By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
With the kind of extraordinary troop buildup and array of destructive weapons amassed for Operation Enduring Freedom in September 2001, and taking into account negligible defensive capability available with the Taliban, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. While US led coalition forces succeeded in toppling and pushing out Taliban regime in one month time, very little work was done during holding and development phases. Quick victory went into the heads of George W Bush Administration filled with neo-cons. The latter underestimated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and thought that the two forces had been sufficiently mauled and only remnants hiding in Pakistan and Iran were required to be eliminated. Possibility of their make back and striking back was never contemplated.
Instead of consolidating their gains the US kept crowing over its temporary gains. In the wake of their plans to convert Afghanistan into a permanent military garrison, all out efforts should have been made during the initial two years towards rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure, building institutions, improving law and order and system of justice, up-grading and expanding education, creating greater job opportunities and ushering in prosperity. Greater efforts should have been made to win over the majority community of Pashtuns residing in eastern and southern Afghanistan that had been deprived of power. Visible improvements in these fields were essential to be able to convince the Afghans that the US model democracy was far better than the Islamic system pursued by the Taliban. Discernible improvement in the quality of life of a common man would have helped the regime in diluting the impact created by the Taliban during their fiver-year rule and in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans.
Overtaken by a sense of euphoria and complacency, the US rulers got busy in giving final shape to their future money making projects in Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Iraq. Gwadar Port in Balochistan figured out prominently in the envisaged energy corridor. The merchants in USA and UK got busy how to tap oil, gas and mineral wealth from Central Asia, lay pipelines connecting CARs with Gwadar Port situated along coast of Arabian Sea through Afghanistan. Instead of worrying about Afghanistan, the US leaders focused their attention towards Pakistan and devised plans how to tame it so that it could be denuclearized.
It fretted over growing economic power of China and about perceived secret plans of Iran to achieve weaponized nuclear capability. Russia’s resurgence and America’s interest to extend NATO’s reach to farthest ends of Eastern Europe and to establish anti-missile defence shield were other distractions. These self-created mercantile ambitions and security concerns kept them distracted from the primary mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. In the given set of priorities, Afghanistan was accorded lower priority since it was considered an almost accomplished affair.
In its effort to rebuild Afghanistan, USA made the first error of putting all its eggs in the basket of non-Pashtun Northern Alliance and in corrupt warlords and sidelining Pashtuns that are in majority. The second error committed was to club together four intelligence agencies of India, Britain, Israel and Germany and set up a massive intelligence centre at Jabal al Siraj near Kabul. Later on, KHAD was rebuilt by RAW and given the name of RAAM and made part of the grouping. The five agencies under the warm wings of CIA worked in unison not to stabilize Afghanistan but to destabilize neighbors of Afghanistan. CIA with the blessing of Pentagon revived the lucrative drug trade to be able to conduct expensive covert operations against Pakistan, China, Iran, ex Republics of former Soviet Union and also to meet part expenses of war on terror.
The third faulty action was US military fortifying itself in major cities and making little effort to firmly hold vast land of rural eastern and southern Afghanistan inhabited by Pashtuns. It felt quite satisfied in resorting to aerial strikes and random raids rather than physically controlling or as a minimum dominating the two vital regions constituting 60% of the Afghan territory attached with FATA and Balochistan and effectively sealing the border with Pakistan and Iran. This neglect proved costly. The fourth mistake made was to distrust Pakistan entrusted with performing duties of a frontline state to fight war on terror and to wholly rely on RAW-RAAM-Mossad intelligence inputs for conducting war strategy in Afghanistan. The fifth mistake was to place heavy reliance on private security agencies including Blackwater for assistance in security and training duties in Afghanistan and for covert operations in Pakistan and Iran. The sixth mistake was to fill up Afghan Army and police with non-Pashtuns only whereas traditionally these two institutions had been Pashtun heavy.
In order to justify induction of NATO in Afghanistan and to prolong the stay, myth of Osama bin Laden led Al-Qaeda was drummed up through a well orchestrated propaganda campaign. Spin doctors kept circulating fanciful stories to scare the Americans and impressing upon them how vital it was to fight war on terror in far flung areas to keep US homeland secure from any future 9/11 like attacks. The people of USA and western world were led to believe that a hazardous but noble task was being performed by coalition troops to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism and to make the world peaceful. Deceptive information was fed to the desired audiences through stories concocted by paid think tanks, newspapers, magazines and journals. As a consequence, time, effort and huge resources were wasted in chasing the ghost of Osama and achieving nothing.
The Jews and Hindus played their devious role to keep the Christian world at daggers drawn with the Muslim world. Apart from demonizing Osama led Al-Qaeda and Islamists dubbed as extremists, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria were also maligned. Jewish controlled print and electronic media joined by Indian media played a key role in building perceptions and in defaming Islam as a whole.
Finding eastern and southern Afghanistan weakly held, the runaway Taliban and al-Qaeda militants regrouped and started pinpricking occupation forces in the two regions from mid-2002 onwards. Instead of taking corrective actions like increasing number of border posts, mining and fencing likely crossing sites to check cross border infiltration, installing telemetry system and tightening security in the disturbed areas to deny safe havens to the militants in disturbed regions of Afghanistan, the US started to mount pressure on Pakistan to destroy the network of Al-Qaeda in Waziristan. Instead of strengthening the hands of Pak Army to fight and defeat the militants through a collective policy of anvil and hammer from both sides of Durand Line, the US started doubting it and subjected it to slander. It was accused of being soft on Taliban and aligned with them.
Pakistan was bashed with a vengeance in spite of the fact that Pakistan was a coalition partner and was bearing the major brunt of terrorism. It had suffered the maximum in terms of human, social and economic losses. It was projected as the hub of terrorism where Osama and other Al-Qaeda leaders as well as Mullah Omar and his Shura lived. A small banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba was presented as an equivalent of Al-Qaeda threatening world peace.
Perverse influence of RAW and Mossad made the US commit another error when it allowed the duo to extend covert support to anti-Pakistan Baloch rebels in Balochistan and Tehrik-e-Taliban in FATA and Swat to subvert the three regions. Idea was to push terrorism from Afghanistan into Pakistan, foment political instability, weaken economy and destabilize Pakistan, enabling USA to achieve its objectives it had set for Pakistan. Pretending to be a friend, the US in connivance with adversaries of Pakistan continuously harmed Pakistan. It was a self-defeating game it amusingly played.
Among its blunders, the biggest blunder committed by USA was invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 under trumped up charges. Lure of oil was so mouth watering that the US leaders disregarded world opinion, which was against the invasion. Opening a new front without consolidating the earlier one was in clear violation of tenets of strategy. It caused deflection and dilution of effort. It gave a godsend opportunity to the Taliban to intensify its efforts to gain dominance over southern and eastern Afghanistan and convert these regions into forward bases for conducting raids in central, western and northern regions and build pressure on Kabul. In order to create two-front threat for USA, Al-Qaeda decided to get concentrated in Iraq and in conjunction with Iraqi resistance forces, fight and pin down coalition troops.
Easy victory in Iraq made Bush and his cronies dance with joy. Oil merchants’ made a beeline to Baghdad to win contracts. The military strategists in Washington counseled by Israel and India drew up an optimistic scenario asserting that with two trophies in the bag, prospects of achieving stated objectives against Pakistan and Iran had become brighter. While Pakistan had been sandwiched from the east and northwest, and its Army embroiled in fighting its own people, Iran had been encircled from the direction of Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, with Regi led Jundallah group established in Balochistan.
Expenses incurred on covert operations were met from illegal drug trade in which Afghan warlords including Hamid Karzai’s half-brother were in the forefront. Economic losses suffered in war on terror were planned to be met out of Iraqi oil trade. Coalition partners impatiently waited for commissioning of perceived energy corridor which would roll them in wealth. Commercial interest coupled with blind faith in invincibility of US military and economic power made the war mongers smug and arrogant. Casualty rate of ISAF in Afghanistan in first 5-6 years was insignificant. However, militancy instead of getting curbed grew in size and strength and very little headway could be made in both the theatres of war.
Despite poor progress achieved, Bush and his team haughtily ignored pragmatic analysis and warnings of saner analysts and kept issuing optimistic statements of victory.When casualties of foreign troops began to mount in both theatres, the US decided to induct Blackwater and other private security agencies to share the load of security duties as well as become part of covert operations, which further vitiated security environments.
From 2008 onwards, things began to get hot for foreign forces which gave second thoughts to independent minded people who had believed in assurances of their leaders that sooner than latter menace of terrorism will be eliminated from the face of the earth. Doubts started to appear about veracity of claims made that terrorist attacks on 9/11 were master minded by Osama. Several reports appeared in the print media that American Jews in league with neo-cons were in reality behind 9/11. It gave heart to men and women of conscience to expose the dirty game played by Zionists. Startling disclosures that Iraq venture had been faked and Bush-Colin Powel-Tony Blair-CIA-MI6 had lied about WMDs to justify invasion provide fuel to private investigators and scrupulous writers to get to the bottom of the drama. Publication of videos on torture and abuse in Gitmo and Au Gharib jails and ruthless killings of tens of thousands Iraqis swelled resentment against Bush Administration.
As a consequence to George Bush becoming the most reviled man among the Muslim world in particular and the world in general, the Republicans were ousted from power in November 2008 elections and Democrats headed by Barack Hussein Obama took over the reins in Washington. It was for the first time in US history that a black man was elevated to the prestigious post of president. He made lot of promises to bring a healthy change and expressed his sympathies for the cause of Palestinians and Kashmiris. While it was expected from him to put an end to futile war on terror that had aggrieved the Muslims and had made the world more unsafe, the so-called change he made was to shift the centre of gravity of war from Iraq to Afghanistan and make Pak-Afghan border a region of prime concern.
He pumped in 21000 additional US troops to defeat Al-Qaeda. When troop surge made the security situation in Afghanistan more fragile, another consignment of 30000 troops was sanctioned to wrest the initiative from surging Taliban power. Total ISAF strength was bolstered to 152000. Obama didn’t take into account the devastating impact of global recession on US economy. Further increase in defence spending gave a blow to his domestic reform policy and led to erosion of his political strength in mid-term elections.
Troop surges failed to turn the tide of militancy and Taliban kept gaining strength. So much so that Gen McChrystal on whom lot of hopes were pinned was booted out disgracefully. 2010 turned to be the deadliest year for the ISAF. Troop fatality has mounted to 5-6 a day in recent months. Taliban are now in a position to strike targets in Kabul and in northern Afghanistan. As against 521 fatalities in 2009, fatality rate in 2010 crossed 700. Having realized that no amount of force would cow down the resolve of Taliban to fight back, and knowing that US melting economy is in no position to sustain the war for long, US leadership is actively considering ways and means how to wind up and quit gracefully. It has come down from the high horse it was riding for nine years and is prepared to seek assistance of distrusted Pakistan and to hold talks with Taliban to work out a political settlement.
However, even at this belated stage when nothing is going in favor of USA and its global primacy is under duress, it is still hoping against hope for a possible turn around which enables it to negotiate a settlement on its terms. Defying logic and rationality, NATO whose much hyped military invincibility lay tattered, has extended its stay up till 2014 and is hopeful that by that time it will be able to hand over the security of all the provinces to inept and corrupt 150,000 strong ANA and 100,000 police force and under their cover withdraw bulk of its forces leaving behind up to 50,000 troops in backup role.
100,000 US troops hope to win Helmand and Kandahar tactical battles so as to show to the world that it is returning home on a triumphant note. As a last resort, the US is keeping the option of dividing the occupied country on ethnic lines open. As a bad loser and also having a history of not learning from history, the US doesn’t rule out the possibility of making physical forays into FATA under the garb of destroying safe havens of militants.
Workable solution to Afghan imbroglio can only be found if USA owes up its errors and sincerely strives to make amends for the excesses committed against people of Afghanistan for the last 30 years. Without reaching a clear understanding with the Taliban who maintain influence over 80% Afghan territory as well as communication infrastructure, endgame in Afghanistan for coalition forces will be dreadful.
Today the US is left with two options. First; to pullout of the hole it had dug for the Taliban and return home the way the Soviet forces had done under a mutually agreed Geneva Accord. The second is to keep further deepening the hole for another four years and eventually getting buried. It is most unfortunate that the US has opted for self-destructive option which for sure will unleash an uncontrollable and astronomical wave of puritan Islam under Taliban in the whole region, the effects of which will be felt up to Morocco and Suez Canal.