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The key to winning in Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON – “I have seen much war in my lifetime and I hate it profoundly. But there are worse things than war; and all of them come with defeat.” — Ernest Hemingway

U.S. stated policy is now to win in Afghanistan. The senior leadership has opted for victory over defeat. What does this mean and how does the coalition get there?

A win is an Afghanistan that does not fragment and endures as a state that is inhospitable to al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic State-Khorasan and other Islamist groups. There will still be violence and poverty, but stability without a continuous existential threat is success.

Victory, then, is a relatively resilient Afghan state, with the government, the security forces and the population aligned against a marginalized Taliban.

But as S. Paul Kapur, a professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, helpfully reminds us: “Jihad has become a central component of Pakistani grand strategy.”

Therefore, a policy to win in Afghanistan requires a regional strategy that aligns political will and capacity to defeat the enemy’s strategy. This means undermining the Taliban’s strategic center of gravity — the external support and sanctuary that Pakistan continues to provide.

Pakistan prevents victory

Pakistan’s strategic malice is the main reason why the United States and its partners still face a stalemate in Afghanistan after almost 16 years. The sanctuary in Pakistan is the most significant strategic impediment to a win in Afghanistan.

Almost every U.S. Department if Defense report on progress in Afghanistan over the years has stated that Pakistan’s sanctuary and support prevent the defeat of the Taliban. The reduction of this sanctuary and stopping the sources of support of the Taliban in Pakistan is a strategic imperative to ending the war.

However, Pakistan has failed to alter its strategic calculus. It continues to incubate and guide the regeneration of murderous Islamist zealots.

The fresh candor about Pakistan in the Trump administration’s recent Afghanistan policy announcement should mean that the U.S. will desist in the illusion that Pakistan, one of the foremost ideological and physical incubators of Islamist Terror, Inc., is an ally and a friend. It is neither.

Pretending that Pakistan was an ally in the war against Islamist militants, one that would act in ways to help defeat Islamist networks in the tribal areas, made the West complicit in Pakistan’s malicious strategic conduct.

No strategic........

© The Japan Times