Afghanistan, which might lead him to increase pressure on Pakistan by imposing additional sanctions. (As strategic thinker Harlan Ullman’s recent book Anatomy of Failure maintains, the United States has never won a war that it started.) Meanwhile, Afghanistan and India could support U.S. attempts to influence Islamabad. This would in turn fortify Pakistan’s perception of an international conspiracy against it.
A final obstacle in getting Pakistan to change its policy is the fact that it currently has an ersatz government run by a competent, albeit weak, prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. Abbasi has no political clout within his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which still bears the name of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was forced to step down over corruption allegations in July but continues to call the shots. Dynastic politics in Pakistan weaken civilian governance and democratic legitimacy, allowing the wellorganized military to dominate policymaking and take a strong position against U.S. demands. Since 2001, moreover, the United States has tied itself to successive unpopular, autocratic, and corrupt administrations in Pakistan, including that of the dictator Pervez Musharraf. In doing so, it has failed to build a relationship with the 200 million people of Pakistan, a majority of whom, even at the height of the Afghanistan war and U.S. drone strikes on their country, wished to have better relations with the United States.
Against this backdrop, it is unlikely that threats to cut off U.S. funding—or Trump’s inflammatory tweets—will have much effect in terms of changing Pakistan’s behavior. Rather, they will only inflame tensions between the two and worsen the situation in Pakistan. After all, the last time that such a break in ties took place was in the 1990s, in the wake of Pakistan’s development of a nuclear weapon and the United States’ withdrawal from the Afghan theater following the end of the Soviet occupation. Pakistan was left to cope with the aftershocks of the Afghan war on its own. The United States also stopped all U.S.-based training programs for Pakistani military officers, beginning with the Pressler Amendment in 1985 and lasting through the 1990s. This “lost generation” was deprived of contact with its American counterparts, leading Pakistani officers to develop a view of the United States as an untrustworthy ally. Yet today, more than 200 of the brightest Pakistani officers come to the United States for training purposes every year. If the U.S.-Pakistani relations continue to deteriorate, this training program may disappear again.
Indeed, the current public contretemps will likely produce a train wreck for the U.S.-Pakistani relationship unless meaningful dialogue resumes. It is important that the discussions between the two be led by diplomats, rather than politicians, so that solutions can be found that build on the two countries’ dependence on one another and serve both of their interests. It is important, moreover, for Washington to inform and engage with the people of Pakistan in these exchanges. Washington is right to favor results-based assistance. Why not let Pakistan set attainable targets for aid, and agree with the United States on these before aid is disbursed, rather than quibble over reimbursements, as is the case now? The United States, meanwhile, could use its influence with India and Afghanistan to develop a more sustainable, long-term regional plan to fight terrorism and militancy. If Trump can pull this off, he can declare victory before exiting Afghanistan. If not, the current dispute could portend a messy defeat.
© Foreign Affairs
Based on interviews with civil and military officials and politicians, this report details the poor governance and imbalance of power in Pakistan and offers key recommendations for the military, civilian institutions, parliament, and civil society to achieve the goals and objectives outlined in Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP). The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent NAP became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight.
- Pakistan resides in an unsettled and hostile neighborhood and faces an existential challenge from domestic forces of sectarian and ethnic militancy and terrorism.
- Many of Pakistan’s domestic problems are related to poor governance and the imbalance of power and operational ability between civil institutions and the military.
- Shortsighted policies of successive civil and military governments and a dynastic political system have hobbled efforts to develop a strong, stable polity and economy.
- Civil and political institutions remain weak and dysfunctional; a well-organized and disciplined military continues to dominate key strategic sectors related to foreign policy and security and currently retains control over the Afghan border region.
- Recent military operations to clear the northern border regions abutting Afghanistan of terrorist bases have had some success, but the effort inside Pakistan remains unfinished.
- A well-defined objective and longer-term timetable are needed for the use of the paramilitary Rangers in Punjab and Sindh. Karachi may be the test for these efforts.
- Governance would be strengthened with better coordination and collaboration between civil institutions and the military.
- Greater willingness by the military to bring civilians into their military campaign planning processes and to train and assist civil institutions (particularly the police force) in growing into their roles and responsibilities would bolster security.
- The central government should establish a clearer vision and a process for decision making related to antiterrorism and antimilitancy efforts; devote more resources to its security institutions; and better organize its relationships with individual provinces.
- Parliament should play a more active role in defining and measuring the success of efforts to counter terrorism and militancy.
- Civil society must play a more active and informed role in this process.
About the Report
The need for an assessment of the National Internal Security Policy and subsequent National Action Plan of the government of Pakistan became evident as the heightened military action under Operation Zarb-e-Azb entered its second year. This report is based on conversations with civil and military officials and politicians inside Pakistan and on focus group sessions with leading civil and military thinkers, including retired officials, members of the media, and members of the police force. Much remains unclear due to the lack of transparency in operations of both civil and military institutions and the absence of active parliamentary oversight or questioning of operations. A key element of the review was the ability of the military and the civil government to work together effectively at both the federal and provincial levels. As a corollary to this, it was important to see the opportunity for the central government to assert its supremacy. This report focuses on the civil-military nexus, especially in the context of the Apex Committees at the provincial level, and identifies areas that demand attention if the National Action Plan is to succeed.
About the Author
Shuja Nawaz is a Pakistani-born strategic analyst based in Washington, DC. He was the founding director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, where he is now a distinguished fellow. He writes for leading newspapers, journals, and websites and speaks on current issues before civic groups, at think tanks, and on radio and television worldwide. He has also advised and briefed senior government and military officials and parliamentarians in the United States, Europe, and Pakistan.
As President-elect Donald Trump finalizes his cabinet and receives his intelligence briefings, among other things, he will be told about the potential for a nuclear conflagration in South Asia. This populous region with its age-old religious and sectarian rivalries has posed a challenge to US policy makers. Other than a departure plan for an unfinished engagement with Afghanistan, we still do not have a clear or comprehensive regional policy for this volatile yet critical part of the emerging global order. For too long, we have adopted a band-aid approach and single-country policy or at best hyphenated pairs of countries in this region (as in the Af-Pak odd couple). We now have the capacity to craft a broader approach and thus sustain peace and stability in Greater South Asia while opening up larger markets for US goods and services. We need to create relationships that will endure. This demands a regional overview, one that will save the US taxpayers expenditures on fighting wars and US exports and influence in Greater South Asia.
An effective regional policy for Greater South Asia has to include more than India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal; Afghanistan and Iran have ancient cultural, economic, and religious ties to the region. Indeed, for example, more Pakhtuns live in what is now Pakistan than do in Afghanistan. And Pakistan has a Shia population that exceeds 40 million, and more Shia live in India and Pakistan than the total population of Iran.
When previous US piecemeal policy failed, our government abandoned the region in frustration. For much of the post-World War II period, the US and India were not in the same camp. Today, they are. For the first time in recent history, the United States has developed relations with all the countries of the Greater South Asia region, one that contains around 1.7 billion people and perhaps the largest agglomeration of the Middle Class in the world. South Asia may well be the engine of growth and stability of Asia as a whole in the 21st Century and provide a counter balance to the growth of China.
The United States now has an opportunity to help knit together this region to foster trade within South Asia, between South Asia and the Pacific region, and between Central Asia and China. South Asia already has powerful economic ties to the Middle East, providing much of the expatriate labor force that has built up the Gulf States and Arabian Peninsula economies. According to the World Bank, in 2015 more than $116 billion of the total $581.6 billion of remittances from the Middle East flow to geographic South Asia. The slowdown of the Middle Eastern economies following the drop in oil prices will likely have serious consequences for the region. Further, as the Economist Intelligence Unit states “The expected raising of US Federal Reserve policy interest rates from 2017 will also add to downward pressure on the [Indian] rupee and, to a lesser extent, on those of its smaller neighbours.” Creating a regional market, with US help, could help the countries of the region and the United States.
India’s huge trade of nearly $100 billion a year with China rivals that with the United States. This economic codependency may help keep these powerful nuclear neighbors from pursuing the path of conflict. Similarly, Pakistan and India have the potential to increase their trade from the current paltry $2.6 billion that favors India to five times that number in the short run, and eventually a high approaching $100 billion a year, helping cement economic ties and shifting the focus away from conflict. The United States needs a game plan to assist in these directions and away from conflict. China is working with Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to establish closer trade routes and economic ties. Its One Road, One Belt policy hopes to knit economic ties with Central Asia and other neighboring areas. This fits in nicely with the United States’ New Silk Road initiative, as former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman recently argued. And both initiatives could tie the China Pakistan Economic Corridor into trade routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan and Central Asia and the Gulf.
The US, with its European partners, should be crafting policies that will assist the creation of a thriving regional economic network in Greater South Asia, based on infrastructure and development of human capital. Helping Afghanistan will be key. Pushing for an extension of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to India should be among these objectives. This will assist the United States in developing economic and political ties to the people of these countries rather than with status-quo elites or military clients alone.
As a start, President Trump should drop the outmoded Af-Pak model. Reviving and revivifying a Central and South Asia Bureau in State and a reorientation of countries in two regional commands, PACOM and CENTCOM, in the Pentagon, to bring all of South Asia into the same orbit would be important changes to consider. This would allow, among other things, for the Indian and Pakistani navies to work together to protect the sea-lanes of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. Despite the rhetoric of collaboration across the Pentagon’s regional commands, the walls between them are too high and impervious.
A big challenge will be to help Pakistan transform itself from what was once termed an “Ally from Hell” to a partner in creating regional growth and stability. Helping Pakistan effectively fight terrorism and militancy inside its own borders, opening up South Asia trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, and allowing Pakistan to benefit from access to Iranian gas and oil as a first step to linking Iran’s oil pipelines to India’s refineries should be high on the priority list. Further securing its nuclear weapons from radical groups would involve building on the already well-established ties between its nuclear community and that of the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pakistan also needs help in transforming its anachronistic educational system laden with radical Islamist dogma to an open-minded curriculum. The British government is concentrating on rebuilding the education sector. The US could ride in the British wake. Greater communications and cooperation between India and Pakistan on the nuclear front and on water and glacier management, especially in disaster management planning and control are also areas where the United States’ research and experience can play a key role.
If countries in the region are willing to benefit from this enhanced US engagement, economic and financial assistance and advice could then be provided via the International Financial Institutions where the United States has a powerful voice and vote. Afghanistan will need such aid for many years to come. Pakistan has just graduated from an International Monetary Fund program but is not out of the Bretton Woods yet. It relies heavily on World Bank project lending and grants and credits from its subsidized lending programs via the International Development Association. India is not an IMF borrower but still has World Bank and IDA loans and grants on its books. However, it could benefit from advice, as needed, as does Iran.
All these are opportunities waiting for a strong and clear-headed policy leadership in Washington. This will involve taking a harder position with countries that demand US assistance so that they take greater ownership of their projects and programs and set attainable benchmarks for success. The US aid program should not be taken for granted or as an entitlement, as was the case with Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past. Further, we need to work more directly and closely with grass roots and civil society groups so we can empower them rather than the often corrupt elites in the capitals of aid recipient countries. And we must forge a partnership that spends aid money in the countries rather than siphon it off back to consultants inside the Beltway or allows aid to be spirited to offshre accounts of ruling elites. Results-based budgeting in this process is a must. This will help us get out of the trap of cash-for-hiring local partners that has characterized our lending and grant making for decades.
A clearly enunciated regional policy for South Asia will help remove the doubts surrounding an impending pell mell withdrawal from the region. Afghanistan must not be left in the lurch again, as we did in the 1990s. Engagement is also critical with the other countries of the region. A stable and growing South Asia would not only be good for the region but will also help the United States fulfill its global obligations as a leader and friend of democratic forces and expand the market for our own exports. Delay in addressing the needs of South Asia will add to the list of potential flashpoints around the world and detract from President Trump’s ability to tackle the emerging issues at home. Opportunity is knocking.
Shuja Nawaz is Distinguished Fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council in Washington DC and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within, (Oxford 2008) which he is now updating to the current period.