Public's opposition against resumption of NATO supplies gaining momnetum
by Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Soon after taking over, President Obama formulated Af-Pak policy in which Afghanistan and Pakistan border region was marked as single battle zone under single command based in Kabul. Strategy of anvil and hammer was to be actualized between ISAF and Pak troops, with NATO having the liberty to carryout hot pursuit operations and air raids inside FATA whenever the situation so demanded. In order to wrest the initiative from militant forces, Obama transferred Gen McChrystal from Baghdad to Kabul and also ordered move of 17000 US troops from Iraqi War Theater to Afghanistan to enable the ISAF to launch a major operation inHelmand in Southern Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke was appointed as Af-Pak envoy to coordinate and monitor progress on both sides of the Durand Line and to push Pakistan to do as told to do.
The US had to grudgingly modify its military strategy when Gen Kayani took a firm stand and said that sanctity of the western border must be respected by both sides. In reaction, the US decided to make maximum use of drones in FATA. Although it was again violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, our civilian leadership gave its consent on the plea that both the US and Pakistan had common objective of defeating terrorism. Our leaders and media naively started singing the US tune that war on terror wasPakistan’s war and not US imposed and that terrorism and extremism were the main problems responsible for Pakistan’s misfortunes.
When no headway could be made with the troop surge, Obama reluctantly agreed to provide additional 30,000 troops in December 2010 to give another chance to the military to show tangible progress in next 18 months or else quit. Pentagon and the US Military Command in Kabul decried the conflicting policy of surge and withdrawal, saying it would prove counter productive. Some of the NATO commanders were however more realistic. They had much earlier realized that war had been lost. Hawks in Pentagon understood the ground reality much later. Israel, India and Afghan regime opposed the drawdown scheme and wanted the US military to stay back permanently in Afghanistan or else leave behind a strong force till the accomplishment of objectives against Pakistan.
Surprisingly, the two troop surges instead of helping the ISAF in containing the Taliban rising power resulted in reverses and heavy casualties. 2010 proved to be the costliest year in which 707 battle casualties took place. Cases of mental diseases rose alarmingly high and so was the case with discipline both among ISAF and Afghan Army and Police. Critical security situation in Afghanistancoupled with mounting domestic pressure to bring home US troops, growing unpopularity of the war as well as downslide in economy and election year of 2012 drawing near propelled Obama to stick to his drawdown plan. He gave December 2014 as the cutout date and asked Pentagon to expedite training of Afghan Army and Police so that security duties could be handed over to them. Since Obama didn’t want to repeat the mistake Ronald Reagan had made to abandon Afghanistan in 1989 without stabilizing it, he therefore directed his political section to open talks with Taliban and work out a negotiated political settlement. To this end he re-emphasized that foremost mission of the US was to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda.
Efforts were made to befriend Taliban leaders and convince them to get detached from al-Qaeda which had been the principle source of their woes. Hamid Karzai and his half-brother Wali Karzai, a leading drug baron and blue-eyed boy of CIA, both having good connections with notables of Pashtun community were also encouraged to play their part in wooing as many Taliban leaders and induce them to renounce violence and agree to share power. Hamid Karzai regime and the US pinned high hopes in Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani appointed as Chairman High Peace Council.
He might have succeeded in his mission of convincing Mullah Omar led Shura to accept Karzai’s offer of preferring peace over violence and sharing power with Northern Alliance. However, outside players led by USA tried to act smart by opening backdoor secret channels so as to induce and bribe moderate as well as hard line Taliban leaders with a view to isolate Mullah Omar and others who refused to accept America’s three conditions of surrendering arms and renouncing violence, severing ties with al-Qaeda and accepting US drafted western model democracy. In other words, the spoilers worked on the strategy of dividing the Taliban with a view to weakening them and then negotiating from position of strength. The double dealers also espoused use of maximum military force since they felt that without using this instrument they may not be able to achieve their objective. Meetings of Taliban with US officials were held twice in Munich and once in Doha between November 2010 and May 2011. UNSC separated the ‘1267’ joint list of names of members of al-Qaeda and Taliban as a move to woo Taliban.
Haqqanis were also engaged separately but were given the title of Haqqani Network (HN) and declared the most dangerous outfit when they hit military targets in Kabul several times with impunity on September 13, 2011. Murder of Rabbani on September 20, 2011 blocked the peace effort. These attacks blew up the story spun by ISAF media team that lot of progress had been made on the military front. No evidence had ever been proffered to prove that ISAF had turned the corner, or that militants were put on defensive, or beaten.
Nonplussed by the ever growing power of Taliban and not knowing how to contain it, spin doctors of ISAF started fabricating excuses to hide poor performance of US military. They said that the insurgency in Southern Afghanistan owed its success to Mullah Omar led Quetta Shura and that of Eastern Afghanistan to North Waziristan (NW) based HN duly protected by ISI. The US gave vent to its enragement by throwing the blame at the doorsteps of Pakistan and making it the scapegoat. From 22 September when outgoing Admiral Mullen went ballistics, the US officials kept firing salvos at Pakistan relentlessly.
The US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Washington had to consider military action against Pakistan. Max Boot suggested that the US should adopt a tough approach towards ISI and should treat it the way Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq was treated. Hillary Clinton cautioned that if Pakistan didn’t proceed against HN that had carried out attacks in Wardak and Kabul, it will sooner than later unleash its violence inside Pakistan. Apart from biannual evaluation 138-page report 2011 of Pentagon in which safe havens of Taliban militants in Pakistan were described as greatest threat to a military success in Afghanistan, BBC documentary titled ‘Secret Pakistan’ was another shoddy attempt to malign ISI. Interviews of some unknown Taliban were broadcasted who claimed that ISI provides arms and training to their fighters. BBC which has a heavy intake of Indians and is controlled by Jews is notorious for airing anti-Pakistan propaganda and excels in fabrications.
Soon after, a Pakistani origin US national Mansoor Ijaz with shady background was used by CIA to cultivate Hussein Haqqani and create misunderstanding between Army and Presidency and to make the two power centres to collide with each other. He came out with a story in October 2011 that after the 2 May incident, he had been contacted by Haqqani to convey President Zardari’s message to Admiral Mike Mullen to prevent Gen Kayani from sacking him and PPP government and that he in return would do anything wished by Washington. As a result of probe conducted by Supreme Court bench, relations between GHQ/ISI and Chief Executive came to a head. A definite clash got averted when PM Gilani wisely stepped back. The case has yet not reached a conclusive stage, but it has become evident that Haqqani was deeply involved in the memo scandal and the US was behind it. It is obvious that Haqqani couldn’t have singly taken the initiative.
Unprovoked attack by NATO helicopters at Salala on 26 November gave a body blow to Pak-US relations, forcing Pakistan to wriggle out of the tight embrace of USA and reset its terms of relationship with the US, ISAF and NATO. Defensive steps taken by Islamabad to check America’s growing influence displeased Washington. Of all the measures taken by Pakistan, closure of NATO supplies hurt ISAF the most since it affects its operational efficiency and also CIA led covert war against Pakistan. Instead of placating Pakistan, the US resorted to its usual tactics of browbeating and blocking aid. It refused to offer apology over Salala massacre and held Pakistan equally responsible. Some of the restive regions which had been pacified were reactivated to multiply pressure. Knowing that Pakistan was engulfed in host of intricate problems, the US was sure that things would revert to business as usual and Pakistan’s Parliamentary Committee on national security would make recommendations favoring USA.
After three months of efforts, the Parliamentary Committee has put up its revised recommendations to the Parliament most of which are weighty and balanced. It looked that issue of opening of supplies for perishable items would soon be decided. But stern warnings given by religious forces of all hues particularly Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) and some political parties not to reopen NATO supply lines for transportation of lethal or non-lethal items has put a spanner in the wheels and made things difficult for the government which was all set to give a green signal. The DPC insists that opening of supplies should be made conditional to cessation of drone attacks and release of Aafia Siddiqui. Taliban from both sides of the border have also asked Islamabad not to nourish the killers in Afghanistan.
Taking into account the high emotions of the people particularly the religious and militant forces and America’s refusal to tender an apology over Salala incident and to stop drone strikes, it has made decision making that much thorny. Finding himself in a tight corner the PM put the ball in the court of DCC but the DCC has decided to defer resumption of NATO supplies. The principled democratic course adopted by the government to deal with issues of national importance is encouraging.