By Air Commodore Khalid Iqbal

Dipu Mohni and Hillary

The United States had urged Bangladesh to send combat troops to Afghanistan to help the multinational effort bring stability to that country. This request was made during a meetings held between Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, on the sidelines of 65th session of UNGA. Bangladesh is a major contributor to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world, but has no military contribution towards ISAF war effort in Afghanistan.

According to a government statement released in Dhaka, Holbrooke had conveyed that the US needed the “help of friends like Bangladesh” to ensure security in Afghanistan, “he sought for any kind of help like deploying combat troops, providing economic and development assistance or giving training among the law enforcement agencies.”

On the heels of this American request, the Afghan Taliban called upon the government and people of Bangladesh to reject the US request for sending troops to assist coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban also posted messages in Arabic and Pushto on their website and other forums calling on Dhaka to rebuff the US request. The message said, “{We} believe that the leader of Bangladesh has enough Islamic knowledge and political wit not to involve his people in the fight against Islam and against the Afghan people by sending a few hundred soldiers to Afghanistan….,”Assuming that the leader would commit such a historic mistake, the religious Muslim people of Bangladesh will not allow their leaders to assist the eternal enemy of Islam against an Islamic neighbouring country.”

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In its response, Bangladesh has made it clear that it will not send its troops to Afghanistan. “Bangladesh will not send soldiers to Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a meeting of ruling Awami League’s advisory council in Dhaka. Hasina indeed conveyed her government’s ‘precise stand’ on sending soldiers to Afghanistan. Several members of the council, comprising senior party leaders, opposed the idea of sending combat forces to the war ravaged nation citing ‘public sentiments’. Prime Minister agreed with the advisory council that Bangladeshis had a reservation regarding the US military intervention in Afghanistan.

A foreign office statement said that the US envoy had asked for Bangladesh’s cooperation in Afghanistan’s rebuilding and Bangladesh had shown willingness to contribute towards “national development of Afghanistan through providing training to officials in administration, police, education and some other sectors.”

Bangladesh also conveyed that  as it contributes troops to different United Nations blue helmet missions ‘as peacekeepers’ under the UN supervision, it will think over the issue if the UN took any such projects in Afghanistan.

Several foreign policy experts of Bangladesh expressed their reservations against sending combat forces to Afghanistan. Most of them thought that it would be contrary to Bangladesh’s foreign policy while both the countries, were members of the South Asian regional grouping of SAARC and had an historic link since the medieval age. An overwhelming opinion has that it will be a suicidal decision because the Afghan issue was made a military issue in someone’s interest and Bangladesh did not have any reason to be a party to it.

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This decision by the leadership of Bangladesh would go down very well in the annals of history. Saner voices have since long been suggesting substitution of ISAF by a suitably mandated UN peace keeping mission. Such mission could be composed of troops from Muslim countries excluding those belonging to this region. Suitably composed UN peace mission would have greater acceptance amongst the people of Afghanistan. Countries contributing towards ISAF have already lost the will to contribute troops for an indefinite period. The Dutch contingent has already called it a day, and at least three other countries have indicated their tentative schedule to recall their troops.

Once a coalition of the willing, ISAF is now a conglomerate of the reluctant. Had Bangladesh taken a decision otherwise, there would have been a sever backlash by its own people. Moreover, in all probability, the Taliban would have taken their fight to Bangladesh.

Afghan war by any count is a lost cause, at least militarily. At the operational level two many cooks have spoiled the pie beyond redemption. Pakistan’s recent air and ground space violations indicate that if prudent rules of engagement are not implemented, the filed commanders have the potential to proliferate the conflict beyond control.

ISAF, NATO, American forces and CIA, all have their own purpose and concept of this war. Also there are regional actors, each vying for own pound of flesh. Replacement of ISAF by UN peace mission is indeed long overdue. Rest of the entities have dubious legal status; it is time for them to return to pavilion.

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UNSC needs to rise to the occasion and intervene constructively. Afghanistan should be declared a neutral country, militarily and politically for at least next 20-25 years. Territorial integrity of Afghanistan should be underwritten by UNSC, by deploying a potent peace mission.  Afghanistan should raise its purpose built security outfit suited for counterinsurgency and maintenance of law and order. Major focus of the Afghan government and the Afghan people should be economic revival, restoration/ up-gradation of infrastructure and capability/ capacity enhancement of its human resource and institutions.

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 visitng 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.
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