Afghanistan on Borrowed Time   Leave a comment

Yet as he completed his 21st meeting with Pakistan’s top general, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in Islamabad on Wednesday, he was no closer to securing General Kayani’s commitment to go after the Taliban groups that are launching murderous attacks from Pakistan’s border region into Afghanistan.

During Admiral Mullen’s trip this week, which includes a member of our editorial board, he has been talking about the need for “strategic patience.” But until Pakistan’s army moves against the Afghan Taliban — and Pakistan’s intelligence service cuts all ties with the extremists — the prospects for President Obama’s war strategy are, frankly, dim.

On Thursday, Mr. Obama plans to issue his promised review of the war. It must provide clarity about the way forward in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president is expected to argue that, with about 140,000 American and NATO troops now on the ground, there has been progress in Afghanistan, most notably pushing back Taliban forces from around Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual base and the country’s second-largest city.

But the list of things still going wrong is depressingly long, starting with the incompetence and corruption of the government of President Hamid Karzai. And as The Times reported on Wednesday, two new classified intelligence reports are particularly downbeat about the ease with which Pakistani-based militants cross into Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan’s refusal to shut down the sanctuaries used by the militants for rest and resupply.

While some American military commanders disputed the reports’ overall pessimism, there have been disturbing signs on our visit this week that the Pentagon is increasingly resigned to Pakistan’s inaction.

A defense official argued that Pakistan’s army is so overstretched — from flood relief and 19 months of sustained combat that has caused thousands of Pakistani casualties — that it cannot possibly undertake any more operations.

That may be true, but it would not take a major offensive for Pakistan to weaken the insurgents. The country’s intelligence service, the ISI, could start by withdrawing all support and protection from the militants.

Even as Pakistan’s army vows to take on militants spreading chaos and mayhem inside Pakistan, the intelligence service still sees the Afghan Taliban as a way to ensure influence on the other side of the border and keep India’s influence at bay. It is a dangerous game, based on a flawed premise. American officials say the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other groups increasingly act like a syndicate, sharing know-how and colluding when needed. General Kayani, whose previous job was heading the ISI, should certainly know that.

The Obama administration has said and done many of the right things to build a long-term relationship with Pakistan, including cultivating top military leaders and providing long-term development aid. And not all of the news is grim. Last week, Pakistan and American forces jointly launched a successful cross-border operation. The number of American cross-border drone attacks into Pakistan have also increased significantly, while Islamabad’s protests have been comparatively muted.

For a relationship this complicated, strategic patience may well be necessary. The problem is that the Taliban pose a threat, right now, to the survival of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Obama and his advisers — military and civilian — clearly have to do more to change the thinking in Islamabad.

Posted December 17, 2010 by dmacc502 in Uncategorized

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