By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Pakistan had agreed to become a US ally and fight its war to save itself from getting bombed to Stone Age and to become stronger economically, politically, socially and diplomatically. Looking back, none will disagree that Pakistan has been a loser on all counts and it finds itself weaker than what it was in 2001. The one that had given high hopes is today bashing Pakistan and threatening to exercise military option against it.
Allies sit together, consult, plan and strategize together and share the fortunes and misfortunes of war together. This is a unique case wherein an ally is distrusted, ridiculed, maligned, blackmailed, threatened, emasculated and stabbed in the back. Out of 49 countries taking part in war on terror, Pakistan has taken the heaviest brunt and suffered the most and yet the US singles it out and makes it a scapegoat to cover up its failings. Whenever the US military finds itself in thick soup and its image is at stake, it promptly gets hold of Pakistan, accuses it of uncommitted sins and gets a temporary relief. The US should remain beholden to the convenient scapegoat which is ever ready to offer itself for sacrifice to bailout ungrateful USA.
100,000 US troops and over 40,000 troops of 26 NATO countries and other allied countries together with 176,000 strong Afghan National Army (ANA) have been fighting few thousand ill-equipped, ill-clothed, ill-fed Pashtuns in Afghanistan for over a decade under most conducive military environments. Not only have they had no dearth of top of the line ground and air weapons, equipment, technology and funds to sustain the war, they didn’t have to bother about collateral damage to civilians or destruction to property and infrastructure. They have a license to kill and are above law. The world as a whole has been giving diplomatic, moral and political support to their cause of freeing the world of terrorism and ignoring their atrocities.
American servicemen serving in Afghanistan are heavily paid and their welfare, medical and entertainment needs are catered for. High quality hot cooked food is airlifted from Dubai daily and troops are frequently sent on leave and also rotated. To cater for their personal safety and security, they have been confined to well-fortified military bases and are seldom made to fight the militants face to face. A very large armada of security contractors has been hired on heavy fees to lessen the load of combat troops. They pay money to the militants to get their road supply containers pass through the areas under their control.
In its ten-year stay, the ISAF has yet to score a battle victory against Taliban linked with al-Qaeda. The only thing the occupation troops have done is to make use of its superior weaponry to destroy and kill. Whatever night raids conducted by US Special Forces are not against Taliban strongholds but against undefended and unsuspecting villages of Pashtuns. The US-UK forces had tried to capture Helmand twice but failed. They suffered reverses in a province where anti-Taliban non-Pashtun Hazara community has a heavy presence and Pashtuns are not pre-dominant. The attackers got the message that if the Taliban couldn’t be defeated in Helmand, they could never be defeated in Pashtun heavy regions. It was this apprehension which discouraged Gen Petraeus to launch an operation in Kandahar, or any of the six regions dominated by Haqqani network. Despite spending over $10 billion a month in Afghanistan, great majority of Afghans hate the Americans and want them to vacate their country. Policy of longer stick and smaller carrot has totally failed to win over the Afghans.
The adversary they have been confronting is homeless, friendless, isolated, and without logistic base and financial institute to meet war expenses. The resisting forces live off the land and are devoid of air, tank, air defence, and long range weapons support and intelligence cover. All their needs are purely on innovations and self-help basis. Their command structure is dispersed and under ground and they make use of emissaries to pass instructions and avoid use of cell phones and telephones for fear of being detected and killed by unmanned drones. Top leaders of Taliban have thus far miraculously escaped the manhunt and drones.
At the time of commencement of war on 7 October 2001, the teenaged boys aged ten or so have now grown up and attained full manhood while those who were born in that timeframe are over ten-year old and are able to hold and use personal weapons. Most are orphans and there is none who has not lost his father, mother or his sibling. They have seen the whole saga of death and destruction and had no opportunity to enjoy the monkeyshines and liveliness of their childhood or boyhood. They could neither enjoy family life or the comforts of home and hearth or could go to school. They have been on the move like gypsies from one place to the other to save themselves from the chasing hounds. Their parents have aged faster due to malnourishment and fatigue. Most suicide bombers are teenagers whose age range between 12-16 years.
This rag-tag force of Pashtuns that was supposedly uprooted and defeated in December 2001 and declared as worthless people has miraculously turned hpw the tables on the occupiers of their land through sheer dint of determination and raw courage. With backs against the wall, they put their lives at stake since they had nothing to lose and nothing to own. Hardly a day passes without an offensive act. It was expected that their surge would get diluted after two troop surges, but not only the upsurge of Taliban has continued, casualty rate of ISAF has gone very high since 2009.
The Taliban have managed to gain upper edge over almost 70- 80% of Afghan territory and control of ISAF is confined to major urban centres only. Security incidents are up by 39% in the first eight months of this year compared to previous year. They have become so daring that they are now striking targets inside most heavily defended cities of Kandahar and Kabul. Their most stunning attack was on US Embassy, NATO HQ and National Directorate of Security on 13 September. It implies that the Pashtuns that have suffered grievously are sympathetic towards the cause of Taliban and that the Taliban might have gained understanding of Pashtun elements within ANA and Police. Back channel peace talks might have helped the Taliban to develop links with security contractors and government officials.
Murder of Tajik origin Burhanuddin Rabbani on 20 September has given a deathblow to peace efforts and has almost sealed Karzai-Taliban contact channel, making Karzai heart broken. Kabul which is the most fortified and defended city has become vulnerable, which is a cause of great vexation and worry for ISAF and ANA. The ANA which the US and British trainers have been training since long at a heavy cost is proving to be a brittle entity. The situation has become extremely grave since the drawdown of troops has already begun and seven cities including Kabul have been handed over to ANA. By the end of this year 10,000 US soldiers would be out of Afghanistan and another 23000 by next summer.
During five-year stint in power of Taliban, notwithstanding their extremist policies, they had many good things to their credit. However, vicious US-western media campaign not only demonized the Taliban but the whole lot of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the ones residing in FATA. Despite the fact that all Taliban are Pashtuns but all Pashtuns are not Taliban, a misperception was built that all Afghan Pashtuns were bad boys. It is now that good boys are being found from within them, but not to benefit them but to divide the Pashtuns.
Now that the pullout has commenced since last July, the foreign troops are in no mood to risk their lives. They want to return home safe and sound and in stable mental condition. 70% of Americans are against the war and want an early end. The home pressure coupled with presidential election date drawing near has resulted in a tiff between Obama administration and Pentagon. The former miffed with the military for not delivering even after receiving heavy consignment of reinforcement twice, desire on time completion of withdrawal of all troops if not earlier. Karzai who was getting closer to Pakistan has got jittery after the setbacks on military and political fronts and has decisively gravitated towards India. He has once again reverted to his old acrimonious attitude towards Pakistan. He is now seeking security from India, EU and has also got inclined towards the US idea of American troops retaining military bases after 2014.
Pentagon, US command in Kabul, CIA, India, Israel and Karzai regime are not in favor of drawdown and want the troops to stay at least till victory is achieved and Taliban are forced to negotiate from position of weakness. The US Corporations also want prolongation of war till accomplishment of their profit-making objectives. None of these players as well as Russia, China, Iran and neighboring Central Asian States wants the Taliban to regain power and would like the current dispensation to continue with Taliban at best becoming the junior partner. Knowing that they are in a better bargaining position, the Taliban are not ready to negotiate with the US or with Karzai regime and that too on conditions imposed by USA, and want early withdrawal of all foreign troops. Since they were forcefully and illegally removed from power by the aggressors, they consider it their right to return to power since they represent the Pashtuns who are in great majority.
Pakistan and possibly China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Turkey and some others may not object to Pashtuns returning to power through democratic process, provided they refrain from pursuing extremist policies and sheltering terrorists of other countries. Pakistan feels that the Pashtuns having gone through trials and tribulations must have learnt many lessens and would show greater maturity and prudence so as not to get isolated from the world comity. It considers that demographic factor as provided for by international law and democratic principles give Pashtuns the right to form the next government. Had the US not snatched this right, it may not have landed itself in such a dire strait. Pakistan will feel more comfortable with Pashtun led government in Kabul, but sees little scope to build friendly relations with pro-India and anti-Pakistan non-Pashtun Northern Alliance regime in Kabul. This however, doesn’t imply that all Afghan non-Pashtuns are anti-Pakistan.