Key to Afghanistan is Pakistan

Only so much can be done within Afghanistan’s borders to complete United States’ objectives.

by Ian J Byrne

Watching President Barack Obama’s speech last Tuesday night, I could not help but wonder how long until the president, whoever it may be at the time, will declare the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. Public support for the war has diminished and, with plans to begin a drawdown of troops in July 2011, this speech may be nearer than we think. However, does anyone really think the situation on the ground will be rosy enough to begin withdrawing in 10 months?

President Obama laid out three main objectives for the war in Afghanistan in December 2009: deny al Qaida a safe haven, stop Taliban momentum to decrease risk of an overthrow of the Afghan government and strengthen Afghanistan’s government and security forces. The good news is al-Qaida has been denied a safe haven in Afghanistan. The bad news is al-Qaida now has a safe haven to the east in Pakistan. Progress toward the other two objectives hinge on factors outside Afghanistan’s borders.

“Ninety percent of the Taliban shadow governors are in Pakistan,” said Lotfullah Najafizada, an Afghan journalist based in Kabul who is touring the U.S. with the World Press Institute’s Fellows Program, run by the St. Paul-based journalism nonprofit. The Taliban uses a network of shadow governments that often time have more authority than the legitimate government across Afghanistan. Shadow governors report to a Taliban leadership council known as the Quetta Shura, based in the Pakistani city of Quetta near the Afghan border.

“The Taliban are financed by money that goes into Pakistan, then to the Quetta Shura, which distributes it to senior commanders in Afghanistan,” said Najafizada. The foreign financiers are mostly from Arab countries as well as across South Asia who sympathize with the Taliban’s militant Islamist ideals. It also should be noted the Taliban make immense profits from the cultivation and trade of opium. It is not only foreign money that is flowing out of Pakistan though.

“The fact that the ISI funds the Taliban is as clear as the sun is in the sky,” Najafizada said. The ISI, Inter-Services Intelligence, is Pakistan’s top intelligence agency. The ISI helped create the Taliban in the early 1990s and has used them as an unofficial state militia to serve Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. The ISI-Taliban ties are also recounted in the documents leaked by Wikileaks a little over a month ago. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made the war on terror a top priority, aiding in the killing and capturing of suspected terrorists and conducting operations against militants within its borders. The official line is that ISI and ISAF, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, are partners. ISI’s actions speak for themselves though.

“I’ve had senior ISAF intelligence officials tell me that 50 percent of ISAF requests are rejected by ISI,” said Najafizada. “Those who fight for the Taliban fight for money, not Jihad. It’s about money.” Stop the money, stop the Taliban. If only it were so easy.

The latest troop increases are near completion and General Petraeus has said the U.S. has the resources needed to complete the objectives laid out by President Obama. It is crucial the U.S. hold Pakistan accountable for the belligerent ISI and enact an effective policy aimed at destroying the Taliban orders and cash flow coming out of Pakistan if progress is to be made by July next year. I would most like the situation to improve enough to begin bringing our troops home next year, but without addressing the issues across the border the war will only drag on and our sacrifices made, as Najafizada put it, will be “multiplied by zero.”


Ian J Byrne is a columnist. Please send comments to [email protected]