Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
In a new book launched this week about the ill-fated attempt by British imperialists in the mid 19th century to occupy Afghanistan, I came across an interesting detail: the Afghans refused to play cricket. During the occupation of Kabul by British troops from India, “the Afghans looked on with astonishment at the bowling, batting and fagging out of the English players”, writes former Reuters journalist Jules Stewart in ”Crimson Snow: Britain’s First Disaster in Afghanistan“.
With NATO reaffirming its commitment to Afghanistan in a “strategic vision” statement issued at a summit in Bucharest this week, I wondered if there was a bigger lesson in this refusal to engage in cricket, just as the Afghans have never submitted to foreign occupation — seeing off the British Raj in the 19th century and defeating Soviet occupiers in the 20th century. ”The Afghans will always win,” writes Stewart in the conclusion to his book.
The lessons of history would suggest the odds are stacked against NATO. It has just 47,000 troops in the country, whereas the Soviet Union had between 100,000 and 120,000 troops there at any one time. U.S. Army General McNeill, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, has said U.S. doctrine suggests a force of well over 400,000 Afghan and foreign troops to fight an insurgency in a country of Afghanistan’s size and population, although he has made clear he does not expect NATO to provide that.
The situation is made additionally complicated by instability in Pakistan, whose lawless tribal areas are used as a refuge by al Qaeda and Taliban militants fighting in Afghanistan. As Karl Inderfurth, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, wrote earlier this week, Pakistan can “make or break” the NATO mission in Afghanistan: “Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably linked. There can be no successful outcome for Afghanistan if Pakistan is not a part of the solution.”