Perspective - Musings

Fighting the Taliban: The US and Pakistan's failed strategies

Updated Feb 16, 2017 03:04pm


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An unmanned US Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, in 2010 | AP
An unmanned US Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, in 2010 | AP

On May 23, 2016, President Barack Obama announced that the head of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Mansour, it is believed, resisted negotiations with the Afghan government and its allies. The strike was notable for several reasons. First, the United States military executed it and not the CIA. Second, it was the first drone strike outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and their peripheries in Pakistan. Third, it likely did not involve coordination with the ISI or the Pakistan Army. The move signaled ever-growing American frustration with Pakistan’s tactics of extracting rents from Washington while proving itself unable or unwilling to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table.

From the perspectives of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, there is no incentive to do so for several reasons. First, why negotiate when the Taliban are winning with Pakistan’s generous and unstinting support? Second, the international community will eventually leave Afghanistan and the Taliban can once again ensconce themselves to ostensibly do Pakistan’s bidding. Third, even if the Taliban cannot regain their past glory, they and their allies, such as the Haqqani network, will at least keep the Indians at bay.

Both Pakistan and the United States employ failed strategies. For the American part, it launched a war it could never win because it was dependent upon the one country that opposed its key interests — Pakistan. The United States continues fighting the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan, when its key vulnerabilities are in Pakistan. At the same time, it built an unwieldy and unsustainable state in Afghanistan whose leadership continued to be corrupt and unresponsive to Afghan needs. Worse, it incentivised Pakistan to continue aiding and abetting America’s enemies through the Coalition Support Funds. If Pakistan had actually delivered, the cash flows would stop.

Also read: Pakistan, Afghanistan and India's triangle of terrorism

In the absence of a strategy, the United States opts to take out the Taliban leadership in hopes of bringing the rest of them to the table. Yet there is no evidence that such leadership decapitation degrades the organisation or makes it more amenable to negotiation. In fact, it likely encourages greater infighting and defections to the Islamic State. As with previous drone strikes, the ISI will coordinate the ensuing leadership selection process and little else will change for the positive.

Pakistan’s men in uniform may believe they have won. However, Pakistan stands to lose more than it gains for several reasons. During their heyday, the Taliban never delivered a resolution on the Durand Line, encouraged Pakhtun nationalism, harboured Pakistani criminals, and brought additional international opprobrium to Pakistan for its support of Islamist militias in Afghanistan and India. There would be no Pakistani Taliban had Pakistan not nurtured the Afghan Taliban and the numerous other Deobandi militant groups that comprise the backbone of the Pakistani Taliban.

The Afghans, too, have come to loathe Pakistan for its incessant interference that dates back to the earliest years of the Pakistani state. Pakistan’s stale and murderous policies have delivered even Ashraf Ghani, who extended an olive branch to Rawalpindi, over to the Indians.

The Americans will leave Afghanistan. More Afghans will die. But over the long term, Pakistanis will continue paying the price for the follies of their men in uniform who think strategic depth in Afghanistan is more important than security at home.

This was originally published in Herald's June 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.

The writer is an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program

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Comments (21) Closed

freddie Jun 09, 2016 12:36pm

Miss writer , May I remind you (for the thousandth time) that Pak have rendered more sacrifices( civilians and armed forces lives) than even your country the US. Shame on you for still doubting our sincerity. As far as India is concerned, we have fought 3 wars against them and India continue to spew hatred against us every single day. And haven't fought any war with anyone else. Now YOU tell me which country is a threat to our existence. A BIG shame on you.

vvv Jun 09, 2016 01:06pm

Pakistan should stop using terrorists as a counterstrike weapon as now its working backfire on Pakistan. Flush these Taliban from Pakistan and make peace with India and Afghanistan and Iraq .This is the only solution.

Abdul Jabbar Mohmand Jun 09, 2016 02:39pm

The writer seems to be an emotional wreck. Her obsession is Pakistan. Like other Americans, she thinks (wrongly) that the US has done Pakistan a great favour by giving them billions of dollars is CSF, forgetting to mention that it was for ops Pak army conducted on behalf of the US, essentially fighting the US's war; in other words, the US was not helping Pakistan, but helping itself. The US and people like Fair need to understand one thing: This is an unwinnable war (clue: VIETNAM). End of Story.

Haseeb Ullah Khan Jun 09, 2016 03:27pm

If we start operating against Taliban, what friends are we left with? Any policy or decision made in the interest of pakistan,that contradicts US' interest, is bound to create a Libya-style maneouvre of Pakistan's government. We don't want that. How can we evade that? We are, already, encircled and is in our best interest to remain friends with groups that share our ideology. That's what the State demands. That's what people want!.

Feroz Jun 09, 2016 03:38pm

Pakistan has been able to fool nobody with the policies it has pursued, except a few of its own radicalized citizens. Continuation of the same policies can never bring any relief to the beleaguered citizens of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Time to jettison the terror assets or else be destroyed by them.

sal Jun 09, 2016 05:37pm

Personally I had made a prediction almost 30 years ago when the Soviets Invaded Afghanistan that this whole area will remain destabilised for the remainder of my life; I seem to have assessed correctly and the net result is that two superpowers have been bitterly defeated in Afghanistan.....there is no such thing as Taliban, just yesterday these same Taliban were US allies and today they are enemies, I dare say that this war can never be won by the Gun, This is not Pakistan's war, we should immediately stop supporting the aggressive Americans who have already been defeated and they want to find an escape goat in Pakistan.

pathanoo Jun 10, 2016 01:00am

WOW!!! What an excellent, truth telling, analysis based article. BRAVO!!!

Faisal Jun 10, 2016 05:51am
  1. Taliban supported by USA and of course funded by GCC only because of US Support when Russians were invading Afghanistan. Pakistan never had means to finance and support such war for such long. When Pakistan supported Taliban only because of US policies to be on side of US.
  2. Pakistani intellectuals voiced written their concerns about Taliban when supported by US.
  3. Pakistan now a target of terrorism. Many people and armed personal already lost their lives.
Faisal Jun 10, 2016 05:52am

Pakistan feeding 20 lac afghan refugees. Please take them by aeroplane to USA and feed them their

Akil Akhtar Jun 10, 2016 07:19am

US and India are using lies and propaganda against Pakistan to achieve their nefarious goals.....Us is not interested in solving the Taliban problem otherwise they would not kill the Taliban leader every time Pakistan gets them on the negotiating table. We are fools for believing everything they say.

Akil Akhtar Jun 10, 2016 07:20am

Having "Fair" in the name does not make one so.....

Lafanga Jun 10, 2016 07:47am

The author failed to mention one important fact. Musharraf practically handed Taliban over to the US on a platter after 911. Taliban were defeated roundly and in 2004 Musharraf urged the Americans to negotiate a settlement with Taliban from position of strength since Taliban were completely capitulated. Americans refused and rest is history. Now its easy for Americans to whip Pakistan for their own failures.

lubna Jun 10, 2016 09:33am

@vvv india is baffled with its failing in afghanistan like nato and usa and they find a escape goat in pakistan but that doesnot change the ground reality in afghanistan and as a matter of fact india and usa both know that they have lost the cause in afghanistan--no matter what and how many writers and analysts fill the papers with what should be or can be done to undo the lost battle in afghanistan does not change anything --as of pakistan cannot do more what they have done more than any other country--world need pakistan not the viceversa

Third Pary Jun 10, 2016 10:11am

I hope the citizens in Pakistan listening to Prof Chrsitine !

StopPakistan Jun 10, 2016 11:00am

Pakistan is the head of Islamic fundamentalism and its the duty of every country to take on Pakistan to reduce Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism around the globe.

Jehangir Jun 10, 2016 11:10am

@Abdul Jabbar Mohmand When did this happen sir. Pakistani blood has been spilled in pakistan to fight monsters that they have created. The Afghans hate you, the Indians mock you and the Chinese use you- Wake Up!

Anayar Jun 10, 2016 06:01pm


Mohammad S. Khalid Jun 10, 2016 11:50pm

The hard and bitter fact is US Army is an Army of cowards. Dilemma of US presidents is that they desired to be conquers like Ameer Taimoor, Changez Khan, and Alexander the great. but Americans are not courageous and brave like great warriors and conquers. At this stage US simply wants Pakistan to win a war for them. What an irony. If US wants to win Afghanistan, bring an army of millions, fight themselves and enjoy the hospitality of Afghans and Taliban.

Mohammad S. Khalid Jun 10, 2016 11:55pm


Irrespective of Afghans, Indians, and Chinese; USA is defeated and humiliated in Afghanistan. The end of war, not too far, will bring a defeat for USA even worse than Vietnam.

ask_pakistani Jun 12, 2016 02:11am

What a load of crap! It is the US who doesn't want peace in Afghanistan. Because after all for what? Peace does not serve American interests; chaos does; as it gives them the reason to keep their foothold and continue to sell arms. That is why every single time there were any peace initiatives, America acted swiftly to make sure it doesn't go anywhere. And Pakistani Talibans are not because of Pakistani support to Afghan Talibans; they are because Pakistan is taking part in USA's wars; plain and simple.

saeed Jun 12, 2016 09:06am

Respected writer. The whole fiasco has been created by US. Please leave all of us alone to resolve our own issues