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M4 to P4 and the Haqqani revelations

June 27, 2010

The bulk of my reactions to McChrystal’s sacking and his replacement with Petraeus are at GW Discourse. His dismissal has come along with public coverage of some disturbing revelations and potential setbacks for the war effort. First, the NYT reports that Pakistan is planning to use the Haqqani network, which it has long guarded from US Predator strikes and military crackdowns, to secure a place in a post-withdrawal Afghan government. This comes on the heels of a LSE study claiming that Pakistani Taliban members widely believe they have ISI backing and some even claim direct ISI participation in their meetings. In other words, Pakistan has far from ended its double-game with the insurgency, and is now preparing to bring its most loyal followers into the Afghan government.

I have previously suspected that the big-name Taliban captures in Pakistan earlier this year were part of a Pakistani effort to increase its leverage in the bargaining process, this has not done much to allay my fears. It would seem entirely rational for the ISI to gain control over access to the Taliban members more likely to compromise with the US on areas of interest to Pakistan, and bolster political contact between the Afghan government and Pakistani-aligned jihadist networks. These groups, in turn, will dangle whatever promises about getting rid of al Qaeda to Pakistan and Afghanistan necessary to secure their survival and influence. I would not trust that Pakistani-backed radical groups and insurgents to hand over al Qaeda members any more than we trusted the Taliban to do so in 2001.

Leon Panetta, CIA director, recently admitted that the Taliban elements Pakistan is helping maneuver into agreement with Karzai now have little interest in conducting a power-sharing pact that would accommodate US regional interests. He also acknowledged the broad failure of the Predator strike to significantly advance US interests in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I have long criticized the US’s unrealistic expectations about Pakistani behavior, particularly involving moves that might undermine the popular legitimacy of the democratic government, such as cross-border raids and massive aid packages with micromanaged stipulations, and part of the reason I oppose a quick withdrawal is that most withdrawal plans revolve around a counter-terrorism strategy that is, as Daniel Larison notes, a blank check for a permanent and unaccountable series of air-strikes that will antagonize Pakistan without doing anything to increase their superior interests and capabilities in shaping the post-withdrawal Afghan government, without producing much effect. Nevertheless, America will need to refine its geopolitical acumen to catch up to Pakistan in the “long game” of preparing for Afghan withdrawal and the government that will follow – and this will include proving to Pakistan that we will demonstrate staying power and the ability to run a double-game of our own. The appointment of Petraeus will help significantly with the first part (note Feinstein’s quote in the 2nd NYT article about absolutely supporting a 6 month extension of operations), but when will we get the diplomats and intelligence officials who can pull off the latter?

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