‘Every arrogant society fell trying to defy history; America is no exception that’s heading on the same trail.’ Raja Mujtaba

By Air Commodore® Khalid Iqbal                                                                                       

Mikhail Gorbachev has appositely stated: “Victory is impossible in Afghanistan. Obama is right to pull the troops out. No matter how difficult it will be.” Afghan war has not been able to solve any problem; rather it has created more and further added to the complexity of the situation.

Since President Obama’s West Point discourse, tactical successes on the battlefield have not been able to measure up to envisaged level of a lasting strategic progress in the war. Despite a huge infusion of blood and treasure, enabling dynamics of insurgency continue to haunt the foreign forces. Americanization of war by Obama has raised the stakes, victory or defeat, would solely belong to America.

United States’ budget deficit for 2010 is $1.4 trillion. Over the past decade, the national debt has soared to $12.9 trillion; more than a trillion has been spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To offset the deficit, President Obama has recently announced salary cuts for federal workers, which amount to $2.5 billion dollars a year, compared to $100 billion dollars going down the drain in Afghanistan, each year.

Obama, under pressure to show results has offered Americans an overly simplistic and optimistic assessment of Afghan war. Taliban have rejected the recent US review of war strategy, saying that America has failed on both military and governance fronts. Presidential review is pegged around two assumptions; the persistence of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and the poor quality of governance in Afghanistan.

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Firstly, Taliban control 90% of Afghanistan, they do not really need sanctuaries in Pakistan. Secondly, poor governance and corruption in Afghanistan has eluded effective international management since the early days of occupation. Due to recent overt pressure on these issues, President Karzai has stone walled, he blames the occupation forces for all the ills. Richard Holbrook, once pointed out that “our [U.S.] presence is the corrupting force”. Occupation forces have been losing on the development and humanitarian aid fronts as well. Billions have been misspent on wasteful projects, while relief workers are getting killed at an alarming rate.

It is a war being fought by contractors, through contactors for the benefit of American military industrial complex. Majority of Americans oppose the war because they can see through the lies and deceit. Americans public perceives the hoax about “safe havens” a cover-up for the incompetence of American field commanders who are waging useless tactical battles with the objective of prolonging rather than wining the war. Military campaigns are just suppressing the effects of the malaise temporarily, without treating the root causes for an enduring calm.

Vice President Joe Biden has recently put forth a view that Al-Qaeda was planning to bring down Pakistan, implicitly urging Pakistan military to hurriedly embroil itself in North Waziristan. Summoning of DG ISI by a Brooklyn court and pentagon’s recent plan leaked by the New York Times regarding stationing of US Special forces inside Pakistan for carrying out land operations in the tribal region are newly added spices to a perennial process to pressurize Pakistan

This is usual US way of making Pakistan a scapegoat for its own failings. Pakistani military has taken stringent measures to flush out the miscreants from its tribal areas. However, things have spun out of control in Afghanistan. Except for a few strongholds guerrilla fighters are back hpw in action. Any attempt of an expanded campaign by Special Operations forces inside Pakistan's tribal areas would carry a prohibitive cost; backlash would be quite severe. In all probabilities NATO supply routes would come under heightened disruptive attacks.

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Meltdown of ISAF and waning international support is expected to force Obama to fast forward his promised withdrawal from Kabul. Rhetoric aside, the retrieval is likely to be earlier than expected; it could be quick, chaotic and destabilising. Withdrawal that begins in mid 2011 may end well before 2014. Through media spin, prevailing situation would gradually be reinterpreted and adapted as a victory.

Expectations regarding projected capacity of Afghan National Army in 2014 are not pragmatic; so are the assumptions related to evolution of state structures at district level. Taliban are a perennial player of Afghan political canvas, they need to be engaged constructively for an enduring political settlement. Taliban leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, America needs to seize the moment and carry forth the process with utmost sincerity. There is a need to seriously explore the possibility of a political settlement in which Taliban are inducted into Afghan settlement process.

Current contacts between the Karzai government and the Taliban need strengthening. The United States must take the initiative to start negotiations, it is better to negotiate now rather than later, since the Taliban are likely to be stronger with the passage of time. An immediate ceasefire and political engagement with the insurgency leadership could kick off a de-escalation process leading to a viable broad based coalition government. Negotiations are expected to be complex one; multi-tiered and multi-facade, something like wheels within wheels type. President Obama could jump start the process by appointing a ‘Presidential Interlocutor’.

To coincide with the end of combat mission, President Karzai will be due for relinquishing power on reaching the constitutional limit of two tenures in 2014. There is a need to spell out an appropriate succession plan to ward off political instability.

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Question about the legality of drone strikes has already been taken to the Pakistani courts by the victims. In due course, drone strikes could be struck down as unlawful by the UN, international court of justice and the US Supreme Court.

America relies on article 51 of UN charter to justify the use of drones inside Pakistan. “However, this particular article can only be implemented if one state has attacked another state or a state maintains an effective control over the non-state actors, which intend or have attacked the other state.” Moreover, despite the unconventional nature of the conflict, a distinction between military and civilian object is necessary. Even if Pakistani government has consented or tacitly approved US drone strikes in Pakistan, each attack would come under scrutiny on the principles of distinction, intensity and proportionality.

Pakistani leadership is well aware that as the time of withdrawal nears, Americans would continue to raise the ante to portray Pakistan as having scuttled the prospect of American victory in Afghanistan. Irrespective of the quantum of effort by Pakistan, the US is not likely to be satisfied; it will continue to push Pakistan in to a self destructive alley. Pakistan needs to come forth with a robust plan to tackle incrementally mounting pressures during the transition phase commencing July the next.


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