Be it a baseball struck in a neighborhood sandlot game or in high-wire diplomacy, an elementary principle of physics holds good - what goes up must come down. In a way, the sheer dynamics of the nosedive of the United States' AfPak diplomacy in the four weeks since the London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 can be attributed to gravitational pulls.
Earth's gravity does not permit animated suspension, and US's AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke has found it difficult to keep up the entente cordiale worked out in the British capital. United States President Barack Obama may need to act faster than he would have thought.
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What if the West's war in Afghanistan is in the process of being won? It has become standard practice to presume that this isn't possible and that immersion in a quagmire followed by ignominious retreat is guaranteed. Much of the discussion among policy makers and commentators has priced in a debilitating stalemate or defeat. But what if these presumptions turn out to be plain wrong?
There are some encouraging signs of progress becoming visible on the horizon in Afghanistan. Operation Moshtarak in Helmand province got under way in mid-February, with a combined force in the region of 15,000 taking on the Taliban.
It has had some success with various insurgent strongholds taken. Under the direction of ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) the force is around 60% Afghan.
In Pakistan, the renewed focus on cooperation and assistance from American drones appears to be producing a dividend. One of the most experienced Pakistani commanders in the frontier war with the Taliban, Major Gen. Tariq Khan, told the Times of London that his force of 45,000 has inflicted significant casualties, killed the Taliban leadership and captured bases. Earlier this week Gen. Khan showed off to journalists the recently captured network of caves on the Afghan border reported to have sheltered Osama bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.
A British defense official said: "The kill-rate is right up. Pakistan remains a problem as it is profoundly unstable, and we do need to keep improving our support for what its government is doing. But there's much to be positive about."
This is all quite different from the unmitigated gloom of a few years ago.
Of course, there are plenty of respected voices prepared to say that apparent progress on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border is a mirage. Adam Holloway, a British MP and former soldier who served in Iraq, Bosnia and Afghanistan, has spent time on his own in the country and thinks the die is already cast.
He fears that previous mistakes mean it is too late to defeat an insurgency with deep roots in hatred of outside influence and any central government. What we think of as the Taliban in Afghanistan, but which is actually hundreds of small interrelated groups fighting in their locality, he claims has just opted to melt back into the population for the duration of Operation Moshtarak.
And there are also those who have had enough of the war, full-stop. Following the collapse of the Netherlands' government last month over its attempt to continue a deployment of 2,000 troops it is likely that the Dutch will withdraw this summer. NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, felt compelled earlier this week to try and calm Afghan nerves. It wouldn't trigger a rush for the exits: "I can assure you that the alliance will stay committed."
But there has been such widespread fatalism for so long about the prospects in Afghanistan, that there is a danger any progress goes unrecognized. That electorates continue to believe the dual myths of Western impotence and incompetence and cannot compute any kind of victory.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been central in this regard in lifting morale. His appointment as head of ISAF and commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan signalled a newly ambitious approach. He demanded extra troops but emphasized that winning is a possibility. A realistically optimistic commander can make a big difference in battle and over the course of a war.
In this way, improvements in the Afghan military situation can and have been made, particularly since Iraq is no longer the focus for American forces. When that might is brought to bear and combined with better use of intelligence, improved cooperation with Pakistan and the painstaking work of training the Afghan army it has an impact.
I accept that the prospect of a little success carries dangers, too. There may be progress, but it doesn't mean the Americans or their partners should delude themselves into thinking about leaving any time soon.
Forces will be required for decades to hold territory and create the space for Afghan civil society and institutions to develop (they haven't had much success on that front to date). But it isn't preordained to be a disaster: Victory of a kind is possible.
Poor Richard Holbrooke. Although he is a favourite of Bill and Hillary Clinton, his inability to realize that Afghanistan is not Serbia and the 1990s are not the 2000s have resulted in the US special envoy to the region being disliked by the Karzai administration and regarded with suspicion by the Manmohan Singh team. Holbrook's standing in South Block (the location of the Prime Minister's Office and the External Affairs Ministry) took a fresh beating after his remark that "Indians were not the target" of recent terror attacks in Kabul.
The fact is that the Taliban look with extreme disfavour at the many Indian activities in Afghanistan, and assist their friends to carry out attacks that they expect will lead to a pullback. However, the chemistry in India is different from that in Europe, where the loss of a few dozen lives leads to a public clamour for withdrawal. The people of India have seen several insurgencies over the past six decades, and each has reinforced the belief that attacks on Indian targets are each arguments not for a withdrawal but for a reinforcement of Indian strength, especially in view of the very cordial links between Delhi and Kabul under the Karzai administration Although Hillary Clinton sought to make her favourite the "Afghanistan-Pakistan-Hindustan envoy", this led to a strong protest by South Block (who was reinforced in its opposition to the inclusion of India in Holbrook's charter by North Block, the location of the Defense and Home Ministries).
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A multi-volume chronology and reference guide set detailing three years of the Mexican Drug War between 2010 and 2012.
Rantburg.com and borderlandbeat.com correspondent and author Chris Covert presents his first non-fiction work detailing
the drug and gang related violence in Mexico.
Chris gives us Mexican press dispatches of drug and gang war violence
over three years, presented in a multi volume set intended to chronicle the death, violence and mayhem which has
dominated Mexico for six years.