This morning I had the opportunity to listen in on a panel called “Will Pakistan be Democratic in 2020?” that was hosted by The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (full disclosure, I am a fellow at FDD). On the panel were Cliff May, the President of FDD; Shuja Nawaz, the Director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council; Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Senior Fellow at FDD; Marvin Weinbaum, a Scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute; and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at FDD. The discussion was based on the new book, The Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater: Militant Islam, Security and Stability, edited by Cliff May and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.
The timing of the panel on Pakistan was perfect, given the release this past week of the report by the London School of Economics which directly linked Pakistan’s intelligence service, and even its top government leaders, with the Afghan Taliban. This issue was discussed during the Q&A session, and surprisingly, the experts were somewhat dismissive of the report, while acknowledging Pakistan’s longtime links to the Taliban. There was also surprisingly little discussion of direct Pakistani support for jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Much of the discussion centered on the prospects for the development and growth of democratic institutions in Pakistan, and on concerns about an Islamist takeover or another military coup (the panelists seemed to agree both of the latter prospects were unlikely). Nawaz noted that Pakistan’s political parties do not act in a democratic manner internally, and said that food and power shortages and other domestic problems pose a real threat to the nation.
But what struck me most were Reuel Marc Gerecht’s comments about how the US strategy in Afghanistan is failing and how this may impact democratic gains in Pakistan. Gerecht, like many observers, is pessimistic about the prospects of success in Afghanistan, and he asked the question that was on my mind: What happens if the US loses in Afghanistan, and how would a loss impact Pakistan?
“I think the odds are increasing that unless the US significantly changes the way we are conducting the war in Afghanistan we are going to lose,” Gerecht said. Afghanistan would slip into a civil war; the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazara would re-form the Northern Alliance, and probably would receive major backing, likely from the US; while Pakistan would support the Pashtuns, he predicted.
“Everybody in Pakistan will support the Pashtuns,” Gerecht said. “The [Pakistani] democrats will support the Pashtuns, the military will support the Pashtuns.” Gerecht said that while this may not destroy Pakistan’s democratic movement, in all likelihood the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan would continue.
Gerecht made an excellent point about the current state of play in Afghanistan, and it is one I have made often on radio with John Batchelor. That point is: The US is now in a situation resembling the 2005-2006 timeframe in Iraq, when the insurgency raged, the political situation was grim, the overall strategy to defeat the insurgency was muddled, the US was looking for the exit, and there were far too few Iraqi and US security forces to tamp down al Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, and allied Islamist and insurgent groups.
“I think what you’re seeing playing out in Afghanistan now is essentially what Bush was dealing with, say 2005, 2006 in Iraq we’re not dealing with the [Iraqi] surge in 2007 in Afghanistan, we’re dealing with in fact mini surges in 2005, 2006 in Iraq that ultimately failed,” Gerecht said. While not stated, Gerecht is referring to the Marine offensives in western Anbar province and the US Army offensive in Tal Afar, two operations that achieved tactical gains but could not be capitalized on due to a shortage of resources and the lack of a coherent counterinsurgency strategy.
Gerecht described the current situation in Afghanistan as a “make or break moment” for President Obama.
“Will he do what President Bush did in late 2006, will he in fact authorize a bigger surge in Afghanistan?” he asked. Gerecht doesn’t believe he will.
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