By Air Commodore® Khalid Iqbal                                                                                       

It is not an active fighting season in Afghanistan. Holiday season and the cold weather have brought some compulsory rest for the field combatants. Now the fighting would pickup to its tempo somewhere in the spring. From then on, there won’t be much time for the draw down to begin. The open-ended statements made during the Lisbon Summit have since continued to add confusions to withdrawal methodology, its attached conditionalities and varied attendant interpretations by the US, NATO and other stakeholders.

A senior Republic Senator Lindsey Graham has recently called for permanent US Military bases in Afghanistan as part of the moves that would also give a signal to Pakistan that the Taliban are never going to come back. ‘We have had air bases all over the world and a couple of air bases in Afghanistan would allow the Afghan security forces an edge against the Taliban in perpetuity. Senator recently told NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’. There are many like Graham offloading their pearls of wisdom wherever and whenever convenient. Likewise, Adviser to three US presidents, Bruce Riedel, has recently stated to the BBC that 2011 is the year for Obama to break linkage between Islamabad and Taliban. Such neo-strategists are busy diluting the focus from withdrawal, thus making the Afghan scenario difficult to plot and predict.

In the meanwhile, last week members of an Afghan peace council, led by the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani have held talks with leaders in Pakistan to resolve the drawn-out and costly war. The delegation from Karzai's High Peace Council wanted to seek help from Pakistan and keep its leaders abreast of developments. As Pakistan has influence over the Afghan Taliban and anti-Govt elements who are Afghans, it can be productive in the peace process.

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The US policy in Pakistan is now stuck in a Catch-22. Without Pakistan, there is no solution to the Afghan war. On the one hand, Americans urge the Pakistani Military to engage against Taliban. And on the other hand, Americans needs Pakistan’s help to bring the Taliban into an Afghan coalition government much earlier than 2014.

Americans are now tuned more to their domestic galleries rather than hard core combat. Decade long stalemated war has set-in perpetual war weariness amongst the Afghan, American and Pakistani people.  A commoner is turning more and more indifferent to the war. For direct sufferers in combat zones, it means more deaths, more displacements and more misery. For Obama, some progress is desperately needed to win the second term; at least a major flip must be avoided at all cost.

Gaps between the military and intelligence assessments of essential operational parameters are perplexing, as if they are the conclusions drawn up by the antagonists. American intelligence appreciations tend to tally with the success claims by the Taliban. While US military officials boast of significant gains, they caution that it won't be possible to fully gauge the impact of surge until fighting picks up again in the spring. 

During recent years, mainstay of the US Military operation in Pakistan has been the missiles launched from drones, operated by the CIA and the US Department of Defence. Drones launch rapid missile attacks on high-value terrorist targets, selecting their targets on the basis of human and signal intelligence. So far the results hpw have been hopeless. Most of the Taliban leaders claimed to have been killed by the drone attacks have resurfaced again and again to refute such claims. Collateral damage in the form of innocent life and civilian infrastructure has been colossal. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, there is no system of compensating the civilian losses of life and property in Pakistan.  

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There is a need to seriously explore the possibility of a political process through which Taliban are inducted into Afghan settlement process. The Americans say they are prepared to include the Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement with Karzai provided they agree to indefinite presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil. The Taliban are not willing to accept this. They completely reject the notion that Americans should decide who rules Afghanistan. In fact, they see no reason to negotiate with Karzai because they view him as an American puppet. The Taliban are willing, and have said so, to negotiate directly with the Americans with certain conditions. They want a firm deadline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

The inevitable US defeat in Afghanistan has enormous implications not only for the region but for the global politics itself. America’s military surge in Afghanistan is going nowhere; it received another blow with the death of Richard Holbrooke. He honed his murderous skills in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta where a genocidal policy was unleashed in the 1960s that led to the deaths of millions of Vietnamese but ultimately failed to pacify the Viet Cong. A similar spree of extra-judicial killings has been launched in Afghanistan, no doubt with the same disastrous results.  

The real problem in Afghanistan is the lies spun about the reason for the continued presence of US-NATO troops. It has nothing to do with al-Qaeda, because there is hardly any al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Talking about the presence of forty odd al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan,  does not justify the presence of 150,000 foreign troops and an equal number of mercenaries at a cost of, say, $1 trillion so far.

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Not only are the Taliban active in 97% of the country, they also have the support of the people. A clear majority of Afghans want foreign troops out of the country. No army has ever defeated a people’s insurgency unless the majority is slaughtered.

Several factors work against US-NATO victory. Afghans are born fighters and have never tolerated foreign presence on their soil. They are not about to change their habit because of the Americans. Afghanistan is not a target rich country. There is nothing of value that the Americans can bomb to scare the Afghans into submission. It is dirt-poor and Afghans have lived in their mud houses for centuries. America’s bombing of mud villages has been one of the most powerful recruiting tools for the Taliban. Like the Soviet Union before it, the US economy is also in terminal decline. The Americans waged earlier wars for profit. However, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost trillions of dollars. Time has come when America should focus on one point agenda—‘Withdrawal of troops.’

Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air WarCourse, Fellow of Air 

War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visiting faculty at:

  • PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
  • School of Army Air Defence.
  • Naval War College, Lahore.
  • Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department).
  • He is a regular contibutor to Opinion Maker and Member Board Of Advisors.