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Games Nations Play

Ali Ahmed

Edited by Hy Rothstein and John Arquilla
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 229, price not stated.

By Feroz Hassan Khan
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2013, pp. 520, price not stated.


The editors of Afghan Endgames are at the Department of Defence Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, California. In their words, they have assembled an ‘all star cast of experts across a range of fields relevant to solving the strategic riddles of Afghanistan’. Given that Obama’s deadline of draw down and pull out of 2014 is nearing, the book is a timely one to inform thinking on American policies in ‘Afpak’ and consequences for the wider region that includes India. That it is the outcome of a research project funded by the Defence Department in around 2011 indicates that it was part of the input into the policy choices adopted in Afghanistan that finds the US finally talking to the Taliban.   Curiously there is no discussion in the book on this vital issue. This is perhaps the fundamental flaw in the book; perhaps testimony of the nature of the defence ‘establishment’ that in the US includes intellectual hangers on who build the rationale, legitimacy and strategic communication details cloaking US pursuit of its strategic interests through violence and the threat of violence over much of the globe.   Synthesizing the expert opinion in the concluding chapter, the editors suggest that ‘much less is more’. They want the US to ‘go local, go small, go long’. This entails closing most bases and downsizing others, stopping expensive development and infrastructure projects, displacing the ‘old guard’ with ‘young Afghan leaders’, downsizing the Afghan National Army, maintaining a very small anti- terrorist presence for high value counter terrorism missions, drastically reduce funding of Pakistan and persuade India to sharply reduce its footprint in Afghanistan. If the book has helped to arrive at this prescription for US policy, its credibility would depend on (a) whether the US is indeed embarked down this road, and (b) if such a policy makes strategic sense.   A negative answer to (a) is evident from the US initiating direct talks with the Taliban who have opened an embassy in the UAE for the purpose. The US adoption of this route of attempting to co-opt the Taliban, thereby making continuing counter insurgency redundant in Afghanistan dispenses with the book’s suggestions—the verdict on (b). It is clear to the US that it cannot do with a minimal force strength in support of native forces, as recommended by the editors, what the ‘surge’ could not do—tame the Taliban. Economics ...

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