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General Kayani’s Calculus

by on 11/10/2010


General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief, certainly holds all the cards with respect to regional security in Central Asia, which is why the General occupies the 29th position on Forbes’s annual list of the world’s most powerful people.  But, as Michael O’Hanlon alluded to in a Foreign Policy article on Monday, the U.S. doesn’t have any idea how Kayani is going to use that power because after nine years of war, Americans still aren’t sure if Pakistan is with us or against us.

O’Hanlon also clearly lays out how the three major Afghan insurgent groups have sanctuaries in Pakistan that are generally beyond NATO’s reach:

Pakistan tolerates sanctuaries on its soil for the major insurgencies fighting in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban (otherwise known as the Quetta Shura Taliban because its principle base remains in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan) as well as the Haqqani and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) networks. The Haqqanis straddle the border between the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika as well as North Waziristan and other tribal areas within Pakistan; HiG is further north, operating in and around the Khyber Pass connecting Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan with Peshawar and points east in Pakistan.

Since the war began in 2001 the U.S. has asked Pakistan to attack these safe havens, however, Kayani maintains that his forces are too bogged down fighting the Pakistani Taliban in other provinces.  As an Afghan intelligence analyst assessed for me back in July:

The Pakistan army consists of 500,000 active duty troops and another 500,000 on reserve. If Pakistan truly wanted to capture the Haqqani Network they would be able to drag them out of their caves by their beards within a few days.

The operating term being wanted, because although many believe Pakistan could root-out the extremist leaders of these networks, there currently isn’t enough incentive to do so.  Pakistan believes the U.S. is highly-likely to begin withdrawing, as Obama has announced, in July 2011, which they believe will cause Afghanistan to descend further into chaos.  O’Hanlon provides insight into Pakistan’s strategic thinking:

Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may.

Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi.

It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

The question for the ages then becomes: what will it take to influence the General’s calculus and get him to attack the Haqqanis and the Quetta Shura?  The author suggests Obama should make certain that Pakistan is confident that the U.S. will not abandon the region, and believes Obama should get creative and offer Pakistan free trade and civilian nuclear deals as the ultimate carrots.

This approach can work, but is dependent on the trust factor on two fronts:  the U.S. building trust with Kayani, while Pakistan and India repair or at least work towards improving their trust deficit. Other factors feeding into this equation include the fragile post-flood economic and political state of Pakistan, highlighted by elites starting to demand that Kayani intervene to shake-up the civilian government which appears ready to collapse.  Kayani also cannot afford to risk billions in U.S. aid at a time like this.

Ideological fear cannot be underestimated, however, because Pakistan might be dead-set on controlling southern and eastern Afghanistan – not only for purposes of strategic depth against India – but concern that traditional Pashtun leadership in those areas strongly reject the Durand Line and support the formation of a ‘Pashtunistan’.  Hence, Kayani might cling to Haqqani as an asset at what seems like any cost.

(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).

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