Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trouble With Russia, Pakistan = No Bullets in Afghanistan

Count me among those skeptical that the downfall of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was a good thing. No question that Musharraf was a dictator, not a democrat, rather heavy-handed and did things to stay in power of which comfortable people sitting in air-conditioned university classrooms would not approve. So stipulated. Of course, your average American censorious disapprover of anti-democratic Pakistanis doesn't have to worry that his valet might shoot him while he's dressing, or have to worry about whether the Taliban (or Al Qaeda or whoever) has finally bought one of his bodyguards, or whether the security people adequately checked the route from the office to the bathroom.
But now the bad man is gone, and Pakistan looks to be coming even more unglued than is usually the case. The "winners" -- civilian opponents of the military regime -- are falling out among themselves. The resumes of the most powerful actors in Pakistan's attempt to resurrect civilian government -- Benazir Bhutto's widowed husband Mr. Asif Ali Zardari (a/k/a "Mr. Ten Percent"); and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (tossed out in 1999 by Musharraf's military coup) and their squabbling -- give one confidence that the latest attempt at "democracy" will just be the typical Pakistani hiatus between military governments. I wonder who leads the next coup?
There's a nice story on the AP today about an assassination attempt on a US diplomat which, fortunately, failed -- missing her as he rode to work in her armored vehicle. Middle level diplomats going to work by armored car is not that unusual in many places, but think on what that implies about the state of local law and order.
Of course, Pakistan is a faraway place that Americans would like to forget about. But we'd really better not. As it stands, the US has a lot of troops in Afghanistan. It is a real problem for the United States that Afghanistan is land-locked. Modern armies (particularly American armies) are omnivorous and voracious gulpers of tons and tons of supplies, daily. There is no line of communications to Afghanistan fully or even partly under our control, by which we can supply our troops.
There are basically two routes for getting fuel, food and bullets to Afghanistan, to say nothing of the reinforcements the Obama/Biden crowd want to send. They can either go through Russia and the "stans" -- that is the central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union to the north, by a combination of air and truck convoy; or, as approximately 75 percent of the supplies do) the goods can come over land from Pakistan via the Pakistani ports. Truck convoys are needed, supplies by airlift for sustained periods are not practicable.
Whatever's coming out of the Stans, it's not going to be coming much longer, especially if we keep pushing the Russians over Caucasus postage stamps. If problems with Russia weren't enough, Pakistan now looks very wobbly. This could all go really bad, really quickly -- ever read The Anabasis? (Try Coyle's Ten Thousand). I'm worst-casing, but the worst case is more possible then one would like, particularly since we have no reserves in terms of ground forces.
In any case, the state of things on our supply routes gives us, or should give us: (1) reason to think about whether Georgia is really a big deal to us; (2) a little bit of interest in what happens in Pakistan; and, (3) reasons to think about how much sense staying in Afghanistan makes.
(H/t, Belmont Club).


LFC said...

In addition to the supply routes, there's the issue of Taliban and other militant activity in the areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the porousness of that border, allowing Taliban-linked elements to go back and forth. The Musharaff regime has had, at best, only very partial success in tackling this problem, veering between reaching deals with tribal leaders in the FATA which don't seem to stick and staging on-again, off-again military operations in the border areas. If a civilian govt can come to office and manage to stay there, it's hard to imagine it would do much worse in this respect than Musharraf has done, and it might do better. Also it would probably be better for Pakistan itself. But admittedly the current situation is very unsettled. (P.s. the attack on the U.S. diplomat's car occurred in Peshawar, in the n.w., one of the places where this might be expected.)

El Jefe Maximo said...

You possibly give Musharraf more credit in FATA than he deserves..."very partial success" is very charitable. If a civilian government can do something there, and in the borderlands, more power to them.

Count me skeptical,and in general skeptical that Afghanistan is winnable period, at least with the resources we can supply and commit. I'm not sure taking everything we had in Iraq and sending it all to Afghanistan would be enough (not that this will happen), even if we could supply much more that the US and NATO already have in country, which I doubt. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

I have always been certain we could win in Iraq...but by the same token, dubious about Afghanistan.