Will the Iraqi Endgame be repeated in Afghanistan?

The number of parallels is worrisome

Even as President Obama trumpets his plans to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in two years’ time, he also insists (though in a sotto voce way) that he wants to maintain a limited but long-term military presence focused on counter-terrorism missions and training Afghan security forces.  Of course, this is the same promise he made regarding the war in Iraq, only to beat a hasty exit a year ago.  A report this week by Reuters highlights the ramifications of how things played out in Iraq, including a marked loss of American influence with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki coupled with growing Iranian clout; regional perceptions that the U.S. departure amounts to a strategic defeat; and U.S. companies frozen out of the expanding Iraqi oil sector.  Others (here and here) have noted the return of Al Qaeda following its defeat just a few years ago.

So is the endgame in Iraq a harbinger of things to come in Afghanistan?  The number of parallels is worrisome. Continue reading

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Is the India-Pakistan Thaw Losing Steam?

Malik’s maladroit visit is a harbinger of things to come

The headline visit to India this past weekend by Pakistan’s de-facto interior minister, Rehman Malik, was supposed to celebrate the latest milestone in the détente process that has picked up speed between the two countries over the last year and a half.  Instead, it may be a sign that the stirrings of peace are reaching their limit.

The highlight of the journey was to be the signing of a landmark visa agreement making cross-border travel easier, the most recent in a string of developments suggesting that the sibling states which were literally born at each other’s throats just might be able to establish a more normal and cooperative relationship.  Other recent positive signposts include the brief but productive mini-summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Easter Sunday in New Delhi – the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years; the opening of a new customs facility at the Wagah border crossing to facilitate expanded trade links; Islamabad’s decision to grant “most favored nation” trade status to India; New Delhi’s move to permit foreign direct investment from Pakistan; and steps by both governments to allow banks from one country to set up shop in the other (see here and here).

All of this momentum raised hopes that the two rivals could make progress on their long-running territorial contestations, including the disputes over the Siachen Glacier, an uninhabitable stretch of the Himalayas, and Sir Creek, a patch of marshland dividing the Indian state of Gujarat and the Pakistani province of Sindh.  There was even talk of tackling the holy grail of the bilateral relationship: resolution of the perennially-inflamed dispute over the Kashmir region.  Helping things along was an informal but promising dialogue by retired senior military leaders from both countries about important confidence-building measures.

But Mr. Malik’s ill-starred trip is a reminder of how the annals of India-Pakistan relations are filled with false dawns.  Continue reading