The war in Afghanistan has entered its ninth year. With over 100 soldiers getting killed in June 2010 and $738 billion spent so far, the cost in blood and treasure continues to escalate. Our initial mission—preventing Afghanistan from becoming a base for Al Qaeda and the Taliban—has since expanded into nation-building. Military’s promises remain unfulfilled. The “government in a box” failed to materialize, a large offensive promised in Kandahar was postponed indefinitely, and our support for “democracy” was exposed as a barefaced lie because of our support for Hamid Karzai—a symbol of corruption and an election-stealer, whose own brother is the biggest drug smuggler in Afghanistan.
U.S. achievements? Our soldiers continue to die. The Taliban are stronger and bolder in their attacks. The murderous reach of the Taliban has extended from their stronghold in southern and eastern regions to the north. The country is awash in corruption as Karzai and other warlords in his cabinet pilfer the aid money.
Barely one out of ten dollars reaches the war-weary public. When confronted about corruption, Karzai threatens to join the Taliban.
Despite our failure, President Obama promises more of the same policy in Afghanistan, a continuation of a vague, unfocused, misguided, and counterproductive strategy. Even a proposed withdrawal timeline is flexible and fuzzy.
We are failing in Afghanistan because we haven’t focused on the right players: India and Pakistan. Afghanistan was a playground for Soviets and the United States in 1980s, now the key players are India and Pakistan.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars over Kashmir. Pakistan has fostered Islamist militants to use as a proxy army against India in Kashmir. Terrorist attacks launched on the Indian Parliament and in Mumbai have been conceived and directed from Pakistan.
To fight against India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan nurtured and backed the Taliban to take over Afghanistan, and supported and protected Al Qaeda (and it continues to do so, despite posturing about its support for U.S. war on terrorism).
India has given over a billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan; this from a country that ranks a miserable 134 out of 182 nations in Human Development Index. It has four consulates in addition to its embassy in Kabul. The United States, in comparison, has no consulates. This seems to undermine Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.
During the 1980s, when the CIA channeled massive amounts of weaponry and military aid to drive Soviet military from Afghanistan, the money was sent via the notorious ISI, Pakistan’s equivalent of the CIA. Free to choose who received the weapons and money, the ISI ignored moderate elements and, instead, supported jihadi warriors with the aim of deploying them in Kashmir. By late 1980s, Pakistan had started to frame the Kashmir conflict in global Islamic jihad context (infidel Hindus oppressing Muslims in Kashmir). Even during the full-fledged war against the Soviets, mountainous regions of Afghanistan were used by the ISI to train militants to fight in Kashmir. Vast amount of aid and weapons meant for Afghan fighters were appropriated by the Pakistani military for the country it considers its true enemy: India.
After the Soviet departure, the ISI sent the Taliban forces to capture Kabul in Afghanistan. U.S. lack of interest in the region allowed the situation to fester. Only after the attack on the Twin Towers did the United States wake up to see that the jihadis, trained by Pakistan in Afghanistan’s mountainous region, had turned their attention towards the United States. The war between India and Pakistan had finally involved us.
Pakistan clearly has two policies. The official policy, sold to the United States, is of promoting stability in Afghanistan. The unofficial policy is to support the jihadis—to appease the population; to overthrow Karzai government and install a puppet regime; to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan; and to have a cadre of fanatic warriors who will continue the proxy war in India. Ignoring these facts, it is shocking that the United States continues to give weapons and aid to Pakistan and Pakistan continues to support fighters who have by now killed more than a thousand U.S. soldiers.
In a sign of blowback, factions of the Pakistani Taliban have started attacking their own mentors. This fact has been compartmentalized by the military as they distinguish between the “good” Taliban (those who train in Pakistan and fight in Afghanistan—the Afghani Taliban) and the “bad” Taliban (Jihadis who train in Pakistan but are upset at Pakistan’s apparent support for American presence in Afghanistan and Iraq—the Pakistani Taliban). The Pakistani military has demonstrated that it will happily crush the “bad” Jihadis and wink at the “good” ones.
As a result, while Pakistan is being riven by Islamic militants, the ruling elite continues to consider India as its primary enemy! When Pakistan’s rulers are shown the evidence of ISI and military’s support of radical Islamic groups, the groups are formally banned but, in reality, simply renamed, and allowed to function. Individuals involved in acts of terrorism are openly protected by the Pakistan government. None of this is secret: U.S. intelligence agencies have linked several terrorist plots in the United States to networks in Pakistan, including Faisal Shahzad’s May 2010 attempt to bomb Times Square in New York.
The seeds of pathological politics have settled deeply in Pakistani and Indian rulers’ psyches, causing immense misery to more than a billion people in South Asia. Only external diplomatic initiative can resolve this conflict. Unless Pakistan feels secure in its relationship with India, it will continue to support the Taliban and other Jihadi groups to destabilize Afghanistan and, by proxy, India.
U.S. ignorance of these facts has resulted a bloody stalemate in Afghanistan. Even when parts of Swat Valley in Pakistan were taken over by the Pakistani Taliban, Pakistan refused to pull enough troops from its eastern border with India to fight its internal problem.
Pakistan’s existential dangers come from within: using Islam for political expediency, deeply entrenched corruption, poverty, and illiteracy. It will never give up supporting the jihadi elements until its rivalry with India is resolved. The only way to bring peace to Afghanistan is through New Delhi and Islamabad.
Sunil Dutta, Ph.D., is a Lieutenant with the Los Angeles Police Department. The opinions articulated in this article are his own.