Announcement of Af-Pak policy by Barack Obama last March led to shifting of centre of gravity of war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan and resultant induction of 21000 US troops into Afghanistan from Iraqi theatre. With available extra forces the new commander Gen McChrystal, launched a well orchestrated operation in Helmand in July with a firm resolve to up stick the Taliban from this strong base and to then gradually roll down remaining strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Logically, in line with US policy of hammer and anvil, the US military should have launched operation either in Kunar or Paktika or Paktia provinces in coordination with Swat operation and impending operation in South Waziristan (SW). Purpose of selecting poppy rich Helmand was to deprive the Taliban drug business used as a source for funding resistance war. The other reason was to push the militants towards peaceful Pashtun belt of Baluchistan and make it restive. The military and FC in Baluchistan in anticipation to the possible spill over effect quickly deployed troops along the border and effectively prevented possible inflow.
To the utter shock and dismay of US-UK forces, the rag tag Taliban put up a stiff fight in Helmand and inflicted very heavy casualties. Nuristan district as a whole was also lost to the Taliban. Mounting casualties forced Chrystal to abandon forward positions and to take up a rearward posture, concentrating in major towns and cities. This happened at a time when Pak Army had launched its operation in South Waziristan on 17 October and direly needed sealing of Afghan border by US-NATO forces on its side. Not knowing how to stem the slide, Gen McChrystal suddenly threw a bombshell that unless he was given additional 40,000 troops he could not guarantee security of Afghanistan, which in his view was slipping away due to Taliban resurgence. While the Republicans and a section of Democrats and Pentagon favoured further troop surge, part of Democrats opposed sending additional forces. The American public too is against war and troop surge and wants the soldiers to return home.
After deliberating upon it for considerable time due to conflicting opinions, Obama finally decided to send additional 30,000 troops to shore up the confidence of Chrystal. In his policy speech on revised Afghan policy, Pakistan remained his focus of concern. Obama reiterated what Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown had said about presence of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. He added that 9/11 was planned from there and another plan to attack US homeland is in offing. He expressed his deep anxiety over the possibility of Al-Qaeda based in Pakistan taking away nukes.
Like him, all power centres in USA are not greatly worried about Afghanistan. What bothers them is Pakistan. There is neither any inquest nor regret as to why the US military and its allies failed to achieve its singular mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda when it was in a disorganized and very weak state and entirely based in Afghanistan till December 2001. Six intelligence agencies based in Kabul are not being quizzed as to why they have failed to spot and nab Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and other top leaders of Al-Qaeda and Taliban for the last eight years. No questions are asked on the colossal expenditure being incurred on fruitless war on terror with zero sum results.
Instead of asking Chrystal as to how he intended recovering nearly 80% of lost space in Afghanistan and in what time frame, they are asking how he will deal with terrorist havens in Pakistan. They are not concerned about weak, corrupt, inept and unpopular Karzai led regime and pathetic state of affairs of non-Pashtun heavy Afghan national Army (ANA) and police suffering from discipline and desertion problems. Demoralisation and lack of resolve of US-NATO troops seems to be of no consequence to US policy makers. There is no debate as to why US soldiers receiving $75000 per month salary are dispirited and depressed. Thriving drug-trade and arms selling in Afghanistan in which Karzai and his brother, Northern Alliance warlords, CIA, RAW, Mossad and US-NATO military are fully involved doesn’t raise any eyebrows in Washington. Fiasco in Helmand and abandonment of forward areas along Afghan-Pak border which in their assessment houses Al-Qaeda leadership is not being questioned. Adoption of faulty bunkered policy instead of boots on ground strategy and relying on disheartened ANA or on air power is not discussed.
The US is not troubled if Kabul regime is anti-Pakistan and pro-India and is allowing its soil to be used for cross border terrorism against Pakistan since 2002. It is not bothered if India is using all its resources to destabilise Pakistan. Patronage of Brahamdagh Bugti in Afghanistan and of Harbayar Marri and Sulaiman Daud in London pursuing separatist agenda in Baluchistan doesn’t prick their conscience. Cultivation of Abdullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud and creation of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to destabilize FATA and NWFP doesn’t bring any remorse to them. Growing anti-Americanism in Pakistan doesn’t pinch them much as long as NRO cleansed leadership is in their pocket and they can have their dictates obeyed. However, anti-American militant groups in Pakistan and in the army and ISI do vex them. The US hypocritically calls Pakistan its strategic partner and a key ally in war on terror. It candidly admits that without Pakistan assistance the war cannot be won. Yet it mistrusts all its premier institutions and subjects them to slander.
The US doesn’t feel ashamed in pursuing double standards. On one hand the US is making concerted efforts to negotiate political settlement with Taliban to ensure safe exit of US forces, on the other it constantly reminds Pakistan not to have any truck with Afghan Taliban. In their view drone strikes on suspected targets in FATA are not enough and desire bringing Baluchistan within the purview of drones. That way it wants Pakistan to be alienated from all factions of Afghanistan. The US is least concerned about sufferings of Pakistanis and heavy price they are paying because of their support to US policies, but is more concerned how to extract its pound of flesh. It turns a deaf ear to venomous propaganda unleashed by government controlled media and think tanks in USA against Pakistan. Nuclear armed India on the verge of implosion from within due to dozens of separatist and insurgent movements doesn’t create any ripples in Washington. While US leaders give passionate hearing to the mostly perceived grievances of India, they shut their eyes to genuine complaints made by Pakistan.
Till recent the US leaders were crying hoarse trying to convince Pakistan that TTP was the greatest threat to existence of Pakistan. All these years they had been bellowing and censuring that Pakistan Army is not tackling the militants firmly and is either linked with them or is incapable of tackling them. They drummed up that Pakistan nukes had become vulnerable and liable to be stolen by extremists. They twisted Pakistan’s arm and pressed it to go full hog against the militants who were vying to steal nukes and take over power. What they actually had desired was to compel Pakistan to commit maximum forces in the quagmires of restive regions and to get bogged down irretrievably. When Pakistan Army uprooted the main bastions of militants and disarrayed TTP thereby giving a deathblow to the insidious plan chalked out by our adversaries, they have now taken up a new stance and are projecting Al-Qaeda as the chief threat to Pakistan, eying its nukes.
The TTP funded, trained and equipped by gang of five in Kabul doesn’t interest them in the current time frame. Adm. Mike Mullen squirmed that Al-Qaeda’s pursuit of nukes and interest in Pakistan are extraordinarily dangerous. Robert Menendez moaned that Pakistan is the main problem. He added, “Pakistan doesn’t want strategic relationship but want money and equipment”. What he implied was that Pakistan has been receiving US aid without giving anything in return. It was in this context that Obama said that the days of blank cheques are over.They are now cribbing that whereas Pakistan Army has chased Pakistani Taliban vigorously; it has failed to go after Afghan Taliban and their supporters including Al-Qaeda. India and UK have joined USA to collectively press Pakistan to do more.
The writer is a Memeber Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He is a defence and security analyst.