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Afghanistan and the Uncertain Metrics of Progress - Part Seven: The Problem of Pakistan

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Part Seven of this series addresses an issue that is absolute critical to pursuing the war in Afghanistan and the chances for any meaningful grand strategic victory in the war. As Vietnam showed all too clear, tactical victories, and even apparent strategic success, have no value unless they produce stable and lasting favorable results.

It currently seems unlikely that the odds of such success are more than even if one only considers the problems in Afghanistan. The previous briefs in this series – and a wide range of unclassified studies and reports -- raised the following critical issues:

• GIRoA’s current lack of popularity, trust, and integrity at every level from Karzai to local governments, compounded by favoritism, corruption, power brokers, and the impact of criminal networks.

• Tensions between the US and ISAF officials and commanders at every level in GIRoA and especially with Karzai.

• Regional, sectarian, and ethnics divisions within Afghanistan, GIRoA, and some elements of the ANSF.

• Uncertain moves toward negotiation and political accommodation with the Taliban that could result in either its return to power, or new – and possible violent – splits of the country.

• The uncertainty as to whether current tactical gains can be scaled up to cover the entire range of critical districts in the strategy, be transitioned to ANSF control within the required timeframe, and offset Taliban and other insurgent willingness to wait out the US and ISAF presence and overcome tactical defeat by fighting a war of political attrition.

• Uncertain US and allied popular support for the war, willingness to sustain success if it clearly does develop in 2011 and 2014, and willingness to fund the required effort before and after transition.

• Pressure to create an ANSF capable of transition that could offset real progress with artificial deadliness, and be followed by a refusal to fund the force for the need timeframe after transition.

• A civil aid effort in governance, economic, and stability operations that is vastly expensive but cannot meet current development goals, and so far have not shown it can be effective or properly managed and assessed in the hold, build, and transition phases of the war.

None of these very real risks are necessarily “war stoppers.” All wars involve the risk of failure, and no one can ever guarantee lasting strategic and grand strategic success. The practical problem, however, is that the war is not simply being fought in – or for – Afghanistan. The stability and future of Pakistan alone is critical, and so is its willingness to put an ended to Al Qa’ida, Taliban,
Haqqani, and other sanctuaries inside Pakistani territory.

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