Today in History: Taliban Seeds are Sown

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The President’s Afghanistan speech has sparked partisan debate over that military conflict.  Today marks an important anniversary in the historical context of the Afghanistan war.  Historical context raises legitimate questions over what U.S. policy should be in a conflict that looks like a no-win situation.

Today marks the anniversary of Pakistan’s 1971 preemptive strike on Indian air bases.  This preemptive strike sparked a brief Indo-Pakistani War that resulted in a humiliating Pakistani defeat.  Pakistan crushingly surrendered half its territory to India, and its military was decimated.  It was  a bruising psychological defeat for the Pakistani people (who had been tricked by state run media propaganda) and military personnel, including Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan’s defeat led to their nuclear ambitions and rising jihadism.  Pakistan’s nuclear project (Project 706) resulted directly from their defeat.  Writer Steve Coll (author of the excellent pre-9/11 narrative, Ghost Wars) argues that defeat also sowed the seeds for Pakistani support of jihadists, used to attack the Soviets in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir.  Today, jihadists still plague Afghanistan and threaten nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability.

Afghanistan’s jihadists pose a destabilizing threat to the region and nuclear-armed Pakistan.  The concern is both genuine and international (not just a U.S. problem).  Senate candidate Chuck DeVore seems to understand this in condemning Obama’s plan as “a recipe for strategic failure” because “the number of Americans is insufficient” and withdrawal will lead to the fall of “thoroughly corrupt and infamously weak” Afghan government, fueling more jihadi destabilization.  “Victory,” says DeVore, “Should be defined as denying al-Qaeda safe haven from which to plan and execute further attacks.”  Yet, the goal might be defined more broadly – promoting regional stability and preventing nuclear-armed jihadism.

It is hard to see how Obama’s “exit strategy” (cut-and-run) serves the national interest.  Yet, Barbara Boxer opposed military action in Afghanistan and supports “cut-and-run”.  While many on the left and right believe that the Iraq conflict was a mistake, DeVore is right when he says, “Afghanistan is not Iraq.” Still, Democrats argue that we can’t afford it (even while spending trillions on bailouts, “stimulus”, cash-for-clunkers, and are seeking a government healthcare entitlement).  But can we afford not to take action?

It seems undeniable that Afghanistan is a “no win” in the conventional sense.  But, the threat of nuclear jihadism is not mere right-wing “fear-mongering”.  Turning your back on very real threats doesn’t make those threats disappear.  Historical context suggests that the problem is very real, very old, and very persistent (a “no-win”).  But, does “no win” mean “no action”?

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