Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

An Indian pivot in Afghanistan after troop drawdown

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Notwithstanding Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s disinclination to participate in talks, the Taliban retain the ability to calibrate violence levels in large parts of the country. But even if an understanding is reached with the Taliban, it does not hold the promise of lasting peace. Breakaway factions will find support and funding to continue bloodletting.

It is necessary to take stock of Kabul’s problems and find strong regional partners as anchors in unison with the depleted NATO/American establishment after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) drawdown. Kabul’s foremost problem is fielding well-trained forces. The ISAF has apparently reached the numbers it had set as its target but the forces fail to inspire confidence. Continued intensive training is required.

The inherent infirmities of the Afghan National Security Forces are also major hurdles. Desertion, drug abuse and literacy levels, even among the officer corps, inhibits trainability.

Over 90 percent of Afghanistan’s budget is funded by other nations. The government in Kabul can survive only if the flow of aid is ensured. The collapse of Mohammad Najibullah’s government in 1992 was a direct fallout of Russian aid dwindling. Connected issues include drugs and the rampant corruption that Karzai has not been able to stem, and Kabul may find it even more difficult tomorrow with local leaders trying to extract a price for continued support.

The uncertainty principle and the India-Pakistan relationship

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters, the IDSA or the Indian government)

“The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa,” said Werner Heisenberg in his 1927 paper on subatomic particle behaviour in quantum physics. While the context could be continents apart, this uncertainty principle perhaps best describes the trajectory of India-Pakistan ties.

Exit Afghanistan?

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The opinions expressed are his own

In his victory speech to a rapturous crowd in Chicago following his re-election, President Barack Obama affirmed that America’s “decade-long conflict” in Afghanistan will now end. The line was greeted with prolonged applause — and understandably so. In fact, this ill-advised war — launched on the basis of a United Nations Security Council resolution — has been grinding on for 11 years, making it the longest in American history.

At the beginning, the war was aimed at eliminating Al Qaeda, vanquishing the Taliban, and transforming Afghanistan into something resembling a Western-style nation-state. With none of these goals fully achieved, America’s intervention — like every other intervention in Afghanistan’s history — is ending unsatisfactorily.

The U.S. must move cautiously on Taliban reconciliation

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The Obama Administration is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban as it continues a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Following recent setbacks for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan — including nationwide protests sparked by the accidental burning of Korans and a U.S. staff sergeant’s shooting rampage that killed 17 Afghan civilians — the Taliban suspended negotiations with the U.S. Some observers had touted the Taliban’s earlier willingness to open a political office in Qatar as a major breakthrough for a political process.

Afghanistan: Negotiating while withdrawing is poor strategy

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

In the wake of a U.S. Army staff sergeant’s murdering 16 Afghan civilians (mostly women and children), U.S. officials are contemplating the pace and scope of the U.S. troop drawdown from the country. At the same time, they are seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban leadership. U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan General John Allen said yesterday that he did not foresee an accelerated drawdown of U.S. troops because of the shooting incident, but it is almost inevitable that this terrible tragedy will lead Americans to question the viability of the U.S. mission there.

Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

Rabbani assassination and Pakistani defiance crush prospects for Afghan peace

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was in charge of the High Peace Council pursuing reconciliation talks with the Taliban, is a clarifying moment for Afghans who had hoped Rabbani’s efforts would bring peace to the war-ravaged country.

Obama’s hasty Afghanistan withdrawal risks squandering gains

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

U.S. military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan had reportedly requested a slower pace of withdrawal to afford them the opportunity to consolidate recent gains against Taliban insurgents.  President Obama has denied his military commanders flexibility to determine the pace and scope of withdrawal based on conditions on the ground, and instead appears to have based his decision largely around the U.S. domestic political calendar.

After bin Laden: Do not retreat from Afghanistan

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The killing of Osama bin Laden should strengthen U.S. resolve to stabilise Afghanistan and ensure that it does not return to serving as a safe haven for terrorists intent on attacking the U.S. homeland.

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