Tuesday’s release of the Obama Administration’s biannual assessment to Congress, revealed their growing frustration in Pakistan’s inability to reign in insurgent activity. Previous reports from the White House have lauded Pakistan on it’s efforts to stamp out activity along the Afghan Pakistan border, or justified lack of action due to the flooding in northwestern territories, one year ago. Unfortunately, the media is quick to point out that this new assessment somehow signals failure of US efforts in Afghanistan, which is untrue. In fact, the report explicitly states that progress HAS been made in Afghanistan, though fragile. And that it has potential for increased gains with the current momentum.
The 38-page report comes just 3 months before President Obama is to announce the pace of scheduled withdrawal by US forces. Complete withdrawal of US forces is tentatively set for 2014, based on regular assessments of progress and security. This date does not account for any troops remaining on ground purposes of continued training and sustainment (much like Iraq). Many of the additional 30,000 troops sent to Afghanistan last year during the Surge are expected to begin redeploying at the beginning of this summer. Some without replacement.
The positive impact of last year’s Surge of forces is just beginning to reveal itself (I can personally attest to this progression of positive influence as I have observed these changes from within country). Initial transition of the security and protection of districts is set to begin in the upcoming weeks from International Security Forces to the Afghan military. Commerce and trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan alone last year was at a reported $5 billion and expected to continue in growth next year. And if concurrent stabilization efforts continue to progress at their rapid pace, by 2014, every province will have access to consistent electrical power, clean water, and to the national highway system.
Frequent reports of internal rifts between Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban have emerged, as insurgents have taken a beating from focused action from the West, along the Afghan border. With quality and standards of living improving for almost all Afghans, Taliban fighters are increasingly reluctant to return to the fight, even as their Pakistan counterparts demand for more attacks from their own safe havens. The combination of repeated defeats by allied forces and their infighting has even caused several thousands of Afghan Taliban fighters to seek reintegration into the Afghan government. This requires that they swear allegiance to the government with the promise of never rebelling again (along with the confiscation of any weapons they had used).
Pakistan, on the other hand, has failed three times in the past two years to secure active insurgent areas in the Northwestern Territories such as Mohmand, through military action. Reluctant to allow US forces to work openly within their borders, Pakistan officials refuse offers for Western logistical assistance like helicopter maintenance, even when their military fleet is out of service for months on end. Fear that Pakistani military gains in the northwestern territories were lost after massive flooding last year, proved a boon for the Pakistan government instead, as they won the hearts and minds of tribesmen through fast response in aid. But they failed to use the momentum to secure ground within the territories and quickly retreated back, afterwards. Pakistan continues to obsess over an unfounded threat of attack from India, dedicating most of their military resources to this fear when the threat just does not exist. Currently, their modus operandi in the Afghan-Pakistan border area seems to be more of calling for aerial attacks on insurgents by the US in private, then howling non-concurrence and retribution in public and media. Any real attempt to halt cross-border insurgent traffic is minimal. Any why would they bother? Pakistan continually attempts to play puppet master for the Taliban for personal use, not realizing the destabilizing effect this is having on their own government.
Until the underlying issues in Pakistan are resolved, Afghanistan will never truly be where we want it to be. If it were possible to separate the two, the US mission would have long ago been achieved. Instead, we’re forced to combat a regional issue in a single state. A state that even with its own flawed government, lack of basic resources, fragmented population, and coercive neighbors,
has managed to attain a level of nationhood its citizens have never witnessed in their lifetimes. The Obama Administration is coming to the realization that the true threat lies in Pakistan. Remaining in Afghanistan until stabilization is ensured should continue to be a main priority, but the US should no longer use a loose strategy of throwing money at Pakistan’s problems in hopes that they will fix themselves. President Obama and his staff eventually have to better determine their options in dealing with Pakistan and its active insurgents. No one ever chopped firewood by beating the ground around the tree.