At long last, the Obama administration has provided a draft of its objectives with respect to the ongoing military occupation of Afghanistan, as well as a series of metrics for gauging the success in terms of meeting those aims. Unfortunately, the enunciated objectives are themselves typical of the muddled and contradictory goals, tactics and strategies associated with a mission that has lost both its mooring and rudder. From Josh Rogin’s summary:
The draft document focuses on three main objectives: disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and especially Pakistan, working to stabilize Pakistan, and working to achieve a host of political and civic goals in Afghanistan. Each objective has a list of metrics beneath it, although many of these are more goals than concrete milestones that could be measured in any factual way. [emph. added]
The metrics span just about every conceivable issue, including progress towards Pakistan’s civilian government and judicial system becoming stable, to support for human rights, to public perceptions of security, to volume and value of narcotics.
A partial list of the cross purposes is as follows: A continued military operation in Afghanistan that (even if inadvertently) weakens Pakistan vis-a-vis India is not going to stabilize the situation in Pakistan (nor garner the full support of the Pakistani government). Along those lines, operations against Pakistani Taliban elements in pursuit of eliminating supply lines and redoubts for Afghan Talibs is not going to stabilize Pakistan either. Quite the contrary, such activities are creating a sizable anti-US, anti-Pakistani government backlash – pushing moderates and religious extremists together in common cause – and provoking Pakistani Taliban to attack the Pakistani government.
In general terms, this radicalization and escalation are only logical: large foreign military occupations pursuing narrow, self-serving interests and in the process bending local powers to its purposes rarely bring about stability, peace and regional harmony. Absent an unrestrained brutality that we will not and should not unleash.
As for the metric of achieving “progress towards Pakistan’s civilian government and judicial system becoming stable,” again, this aim is undercut by the underlying policy of military occupation of Afghanistan. Consider the actual metrics:
- Progress towards Pakistan’s civilian government and judicial system becoming stable and free of military involvement
- Pakistan’s actions to take necessary steps to ensure economic and financial stability, job creation, and growth
- Support for human rights
- Development of an enduring, strategic partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan
- Pakistani public opinion of government performance
- Demonstrable action by government against corruption, resulting in increased trust and confidence of the Pakistani public
Our policy is wildly unpopular in Pakistan. We are viewed by large swathes of the population as, alternatively, an imperial power and a Western crusader intent on weakening a powerful Muslim nation (and seizing its nukes). The government in power is viewed as a quisling regime installed and/or controlled by us.
How is a continuation of the policy that gives rise to such sentiment going to aid the “[d]evelopment of an enduring, strategic partnership between the U.S. and Pakistan”? Further, in an environment like the one stoked by such policies, how can the US simultaneously support democracy and seek to ensure a compliant Pakistani government? After all, it is at least likely that any government that emerges from a fair democratic process, if representative of public sentiment, would reject these particular US policies in the region.
Even Hamid Karzai had to engage in massive fraud to achieve his “free and fair” electoral victory – a testament to the complications elections and democracy can bring about. A similar outcome (or perceived outcome) in Pakistan in order to preserve the opportunity to pursue an unpopular policy would directly undermine each and every one of the enumerated metrics above.
Legitimacy is not won that way. And if legitimacy is a prerequisite for success in counterinsurgency operations, well then, we’re doing it wrong.