By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Purpose of troop surge in Afghanistan in March 2009 was to dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda, stabilize the country, gain effective control over all major urban centres as well as agricultural and poppy growing areas, dominate main supply routes, minimize civilian casualties, weed out corruption, improve governance, win over moderate elements within militants and convince them to surrender arms in return for jobs and financial assistance, expand and upgrade proficiency levels of Afghan National Army (ANA) and police to be able to operate independently, build capacity of Pak Army to enhance its capability of tackling militants in FATA. None of the objectives could be achieved. Failures were hid under the smoke-screen of lame excuses and propaganda war in which Pakistan was viciously targeted.
Rationale behind second troop surge, starting early 2010 was to break the momentum of Taliban resurgence by recapturing critical spaces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, and to militarily weaken it to the extent that it is forced to come to the negotiating table on US terms. Simultaneous to using force, pacification measures were to be speeded up to win over as much Pashtun segment as possible particularly from within Pashtun militant forces and to divide the Taliban. It was intended to create favorable conditions for handing over combat role to expanded and upgraded ANA and internal security to RAAM and enlarged Afghan Police by mid July 2011, while bulk of US-NATO forces were to start withdrawing in July 2011, leaving behind up to 50,000 troops in support role only.
When no headway was made even after raising the troop level to 152000 and training thousands of additional Afghan security forces, Pakistan was once again held responsible for US failures. Attention of the world was riveted towards North Waziristan, declaring it as the abode of Osama and Zawahiri and the most dangerous place on earth. Pakistan is under intense pressure since the dawn of 2010 to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. All visitors coming from Washington have been pressing our leaders not to delay the operation since in their view it will have a direct bearing on the outcome of overall security situation in Afghanistan. Robert Gates has once again harped upon the point that victory in Afghanistan is not possible without destroying sanctuaries of militants in FATA.
The US is pursuing a two-fold strategy almost similar to the one advocated by Gen Musharraf during his rule. He had promoted the idea that one prong should hit the militants hard while the other should address the root causes of terrorism. In his view both prongs should complement each other so as to eliminate terrorism. It was a wise suggestion but George Bush paid no heed to the second prong since he was least interested in attending to the grievances of the Islamists. He kept pursuing the first prong ruthlessly to achieve results through use of brutal force only.
Barack Obama too has kept up the policy of his predecessor and gone a step ahead by making excessive use of drones against suspected militants in Waziristan. Besides using force, he is also in favor of using underhand methods to divide the Taliban, buying loyalties of moderates and promising them incentives and share in power. The US military is fixed with the idea that success of second pincer will depend upon the headway made by the first pincer in the battlefield. More the Taliban get cornered and weakened, greater will be the catch of defectors. It has made up its mind to pullout from Afghanistan but not before it has changed the tide in its favor and negotiated a political settlement with the Taliban on its conditions.
It is desperate to achieve moral ascendancy against the Taliban and to bargain from position of strength. At the same time it is deeply worried over mounting casualties. From January to mid November 2010, ISAF casualty rate has touched 641. It is this burning desire to gain an edge over Taliban but at minimum human cost which has created predicament for USA. Improvised explosive devices are taking the maximum toll. Taliban have also intensified raids on military targets.
The US is belatedly regretting its mistake of abandoning Afghanistan after the historic victory achieved by Afghan Mujahideen duly supported by Pakistan in 1989. Had it stayed behind and helped in stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan, things would have been different? The US doesn’t want to repeat the mistake but the situation this time is dissimilar since its forces have destroyed the country and massacred tens of thousands innocent Afghans. Afghan Pashtuns which are in majority have suffered the most and do not want foreign troops to stay on their soil. Despite efforts, the US and Karzai regime mostly comprised of non-Pashtuns have been unable to win over any of the hard-line Taliban leaders and their success within moderate elements is limited and inconsequential.
On one hand the ground realities demand an early pullout; on the other end of the spectrum, egoist hawkish elements among the US political and military leaders are keen to move out on a victorious note and to leave behind a friendly regime that could guard US interests. Considering July 2011 as a starting point for withdrawal of coalition troops, ideally the pullout should get completed in six months time. This is possible only if an agreement of sorts is arrived hpw at with the Taliban. Without an agreement, withdrawing troops would be most vulnerable to attacks and may prove very costly in terms of human losses. Infighting among Afghans during or after withdrawal of foreign troops and return of Taliban to power are other worrying aspects since it would eliminate American and Indian influences in Afghanistan. Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia would be future stakeholders in Afghanistan.
Dependence upon corrupt and inept Karzai regime and ham-fisted ANA and police are making the endgame of USA in Afghanistan problematical. Reliance on tens of thousands private contractors for security duties costing huge amounts is another grey area. To make matters worst, the US officials brainwashed by Mossad, RAW, MI-6, RAAM, BMD and CIA are mistrusting the key ally Pakistan which is taking the main brunt and making sacrifices more than anyone else. Although belatedly efforts are in hand to bridge the trust deficit, Pak-US relations are still clouded with doubts. Both suspect that the other is playing a double game. While the US slaps allegations based on hearsay and inputs provided by self-serving RAW, RAAM and Mossad, Pakistan’s complaints are legitimate since it is the chief sufferer.
Pakistan has suffered on account of its fight against the militants as well as massive covert operations by the six intelligence agencies based in Kabul. The US has been pushing Pakistan to the hilt but has been stingy in compensating it for the huge sacrifices it made. It has failed to address genuine security concerns of Pakistan with regard to Indian dangerous designs and not only continue to build up its conventional and nuclear capabilities to disturb the regional military balance but is also helping India in becoming a key player in Afghanistan and in the region.
Notwithstanding the pulls and pressures on USA, none can deny that longer the stay more will be complications for occupation forces and more blood would flow in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even though rapid downslide of American economy has been stemmed, it is still not out of the woods. Defence expenditure and expenses incurred on war on terror are too high which are at the expense of domestic reforms. There is no improvement in unemployment which stands at 9.6%. Banks are still running on borrowed sums from Federal Reserve and there is no improvement in fiscal deficit. Main reason is that Obama is also blindly relying on old policy of credits, which doesn’t cure the disease. Economic and security factors have contributed towards Democrat’s defeat in recent mid-term elections.
Hence, unless USA-Afghan regime-Taliban agrees on a mutually acceptable political agreement, speedy withdrawal is ruled out. Recently concluded Lisbon Summit has extended the dateline to end 2014 so as to allow graduated phased pullout. Even 2014 have been kept flexible. The American strategists have now put their heads together and are busy strategizing how to ensure steady progress, ensure security of troops and how to leave behind a friendly regime in Kabul. Acquisition of Russian support is being viewed as a big breakthrough.
In case the military at certain stage feels threatened, it may switch over to an alternate plan to shift to central and northern parts of the country and leave behind ANA to deal with the insurgents in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. In other words, the war strategy would get converted to indirect strategy so as to avoid casualties of foreign troops. Pakistan will be pushed to clear all sanctuaries of militants in FATA and prevent cross border movement. Drone strikes in Waziristan will continue and so would the covert operations. The US-NATO will provide backup technical, logistic and aerial support to ANA. Whole focus will be on the battle zone formed by southern and eastern Afghanistan, FATA and Pashtun belt of Balochistan.
Implications of indirect warfare are that it would provide greater space and liberty of action to militant forces and embolden them to intensify their activities in northern parts of the country and threaten main strongholds of ISAF. Defensive stratagem of ISAF may sooner than later result in mass uprising of Afghans against occupying forces. Suffice it to say that turmoil and bloodletting in Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue for many more years. At the end of the day, occupation forces and not resistance forces will get tired, exhausted and will give up as a bad job.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites