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Damned if we do ...

Posted by Richard Monday, April 26, 2010

A fascinating piece in The Washington Post is headed, "Indo-Pakistan proxy war heats up in Afghanistan."

"Across Afghanistan," we are told, "behind the obvious battles fought for this country's soul, a shadow war is being quietly waged. It's being fought with spies and proxies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money and ominous diplomatic threats."

The piece continues: "The fight pits nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan against one another in a battle for influence that will almost certainly gain traction as the clock ticks down toward America's military withdrawal, which President Barack Obama has announced will begin next year."

Sadly, I was writing this in October last year and, more recently here, here and here. And, as the WaPo is beginning to recognise, this is the dominant dynamic in the war in Afghanistan.

But, as it stands, resolving the Indo-Pakistani conflict is not politically possible – not least because none of the Western nations are prepared to invest the political capital and, specifically, because no one is prepared to confront India. Thus, it is head-in-the-sand time, leaving a gaping wound to fester.

Resolving this issue will not, in itself, resolve the Afghan conflict but, without a resolution, the conflict cannot be ended. All the rest is detail, underpinning yet again the simple, unvarnished truth – we cannot prevail. Yet, politically, it is hard to see how we can engineer a rapid departure.

Furthermore, should the coalition forces depart, the proxy war might just become overt confrontation, putting those two nuclear powers at odds with each other. And the other side of Afghanistan is Iran - also supported by India – a country with nuclear ambitions. If that situation is mishandled (more than it is at the moment), we could be seeing a lot of mushrooms in the region, and I don't mean fungi.

From our stance, it appears that we have started something we don't know how to end and, even if we did, we do not have the wherewithal to achieve it. We are thus damned if we withdraw, and damned if we do not. The only consolation, I suppose, is that if the whole thing does go belly up, global warming will seem a very minor problem.

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