“There is no better motivation than the faith in the cause of a war; many a armies have fallen defeated at the hands of smaller and weaker forces for fighting an unjust war.” Raja Mujtaba
By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
Transparency International has given its verdict on corruption levels in Afghanistan. It has been adjudged as the second most corrupt country of the world. It is indeed a verdict on the efficacy and efficiency of American ‘Mission’. High sounding ideals like good governance and elimination of corruption have all along been parroted as cornerstones of American strategy.
White House progress report on Afghanistan recently forwarded to Congress paints a desolate picture. Data show that ‘only minor positive change had occurred with respect to security’, and progress across the country was ‘uneven’; the bleakest area was governance. Performance of Karzai’s government was evaluated as “unsatisfactory” throughout the first half of the year.’
Instead of taking concrete steps for fixing the things in Afghanistan on a sound footing and ensuring that the country does not tail spin into a chaos after the departure of occupation forces, the approach being followed is of quick-fixes, coupled with over-projection of progress. The ‘success’ criteria are quantity based; nothing is heard about improving governance, fighting corruption or building a legitimate or effective government etc.
Nevertheless, there is also encouraging news pouring out of Afghanistan. Karzai government and the Taliban leadership have entered into preliminary discussions about the methodology for pursuing a peace settlement to end the civil war.
“This is how you end these kinds of insurgencies,” General David Petraeus said recently, referring to the fact that senior Taliban officials had “sought to reach out” to Afghan government. List of these entities includes the much maligned Haqqani network etc. It is amply clear that the occupation forces have failed to eliminate the freedom resistance, and are now desperately seeking a quick political settlement.
At the HPC’s inaugural session, President Karzai said that the government will assist the council whenever necessary but
that it would operate independently. This could be a signal that Karzai was distancing off from earlier preconditions for talks. Amongst those conditionalities were recognition of Afghan constitution, to break all links with al-Qaida and to lay down arms. Of these, first two are abstract in nature as their compliance can not be measured against any verifiable milestones; the third one is impracticable in the Afghan socio-cultural setting. In previous discussions President Karzai had insisted that discussions could not begin until the Taliban agree to accept the Afghan Constitution and disarm; whereas the Taliban had insisted that talks can’t start until Western forces leave the country. Apparently both sides seem to have reconciled to soften their respective stance.
However, American administration continues to portray a state of denial by insisting that Taliban wouldn’t come to the table unless they felt that they were losing the war, hence, it is pursuing a strategy to deliver incapacitating blows to the insurgents.
Almost on daily basis ‘kill’ or ‘capture’ reports are circulated by ISAF/NATO. During September this year, NATO claimed that, ‘114 insurgents were killed and more than 438 suspects detained’, it included ‘more than 105 Haqqani network and Taliban figures’. Even if these figures are accurate, this strategy has not resulted in a decrease in insurgency. Voids created by ‘killing or capturing’ mid-level commanders are filled by younger, much more radical ones. The ‘targeted killings’ might weaken the Taliban’s chain of command, but this effect is mitigated by a surge of ‘autonomization’ of its local structures. There is no dearth of eager fighters who are ready to assume the responsibilities of those seniors who die or are captured. Hence, net result of this strategy is intensified radicalisation.
As regards ‘Reintegration’ of local Taliban, apparently some small local groups around Herat switched sides. However, Afghan fighters have a long tradition of switching sides to and fro.
Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police are growing numerically; however, their ‘operational effectiveness is uneven’, and the desertion rate remains rather high. Lack of ethnic balance, is another serious problem. Efforts to recruit more Pushtuns from the south have come to a naught. Hence, the officer corps is still heavily Tajik dominated. In January this year, southern Pushtuns accounted for 3.4% of recruits, falling to less than 2% in August. ANA is perceived as ‘alien’ in many places down south; mostly, it also behaves like this.
As drawdown timeline is approaching, the US strategy is undergoing a quite yet visible change. Earlier, the occupation forces supported reintegration pegged around the defection of low and middle ranking insurgent leaders to the Afghan government on a district by district basis; and opposed reconciliation aimed at a political understanding with the top leadership Taliban, especially the Quetta Shura hierarchy. Now, that scenario is changing. Population-centric COIN approach has give way to ‘kill or capture’ special operation’s program. This is not likely to result in the defeat of the insurgency; it could only make Afghanistan more volatile.
After resisting the idea of direct talks with the Taliban leadership for a long time, Obama administration has now reversed the course. Karzai government has held face-to-face talks with major components of the insurgency, including the militant group led by Sirajuddin Haqqani. Earlier this year, a delegation from another major faction led by Hekmatyar, visited Kabul and had put forward a 15 point peace proposal.
President Karzai has been pursing reconciliation, especially since London Conference, early this year, where he promised to reach out directly to the Taliban. It appears that the United States is now actively exploring the possibility of a deal with Afghanistan’s armed opposition. The decision to talk reflects growing pessimism in Washington about the military outcome of the war.
All three components of the insurgency, the Taliban, the Haqqani group and Hizb-i- Islami have links with Pakistan. Therefore it’s widely expected that Pakistan is destined to play a key role in any deal that emerges with the Taliban. Gilles Dorronsoro, a South Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, argues that ‘We should be happy that somebody has leverage over the Taliban,’… ‘We should put the Pakistani army in the loop, because they are the only ones who can deliver the Taliban.’
Afghanistan conflict has entered a new, and apparently a decisive phase to end the war. Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in statements from Afghan, American, and NATO officials about negotiations. The US and NATO officials have been saying they were facilitating such talks by providing safe passage to Taliban representatives.
Next strategy review on Afghanistan is just around the corner. Though Obama would have to face intense criticism, he needs to come clean on the issue. Time is ripe to end the military mission in Afghanistan. Wish of decimating the Taliban entities must be shelved and a whole hearted effort should focus on political process.
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