Thursday, June 18, 2009
Nearly every Afghan I’ve met blames the insurgency on the Pakistanis, holds a huge amount of hostility toward Pakistan in general, and resents Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. According to many Afghans, there’s not a single Afghan involved in the insurgency. While I’m quite certain some of the insurgents are Afghan, there’s truth in the idea that a difference exists between an Afghan and a Pakistani or other foreign insurgent. They have different motives and goals, and are willing to use different means. I’ve heard it said that some Afghan insurgents won’t shoot on Afghan patrols but will fire at US troops, whereas foreign insurgents will fire upon anyone. The foreigners are often here to achieve martyrdom, while the locals want to live to fight another day. Many times we've gotten information that local people that support local fighters often resent the foreign fighters because they know the foreign fighters will bring enough attention to themselves and the area they fight from that collateral damage becomes a virtual certainty.
Without question, much evidence exists that Pakistan has contributed to the insurgency in many, many different ways. Unfortunately, due to our poor relationship (or lack thereof) with Iran, we need Pakistan for supply routes and overflight rights if nothing else, and even if we didn’t need it, given that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, our hands are a bit tied on how we can really deal with it. The list of grievances from this side of the Afghan-Pakistan border is long: allowing escaping al Qaeda and Taliban fighters to enter Pakistan after the initial invasion; harboring al Qaeda and Taliban fighters; developing and supporting insurgent training camps; providing shelter and aid (and in some cases covering fire) to Taliban fighters returning from fighting in Afghanistan; encouraging extremism in the first place with their many thousands of madrassas; exporting Wahhabism (by way of Saudi Arabia and the madrassas) to Afghanistan; the list goes on. My unit has often heard insurgents speaking Pakistani Pashto or Urdu (or Arabic for that matter) on the radio and detained local Afghan individuals with notebooks full of Pakistani phone numbers.
Pakistan’s strategy of empowering their Taliban proxies in an attempt create chaos in Afghanistan and thereby secure their rear in their perpetual standoff with India over Kashmir has already backfired - witness the recent chaos in Pakistan and fighting between the Pakistani military and Taliban fighters in the Swat valley. And if Pakistan’s internal threats aren’t serious enough, my Afghan officers all look forward to the day when Afghanistan has the power to take revenge on Pakistan and take back some of their territory. The current border, known as the Durand Line, was originally drawn up principally to create a buffer between Russia and what was then British India. The Durand Line not only divided Afghanistan and Pakistan but also officially put some of Afghanistan’s traditional territory within Pakistan’s borders. An Afghan government has never accepted the Durand Line as the border. I’ve had an ANA lieutenant suggest to me that we forget about fighting the insurgency here in Afghanistan, but rather unleash the ANA to attack Pakistan with US backing as a way to end the insurgency here…an idea that probably significantly overstates the ANA’s capabilities, but is nonetheless creative. Taking the battle to your enemy’s lands rather than fighting in your own territory worked for Scipio and the Romans against Hannibal and the Carthaginians. It may come to that at some point. Who knows?