Published: July 2012 ..:: India Strategic ::. Foreign Affairs: Pakistan’s Impending Defeat in Afghanistan Washington D.C. Irrespective of how the coming security transition in Afghanistan pans out, one country is on a surprising course to a major strategic defeat: Pakistan. Every foreseeable ending to the Afghan war today â€” continued conflict with the Taliban, restoration of Taliban control in the southern and eastern provinces, or a nationwide civil war â€” portends nothing but serious perils for Islamabad. But judging from Pakistanâ€™s behavior, it appears as if this fact has eluded the generals in Rawalpindi. Pakistanâ€™s Enduring Aim Ever since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan has had one simple strategic goal on its western frontier: ensuring that Afghanistan remains a stable but subordinate entity deferential to Pakistanâ€™s sensitivities on all matters of national security. Such deference was sought for a host of reasons. Islamabad wanted a guarantee that Kabul would not reignite the dispute over the countriesâ€™ common border (the Durand Line) and would not seek to mobilize the regionâ€™s Pashtun populations in support of either absorption into Afghanistan or the creation of a new nation. The Pakistani leadership also aimed to ensure that Afghanistan would not enter into close geopolitical affiliations with other, more powerful countries, such as the United States or India, in order to increase Kabulâ€™s autonomy from Islamabad. Amid the chaos that emerged after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan settled on supporting the Afghan Taliban as its strategic instrument for securing Kabulâ€™s compliance with its objectives. Although the Taliban were not always dependable surrogates on these matters, they appeared better than other Afghan rivals, and hence Islamabadâ€”despite its denialsâ€”has stuck by them to this day. Whatever the intended benefits of this strategy, it has alienated both the broader Afghan populace and the government in Kabul, which now views Pakistan as a habitually hostile neighbor. It has also undermined the U.S.-led international stabilization effort in Afghanistan, as well as hopes for a peaceful security transitionâ€”not to mention infuriating Washington, which now views Pakistan as a perfidious partner. And it has provoked heightened regional rivalry involving Afghanistanâ€™s neighbors, especially Iran, India, the Central Asian republics, and Russia , all of whom are determined to prevent a Pakistani-supported Taliban takeover of Afghanistan . Worst of all, Islamabadâ€™s strategy promises to fundamentally undermine Pakistani security. Every one of the three possible outcomes of the Afghan security transition leaves Pakistan in a terrible place. Destined for Failure The most likely consequence of the security transition is a protracted conflict between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban that continues long after coalition forces have ceased active combat operations. These relatively low, but still significant, levels of violence would tax Afghan national security forces, distract the central and provincial governments, threaten the security of the average Afghan, and generally retard Afghan stabilization and reconstruction. While such problems would be serious â€” though perhaps manageable for Kabul â€” they would by no means be favorable to Pakistan. A continuing insurgency in Afghanistan will further inflame passions in Pakistanâ€™s own tribal areas and, given the links between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, will intensify the threats to Pakistanâ€™s own internal stability at a time when the countryâ€™s economic condition remains parlous and its relations with the West precarious. Most problematically, this outcome would deepen the estrangement between Afghanistan and Pakistan, induce Kabul to be even less accommodating of Islamabadâ€™s concerns, and push Afghanistan into a tighter embrace of Pakistanâ€™s rivals. The more serious, though still middling, outcome of the security transition could be a de facto partition of Afghanistan arising from a steady increase in Taliban control that is limited to the Pashtun-majority areas in the southern and eastern provinces. Beyond undermining Kabulâ€™s effort to preserve a unified Afghan state, this consequence would put at risk the international communityâ€™s contributions toward reconstruction in Afghanistan. If Islamabad is satisfied by such a result, it should think again. Although the Talibanâ€™s reoccupation of its heartland might appear to produce a barrier region controlled by Islamabadâ€™s proxies, its worst consequences would not be limited to the inevitable meltdown in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. Rather, the chief concern is the chaos that would ensue from Kabulâ€™s military efforts (almost certainly aided by Pakistanâ€™s regional rivals) to regain control of these territoriesâ€”a chaos that would inescapably bleed into Pakistanâ€™s frontier regions. Even if Afghanistan were to eventually fail in these operations, the outcome would be deadly for Pakistan. Any Taliban control of southern and eastern Afghanistan would lay the geographic and demographic foundations for resuscitating the old Pashtun yearnings for a separate state, a â€œPashtunistanâ€ that would threaten the integrity of Pakistan. Given the current resentment of the Taliban leadership toward its Pakistani protectors, Rawalpindi should not to be consoled by the prospect of a Pashtun buffer along Pakistanâ€™s western borders. The last and most dangerous potential outcome of the security transition in Afghanistan would be the progressive Taliban takeover of the south and east en route to a larger attempt to control all of Afghanistan. This would be a replay of the tragic events Afghans faced between 1994 and 2001, and would plunge the country into a Hobbesian civil war. All Afghan minorities as well as Pakistanâ€™s larger neighbors would be implicated in a cauldron intended to prevent Islamabad from securing its desired â€œstrategic depthâ€ at their expense. A cataclysmic conflict of this sort would be the worst kind of disaster for Pakistan. It would not just provoke major refugee flows that would further undermine Pakistanâ€™s difficult economic condition. It would also integrate the violence and instability currently persisting along Pakistanâ€™s western frontier into a vast hinterland that opens up even greater opportunities for violent blowback into Pakistan itself. The disorder that such a scenario portends would not only put paid to any Pakistani dreams of â€œstrategic depthâ€â€” assuming this concept was sensible to begin with â€” but it would end up embroiling Pakistan in an open-ended proxy war with every one of its neighbors. Time to Reconsider None of the plausible outcomes of the security transition advances Pakistanâ€™s goal of creating a stable Afghanistan that would be sensitive to Islamabadâ€™s core security concerns. Without doubt, Pakistan deserves secure borders and peaceful frontiers. Yet its own strategies â€” supporting insurgency and terrorism against its neighbors â€” have undermined its objectives. If Pakistanâ€™s continuing behavior is any indication, it does not yet appear to have grasped this fact. An unhappy ending to the security transition is practically guaranteed by Islamabadâ€™s unwillingness to press the Afghan Talibanâ€™s Quetta Shura to pursue reconciliation with Kabul and its reluctance to even call publicly upon the Taliban leadership to seek peace. On top of that is Pakistanâ€™s continued reticence to clarify its preferred outcomes from the reconciliation process and its unproductive haggling over transit compensation for NATO shipments into Afghanistan. None of this convinces Afghanistan and the wider region that Pakistan means well. It may be true that Kabul will suffer most of all from Pakistanâ€™s actions. But the generals in Rawalpindi ought to remember that their country too is facing strategic defeat if the international community fails in Afghanistan.