For sixteen years the United States, NATO and the Afghan security forces have fought a war tactically in a strategic environment that made victory impossible.
We have been fighting the wrong war. The war in Afghanistan is actually in Pakistan.
Current American policy towards Pakistan is one based on extortion, whereby, Pakistan, in exchange for money and a veil of undeserved international legitimacy, permits the resupply of US and NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan, while regulating the battle tempo, adjusting its support for and the flow of Taliban, Islamic State (ISIS), Haqqani network jihadis and other terrorist groups.
To America’s embarrassment, it is the foreign policy equivalent of a battered wife pleading for understanding of her abusive husband and the need to address his “insecurities” and create “incentives” for good behavior.
In fact, no amount of reassurance or incentives will prevent Pakistan from using radical Islamic groups both to suppress ethnic and nationalist aspirations within its borders and as an instrument of its foreign policy when it continues to reap the benefits of doing so without any negative consequences.
And it is no secret. Pakistan openly admits that it uses “religious militancy” for national security purposes, such as terrorist attacks in India and deploying the Taliban to control, influence or destabilize Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Pakistan has pain points, which should be exploited as part of a new Afghanistan strategy designed to win.
1. Foreign aid to Pakistan – reduce it to a trickle
Even Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States says that a tougher approach needs to be adopted toward his country: “The Bush administration gave Pakistan $12.4 billion in aid, and the Obama administration forked over $21 billion. These incentives did not make Pakistan more amenable to cutting off support for the Afghan Taliban.”
Recently, Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced that Pakistan will not receive some $50 million in military reimbursements from the 2016 fiscal year because the Pakistani government has not done enough to fight the Taliban and its allies, such as the Haqqani network.
2. Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) status – cancel it
As a MNNA country, approved by President George W. Bush in 2004, Pakistan became “eligible for priority delivery of defense material, an expedited arms sale process, and a U.S. loan guarantee program, which backs up loans issued by private banks to finance arms exports. It can also stockpile U.S. military hardware, participate in defense research and development programs, and be sold more sophisticated weaponry.”
3. Declaration of Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism – advance the House bill through Congress
On September 20, 2016, Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02), the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, along with Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (CA-48), introduced H.R.6069, the Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act. According to Chairman Poe: “Not only is Pakistan an untrustworthy ally, Islamabad has also aided and abetted enemies of the United States for years. From harboring Osama bin Laden to its cozy relationship with the Haqqani network, there is more than enough evidence to determine whose side Pakistan is on in the War on Terror.”
4. Durand Line – question its legitimacy
The Durand Line is the arbitrary 1896 border drawn between Afghanistan and Pakistan by British Diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand. Pakistan supports it, Afghanistan rejects it, whereby Pashtun lands currently in Pakistan could be potentially incorporated into Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan from using its Pashtun population as Taliban cannon fodder.
5. CPEC – undermine it
Pakistan has significant economic incentive to exclude western countries from maintaining any influence in Afghanistan. It is called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is part of China’s larger Belt and Road Initiative that aims to connect Asia through land-based and maritime economic zones. CPEC is an infrastructure project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar and Karachi located on the Arabian Sea. That network will be coupled to special economic zones and energy projects for Pakistan. Gwadar is a potential Chinese naval base at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which will complement another Chinese naval base in Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea creating two critical strategic choke points.
6. Ethnic separatism – encourage it
Probably the greatest of all potential Pakistani pain points is ethnic separatism. You cannot suppress history, ethnicity and culture in order to manufacture a nation simply based on geography, ideology or religion.
Pakistan is an artificial political entity created by the British during the partition of India, founded entirely on the religion of Islam and composed primarily of five ethnic groups that never coexisted, the Bengalis, Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baloch.
The “Islamization” program initiated by Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) was specifically designed to suppress ethnic separatism and make Pakistan the global Sunni leader, an effort that eventually led to the proliferation of Islamic terrorist groups within its borders.
If Pakistan continues to use the Taliban and the Haqqani network as instruments of its foreign policy in Afghanistan, the exploitation of ethnic separatism within Pakistan, such as in Balochistan, remains an option. That is, fight an insurgency with an insurgency.
Victory is unattainable in Afghanistan, irrespective of the troop levels, without a change in the strategic environment.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of “Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution “. He receives email at email@example.com.