By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Although USA has the largest economy and strongest military power in human history, its moral, political and diplomatic strength has eroded since 9/11. Despite using excessive force, it has failed to shape a more prosperous and more just world as it had stated. Its arbitrary military adventures in Afghanistan and in Iraq haven’t enhanced global security environments. Although its craze for bloodletting and destruction has so far not diminished, fatigue, homesickness, weariness and mental disorders have clouded the minds of US military and its allies.Suicide rate among non-active members of US National Guard almost doubled in 2010. Total cases of active and non-active soldiers were 252 as opposed to 242 in 2009. According to Chris Phil brick, growth was linked to drug abuse, brain injuries, depression and back home economic woes. Other than indiscipline cases in Iraq and Afghanistan, several cases of shootings within military establishments have occurred within USA.
In Afghanistan, battle is raging between conventional forces laced with high-tech ground and air weaponry and rag-tag unconventional forces lacking modern weapons, airpower and electronic means. The resistance forces in Afghanistan lack everything that is essential to wage a successful war. The only thing they have in abundance is fanatical motivation and will to fight to death. Suicide attacks were made part of the guerrilla war by the Taliban and al-Qaeda to offset their inferiority in firepower. While the militants have no answer to drones and aerial attacks, the conventional forces have also not been able to counter suicide threat. Another weapon in extensive use by militants in is improvised explosive device (IED). Coalition forces in Iraq and now in Afghanistan have suffered maximum casualties from IEDs.
Despite its best efforts, events are not moving as planned. Taliban are maintaining an upper edge. Al-Qaeda-Taliban nexus has not been broken and the Taliban haven’t been split up. They are convinced that they have already won the war and hence are in no mood to compromise. The Taliban are refusing to negotiate with Karzai regime till the occupiers vacate their land unconditionally. Announcement of date of withdrawal by Obama, failure of Helmand operation, mounting casualties of ISAF, delay in hyped Kandahar operation, demoralization of US-NATO forces and their desire to return home, and emergence of differences between US military and civil leaders are seen by them as signs of defeat.
The Taliban have smelt that Afghan imbroglio is being solved on whims and wishes of senior US leadership rather than on the basis of a sound strategy and as such, Like Gen McChrystal, Gen Petraeus will also fail. Knowing the past record of Taliban, it will be wishful to assume that at this juncture when coalition forces stand divided and demoralized, the Taliban would agree to break ties with Al-Qaeda that stood with them in difficult times or negotiate with Karzai on the basis of US formula of first agreeing to cease fighting and renounce violence. For them, the US is now like a wounded animal which has turned from a hunter into a hunted quarry and countdown has started. In case the stay is prolonged as is being aired by US leaders, it will be at the cost of the wound getting cancerous.
The fast evolving security situation compelled the US to negotiate with Taliban for a political settlement. Otherwise this option was never contemplated till as late as mid 2008. Use of force was the only option totally relied upon. From that time onwards, strenuous efforts are being made by USA to win over Taliban and pitch them against Al-Qaeda to weaken both. For over a year contacts were made secretly but secrecy had to be put aside when the US as well as Karzai realized that without active participation of Pakistan no headway could be made.
Failing to divide them, efforts were then directed towards dividing Taliban on the basis of good and bad Taliban, or reconcilable and irreconcilable, or moderate and hardliners. Overtures were made on the basis of reconciliation and re-integration and offer of incentives. While some breakthrough has been made from among the lower cadres of Taliban, success among hardliners is minimal. Taliban Shura is still united under Mullah Omar and has rejected pre-conditions of USA asking them to renounce violence, de-link from Al-Qaeda and accept constitution framed by current regime. They know that the US is no more in a position to dictate terms. Despite two troop surges the balance remains tilted in favor of Taliban. They know that they have sailed past the most trying times and that US power is on the wane.
The US has also activated Hamid Karzai and his half-brother Wali to woo Taliban leaders by offering share in power. Twenty Taliban notables have been de-listed from the UN list of terrorists. Karzai is working hard to win the support of Pashtuns and to keep Afghanistan united. He is also trying to cultivate certain important leaders in central and northern provinces to be able to form a broad based government. Contacts with Karim Khalili, Qasim Faheem and Ustad Muhaqiq have been established. Mujadadi is also lending a helping hand to Karzai.
However, except for some important figures from former Taliban Shura, Karzai’s progress within the forte of hard line Taliban has been limited. Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and other hardliners are not prepared to negotiate with Karzai as long as foreign forces are present on Afghan soil. They otherwise consider him a US puppet and hold him responsible for the sufferings of Afghans, particularly Pashtuns. Hikmatyar might have agreed if shortened timeframe of withdrawal was given.
Several issues were discussed at Lisbon in November 2010, but Afghanistan topped the agenda. NATO commanders opined that failure in Afghanistan would undermine the prestige of NATO and render its existence vulnerable since it has no moral justification to remain operative after the demise of USSR and end of cold war. Lisbon summit approved continuation of destructive war till end 2014 so as to be able to weaken Taliban and negotiate a political settlement of its choice from a position of strength. The only worrying factor for US-NATO is its own human losses. Occupation forces are least bothered about mounting casualties of non-combatants of Afghanistan since they are an expendable commodity. They are devising means how to minimize own casualties and how to maximize slaughter of Pashtuns residing both sides of the border.
The US reinforced Lisbon plan and extended its departure date from Afghanistan to 2014. It is now having second thoughts and is throwing feelers that it may stay up to 2024. Karzai stated in February 2011 that Washington intends to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. The US has for long been planning to convert Baghram in north, Kandahar in south, Shindad in west, Herat and Kabul as military bases from where Pentagon can conduct surveillance and combat operations within and outside Afghanistan. These places are being speedily fortified and modernised. The US Ambassador Cameron Munter has now stated that the US will not leave Afghanistan.
Although hardnosed hawks have softened their mulish stance to some extent, it will still require more time before they get rid of their conceited ego and start seeing the changed ground reality objectively and astutely. It may take another 1-2 years of further bloodshed before the realization sink into their jaundiced minds that hope of victory, or forcing Taliban to agree to their conditions is illusive. Resurgence of Taliban, casualty factor, growth of psychiatric illnesses among the troops, home pressure, melting economy and growing instability in Middle East are some of the factors that have converted USA from a hunter to a hunted. This change in profile would compel occupation forces to retreat well before the given cutout time.