Cablegate: Allies Find Briefing On Afghanistan Nie “Gloomy,”
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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 05 USNATO 000453
DEPARTMENT FOR RPM, SCA/A, SCA/PB
EO 12958 DECL: 12/04/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, MOPS, MARR, NATO, PTER, PINR, AF, PK, IN
SUBJECT: ALLIES FIND BRIEFING ON AFGHANISTAN NIE “GLOOMY,”
BUT FOCUS ON RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE SITUATION
USNATO 00000453 001.2 OF 005
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires W. Scott Reid III. Reasons 1.4 (b), ( c), (d).
1. (S/REL NATO) Summary. National Intelligence Officer (NiO) for South Asia, Dr. Peter Lavoy, briefed NATO Permanent Representatives on the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Afghanistan on November 25. He said the NIE describes a grim situation in Afghanistan and predicts that negative trends will continue through 2009 if five inter-dependent regional challenges in South Asia are not addressed: defeating al-Qaida in Pakistan, creating stability in Afghanistan, creating stability in western Pakistan, creating stability in Pakistan as a whole particularly in the economy, and improving the bilateral India-Pakistan relationship. Permanent Representatives called Lavoy’s report “unrelentingly gloomy,” but appeared to agree with his assessment that Afghanistan is “winnable,” especially if NATO takes several immediate concrete steps to improve the situation. End summary.
2. (S/REL NATO) NiO Lavoy opened his briefing to a November 25 informal meeting of NATO Permanent Representatives (PermReps) by saying the situation for 2009 in Afghanistan looked bleak unless the international community addressed five inter-dependent regional challenges: -- Defeating al-Qaida in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan; -- Creating stability in Afghanistan; -- Creating stability in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan Province, and the FATA; -- Creating stability in Pakistan as a whole, with particular emphasis on Pakistan’s economy; and -- Improving the bilateral India-Pakistan relationship.
3. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy described FATA as the command and control center for al-Qaida worldwide, and said a few hundred senior and mid-level trainers, planners, and operators reside there. Despite al-Qaida’s presence in the FATA, he continued, it plays a surprisingly insignificant role in Afghanistan, where the numbers of foreign fighters remain relatively low. Al-Qaida is more disrupted than at any time since October 2001, but the organization is damaged, not broken. The international community cannot afford to let pressure off al-Qaida, because it has demonstrated an ability to reconstitute itself in the past, and could easily reverse-migrate back to Afghanistan if the Taliban were to regain control. Lavoy emphasized that the consequences of failing in Afghanistan and permitting al-Qaida to shift its center of gravity to Afghanistan would pose a threat to all nations inside their own borders.
SOURCES OF INSTABILITY
4. (S/REL NATO) Turning to Afghanistan, Lavoy underlined that there are more significant factors than al-Qaida that contribute to the bleak security situation. The Afghan government has failed to consistently deliver services in rural areas. This has created a void that the Taliban and other insurgent groups have begun to fill in the southern, eastern, and some western provinces. The Taliban is mediating local disputes in some areas, for example, offering the population at least an elementary level of access to justice. Provincial governors appointed due to close ties to Karzai have proven ineffective, often putting certain tribes or sub-tribes at unnatural disadvantage while promoting others. The Taliban have effectively manipulated the grievances of disgruntled, disenfranchised tribes to win over anti-government recruits. Responding to a question, Lavoy said Karzai reflects the tribal fragmentation of Afghanistan. If there could be more balance of resources at the district level instead of channeling all money and efforts through Karzai, we could have greater success improving government linkages to the population.
5. (S/REL NATO) The Taliban has become more militarily effective and is demonstrating more sophisticated infantry, communications, and command and control techniques. Their marksmanship is more precise, and their explosives more lethal than in previous years. For these reasons, Lavoy noted, violent attacks initiated by insurgents rose 40 percent over the past year, matching a three-year trend for drastic annual increases in insurgent attacks. Norwegian and Turkish PermReps asked about the source of expertise and financing that is allowing the Taliban to become militarily proficient, especially if the number of al-Qaida senior and mid-level personnel is low. Lavoy responded that the opium economy is the number one domestic funding source for Pakistan-oriented and Afghan Taliban organizations. He added that insurgents have proven themselves highly adaptable, and many fighters’ veteran status has contributed to opposing forces’ improved abilities.
6. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy pointed to the growing professionalism and performance of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as a good news story, but noted that ISAF has a 40 percent deficiency in numbers of trainers needed to constitute a projected Afghan Army force strength of 134,000 troops. There is a similar training deficiency for Afghan National Police (ANP) development, he said. Police are seen in many provinces as a predatory force plagued by systemic problems beyond lack of professionalism, equipment, and training. Extortion of bribes from the populace remains common practice, often to supplement provincial government coffers. While there are cases where police are doing better, the ANP needs more resources.
7. (S/REL NATO) Even if the international community rectifies training gaps in Afghan army and police development, Lavoy concluded, efforts would be insufficient if Pakistan remains a safe haven for insurgents. Similarly, solving the safe haven in Pakistan is necessary but insufficient to “win” in Afghanistan, without simultaneously addressing the severe governance, development, and access to justice gaps.
PAKISTAN’S PRECARIOUS SITUATION
8. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy commented on two causes of instability in western Pakistan that could cause Pakistan to completely lose control of its Pashtun territories over the next few years. Traditional Pashtun tribal authority has broken down since the anti-Soviet jihad period, and is no longer capable of resolving social harmony at the community level. Pakistan has also promulgated a policy of neglect of Pashtun areas and still lacks a strategy to deal holistically with social problems of illiteracy, unemployment, and disaffected youth. Both of these situations play to the advantage of insurgent and extremist groups.
9. (S/REL NATO) Although Pakistan now identifies both al-Qaida and the Taliban as existential threats, Lavoy said, Pakistani government institutions still support the Taliban in two key ways. They permit the Quetta Taliban Shura (the Taliban leadership council) to operate unfettered in Baluchistan province. Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) provides intelligence and financial support to insurgent groups - especially the Jalaluddin Haqqani network out of Miram Shah, North Waziristan - to conduct attacks in Afghanistan against Afghan government, ISAF, and Indian targets. PermReps questioned the rationality of Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, which Lavoy explained in three ways. First, Pakistan believes the Taliban will prevail in the long term, at least in the Pashtun belt most proximate to the Pakistani border. Second, Pakistan continues to define India as its number one threat, and insists that India plays an over-active role in Afghanistan. Finally, Pakistani officials think that if militant groups were not attacking in Afghanistan, they would seek out Pakistani targets.
10. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy said that after the storming of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in July 2007, the Pakistani government had tried to sever ties with insurgent groups that its government institutions had cultivated over three decades. When militants sought al-Qaida support and launched a wave of attacks against Pakistani government and security personnel, Pakistan realized it had lost control of these insurgent groups. Pakistan rapidly approached the various militant groups to reach domestic non-aggression deals. Lavoy claimed that the Pakistani Army’s current operations in the FATA’s Bajaur Agency are directed exclusively against insurgent groups that refused to cooperate, while the Haqqani network remains untouched and continues a policy of cross-border attacks. Urging militant groups to be outwardly focused, he said, is perceived by Pakistani officials as a method to safeguard internal security. In addition, Pakistan has (probably correctly) assessed that it is only capable of targeting several groups at a time, which leads to a policy of appeasement of other groups in the meantime.
11. (S/REL NATO) Ongoing Pakistani Army operations in Bajaur Agency are missing a counterinsurgency strategy to assist the population post-conflict, Lavoy said. The army requires the population to flee, fights the remaining insurgents, then uses air power to raze all structures associated with militants (tunnels, homes, infrastructure, etc.). The most urgent need for humanitarian international assistance to Pakistan is in Bajaur, where up to 300,000 residents have been displaced. Pakistan needs to be able to repatriate these citizens and effectively rebuild in the wake of operations. It is critical, Lavoy said, that the Pakistani Army succeed in Bajaur Agency. There is a rapidly changing perception in Pakistan’s military that coordination with ISAF is critically important.
12. (S/REL NATO) Amidst the problems on the frontier, the Pakistani economy is in tatters, Lavoy continued. The International Monetary Fund’s pledge of USD 6.7 billion will only address the immediate balance of payments crisis, but will not alleviate under- or un-employment for over a third of the population Pakistan’s population is becoming less and les educated, the country lacks sufficient energy and clean water resources to serve its population, an there is minimal foreign investment. Lavoy addd that despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakstan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rae than any other country in the world.
13. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy responded to PermReps’ questions about Iran during the discussion. He said Iran calibrates its posture in Afghanistan. It provides welcome development and social services assistance in western provinces and generally acknowledges the Taliban as a long-term threat. However, it also provides some lethal support to the Taliban, hedging bets that the Taliban might prevail.
POSITIVE POLITICAL SIGNS
14. (S/REL NATO) Moving to a more optimistic topic, Lavoy mentioned that political signals from India may indicate a trend of toned-down rhetoric against Pakistan. He said that although India believes without doubt that ISI supported the Haqqani network in orchestrating the Indian Embassy bombing in Kabul that killed over 40 people in July, Indian diplomats and politicians showed restraint in public statements. According to Lavoy, political leaders also seem to realize that India’s past tactic of using military pressure to influence Pakistani government to reign in militants may no longer work, especially if insurgent groups are operating against or independently of ISI. Despite this positive political development, Lavoy said India could do more to assuage what one PermRep called “Pakistani paranoia.” The Indian military continues “cold start” exercises on the Kashmir border, confirming the Pakistanis’ worst suspicions, he added. India would ideally move forces back from the border.
15. (S/REL NATO) On Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, Lavoy characterized Karzai’s relationship with Pakistani President Zardari as trustful and allied at a political level. He pointed out that the Pakistani Army remains deeply distrustful of the Afghan president - and of Zardari himself. Lavoy suggested that Pakistan could benefit from creating a civilian-military national security board, because politically progressive ideas on regional engagement with both India and Afghanistan have not permeated the Pakistan military. Helping Pakistan reorient its national defense policy away from India and toward counterinsurgency, he said, could help refocus the Pakistani military to be more successful.
16. (S/REL NATO) The Secretary General (SYG) thanked Dr. Lavoy for presenting the “expose” on the regional situation in South Asia. Several PermReps noted that “the feel-good factor of the briefing was pretty low,” and the report was “chilling” and “unrelentingly gloomy.”
17. (S/REL NATO) Several PermReps were interested to know how the NIE affects the ongoing National Security Council strategic review. Ambassador Volker responded that the NIE forms a baseline analysis to inform USG officials as they formulate and evaluate policy options and recommendations for the incoming administration.
18. (S/NF) The Canadian PermRep agreed the importance of a vastly larger and more competent ANA force, and proposed that up to 200,000 troops might be necessary. The Belgian Ambassador proposed that NATO may need to prioritize ANA training as ISAF’s number one priority in coming months (Note: Belgium stood in the way last week of enabling the ANA Trust Fund to expand its mandate to accept national contributions to sustain ANA troops. End note). Belgium added that delegations will need help crafting messages for their capitals. He said that parliaments could make generating resources for a long-term commitment even more difficult if PermReps used the NIE assessment to imply we have little control over many regional and systemic factors causing instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
19. (S/REL NATO) The Turkish PermRep said this briefing, while pessimistic in tone, was timed perfectly, and urged the NAC to craft strong messages for the SYG to deliver during an upcoming trip to Pakistan. He commented that in the absence of effective Afghan government leadership, international efforts will make little difference. The Polish PermRep said the report highlighted the renewed importance of Pakistan to
NATO, and an urgent requirement for NATO to put added pressure on Pakistan.
WHAT SHOULD NATO DO?
20. (S/REL NATO) Ambassador Volker suggested three specific areas where NATO could help improve the regional situation. He said the Alliance needed to ask itself how it can better engage at the provincial and district level; how NATO and ISAF should facilitate better contact among Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India; and whether it should encourage nations to commit resources to help Pakistan deal with displaced people and repopulate the FATA post-conflict.
21. (S/REL NATO) Lavoy endorsed these ideas, and added that despite the troubling picture in Afghanistan in 2008, Afghanistan is “winnable,” and the international community can help Pakistan turn a corner. The formula is to enhance security, exhibit good governance emanating from Kabul but active at the district level, and empower the tribes to have a stake in development at the lowest levels. These recommendations are logical extensions of the current strategy but require reorganization of resources. He concluded:
-- NATO should consider shifting the ISAF center of gravity to the district level. -- The international community needs to engage tribes without arming them, and reinvigorate the traditional tribal system by instilling confidence in the population. Securing the people will go a long way to improve their willingness to resist the Taliban. -- The ANA needs to be stronger and is the best tool. It will cost more resources and require more ingenuity. -- Anything NATO can do (including strong messages the SYG can carry to Pakistan on an upcoming trip) to encourage closer military-to-military cooperation would be helpful. -- Elections are a critical event and must be successful. September is the right time so that we have enough time to organize to secure the Pashtun population. -- 2009 is the key year to influence Pakistan and Iran to halt lethal assistance to the Taliban by showing Afghanistan’s neighbors that the Taliban will not prevail. The international community should be relentless in pressuring Pakistanis on this issue. -- The international community should put intense pressure on the Taliban in 2009 in order to bring out their more violent and ideologically radical tendencies. This will alienate the population and give us an opportunity to separate the Taliban from the population.