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Sept 12, 2011

An Alternative to Senator Kirk's Af-Pak Policy Proposal

By Arshad M Khan

Senator Kirk's policy statement on Afghanistan surprises not only because it
was issued the day after Pakistan captured al-Qaeda's new
Second-in-Command, Younis al Mauritani, but because it seems oblivious to
geography, the ethnic makeup of Afghanistan, its traditions and its history.

Senator Kirk arranged to spend the two weeks of his Reserves duty in
Afghanistan as Commander Kirk of the U.S. Naval Reserve.  But to base a
radical opinion on this raises a host of questions:  Was he treated there as
just Commander Kirk or Senator Kirk?  Where did he go?  Who did he meet?  
Did he just meet the Northern Alliance leaders and Mr. Karzai?  If so, the
former represent a minority of Afghans, the latter is allied with India, and he
would have been sold the Kabul narrative.

In cutting aid to Pakistan and recommending a policy tilt towards India (with
the goal of setting up a government in Kabul with India's help), the Senator's
proposed policy is  doomed to failure.  India's allies in Afghanistan, the
Northern Alliance, constitute a coalition comprising mainly minority Tajiks and
Uzbeks.  Such a construct ignores the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.  
There are 13.5 million of them with another 27 million living across a
traditionally porous Af-Pak border -- the Durand Line drawn up by the British
and ignored by locals.  Thus a stable peace in Afghanistan is not viable
without the inclusion of Pashtuns, and the support of Pakistan and their
brethren living there.

The present Afghan army has less than 3 percent Pashtuns, and the
government is dominated by the Northern Alliance.  We are allied with this
minority group because we used them to eject the Taliban government.  
However, their failure to incorporate the Pashtuns meaningfully in seats of
power has led to the generally tacit but oft times enthusiastic support of the
Pashtun population for the insurgency.

Not only has Pakistan just caught al-Mauritani, it has previously captured
several prominent al-Qaeda leaders including the 9/11 mastermind Khalid
Sheikh Mohammad.  Dr. Michael Scheuer, who spent 22 years in the CIA and
headed the bin Laden search task force, has often said about Pakistan that
one can not expect it to set aside its strategic interests and its fear of being
encircled by India through proxies in Kabul.  The Haqqani network is part of
its defense against just such an outcome.  It knows it cannot rely on the U.S.
given its past history in the region -- Afghanistan in the 1980s and Iraq now.  
But look at what Pakistan has done for us.  We have several bases there; it
offered up its base in Hyderabad for our forces.  It allows overflights
throughout the country.  It maintains the main supply lines for our troops,
and furnishes transport for the purpose.  Above all it has gone to war with its
own people (those Pashtuns actively supporting their kin in Afghanistan), on
our behalf.  As a result, it has lost 3000 dead and thousands more wounded.  
It is suffering terrorist bombings as a common occurrence when it had
seldom experienced any before it joined our war on terror.

Two days after the arrest of al Mauritani and others, a bomb went off in the
same town outside the home of a senior paramilitary commander killing
twenty.  It is widely believed to have been a revenge attack.

India and Pakistan are two nuclear powers.  Instead of tilting to one or the
other, common sense warrants the U.S. would be better off with a fair and
balanced policy, in an effort to help stabilize the region.  A neutral stance
might well enhance credibility in brokering some kind of settlement for the
thorny Kashmir issue, where a decades-long insurgency has taken 100,000
lives.  The problem has brought the two countries close to war -- and actual
war before they became nuclear -- several times.  War between nuclear
armed states is not a prospect one wishes to contemplate; clearly, pushing
one or the other into a corner is a policy fraught with danger.

For some time now, I have advocated a peaceful solution for the region
based on economic partnership along the lines of the European Benelux
model.  Through a measure of autonomy within the overall South Asian
Community, such a disposition could also finesse the Kashmir political
question.  I hope we can all work towards peace on the subcontinent.