Time to partition Afghanistan (3)

29 جولائی 2010
By: Robert D. Blackwill
worldwide, friends and adversaries alike would see it as a failure of international leadership and strategic resolve by an ever weaker United States, with destructive aftershocks for years to come.
6) Or it can adopt new U.S. policy goals for Afghanistan that, realistically, have a better chance of succeeding. This means accepting a de facto partition, enforced by U.S. and NATO air power and special forces, the Afghan army and international partners.
After years of faulty U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, there are no quick, easy and cost-free ways to escape the current deadly quagmire. But with all its problems, de facto partition offers the best available U.S. alternative to strategic defeat.
Announcing that we will retain an active combat role in Afghanistan for years to come and that we do not accept permanent Taliban control of the south, the United States and its allies could withdraw combat forces from most of Pashtun Afghanistan (about half the country), including Kandahar, over several months.
We would stop fighting and dying in the mountains, valleys and urban areas of southern Afghanistan — where 102 coalition soldiers were killed in June, the most in any month of the war and almost three times as many as a year ago. But we could be ready to assist tribal leaders on the Pashtun periphery, who may decide to resist the Taliban.
We would then focus on defending the northern and western regions — containing roughly 60 percent of the population. These areas, including Kabul, are not Pashtun dominated, and locals are largely sympathetic to U.S. efforts.
We would offer the Afghan Taliban an agreement in which neither side seeks to enlarge its territory — if the Taliban stopped supporting terrorism, a proposal that they would almost certainly reject.
We would then make it clear that we would rely heavily on U.S. air power and special forces to target any Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan Taliban leaders who aided them. We would also target Afghan Taliban encroachments across the de facto partition lines and terrorist sanctuaries along the Pakistan border.
Though careful analysis is needed, this might mean a longtime residual U.S. military force in Afghanistan of about 40,000 to 50,000 troops. We would enlist Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and supportive Pashtun in this endeavor, as well as our NATO allies, Russia, India, Iran, perhaps China, Central Asian nations and, one hopes, the U.N. Security Council.
We would continue accelerating our Afghan army training. We would devote nation-building efforts to the northern and western regions, where, unlike the Pashtun areas, people are not conflicted about accepting U.S. help and not systematically coerced by the Taliban.
There might even come a time when a stronger Afghan National Army could take control of the Pashtun areas.
Such fundamentally changed U.S. objectives and strategies regarding Afghanistan would dramatically reduce U.S. military causalities and thus minimize domestic political pressure for hasty withdrawal. It would substantially lower our budget-breaking military expenditures on Afghanistan — now nearly $7 billion per month.
This would also allow the U.S. Army and Marines to recover from years of fighting two ground wars; increase the likelihood that our coalition allies, with fewer casualties, might remain over the long term; encourage most of Afghanistan’s neighbors to support an acceptable stabilization of the country and reduce Islamabad’s ability to parlay the U.S. ground role in southern Afghanistan into tolerance for terrorism emanating from Pakistan.
In addition, it would allow Washington to focus on four issues more vital to its national interests: the rise of Chinese power, the Iranian nuclear weapons program, nuclear terrorism and the future of Iraq.
There are certainly problems with this approach:
The Taliban could trumpet victory or not accept a sustained status quo and continually test our resolve. It is likely that lower-level violence would persist in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, especially in the south. Pashtun Afghanistan could again become a hotbed of international terrorism, a dangerous outcome that probably could only be avoided by U.S. combat forces fighting there for years — and, in any case, the current Al Qaeda epicenter is in Pakistan.
In the context of de facto partition, the sky over Pashtun Afghanistan would be dark with manned and unmanned coalition aircraft — targeting not only terrorists but, as necessary, the new Taliban government in all its dimensions. Taliban civil officials — like governors, mayors, judges and tax collectors — would wake up every morning not knowing if they would survive the day in their offices, while involved in daily activities or at home at night.
But there would be no mountain caves in which they could hide and, at the same time, do their jobs. Over time, that could produce some degree of deterrence against Taliban support for terrorism.
Pakistan would likely oppose de facto partition. Managing Islamabad’s reaction would be no easy task — not least because the Pakistan military expects a strategic gain once the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan.
Indeed, Islamabad might need to be persuaded to concentrate, with the United States, on defeating the Pakistan Taliban and containing the Afghan Taliban to avoid momentum toward a fracturing of the Pakistan state.
There might be potential pockets of fifth column Pashtun in the north and west. Karzai and his associates would almost certainly resist partition — and might not remain in power. Fearing a return of Pakistan dominance in Afghanistan, India would likely encourage Washington to continue ground combat in the south for many years to come — and would have to be told that was not in the cards.
Human rights in the Taliban-controlled areas would also probably be abysmal, including for minorities.
Putting together a coalition of like-minded nations to implement this strategy would be a daunting diplomatic challenge — not least with Tehran.
But even with all the challenges, it is better to accept defacto partition sooner rather than persist until our current COIN strategy has failed, triggering a domestic political eruption and, perhaps, a disastrous total U.S. military withdrawal.
Washington should not wait to change its objective and strategy in Afghanistan until even more U.S. blood and treasure have been lost in a fruitless quest among the Afghan Pashtun and the enemy proclaims that it has mighty America, like the Soviets, on the run out of Afghanistan.
Robert D. Blackwill served as U.S. ambassador to India, deputy national security adviser for strategic planning and presidential envoy to Iraq in the George W. Bush administration.