Sunday, April 5, 2009

The riddle of Pakistan is the key to Afghanistan

A major problem in formulating an opinion on the Pakistan conflict, which directly should inform one's opinion about the war in Afghanistan, is that quite frankly, not many people really understand who's who, who wants what, who's on who's side and so on...

An overview of the conflict and its major actors is a good start to try and make sense of the seemingly senseless and unconnected violence afflicting the country (if we can still call it that at this point.) Yet on the heels of yet another bloody attack on Pakistani Shi'a civilians, it is unlikely to help us understand what should be done about it.

Obama for one seems to think he has part of the answers. He has understood from the get-go that no substantial progress can be hoped for in Pakistan, let alone Afghanistan, without the reenergized support of the broader international community, and this includes major regional players that the Bush Administration managed to royally piss-off during its eight years of power - see Russia & Iran. Obama also wants to redirect resources from Iraq to Af-Pak and 'de-Americanize' the war by calling on NATO allies to contribute more troops (all part of Obama's multilateral approach to international problems.) NATO has partly responded by pledging an increase of 5000 troops. Washington and NATO are also exploring ways to pry the Taliban open by striking deals with more 'moderate wings' of the groups.

Yet all this politicking, strategizing and saber-rattling on the part of Obama does not clarify how victory is to be achieved without reforming the entire Pakistani state. Corruption, double-crossing, murderous political rivalries, a powerless central government, a lack of coordination among the many competing security and intelligence agencies and the sense of despair spreading among the Pakistani population are not adequately addressed in Obama's strategy.

What do we do about what is on the verge of becoming a failed state? Pakistan's internal strife is the underbelly of the problem and part-and-parcel of any long-term solution for Afghanistan.

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