By General Mirza Aslam Beg
In the third world countries like Pakistan, when the leaders find the going tough, on the domestic front, they turn towards foreign policy pursuits, ultimately losing at both ends. This precisely is the case with President Obama now. Domestic problems are multiplying. Government favours elite and ignores the common folks. Has tried to stimulate the economy by buying treasury bonds, through “quantitative easing” which itself is the cause of political backlash. He is following a risky monetary strategy causing high rate of unemployment and multiplies shelter less victims of the mortgages. Health care reforms are the only silver lining around the dark economic clouds. The foreign policy is drifting into error, because of the failure to acknowledge the great set-back suffered at the hands of the Afghans, in their New Great Game in Euro-Asia.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, United States decided to extend its global primacy and pre-eminence into the Euro-Asian region, under the mistaken belief, that 21st Century belonged to them as the dominant global power. The ‘New Great Game,’ thus focused on containing and curbing the forces, considered threat to their global ambitions. First of all they betrayed the Afghan Mujahideen, who had won the war for them against the Soviets and induced a civil war, because a radical Islamic government in Afghanistan was considered a threat to their interests.
Hastily they took-on the Iraqis in 1991, who had emerged stronger after the Iran-Iraq war destroying the bulk of their armed forces. They turned towards Somalia and encouraged their neighbours to invade the country and brought about a regime change. While the New Great Game was being implemented, the 9/11 attack filled the American hearts with revenge. Afghanistan was invaded and occupied, because it had committed the unforgivable sin of sheltering Osama, whom the Americans themselves had funded and supported against the Soviets. After consolidating their hold over Afghanistan, Iraq was invaded on the pretext that Saddam had developed atomic weapons.
As the consolidation process continued in Afghanistan and Iraq, European Union extended its membership into Eastern Europe and jointly brought about the pro-west revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrghyzia. Thereafter Afghanistan was unilaterally declared as part of South Asia and India was assigned the role there under the Strategic Partnership with USA, with explicit declared objectives: “to curb and contain the rising threat of Islamic extremism in the region and the rising economic and military power of China.” In the process of implementation of this strategy, the Americans and their allies miserably failed because they could not estimate the power of the Islamic Resistance and suffered humiliating defeat at their hands. Thanks to the ‘war on terror strategy,’ which became the catalyst for the spread of the Islamic Resistance from Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Kashmir and Palestine.
President Obama’s recent visit to India and their joint declaration shows disregard to the emerging ground realities. The Taliban have won the war and have proved true to their resolve, as conveyed to us in March 2002 by Mullah Omer. “We have resolved to fight and fight till we were free to take our decisions in a free environment. The Afghan nation will not follow the American agenda as it is not in harmony with our national ethos and traditions. We will fight till occupation forces vacate our land. We are a free people and know how to win our freedom.” True to their resolve, Mullah Omer stands firm on his commitment, as he pronounced recently “The moment of defeat of the invaders has arrived due to the great sacrifices of the Mujahideen. We will continue with our strategy to engage the enemy in an exhausting war of attrition and wear them out like the former Soviet Union. The more the war prolongs, the greater will be the enemy’s suffering.” There is no denying the fact that Taliban have won against the combined forces of USA and their allies.
In an asymmetric war, there is no clear cut line of victory and defeat, yet the Soviets had prudently accepted their defeat in 1989 and the Afghan Mujahideen in good grace allowed them to withdraw, unscathed, whereas the American and their allies find it much too painful to admit defeat so aptly described by Eric S. Margolis: “NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, is losing the only war, the 61 years old pact ever fought, and is being beaten by the lightly armed Afghan farmers and tribesmen.”
The recent NATO declaration at Lisbon, betrays their wounded pride; shrouded in confusion: “We plan to end our combined role by 2014, or earlier, with ‘shallow’ troop’s withdrawal, starting next year and eventually accelerated.” In fact the declaration aims at inducing a civil war in Afghanistan, by handing-over power to the Northern Alliance supported by 150,000 strong Afghan Army and 100,000 police force consisting of mainly Tajiks, Uzbeks and the Hazaras. Thus Afghanistan will remain destabilized and accelerate the spread of Talibanization in South Asia and beyond.
Despite such shortsighted approach, there is still time to engage in ‘negative symmetry’, that is, “getting all regional forces, including India to lay-off Afghanistan, as the only chance for enduring peace.” The problem gets even more complex when the occupation forces look East and sea China as a rising power and a threat to their ambitions in the region. China’s rise is a patent reality. Unlike the former Soviet Union, China has no aggressive designs. In contrast it has chosen to enter the global order, maintaining cooperative relations, with all nations.” The purpose of the Indo-US partnership, therefore is to create a Cold War style anti-Chinese military alliance, which will prove detrimental to peace in the region.
Obama’s foreign policy strategy is out of step, with reality, as his domestic policy. If he were seeking employment and jobs for the Americans, then his visit to Asia was not the correct choice, as Farid Zakria rightly pointed out: “He should have traveled to Canada and Mexico, instead, which together buy twenty times as much American goods and services as does India and ten times as many as does South Korea.” Obama’s current approach therefore is at a critical point. Sagacity demands a pragmatic strategy and a new vision to mark the start of a clear-eyed assessment, to steadily draw-down the forces from Afghanistan. This could be possible, only after reaching a clear understanding with the Taliban, otherwise, the exit will become horrendous. In 1989 Pakistan enjoyed a degree of clout with the ‘Mujahideen’ to let the Soviets withdraw, unscathed. Pakistan has lost that privilege now and Taliban are the only arbiters. In this respect, the US policy makers should listen to the logic of the Task Force of the US Senate headed by Richard Armitage, which recommends: “There is the need for a real national reconciliation process, for constitutional reforms and other political initiatives to end the conflict in Afghanistan.”
“The USA is a country in decline with a weakened political, economic and military system” and that is the challenge for Obama to demonstrate the courage to switch course and re-launch himself in pursuit of what he told his supporters: “I spent my whole life, chasing the American dream.” It is his job now to find common ground with the Republicans, “to move the country forward, and get things done for the American people.” He has to make time for a clear, compassionate and consistent communication with the people at home and abroad, particularly those who have suffered as a result of American pursuit of the elusive goal of global primacy and pre-eminence. The days of colonial imperialism have given way to deeper human sensibility of shared values of the global community.
Obama must heed Horace: “Force if unassisted by judgment, collapses through its own mass.”
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief Of Army Staff, Pakistan. After his retirement, he formed FRIENDS, a ThinkTank based in Rawalpindi. Since then he has been writing for several news papers and magazines. His articles have also appeared in International papers of repute.
Now he is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.