Graham Fuller argues in The Huffington Post that the Obama Administration's policies are making the situation worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fuller's criticisms are certainly worth bearing in mind as one thinks about the wider strategic implications of the tactics currently being used by the U.S.. However, two points jumped out at me:
First, Fuller claims that "[i]t is a fantasy to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border." But this would argue in favor of the Administration’s policy — i.e., one could just as easily argue that because the border is so porous, one cannot simply focus on the Afghan side, ignoring the Pakistani side. Stated differently, one can critique U.S. tactics on various grounds, such as excessive civilian casualties; or on the grounds that the tactics (e.g. drone attacks) might not serve the strategy (destroying Al-Qaida) -- or that even if they do serve the strategy (and both the Administration and the Pakistani government seem to agree that the drone attacks have put enormous pressure on Al Qaida/"foreign fighter"-types), they might well have the potentially dangerous side-effect of destabilizing Pakistan -- but one cannot critique U.S. policy based on the border's porousness, since the former is in large part a function of the latter.
Second, according to Fuller:
India is the primary geopolitical threat to Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore always maintain Afghanistan as a friendly state. India furthermore is intent upon gaining a serious foothold in Afghanistan -- in the intelligence, economic and political arenas -- that chills Islamabad.
This elides the crucial question: i.e. is it necessarily the case that India poses the preeminent threat to Pakistan? Fuller seems to see this question in static/eternal terms, but threat perceptions can easily evolve with changing circumstances. For instance, Germany was clearly France’s biggest geopolitical threat in 1914, and in 1939 -- but obviously not in 1959. Coincidentally, just two days ago, Pakistan's President Zardari said he did not regard India as a threat to Pakistan — while one can pooh pooh this as the words of a weak civilian President under immense pressure from all quarters, Zardari has been very consistent on this issue ever since he took over leadership of the Pakistan People's Party in the wake of the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.
Fuller's point might well hold as far as the Pakistani military is concerned; and there can be little doubt that such views in the Indian and Pakistani military/intelligence apparatuses have contributed to the current cycle in Afghanistan, with an Indian/(arguably) non-Pashtun alliance arrayed against a Pakistani/Pashtun alliance, but Fuller seems to veer very close to Robert Kaplan's geopolitical determinism, essentially implying there's little anyone can do about this. But one could just as easily argue that the situation calls for the Administration to engage with Indo-Pak concerns within the Afghan context, rather than throw its hands up in the face of the two countries' competing interests -- as defined (at least in the case of Pakistan) by the military/intelligence establishment. And in any event, different viewpoints on India abound, even within Pakistan: I have already referred to Zardari's statement, but more broadly, there is no reason to believe that the Pakistani military’s perception of threats to the country are the same as that of the country's civilian political class, not to mention that within the civilian category one will find a great diversity of opinions. [The fact that the military's views carry more weight should hardly be determinative; that is precisely the sort of thinking the Obama Administration would be well-advised to eschew as having a corrosive effect on democratic legitimacy in Pakistan.] By all accounts the PPP, the PML(N), the MQM, and the ANP do not have identical views on the nature of the threat that is or is not posed by India. To its credit, so far the Obama Administration does not seem to accept Indo-Pak hostility as a "given" -- a welcome approach indeed. The diversity of civilian views on the subject needs to be engaged with, not ignored in favor of the conventional wisdom of a Pakistani military/intelligence establishment that has, for far too long, excluded or subordinated the country's civilian leadership as far as framing a coherent and workable foreign policy is concerned.