How the India-Pakistan Relationship Shapes the War in Afghanistan
by Lieutenant Mark Munson
Seeking to develop a community of regional experts in local languages and cultures, and with the intent to sustain the deployment of those experts to the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater, the Department of Defense recently announced the creation of the "AF/PAK Hands" program. While this program demonstrates a laudable commitment by DoD towards building the intellectual capacity within the military to win the fight in Afghanistan, the focus of AF/PAK Hands on the languages and culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan (in particular the Pashtun border region) demonstrates a lack of strategic awareness of the decisive role that larger South Asian relationships (particularly that between India and Pakistan) play in the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Most importantly, while Pakistani cooperation is necessary for the defeat of al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistani attitudes towards India may prevent that full cooperation in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan cannot be won if Pakistan does not shift its national security efforts from deterrence of India towards defeating its own internal Islamist insurgency. As currently proposed, the Pashtu, Dari, and Urdu speakers trained as part of AF/PAK Hands will not be able to provide commanders with critical insights into the strategic aspects of the India-Pakistan dynamic.
The Navy's announcement of its participation in the new Afghanistan Pakistan Hands (APH) Program in September 2009 stated that "the objective of the APH program is to identify, select, train, and manage a cohort of experts in order to bring greater unity and cohesion to the fight in Afghanistan." Selected from "a mix of designators and ratings" and "specifically selected to capitalize on, or further develop, proficiencies in counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, regional languages, and culture," the program is designed to place personnel with tailored regional expertise "in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress towards achieving U.S. government objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region."
This essay will not address whether devoting U.S. military manpower (or encouraging and rewarding participation in this program) to fight a war in the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan is wise. It seems reasonable to assume that the expertise and real-world operational experience gleaned by all DoD personnel, even those in the sea services, participating in this war will be directly applicable to their jobs when they return to their respective branches of service and will enhance the U.S. military's overall war-fighting capacity.
Lieutenant Mark Munson currently serves as the Intelligence Officer for Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR. He has previously served onboard U.S.S ESSEX (LHD 2) and at the Office of Naval Intelligence.