To believe that the war in Afghanistan will have anything but a disastrous end is to believe in the Tooth Fairy.
Or, at least, that appears to be the almost inescapable conclusion that can be drawn from a careful reading of a very thoughtful column by Founder and CEO George Friedman of the respected private global intelligence organization Stratfor .
It is well to begin by remembering the words of Lord Palmerston: ""Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests." "
Dr. Friedman's less-than-sanguine assessment begins by noting that there were two immediate consequences to the recent bombing of the Pakistani outpost:
Days after the Pakistanis closed their borders to the passage of fuel and supplies for the NATO-led war effort in Afghanistan, for very different reasons the Russians threatened to close the alternative Russia-controlled Northern Distribution Network (NDN) . The dual threats are significant even if they don't materialize. If both routes are cut, supplying Western forces operating in Afghanistan becomes impossible. Simply raising the possibility of cutting supply lines forces NATO and the United States to recalculate their position in Afghanistan.
The possibility of insufficient lines of supply puts NATO's current course in Afghanistan in even more jeopardy. It also could make Western troops more vulnerable by possibly requiring significant alterations to operations in a supply-constrained scenario. While the supply lines in Pakistan most likely will reopen eventually and the NDN likely will remain open, the gap between likely and certain is vast.
He goes on to say:
The Pakistanis have insisted it was an unprovoked attack and a violation of their sovereign territory. In response, Islamabad closed the border to NATO; ordered the United States out of Shamsi air base in Balochistan, used by the CIA; and is reviewing military and intelligence cooperation with the United States and NATO.
The proximate reason for the reaction is obvious; the ultimate reason for the suspension also is relatively simple. The Pakistani government believes NATO, and the United States in particular, will fail to bring the war in Afghanistan to a successful conclusion . It follows that the United States and other NATO countries at some point will withdraw.
The incident highlighted the conflicting permanent interests of Pakistan and the United States.
It is difficult to discover any permanent interest that the United States has in Afghanistan other than preventing its again becoming an ungoverned, failed state and haven for al-Qaeda. Indeed, it is not difficult to discover arguments that the United States has no such permanent interest.
The United States has many permanent interests in Pakistan including, but not limited to assuring that its nuclear arsenal is secure, preventing that arsenal's proliferation, seeing to it that war does not break out between it and its mortal enemy, India, and forestalling Pakistan's falling under the influence of China.
Pakistan's permanent interest in Afghanistan is different from ours.
Some in Afghanistan have claimed that the United States has been defeated, but that is not the case. The United States may have failed to win the war, but it has not been defeated in the sense of being compelled to leave by superior force. It could remain there indefinitely, particularly as the American public is not overly hostile to the war and is not generating substantial pressure to end operations. Nevertheless, if the war cannot be brought to some sort of conclusion, at some point Washington's calculations or public pressure, or both, will shift and the United States and its allies will leave Afghanistan.
Given that eventual outcome, Pakistan must prepare to deal with the consequences. It has no qualms about the Taliban running Afghanistan and it certainly does not intend to continue to prosecute the United States' war against the Taliban once its forces depart. To do so would intensify Taliban attacks on the Pakistani state, and could trigger an even more intense civil war in Pakistan . The Pakistanis have no interest in such an outcome even were the United States to remain in Afghanistan forever. Instead, given that a U.S. victory is implausible and its withdrawal inevitable and that Pakistan's western border is with Afghanistan, Islamabad will have to live with - and possibly manage - the consequences of the re-emergence of a Taliban-dominated government.
To those of us who witnessed it, the struggle of the Vietnamese people with conflicting loyalties and interests when the United States began to withdraw was similar, yet less visible, to what is happening in Afghanistan and in Pakistan now. Self-interest is the dominant permanent interest.
The Vietcong believed what the Taliban say, "You have the watches, we have the time." And the lucky Vietnamese who sided with those with the watches ended up in the South China Sea on anything that would float or in re-indoctrination sites: The unlucky ones were never heard from again.
Pakistan has learned from that lesson and from its own experience following the Soviet Union's expulsion from Afghanistan in the intervening decades.
The column then devotes its attention to the conflicting interests of Russia and the United States in ballistic missile defense and Russia's intent to hold the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) hostage in that conflict of interests.
This alternative depends on Russia . It transits Russian territory and airspace and much of the former Soviet sphere, stretching as far as the Baltic Sea - at great additional expense compared to the Pakistani supply route.
The issue is not whether the threats are carried out. The issue is whether the strategic interest the United States has in Afghanistan justifies the risk that the Russians may not be bluffing and the Pakistanis will become even less reliable in allowing passage.
It all makes for a chilling read, particularly in the light of the Obama Administration's notion of the permanent interests of the United States, since, by executive fiat, a new American vital interest has been recently been postulated.
The author served in-country at Red Cross Field Offices during the draw-down from Vietnam