Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan

  • Share
  • Read Later

Better off without US around?

In my continuing role as Head Judge  for the online strategy community Wikistrat‘s month-long International Grand Strategy Competition featuring roughly 30 teams from top-flight universities and think tanks around the world, I get to peruse all manner of provocative thought from some of tomorrow’s best and brightest thinkers.  And yeah, full disclosure, I get paid to judge as the firm’s chief analyst.

Well, this last week, our participating teams drew up elaborate national trajectories and regional trajectories for their 13 countries (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and US), and the two entries that really jumped out at me in their immediate dueling were the two Pakistani teams populated with grad students from Claremont Graduate University (CA) and Yale (CT).  Let me tell you why.

Wikistrat’s wiki-based format means you’re forced to disaggregate and cross-link all your ideas, meaning you can’t just push an economic logic or a military one, etc., and win the strategic argument.  You have to fill in all the boxes (so those, plus political dynamics, social change and demographics – the list goes on and on) and show how they support or detract from each other – and then link those up to every other country teams’ various boxes through the wiki.  Point being, your proposed strategies must compete with everybody else’s in this planning exercise.  Well, that comprehensive and competitively collaborative approach really turned my head around on Pakistan this week, thanks to the compelling national trajectory entries by Claremont and Yale.  My supposition has long been that Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, likely fractures if we pull out and leave them to their own dividing devices.  The Claremont and Yale teams have convinced me otherwise.

(PHOTOS: A Blackhawk’s View of Afghanistan)

I’m not saying I buying everything they’re selling.  I’m saying that I cannot look at the problem like I used to.  My biases have been somewhat rejiggered to help me see the potential upsides.  I have meet competing strategic visions, and my own are improved by the collision.

Some of the basic points:

  • The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will diminish the biggest violation of Pakistani sovereignty – i.e., US drone and special operation/paramilitary attacks across the border.  Our drawdown will, according to the Claremont team, “create an opportunity for the Pakistani government to redress the numerous disaffected communities in remote tribal regions . . . through policies of accommodation and limited combat operations when these groups attempt to overstep their bounds beyond their mountain strongholds.”  Yes, that means we’ll leave behind a Pakistan full of such groups, but absent our fracturing impact, Pakistan will be better able to manage these security issues.  The Yale team agrees, cautioning that US economic aid should continue in the near term.
  • With the US drawdown, says Yale, Pakistan’s military and intelligence service will lose their now preeminent positions in the country’s power structure.  It won’t happen over night, but it will happen. It’ll happen because it’s clear that Pakistan cannot keep pace with arch rival India’s massive conventional buildup.  With that growing detachment, says Claremont, Pakistan can move away from its costly ambition to create a big-war force on par with India’s and instead embrace an asymmetrical deterrence based on nuclear weapons.  This should free up government resources for welfare and development, plus push the Pakistan military – finally – in the direction of creating a more internally focused force that manages the radical threat and stabilizes the country as a whole. The shift will also allow more investment in Pakistan’s navy, which gets us to the larger economics . . .
  • China, argues Claremont, will eventually choose Saudi Arabia over Iran, which is more India’s ally against Sunni Pakistan. Pakistan becomes the big land-to-water-to-Saudi Arabia bridge for the Chinese, with the southern naval base/port of Gwadar being the key link. That east-west energy connectivity helps stabilize Pakistan by reorienting its strategic mindset away from its north-south fixation on Afghanistan (strategic depth) and India (Kashmir). Building up Pakistan’s navy is part of that reorientation.
  • But giving up the conventional arms race with India means Pakistan can likewise achieve a nuclearized detente with its arch rival, and over time, says Yale, that enables Pakistan to move from “separator” to north-south “energy corridor” integrator too, linking – for example, oil- and gas-rich Iran to India.  Over time, say both teams, both India and China will come to see Pakistan as a connecting force that moderates tensions in all directions, including their own bilateral relationship.  We’re standing in the way.
But here’s the one that really tripped my wire, and it came from Claremont:
Pakistan’s complicated and fractured domestic environment remains its biggest obstacle to global integration in the foreseeable future.

My own spiel is globalization connectivity is the great pacifier – not in the short run, mind you, but over time.  Well, America is Pakistan’s biggest fracturer, and it’s not just the drone strikes. So long as we continue our war on terror inside Pakistan, we deny the country the one thing that’s kept it together all these years – Islam.  We make the secular state our illogical goal, but once we’re gone, Pakistan is free to reintegrate Islam back into the government more openly – as it should, says Claremont.  And that internal cohesion will allow the globalization connectivity.  Counter-intuitive to many, but people need to hold onto their identities – even more strongly – if you want them to open up to globalization and – by doing so – join the ranks of the calm and connected.

(PHOTOS: The Taliban’s War in Pakistan)

This is the sort of idealistic realism that I love: positing positive pathways that nonetheless speak to local realities, needs, human greed for a better life, etc. But the larger point remains:  America has let itself become more hindrance than help with regard to globalization’s solution set on Pakistan. The regional incentives are all there, as are the national ones. We have become the nation fracturer – not the nation builder.  We could have chosen differently, but it’s not in our unilateralist nature.  And no, that hasn’t changed one whit with Obama the Drone Machine.

Out of the mouths of babes . . .

LIST: Gears of War: An Incredible Tour of America’s Military Arsenal