Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Of Afghanistan and backpacks

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According to George Friedman from the Stratfor intelligence group the United States should forget the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan and concentrate instead on covert operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

As has become increasingly clear, the administration of President Barack Obama faces a hard time raising its troop presence in Afghanistan without either relying on precarious supply lines through Pakistan or making political compromises with Russia to win its support for using alternative routes through Central Asia.

“So how can Mr. Obama reconcile the two goals of strengthening the American presence in Afghanistan while curbing Russian expansionism?” asks Friedman. “The answer is to rely less on troops, and more on covert operations like the CIA. Covert operators are far more useful for the actual war that we are fighting (and they can carry their supplies on their backs). The primary American interest in Afghanistan, after all, is preventing terrorist groups from using it as a base for training and planning major attacks. Increasing the number of conventional troops will not help with this mission.”

His article struck me not so much for the suggestion about the need for covert operations. One wonders whether Friedman has ever lived in a small-town environment where you can barely open a curtain without being noticed let alone carry a backpack with satellite phone and whatever other equipment you might need to hunt down equally sophisticated militant groups who will have made a point of recruiting intelligence from the local population.

The scramble for Central Asia

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Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it’s worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan’s oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

Time to think about Afghanistan end-game?

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Afghan girl in Taloqan/Fabrizio BenschBritain’s commander in Afghanistan has said the war against the Taliban cannot be won and suggested talks with the group might be a way of making progress.

“We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army,” Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said in an interview with the Sunday Times.

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