Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the deposed dictator of Pakistan, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence are hardly the most reliable interlocutors. Both are notorious for playing a duplicitous game of conniving with jihadist militants at the same time they work with the United States to root out terrorists. But even a self-serving statement can be right, and it is in that vein that we should pay attention to their statements on Afghanistan.
Musharraf was interviewed by the Washington Times and told its writers “that the U.S. would make a ‘disastrous’ mistake if it withdrew from Afghanistan and warned that a delay in sending more troops would be seen as a sign of weakness.”
Meanwhile, senior leaders of the ISI talked to David Ignatius of the Washington Post. He summed up their message as follows:
The Pakistanis, meanwhile, view the United States as an unreliable ally that starts fights it doesn’t know how to finish.
A test of this fragile partnership is the debate over the new Afghanistan strategy proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The ISI leadership thinks the United States can’t afford to lose in Afghanistan, and it worries about a security vacuum there that would endanger Pakistan. But at the same time, the ISI fears that a big military surge, like the up to 40,000 additional troops McChrystal wants, could be counterproductive.
ISI officials believe Washington should be realistic about its war objectives. If victory is defined as obliteration of the Taliban, the United States will never win. But the United States can achieve the more limited aim of rough political stability, if it is patient.
The ISI leaders, therefore, have roughly the same message as Gen. Musharraf: don’t back down in Afghanistan, because it would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. That is at stark odds with the message of Joe Biden and others who want to downsize our commitment because they supposedly want to concentrate on the “real” problem—Pakistan. But they never explain how defeat in Afghanistan would help us win in Pakistan.
By the way, I don’t take too seriously the ISI’s warning that more troops would be counterproductive, because there is no other way to fill the security vacuum they warn of. Sending more troops would be counterproductive only if they were utilized in a conventional, firepower-intensive manner—the Pakistani army’s preferred approach to fighting guerrillas. But Gen. McChrystal has a smart counterinsurgency strategy to make the best use of the extra troops. The ISI honchos are right that the U.S. and its allies cannot obliterate the Taliban, but then we don’t have to—simply putting the Taliban back on their heels is sure to cause defections and splits within the group, as occurred in 2001.