Ties That Bind and Confound

By Greg Sheridan

ONE of the most important aspects of Defence Minister John Faulkner's statement to parliament on Afghanistan yesterday was the undramatic section concerning the training we offer to officers of the Pakistan Army. The statement doesn't outline it but the process has an interesting history.

In 2008 we began modestly, under former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon, by offering to bring down a few Pakistanis to do some short coursework on counter-insurgency. That year we offered training on COIN, as the boffins call it, to 10 Pakistanis. The next year, 70 Pakistani soldiers came to Australia for training. This year the figure is 140. This training focuses on COIN, as well as counter-terrorist training and countering improvised explosive devices.

For several years Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation has had a dedicated team working on IEDs.

India, understandably suspicious of the Pakistan military, is relaxed about the training because it is not concerned with hi-tech hardware or conventional war-fighting capabilities. Washington is delighted with our efforts. Australia is now the second largest foreign provider of training to Pakistan after the US.

We also have had 12 Pakistani officers on scholarship to do military masters degrees, and six Australians have attended the Pakistan Army Command and Staff College at Quetta.

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But here is a giant and terrible contradiction.

According to a new report by Matt Waldman, published by the London School of Economics, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of the Pakistani military is intimately involved in supporting the Afghan Taliban. Waldman asserts the ISI is even represented on the Taliban's central leadership council, the so-called Quetta Shura.

This is in great distinction to the fight the Pakistanis are having with the Pakistan Taliban. Despite the connections of the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban, the ISI makes an easy distinction between them.

Waldman goes further than other analysts in his estimate of ISI intimacy with the Afghan Taliban, but the basic point, of some continuing ISI complicity with the Taliban, is not contested by any serious analyst. Indeed, Australian governments and senior military figures have often raised it with the Pakistanis.

Thus, we are providing military training to an institution that, in part, contributes to the killing of Australian soldiers. This is just a part of the infinite and unavoidable moral complexity of the long war against terror, and modern counter-insurgency.

One of the most difficult connundrums this long war throws up is how to deal with divided states; that is, not states that are rogue, failed or enemy, but states in which part of the state apparatus is allied with us against the terrorists and part co-operates with the terrorists.

Washington and Canberra both have decided it is better to engage and help Pakistan rather than just denounce it. I think, overall, this is the right judgment, but it is certainly a judgment that requires a strong stomach.

The Rudd government generally is making the right decisions about Afghanistan and doing so in the face of the broad if passive unpopularity of the mission.

This is possible because it has bipartisan support. Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott deserve praise for their respective attitudes to Afghanistan.

Pakistan is central to the calculations about Afghanistan from two directions. First is the degree of support the ISI, and perhaps other Pakistani institutions, give the Taliban. Second is the question of what a Western withdrawal, and presumed Taliban victory in Afghanistan, would mean for Pakistan.

Everyone involved in the counter-insurgent effort in Afghanistan hopes some large part of the Taliban will eventually lay down its arms, do a deal with the government and reintegrate into Afghanistan's national life. Western analysts say they are looking for the Taliban's Gerry Adams; indeed, Chief of the Defence Force Angus Houston, made the Northern Ireland comparison directly at a recent press conference. All insurgencies that end peacefully involve reintegrating the insurgents successfully into the society.

Is a successful deal with the Taliban a realistic possibility?

There are three huge complications. One that Waldman, among other analysts, suggests is that the ISI and Pakistan itself may not want a deal in Afghanistan. In this view, Islamabad doesn't mind if the Americans bleed to death in Afghanistan while they still see the Taliban and similar groups as their long-term best proxies in Afghanistan. The Taliban may not do a deal if the ISI stops it.

The second complicating factor is that the Taliban leadership is very divided, especially along tribal lines.

And the third is that insurgents make peace only when they believe they are losing on the battlefield. Adams and his colleagues switched from the bullet to the ballot because they were suffering a terrible loss of support among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, fewer and fewer of whom could offer any tolerance to the IRA's terrorism.

But look at an earlier example from Irish history.

At Easter 1916 the old IRA rose up against British rule in Ireland. The magnificent Michael Collins emerged as its leader and he ran such a brilliant insurgent campaign that the British were forced to negotiate.

What they negotiated was their total exit, which in Ireland's case was long overdue.

Negotiations with insurgents while the insurgents feel they are winning, or at least not losing, are only ever a graceful way for the conventional military power to surrender.

That's why the US-led coalition needs to negotiate from a position of strength. Which is why the blow-up between the ISAF commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the Obama administration is so profoundly destructive. McChrystal and his staff were very stupid to make their caustic comments to a Rolling Stone reporter about US Vice-President Joe Biden and other administration figures. But, McChrystal having grovellingly apologised, Obama is almost equally ill-advised to call the general back to Washington for a public dressing-down.

This sends a message to the world, and especially to the US and Australia's enemies in Afghanistan, of a lack of seriousness of purpose and firmness of resolve. Nobody ever won a counter-insurgency that way.

Greg Sheridan is the Foreign Editor of the Australian.
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