Small Wars Journal

DoD Report: Pakistan is Reason for Afghanistan Stalemate

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 11:15pm

DoD Report: Pakistan is Reason for Afghanistan Stalemate by Robert Cassidy - Real Clear Defense

The latest U.S. Department of Defense Report on “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” reiterates that Pakistan’s sanctuary, support, and employment of insurgents and terrorists is a strategic impediment to ending that war well, or to ending it at all.  The Pentagon is now preparing to send about four thousands more troops.  A number of Coalition partners will probably send a commensurate number of additional troops.  More troops and more actions will build advisory capacity and thus improve the Afghan security forces capacity.  More capacity will, in turn, gain some tactical and operational momentum vis-à-vis the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other Islamist militants that benefit from Pakistan’s support and sanctuary.

But more action and more troops in and of themselves will not gain strategic momentum.   Strategic momentum requires a marked change in Pakistan’s strategic behavior.   That requires a strategy which includes more regional cooperation and a much more coercive strategic approach to curb Pakistan’s machinations.  This requires a sea change in strategic thinking to shock, compel, and instill fear in Pakistan’s security establishment to break it out of its ingrained strategic-cultural pathologies.  Pakistan’s duplicitous incubation and export of proxy terrorists and insurgents is the most significant obstacle to peace in Afghanistan and South Asia.

Pakistan has nurtured and relied on a host of Islamist insurgents and terrorists for decades.  The Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) has maintained links between Al Qaeda, its longtime Taliban allies, and a host of other extremists inside Pakistan. It is only possible for Pakistan to become a non-pariah state among the community of states and a helpful partner to the Coalition and the U.S. if it significantly modifies its regional conduct and ceases its support of proxy terrorists and insurgents.  America has doled out more than $33 billion in carrots to Pakistan in exchange for Pakistan’s treachery since 9/11.  This miscarriage of trust and reliability is abhorrent…

Read on.


Bill C.

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 12:53pm

Should we be looking at Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc., through a different lens?

Thus, not through the lens of terrorists and/or terrorist sanctuaries. But, rather, through the lens of:

a. "Global competition" based on

b. "Differing political, economic, social and value orientation, institutions and norms."


... There are serious political competitions underway for regional and strategic dominance. These extend beyond military battlefields and are fought across a variety of domains – political, economic, informational, and cultural. Is the United States finally ready to compete? ...

... Yet in virtually every theater of the world, local and regional competitions over ideas, economic systems, and societies affect America’s ability to protect and advance its interests.

END QUOTE (by Nadia Schadlow)
(Nadia Schadlow is now, I believe, a member of the National Security Council and, therein, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for National Security Strategy.)


Last month, Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set American troop levels in Afghanistan, but as commander in chief Trump must sign off on an overall strategy for the war.

Mattis has said the strategy he will recommend, which will be presented to Trump by mid-July, will take a broader "regional" approach, with no set timetable.


"Winning" or "losing" in Afghanistan/"defeating the Taliban"/"dealing with Pakistan," etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum -- AND ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD THAT WE MIGHT WISH TO DISCUSS THESE AND/OR OTHER NATIONAL SECURITY MATTERS -- thus, to be understood more in terms of:

a. The global political, economic, social/cultural, etc. competition (for example, the U.S./the West versus Russia, China, Iran and AQ/ISIS),

b. Such as that noted by Nadia Schadlow above?

Bottom Line:

Thus, much as in the Old Cold War -- also in this New Cold War -- if one is not looking at the U.S./the West's national security matters/problems more through this (a) "global competition" based on (b) "differing political, economic, social and value orientation, institutions and norm" lens, then one does not have the right focus, and thus does not have a proper understanding, of (a) the true nature of the threats that the U.S./the West faces today and/or (b) what needs to be done to adequately deal with these such threats. Yes?

(Given that, at the end of the Old Cold War, a "universal western values"/a western "end of history" world did not, as we had hoped, materialize, then why would one think that a "similar to the Old Cold War" world [global competition; based on differing political, economic, social/cultural institutions and norms] [a] would not emerge -- as indeed it has -- and [b] need to be dealt with?)

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 07/09/2017 - 9:27pm

The fact that so many senior officials believe this to be the reason is the real reason, and shows that we have learned no strategic lessons from Vietnam or Afghanistan. Misframed, misunderstood, misfought, and then blame placeced everywhere else as we rationalize why our victories did not produce victory.

Bill M.

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 9:47pm

In reply to by Azor

The good: all recommendations sound reasonable to me, and I'm especially happy that you pointed out we can still have somewhat of a strategic and humanitarian gain in Northern Afghanistan, where our interests are more aligned with the populace there. Consolidate gains there, let the region flourish like Kurdistan did in Northern Iraq, and disrupt as required in the outlying areas.

The bad: the problem with reasonable recommendations is they don't tend to resonate in the national capital region.


Mon, 07/10/2017 - 5:44pm

In reply to by Bill M.

To Bill M.,

Firstly, I would say that the initial objectives of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 have been largely met: the Taliban’s Islamist state has been destroyed and Afghanistan is no longer a sanctuary or “revolutionary base” for Islamist terrorists to target the U.S.

Secondly, I would say that the U.S. should no longer consider a strong and friendly Afghan state and a unitary Afghanistan as objectives, as these are unrealistic. The U.S. will have strong relations with various factions in northern Afghanistan, such as the non-Pashtuns who comprised the Northern Alliance. However, it will never be able to pacify and integrate half of the Pashtun nation, divided as it is by the Durand Line, into an Afghan “nation”. Nor are Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns particularly amenable to central authority emanating from Kabul.

Thirdly, were the U.S. to withdraw from Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan and merely monitor developments there from afar, striking at the Taliban and Daesh when and where necessary, it could continue its current strategy of containment and attrition with less risk and cost.

Fourth, northern Afghanistan can be made into a U.S. protectorate along the lines of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and where humanitarian development could be focused.

Lastly, Pashtunistan is a double-edged sword for Pakistan. It is both a lever for Pakistan to exert influence on Afghanistan, and a lever to threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity. Despite Pakistan’s mass murder and rape of Bengalis in 1971, Pakistan was nevertheless traumatized politically by the loss of more than half of its population, the humiliating loss to India, and the foundering of the idea that disparate ethnicities could be united in a Muslim state.

My conclusion is that no good can come of trying to pacify the Pashtuns. On the contrary, they should be prevented from infiltrating north.

Bill M.

Sun, 07/09/2017 - 5:37pm

In reply to by Azor

Obviously there are no simple answers, and there may be no acceptable answers. I suggest a response to your question depends on how important our national interests are in Afghanistan. Is achieving our objectives there (or alternatively not achieving them), important enough to risk a conflict with a nuclear armed Pakistan? There is also the larger issue of regional instability, and if the Pakistan state collapses, that the Islamists in the Pakistan ISI would gain control of the nuclear weapons. It is unlikely they would (or could) launch a nuke at the U.S., but India is another matter.

Despite this potential nightmare scenario, if our national leadership thinks success in Afghanistan is critically important, then we can't afford to be deterred by Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, giving in to Pakistan's deterrence only encourages more states to pursue the development of these weapons.

We're still cursed by hubris of the Bush Administration's desire to establish stable democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lofty goal is best achieved over decades via diplomacy and economic development, not by the military. An argument can be made that we're actually delaying political evolution in Afghanistan. It seems that we don't know how to adjust our ends or to back out of this and preserve our credibility internationally and domestically. I certainly don't have any answers, but hope we don't forget the hard lessons of hubris when we engage in future conflicts.

I'm glad the DOD finally admitted what most knew. Having said that, is it worth another nuclear standoff over this?


Sat, 07/08/2017 - 5:19am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,

Agreed. Perhaps any new strategy on our part should seriously consider "regime-change" within Pakistan with the eventual reincorporation of that region into India.

Pakistan isn't the only reason for our lack of progress in Afghanistan, but it is certainly the main reason. I'm surprised that our Congress continues to allow the Department of State to play footsie with Pakistan, while Pakistan continues to support the killing and maiming of U.S. service members and our coalition partners in Afghanistan. Furthermore, our quasi-friendly relationship with Pakistan hinders our relationship with India, which is exponentially of more value to the U.S. strategically than our relationship with Pakistan, a state sponsor of terrorism. Thousands of U.S. service members killed and wounded by terrorists and insurgents supported by Pakistan over the past 15 plus years, and we continue to acquiesce and accept their lame excuses on why they can't stop it.