Sunday, July 11, 2010

Partition Afghanistan: Best Option?

WASHINGTON: A ‘de facto partition’ of Afghanistan is the best policy option available to the United States and its allies, argues a former US diplomat.

Robert D. Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India, warns that the Obama administration’s counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan “seems headed for failure” and the best option for Washington is to partition Afghanistan.

Mr Blackwill, who also served as deputy national security adviser for strategic planning and presidential envoy to Iraq, had advised the George W. Bush administration on Afghanistan as well.

“The US polity should stop talking about timelines and exit strategies and accept that the Taliban will inevitably control most of its historic stronghold in the Pashtun south,” he says,

“But Washington could ensure that north and west Afghanistan do not succumb to jihadi extremism, using US air power and special forces along with the Afghan army and like-minded nations.”

In an article in the Politico magazine, Mr Blackwill argues that “after years of faulty US policy towards Afghanistan, there are no quick, easy and cost-free ways to escape the current deadly quagmire. But, with all its problems, de facto partition offers the best available US alternative to strategic defeat”.

The former US diplomat, however, admits that partition is clearly not the best outcome for the United States in Afghanistan. But it is now the best outcome that Washington can achieve consistent with vital national interests and US domestic politics, he adds.

Pakistan, he warns, would likely oppose de facto partition and managing Islamabad’s reaction would not be easy — “not least because the Pakistan military expects a strategic gain once the US military withdraws from Afghanistan”.

But Mr Blackwill urges Washington to persuade Islamabad to concentrate, with the United States, on defeating the Pakistani Taliban and containing the Afghan Taliban to avoid momentum towards a fracturing of the Pakistan state.

He acknowledges that a partitioned Afghanistan will not be trouble-free either as there might be potential pockets of fifth column Pashtun in the north and west.

Mr Blackwill acknowledges that President Hamid Karzai and his associates would also resist partition and might not remain in power if Afghanistan is partitioned.

He notes that “fearing a return of Pakistan dominance in Afghanistan, India would likely encourage Washington to continue ground combat in the south for many years to come”.

But he urges the US administration to tell India that a prolonged US stay in Afghanistan is not on the cards.

To assuage India’s fears, Mr Blackwill proposes assuring New Delhi that the US would not permit the Taliban to re-emerge as a political or military force in that region.

“We would then make it clear that we would rely heavily on US air power and special forces to target any Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan, as well as Afghan Taliban leaders who aided them,” he writes.

“We would also target Afghan Taliban encroachments across the de facto partition lines and terrorist sanctuaries along the Pakistan border.”

Mr Blackwill also warns against a rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan, pointing out that “it could dramatically increase likelihood of the Islamic radicalisation of Pakistan, which then calls into question the security of its nuclear arsenal.”

A rapid withdrawal, he writes, might also weaken, if not rupture, the budding US-India strategic partnership.

From here.

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