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Democracy Arsenal: Afghanistan Exit Strategy Watch

Photo by LS Paul Berry Australian Government Department of Defence

By Michael Cohen

So I'm about to do something decidedly unwise; I'm going to go a bit out on a limb in predicting where things are headed with the US mission in Afghanistan. As you can see from the title above; I have a sneaking suspicion that something has dramatically changed about the national discourse regarding our policy in Afghanistan.

The Myth of a Kinder, Gentler War

By Michael A. Cohen

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history. —George Bernard Shaw

Hassan Malik: Hands on Kashmir! (Why Soothing Indo-Pakistani Regional Tensions is Central to U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan)

In a January 8 article for the World Policy Blog, Charles Cogan argued recently that the United States should not attempt to mediate the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, as doing so could jeopardize America’s good relations with India and further muddle U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. On the contrary, only by accepting that India-Pakistan relations are a key part of the larger security problem can the United States end the war in Afghanistan. Thus, an active U.S. role in mediating the dispute over Kashmir and other issues dividing India and Pakistan is very much in America’s national interests. First, tensions between India and Pakistan are hindering the latter’s efforts to aid the U.S. military in fighting militant Islamists along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Indeed, senior American military officials like Admiral Michael Mullen have pointed out that Pakistan's need to maintain a heavy troop presence on its border with India limits the resources it can divert to fighting the Islamist insurgency elsewhere in Pakistan. These officials agree that such a presence is justified, given the history and current level of tension between the two states. While some commentators argue that the Pakistani Army is unwilling to fight extremists on its own soil, Admiral Mullen himself has suggested that casualty statistics show Pakistan to be very much engaged in the struggle against Islamist terror. Indeed, Pakistan’s military has already suffered more casualties in its own fight against militant Islamists than has the American military in Afghanistan. Suicide bombings within Pakistan have already claimed more than 11,000 victims. Thus, the Pakistani army's slow progress in its war against militant Islamists is due not to a lack of zeal, but rather is tied largely to its inability (because of lack of capacity) to focus exclusively on fighting terror as long as Indo-Pakistani tension persists. An easing of the tensions would likely enable Pakistan to redeploy more troops to the fight against insurgents, which would be to the benefit of American forces in Afghanistan. Second, poor India-Pakistan relations are central to longer-term but no less serious issues that plague the daily lives of Pakistanis and contribute to the conditions that drive some of the nation's poorest citizens into the hands of extremists. Pakistan's current water crisis is one case in point. While religious identity is at the core of the Kashmir dispute, water also is a root cause of the conflict. The region is the source of the main rivers flowing through much of the Indian and Pakistani Punjab (literally, "land of the five waters") that is South Asia’s breadbasket. Antagonistic relations only encouraged India to construct the dams that, in turn, now limit the flow of water to Pakistan, threatening its agricultural heartland and creating water shortages nationwide. Of course, myopic policymakers and political horse-trading in Pakistan have only made matters worse. But poor India-Pakistan relations remain the major contributing factor to the crisis. Far from fostering cooperation on the issue, they actually create an incentive for India to withhold water from Pakistan. The water crisis in Pakistan hurts the poorest of the poor in Pakistan—prime targets for Al-Qaeda’s recruiters.

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