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The End of the Line in Pakistan?
The Nixon Center hosted a fascinating discussion on Pakistan's ongoing, dangerous role in fomenting instability in Afghanistan by continuing to arm the Taliban, manage its resurgence and offer its cadres official protection and sanctuary. This extends to a lesser degree to the foreign "Arab" fighters of the old al Qaeda and new foreign fighters.

The new but highly fragmented groups emerging with Pakistani support pose an increasingly-complex challenge, but also opportunities to exploit the divisions and fissures in the movements and different leaders jockey for position and Pakistan's ISI backs different leaders at different times.

The conclusion was that the alliance of necessity and convenience between the United States and Pakistan has reached its useful end. Pakistan's national interests diverge widely from U.S. and European interests in fighting Islamist militants and creating a stable, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan. Pakistan is no longer an ally, but takes a direct hand in fomenting the Taliban and al Qaeda, while happily taking the billions of dollars in US aid that continue to flow.

The presenters were Alexis Debat of the Center and Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. Both have recently spend time on different sides of the Pakistan/Afghan border. Jones has written an article on his finding (subscription required to read more than the summary), where he concludes that "there is significant evidence that the Taliban, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIC), al Qaeda and other insurgent groups use Pakistan as a sanctuary for recruitment and support. In addition, there is virtual unanimity that Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has continued to provide assistance to Afghan insurgent groups."

One of the interesting aspects of the Rand research was the attempt to correlate different factors with the insurgent forces' chances of success. In looking at 91 insurgencies since 1945, the study found that in cases where an insurgency faces an incompetent and weak government while receiving external support and sanctuary, the insurgency almost always wins.

No surprise, but it places the chances of success of the Afghan and Iraqi groups in sharper focus, and can give one some ability to predict how and why these groups are likely to win in the mid-term unless conditions supporting them are radically altered. That does not seem to be in the cards.

From the other side of the border, Debat found that there are now about 25 insurgent groups in Waziristan alone, and that the old Saudi/Gulf pipeline of funds, coupled with a significant flow of cash from Malaysia and protection from Pakistan, have allowed these groups to flourish.

He found that the "new" Taliban is often at odds with the old guard Taliban, and the new group is more radical and more sectarian (anti-Shite etc). The same holds true for the new al Qaeda groups. There are tensions among all these groups, and the newer groups are much more active in the use of the Internet and other activities the old guard of the Taliban would not tolerate.

Both reported on the widespread technology transfer from the Iraqi conflict to the Afghan conflict. This flow of knowledge, technology and training is brought by fighters from Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

One of the more recent impacts has been the use of suicide bombers and their increasing sophistication in Afghanistan.

In his writing, Jones calls for a fundamental rethinking and altering of the U.S. and European relationship with Pakistan since current policy "does not serve their interests in the 'war on terrorism' or in stabilizing Afghanistan." One can only hope that policy makers are paying attention before the tipping point is reached and it is too late.
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