America's Fatal Flaws in Afghanistan

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has shown little interest in Afghanistan or Germany's deployment there and only recently attended her first funeral for a fallen German soldier. Soon, roughly 5,000 US troops will be deployed in the north to support the Germans in launching a major offensive to drive out the Taliban.

A Proxy Force

The third problem is that the Afghan Taliban and other extremist groups are still able to find sanctuary in Pakistan. The Pakistan military allowed the Taliban and its allies to relaunch their campaign against US forces in 2003. Bush ignored the issue as long as Pakistan went after al-Qaida, which the military did. Obama has pushed Pakistan harder with both carrots and sticks, but Pakistan insists on keeping the Afghan Taliban option open because of its perceived but exagerrated threat from India, which has strengthened its influence in Kabul. Now, with the US intent to withdraw and Pakistan a key player in the end game for influence in Kabul, the military sees it as all the more important to keep the Afghan Taliban in reserve as a proxy force for pursuing the army's interests in Kabul.

In the meantime, Pakistan's army also allowed the growth of the Pakistani Taliban -- Pakistani Pashtun tribesmen who originally appeared as helping hands for the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida in the tribal areas. Since 2007, the Pakistani Taliban has emerged as a challenge to the state that is wreaking havoc with suicide attacks across Pakistan. Late last year, the army began to pursue Pakistani Taliban, but it has only done so in six of the seven tribal agencies. The army refuses to enter the seventh agency, North Waziristan or deploy further south in the border region of Balochistan where the Taliban and their allies, like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, operate from.

With its obsession with India, the army also refuses to go after Punjabi extremist groups who have been used in the past by the military to fight Indian troops in Kashmir. Lying idle for several years, these groups have not been disarmed and many of their fighters are now fighting for the Pakistani Taliban or have bases in the tribal areas.

Al-Qaida and a number of Central Asian groups also have training camps in North Waziristan. These include half a dozen would-be bombers of various nationalities, who have tried to attack the American mainland, as well as several dozen German militants. The latest case of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born American citizen who tried to explode a car bomb in Times Square in New York, has finally riled up the Obama administration sufficiently to demand that Pakistan take action in North Waziristan. Pakistan is now under serious pressure to do something, but the army has so far never been forced to do anything it considers to be counter to its strategic interest.

The Tug-of-War over Afghanistan

Obama's promise last year to bring the region together in a kind of pact that would prevent neighboring countries from interfering in Afghanistan has gotten nowhere. Relations between the US and Iran and between India and Pakistan are worse than they have ever been. Afghanistan's six direct neighbors -- Iran, Pakistan, China, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- and its near neighbors India, Russia and Saudi Arabia all want a degree of influence in a post-US Afghanistan. It is Pakistan, however, which holds most of the cards with its grip on the Afghan Taliban leadership.

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