The following are comments I entered at SWJ (Small Wars Journal) blog after a reader sent a link to a post there titled Defining Success in Afghanistan and which featured a video of the same title of a panel discussion at American Enterprise Institute. The reader thought that the discussion was worthwhile to note even if one didn't agree with all the opinions expressed by the panelists.
Some of the sources I mentioned in my comments at SWJ would be old news to Pundita readers but this is a good time for a review. I was also struck by a few of the facts cited in the SWJ comments, which I felt were important enough to require clarification or correction. Here I'm not going to name the commenters I addressed at SWJ because that would be unfair; their remarks need to be read in the full context. I'm also going to put the first comment I entered at SWJ last in this post, because it's excerpts from a somewhat lengthy summary of documents that were declassified in 2007. With that introduction out of the way:
I think it's a moot question as to whether the U.S. should stay on in Afghanistan and do nation building. The U.S. military bases being built in Afghanistan -- three at last count, and which are to be reserved for U.S. use -- are just one sign that the Pentagon is planning on being in the country a long time, whether or not there will be extensive drawdowns of combat troops.
I also think it's playing ostrich at this point to argue the questions of whether the U.S. can achieve victory in Afghanistan and what victory might look like. That's because it's obvious by now that until the Pakistan military's modus operandi in Afghanistan is halted NATO is trying to empty the ocean with a sieve and making it impossible for Afghan self-governance.
Just to review: the MO is to use proxies to assassinate or intimidate every Afghan they can manage to neutralize who shows intelligence and skill as an administrator, and who's not corrupt.
That's the same MO the Pakistani military used in East Pakistan and in Kashmir. It's the same MO they used in Baluchistan. It's the same MO they used in Afghanistan after the Russian pullout.
In fact it's the same MO they use against their 'own' people in the Punjab and Sindh who would seriously challenge the power of the country's largest landholders.
So I don't want to hear at this point about paths to victory in Afghanistan and nation building. First replace a sieve with a bucket.
One reason I scared up a summary of those declassified documents [see below] is that their release marked a turning point, in that the U.S. government could no longer practice denial and deception regarding the extent of the involvement of the Pakistan military/ISI with the Taliban.
This has meant that since the release of those documents U.S. officials have had to substitute for denial verbal handsprings; e.g., 'We still believe it's only rogue elements in the ISI,' 'They're improving,' and creative excuses; e.g., 'Remember we need to transport NATO supplies through Pakistan,' but the smoke blowing hasn't fooled any informed observer.
And such excuses won't fool U.S. military servicepeople once they leave Afghanistan and settle into civilian life -- the ones who will steel themselves to dig into the details of the U.S. government's actions toward Pakistan. They may know the big picture [about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship] while in theater but the devil is in the details.
Yet if the U.S. military command sees the lengthening shadow stalking it, it hasn't given a sign of this under Gates's leadership and Mullen's.
Virtual suicide missions, FUBAR orders, and friendly fire are all part of the fabric of war. But I believe that U.S. tolerance for the Pakistan military's use of proxies to murder U.S. troops represents the first time in history that taxpayers are in effect funding the killing and maiming of their own country's finest citizens in order to placate a vaunted ally.
How does the U.S. military high command think that thousands of ex-servicepeople are going to react when they learn in detail of such an atrocity?
So I would be a little less concerned at this point about defining success in Afghanistan and a lot more concerned with halting a betrayal of horrific proportions.
Now to reply to some specific comments:
Regarding the statement, "I understand that role of the Saudi/Pakistan support to the Taliban; however, they didn't support the Taliban when is was Mullah Omar and 5 other guys. [...]"
From yesterday's Guardian report on former ISI spymaster and vaunted "godfather" of the Taliban, Sultan Amir Tarar:
[...] He ran a network of CIA-funded training camps in the tribal belt and Balochistan, which funnelled tens of thousands of mujahideen guerrillas into battle against the Soviets.It was never "Mullah Omar and 5 guys." It was always Pakistan's high military command working in close cooperation with the U.S. command through the ISI front and with financial help and advice from the U.S. and Saudi military and intelligence services.
Among his students was a young Afghan cleric named Muhammad Omar ["Mullah Omar"], who emerged as head of the Afghan Taliban and seized power in Kabul in 1996. Tarar played a key role in that movement too.
Operating under diplomatic cover, Tarar was the ISI's point-man with the Taliban, nurturing a relationship in which Pakistan offered arms, advice and finance.
He developed a close personal relationship with Omar and, according to some reports, advised him as US forces attacked Afghanistan in late 2001.
That's the truth. It is the still the truth, even though Omar and his crew filled a law-and-order vacuum in Afghanistan and thus were tolerated and even welcomed by many Afghans until they recoiled from the Taliban's methods and Saudi-inspired Wahhabist doctrine.
As to the extent to which the U.S. government directly contributed to the indoctrination techniques Tarar used to radicalize Afghan refugees, see the March 2002 Washington Post report, The ABC's of Jihad:
In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.Many of those textbooks were used in the madrassas that were set up in refugee camps in Pakistan for Afghan refugees. And just to be clear, those camps were not exclusively reserved for Pashtuns. Afghans from all clans and ethnic backgrounds were given refuge in Pakistan once the Russian military entered Afghanistan.
The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.
Regarding the statement, "It was the lack of quality education in the Pashtun regions of Pakistan that provided the demand for the Wahabbism madrassas," that is not entirely correct from my reading of Ahmed Rashid's authoritative history of the Taliban. See pp. 89-90 of his 2001 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.
In brief, Rashid recounted that the aim of both the JUI and Zia's military regime in setting up madrassas was to indoctrinate and train Afghan Pashtuns to govern in Afghanistan. Later, as the Pakistani public education system collapsed (or to be more precise, was allowed to collapse), Zia vastly increased the number of madrassas. And yes, those schools became the only source of formal education for many of the poorest Pakistanis, and not just the Pashtuns.
What the passages in the book do not address is why Zia allowed the education system to collapse, despite massive infusions of aid from the West to prop it up. And when I say massive, I mean uncounted USD billions -- so many billions that no one in the 'international community' wants to tot up exactly how many.
This comment section is not the place to explore where successive Pakistani regimes diverted the education aid money to, and why Zia didn't want the country's masses to receive quality public education. But I will say here that it's uniformed to assume that a better education system is the key to turning Pakistanis away from radicalism.
And before I leave the subject of education: it shouldn't be assumed that the madrassas are the sole educational sources of radicalization in Pakistan. Indeed, a Frontline documentary aired a year or so ago featured Pakistani educators pointing out that the greatest radicalizing influence was Pakistan's public schools -- and that in comparison many madrassas were bastions of liberalism.
Thus, only the fact that many Pakistani families can't spare their children for school attendance has prevented an even greater level of radicalization than is seen in today's Pakistan.
Washington D.C., August 14, 2007 - A collection of newly-declassified documents published today detail U.S. concern over Pakistan's relationship with the Taliban during the seven-year period leading up to 9/11.For the entire summary and links to all the documents cited, see this page at the GW University archives website.
[T]he declassified U.S. documents released today clearly illustrate that the Taliban was directly funded, armed and advised by Islamabad itself.
Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the documents reflect U.S. apprehension about Islamabad's longstanding provision of direct aid and military support to the Taliban, including the use of Pakistani troops to train and fight alongside the Taliban inside Afghanistan. [Doc 17]
The records released today represent the most complete and comprehensive collection of declassified documentation to date on Pakistan's aid programs to the Taliban, illustrating Islamabad's firm commitment to a Taliban victory in Afghanistan. [Doc 34].
These new documents also support and inform the findings of a recently-released CIA intelligence estimate characterizing Pakistan's tribal areas as a safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorists, and provide new details about the close relationship between Islamabad and the Taliban in the years prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Declassified State Department cables and U.S. intelligence reports describe the use of Taliban terrorist training areas in Afghanistan by Pakistani-supported militants in Kashmir, as well as Pakistan's covert effort to supply Pashtun troops from its tribal regions to the Taliban cause in Afghanistan-effectively forging and reinforcing Pashtun bonds across the border and consolidating the Taliban's severe form of Islam throughout Pakistan's frontier region.
Also published today are documents linking Harakat ul-Ansar, a militant Kashmiri group funded directly by the government of Pakistan, [Doc 10] to terrorist training camps shared by Osama bin Laden in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. [Doc 16]
Of particular concern was the potential for Islamabad-Taliban links to strengthen Taliban influence in Pakistan's tribal regions along the border. A January 1997 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan observed that "for Pakistan, a Taliban-based government in Kabul would be as good as it can get in Afghanistan," adding that worries that the "Taliban brand of Islam…might infect Pakistan," was "apparently a problem for another day." [Doc 20]
Islamabad denies that it ever provided military support to the Taliban, but the newly-released documents report that in the weeks following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in 1996, Pakistan's intelligence agency was "supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food." Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate was "using a private sector transportation company to funnel supplies into Afghanistan and to the Taliban forces." [Doc 15]
Other documents also conclude that there has been an extensive and consistent history of "both military and financial assistance to the Taliban." [Doc 8]
> August 1996: Pakistan Intelligence (ISID) "provides at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month" to the militant Kashmiri group Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA). Despite this aid, the group is reaching out to sponsors of international terrorism including Osama bin Laden for additional support, and may in the near future become a threat to Islamabad itself as well as U.S. interests. HUA contacts have hinted they "might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners." [Doc 10]
> October 1996: A Canadian intelligence document released by the National Security Agency and originally classified Top Secret SI, Umbra comments on recent Taliban military successes noting that even Pakistan "must harbour some concern" regarding the Taliban's impressive capture of Kabul, as such victory may diminish Pakistan's influence over the movement and produce a Taliban regime in Kabul with strong links to Pakistan's own Pashtuns. [Doc 14]
> October 1996: Although food supplies from Pakistan to the Taliban are conducted openly through Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISID, "the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents." [Doc 15]
> November 1996: Pakistan's Pashtun-based "Frontier Corps elements are utilized in command and control; training; and when necessary - combat" alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. [Doc 17]
> March 1998: Al-Qaeda and Pakistan government-funded Harakat ul-Ansar (HUA) have been sharing terrorist training camps in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan for years [Link Doc 16], and HUA has increasingly been moving ideologically closer to al-Qaeda. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad is growing increasingly concerned as Fazlur Rahman Khalil, a leader in Pakistan's Harakat ul-Ansar has signed Osama bin Laden's most recent fatwa promoting terrorist activities against U.S. interests. [Doc 26]
> September 1998 [Doc 31] and March 1999 [Doc 33]: The U.S. Department of State voices concern that Pakistan is not doing all it can to pressure the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden. "Pakistan has not been responsive to our requests that it use its full influence on the Taliban surrender of Bin Ladin." [Doc 33]
> September 2000: A cable cited in The 9/11 Commission Report notes that Pakistan's aid to the Taliban has reached "unprecedented" levels, including recent reports that Islamabad has possibly allowed the Taliban to use territory in Pakistan for military operations. Furthermore the U.S. has "seen reports that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance and military advisors." [Doc 34]"