Small Wars Journal

Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?

Mon, 12/28/2009 - 7:55am
Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?

How the India-Pakistan Relationship Shapes the War in Afghanistan

by Lieutenant Mark Munson

Download the full article: Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?

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.

Download the full article: Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?

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.

About the Author(s)


Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:28am

No, the point of any hands would not be to look at how the India-Pakistan relationship affects Afghanistan (anyway, it's more complicated than that), it would be to understand more about the region--and yourselves. Why did you believe certain things institutionally? The Eastern Alliance could never be what the Northern Alliance was in the initial stages but there you have the CIA and its institutional buy-in toward the southern insurgency model.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:23am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Jointness, SOF-conventional mixed doctrines, regionally aligned brigades, etc. It all mixes up here, doesn't it, in the intellectual spaces you create for yourselves? The Special Forces language training would go here? Why the other proposal for using a contractor (ha!) when it is the State Department or something like Special Forces that could use the 23 million to hire instructors. Academia's corporatized and adjuncts are paid a pittance. You could pick up the best of the best if that is what you really wanted.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:20am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Sorry, I messed up the quotes in the above and can't edit the comment. Starting with "I mentioned...." to the link is lifted from the linked site. I think it's still clear.

I should post this under a different thread, no one clicks or reads unless it's under the correct threads. Ha! It sort of amuses me to see what gets clicked on and what doesn't. Wisdom of the crowds should take a detour once and a while.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:17am

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Hard to say in terms of the question asked at the end, by I am intrigued by the intellectual possibilities. What does it mean that contact information was lost?

<blockquote>“If there had been equitable investment in all SOF, instead of just fixing Desert One for the last 20 years, where do you think counterinsurgency and occupational doctrine, human intelligence networks, cultural training, language training and language technology, indigenous technical equipment, the art of caches, biometric and historical contact records (all lost from earlier SF involvement in Afghanistan), and general-purpose force understanding of irregular warfare would have been by 9/11?” he asked. “I know the fight in Kosovo and Iraq would have been different.”</blockquote>…

It would be interesting to think this through in the way our discussion (okay, I monopolized it) went in the "Agnostic Warfare" thread.

Desert Storm and the initial toppling of the Taliban. You are fantastic when used--appropriately--as a kind of punisher. Then leave.

Stephen Walt in a lecture said that one reason realism doesn't get heard is that the foreign policy community is so large. Blogger Pundita made this point too. So many cooks in the kitchen with so many needs to fulfill professionally so that even if people are sincere we can't do just one or two things, we have to do everything. How many assistant secretaries of this or that are there?

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 10:11am

If you had an unconventional warfare command, would there be room for proper study of regions, something jointly or in conjunction with the idea of regionally-aligned brigades?

Here I am more interested in the intellectual and scholarly possibilities, a way to negate the politicized study of different countries that seems to occur in think tanks, and, sadly, many academic departments.

All beware the old school New York Times phenomenon of developing passions and hatreds of nations:

<blockquotes>I mentioned the Indiaphiles above. Crossette is clearly an Indiaphobe. Both extremes are “true,” actually, but they are also “false,” and they are true and false in the same way: the Indian reality contains both—and much much more. Speaking of elephants, I’m forced to drag out that bit about the blind men encountering different parts of a pachyderm–it’s a tube; it’s a wall; it’s a column; etc. They are all right, of course, and they are all terribly off the mark.

Barbara Crossette should be able to grasp the heterogenous, imperfect and sometimes (to use her own word) dazzling reality of a country that is actually a whole civilization better compared with Europe in toto than with any one country. What launched Crosette on this dismal, one-note, India-trashing mission? Why does she feel the need to keep hammering on the same hurtful nail? Does she really think all the rest of us are so guru-ized we can’t see the whole picture with all its shadows and highlights?</blockquote>…

I suppose I am always looking to "get" different American schools of foreign policy thought because of the easy acceptance of the use of proxies in South Asia when similar behavior in other regions is seen as negative because of this. I sort of have a hard time forgiving this very strange attitude.

Oddly, the many men and women who have served in Afghanistan are now honorary South Asian--so to speak--on this subject. What many progressives and non-interventionists (and interventionists) have missed is that the location of OBL when he was found had a profound affect on the American public in its attitudes toward our supposedly "forever" Sunni bloc alliance. I am always hoping this is an honest blind spot and not a form of bigotry.

Jason Gresh (not verified)

Wed, 03/17/2010 - 11:01am

Lieutenant Munson's article captures the intricate relationships between the different nations of South Asia, and adequately supports his argument for enlarging the portfolio of a 'regional' expert that the AF/PAK hands program ostensibly tries to create.

Yet I find it somewhat disturbing that the conversation thus far tends to focus on the trees rather than the forest. As an AF/PAK hand, such regional experts should indeed incorporate 'extra-AFPAK geopolitical and cultural implications of operating in Afghanistan or Pakistan. In fact, as the previous commentator has alluded to, DOD already possesses such regional expertise. We know them as FAOs. Rather than seek to expand the ad-hoc AF/PAK hand program, why aren't we strengthening the existing institutions that DOD has in its proverbial toolbox? Acknowledging that FAO accessions have increased over the past two years, DOD should move towards incorporating more operational assignments earlier and more often into the career timeline of all FAOs, regardless of regional expertise. As a FAO myself, I cannot help to think that we have tacitly abdicated our operational (and strategic) relevance when DOD gave birth to the AF/PAK hands program. Unfortunately, our current assignment framework makes it challenging to keep operationally grounded.

I find the purpose behind the AF/PAK hand program to be well intentioned, and I recognize that all officers should strive to incorporate more of an expeditionary mindset as long as our national strategy demands it. Yet I find it hard to support a program when we can just as easily strengthen an existing one. Existing and future candidates for the AF/PAK hands program could have just as easily been temporarily (or permanently, as needed) accessed as 48Ds (South Asia FAOs), as long as FAOs in turn were willing to accept more operational billets (and operations were willing to accept them). It seems like the time is ripe for a more deliberate analysis of nebulous billets (the spaces) - as well as the right people (faces) that should populate them.

Jason P. Gresh
Major, U.S. Army
Student, Command and General Staff College

The views expressed in this comment are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Tue, 12/29/2009 - 11:57am

As a precis of the interwoven relationship between the AF/PAK/IN players, an excellent job. As an argument for the title of the piece, I find it unconvincing.
As far as the UCP division goes, not everywhere in the world divides up neatly. Yes, India is deeply involved in a competitive relationship with Pakistan. So? It is also involved in a competitive relationship with China, and is working hard--as is China--to expand its influence in SE Asia and Africa. Do we put the whole Asian and African continents under one COCOM? A line needs to be drawn somewhere. And if that results in anomalies, such as Chad and Sudan being in two different AORs, well the world is not precise. At least AFG's two most influential neighbors--Iran and Pakistan--are in the AOR.
As to the broader question, I think the LT is arguing against a strawman. Having served as a DATT in two different regions, any FAO learns about much more than the specific country he is operating in; he has to, so he can understand the country. To conclude that an AF/PAK hand is a priori going to be ignorant of India's role, or Iran's role, or China's role (biggest private investment in AFG to start tapping natural resources) in the region seems to me ridiculous. Certainly, he may well be lacking in Hindi, and even in 27 of the other 28 Indian languages with more than a million speakers, but he will likely be pretty fluent enough in the other official Indian language--Englsh--to be able to do his own open source research and even make a conversation or two. And for operators on the ground, after Dari and Pashto, and Urdu in PAK, Uzbek might be the next most useful language.

Don't Forget About India by Christopher Hitchens

"Yet the Obama administration, phrasing its strategy for the crisis, cannot get beyond the silly and limited abbreviation Af-Pak. By excluding India from the equation, the political and military planners impose a tunnel vision upon themselves and dishearten the country that should be our major ally in the region (for other purposes, too, such as forming a counterweight to the increasingly promiscuous power of China).

When the throat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners come to the villagers of Pakistan and Afghanistan at dead of night, they have one great psychological advantage. "One day, the Americans and the Europeans will go," they say. "But we will always be here." There's some truth in this: Most of the talk in this country is now of an "exit strategy," and for all the good they are doing, most of the other NATO contingents might as well have shipped out already. But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one. There's much to be discussed under this heading, but for now--back to the studio for the latest on Tareq and Michaele."