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About 40 % of the Afghan population are Pashtuns, and there are 4 million Pashtuns living in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is a nation divided, a nation that holds the key to security in the region. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a Pasthun native, has to some degree neglected the Pasthun population the past 9 years, and while keeping up a tight relationship with India, Pakistan is stirring up the Pashtuns in order to undermine the Afghan government.

The relationship amongst the Pashtun people is one of the reasons why the U.S. objective of a secure and stable Afghanistan has failed so far. Pashtunwali, the Pashtun social code, was one of the reasons the Pashtun population of Baluchistan, FATA and the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan gave shelters to the Taliban and al-Qaeda warriors, and thereby letting them regroup and conduct operations, rest and recreate, and train from inside their bases within Pakistan. This creates a situation that makes it difficult for the U.S. and NATO to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, as most of the main insurgent groups have their bases in Pakistan. The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are the most violent regions in Afghanistan, and the insurgents in these provinces conduct their operations from Pakistan (e.g. the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network)

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As reported Sunday by David Sanger in the New York Times, it has been revealed that advanced nuclear weapon blueprints were part of Pakistani Addul Khan’s notorious weapons ring of the early twenty-first century. These blueprints, as described by the Times, are far more advanced than Chinese knockoffs that had been thought of as the previous standard in the black market. It has raised serious concerns across the security community as a result, and also cast deeper shadows on Pakistan’s already questionable ability to control access to its nuclear program.   

Subsequently, there are calls from Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai that he is strongly considering sending troops over the border into Pakistan to curtail cross border attacks by Taliban and tribal forces. Sunday we heard some of the strongest language from Karzai in addressing the issue, and could conceivably be drawn from an incident earlier this week.

US air strikes in Pakistan killed 11 Pakistani soldiers, and raised questions as to whether it was merely faulty intelligence or the US military targeting known Taliban collaborators inside of the country. There is little doubt insurgents have crossed the border time and again to engage coalition forces, and as such, it’s clearly in the interests of NATO security policy to halt these advancements at the line, which has been done.

Video Courtesy of the Pentagon via the BBC

The real question that everyone is thinking: what happens next? I’m not taking either side in this particular issue but merely doing my best to layout different perspectives.

When analyzing US interests, for many it’s not hard to justify support of Afghan action against Pakistan. There has been considerable incursion across the border and actions against coalition forces, and it simultaneously draws resources away from the internal security mission. Whether or not there is Pakistani support for such endeavors is irrelevant, as the attacks need to be curtailed. If the government does not take a proactive approach, the only alternatives lie outside of the country itself.

The US should be careful in how it addresses this issue, and do so with much humility. In the 1970’s and 80’s the US supported the Taliban against the Soviet Union and encouraged Pakistani villages on the border to welcome them into their homes, marry into their families, and support their actions. One might even say they are still doing exactly what the United States requested (the Pakistanis), as strange and convoluted as that might sound. Any action against the Pakistani border needs to be tempered and full consideration of civilians and infrastructure needs to exceed the normal standard for military operations.

If Pakistan wants to avoid increased hostilities, it would be in their interest to lockdown the border to Afghanistan as much as possible. Granted it’s a hugely difficult task, but even a valiant attempt would go along way to demonstrating the government does not support such militia actions. It needs to be much more aggressive then it has been in the past, and understand that no attacks into Afghanistan on coalition forces would give them serious political leverage against any action by Afghanistan and the US. It would also maintain current borders, which if increased hostilities did occur, might face uncertain consequences.

There are political and diplomatic solutions to this looming confrontation, and should be explored by both sides. A potential solution could be cooperative where US and coalition forces spearhead efforts within the mountains on the border, while Pakistani forces focus on internal security methods within the cities and town. This one is probably too much of a long shot given sovereignty issues and Pakistan’s lack of success thus far, but it could merit exploration.

No conflict serves both interests more fully than all out engagement, and with the looming question of nuclear ambiguity on the part of Pakistan, it only serves to raise the temperature of an already fragile region.

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