How to Lose in Afghanistan: J. R. Nyquist!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
By Paul Martin

NATO military moves near Afghanistan recently backfired when NATO airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Western diplomats apologized, saying the strikes were “tragic” and “unintentional.” But the Pakistani’s remain angry. For several years the Islamist forces in Afghanistan have been using the wild and mountainous regions of Pakistan as a sanctuary. Reacting to this, NATO aircraft mistakenly pounded Pakistani troops while attempting to strike the enemy. Mistakes of this type are common to military operations, and should have been prevented by commanders tasked with a broader view of operations.

America’s alliance with Pakistan has always been problematic, yet this alliance is essential. Every measure should have been taken to assure the safety of Pakistan’s troops. After all, Pakistan is theologically closer to the Taliban than to us. This is something of a military paradox, and a diplomatic paradox. The modern view suggests that pragmatists – of whatever religious persuasion – should work for peace; that violent radicals need to be contained. So the Americans seek help from Muslim Pakistan to win a battle against Muslim Afghans. At the same time, Pakistani’s crave American friendship, American economic assistance. Pakistan has need of development, and money, and technology. But a alliance of convenience is not always convenient.

A further deterioration of relations between the United States and Pakistan is now inevitable. Popular anger demands satisfaction. The United States does not appear – and has not been, in fact – sufficiently sensitive to Pakistan’s situation. India is not the hated enemy of America, as it is for Pakistan. China is not the military ally, which it is for Pakistan. There are forces at work in this relationship which tend to guarantee conflict and trouble. When Pakistan turns from NATO in disgust, once and finally, the U.S. position in Afghanistan will become strategically untenable. The supply line through Pakistan will be cut off, and the Russians will have the final say (since they control the alternate supply route). We should not suppose that Russia will remain friendly to the NATO presence in Afghanistan when Russian leaders have publicly complained of NATO encirclement and NATO bad faith in Eastern Europe.

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