If US is sincere to bring peace in the region then it must solve Kashmir issue 

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Soon after occupying Afghanistan in end 2001, the US instead of putting things in order in the occupied country started wasting its energies on Pakistan and kept nudging it roughly to do more against foreign militants and those providing them shelter in the northwestern tribal belt of Pakistan. It kept its gaze fixed on Pakistan only and held it responsible for providing safe sanctuaries and allowing cross border terrorism. To divide the premier institutions, the US charged that some elements within the Army and ISI were linked with Taliban. Afghan regime under Karzai egged on by India was more specific in its allegations and said that the ISI was running training camps for the militants and launching them into Afghanistan.

The US and Karzai regime paid no heed to other next door neighbors of Afghanistan like Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan from where cross border movement was more easier than from Pakistan. They ignored the fact that almost equal number of runaway Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters had taken refuge in Iran and neighboring three ex Soviet Republics of Central Asia where pro-Taliban Islamic movements were raging. Russia which has still not forgotten the huge trauma it suffered in Afghanistan because of US role was also keen that Afghanistan becomes a graveyard for USA. China also must not have taken kindly to CIA’s discreet involvement in its southern Xingjian Province and in Tibet. Unlike pro-America Pakistan which is also a coalition partner and frontline state to fight US dictated war on terror, Iran is antagonistic towards USA and desires its crushing defeat at the hands of Taliban.

The main reason for overlooking all other players and singling out Pakistan is the secret plans hatched by USA in collaboration with India, Israel and Britain. The US can ill-afford to ruffle the feathers of China and Iran because the two are following independent foreign policies and are not dependent upon US aid and above all are blessed with strong leadership. Pakistan on the other hand is ruled by handpicked corrupt rulers and is submerged in foreign debts. Its economy is in ruins and oxygen is being provided by US controlled IMF and World Bank to keep the country barely floating. Pakistan’s economy has been deliberately enfeebled to compel its weak-willed and compliant leaders to hand over the keys of strategic assets of the country to Washington.

Notwithstanding US and Israel’s ardent wish to denuclearize Pakistan, the two doesn’t want liquidation of Pakistan. At best the two want Pakistan to become a secular and a non-nuclear docile state ready to serve US interests in the region. India on the other hand wants decimation or as a minimum balkanization of Pakistan since it is still not reconciled with its existence and considers it a thorn in its way to become a big power. India has been constantly poisoning the ears of US leaders and presenting Pakistan as the biggest threat to USA and the western world.

Indian leaders have been convincing them that the roots of terrorism in Afghanistan lay in FATA. It has been inciting them to push forward its special forces into FATA to destroy the roots. Bright idea of safe havens in Waziristan has been transplanted into the minds of US officials so firmly that they have got transfixed with it and are convinced that until and unless the sanctuaries are destroyed either by Pak Army or NATO, no worthwhile results will ever be achieved by them in Afghanistan and will suffer a defeat.

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Had Pakistan been peaceful as it was before 2002, and there had been fewer fatalities taking place as a result of terrorism, the accusers could have some grounds to get suspicious and hurl unsubstantiated accusations that there appeared to be some kind of linkage between Pakistan’s security forces and militants? On ground, Pak Army, ISI and civilians have suffered heavy casualties at the hands of militants of different hues who have joined up against them. Series of terror attacks have taken place on ISI installations in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan. GHQ was also struck by the terrorists. Pak Army and ISI have suffered well over 3200 casualties since the two joined the war in 2002. Injury list run into thousands with many crippled for life. List of widows and orphans is quite long. These figures are several times more than what the combined armies of 48 countries involved in counter terrorism have suffered in Afghanistan.  

Pakistan Army has suffered heavily since it has been fighting the foreign aided militants tenaciously. Nearly 145000 troops are fighting the faceless enemy under tremendous resource constraints since the US which had pushed them into the furnace of war has been releasing funds and counter insurgency equipment miserly. It has been withholding the critical support on account of Indian unfounded apprehension that the supplied equipment would be used against it. While the US is sympathetic towards Indian speculative security concerns, it is least bothered about genuine security concerns of Pakistan. It is therefore highly unjust and immoral on part of USA to insinuate that Pakistan is backing the militants. The accusations are travesty of truth and speak of mala fide intentions of USA.

Peace agreements with Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan (SW) and with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan (NW) had been necessitated out of military expediency which suited both sides as well as peaceful residents caught up in the crossfire of security forces and militants within the two war zones. This arrangement is not new or is unique. The US-NATO has been resorting to this practice and is currently trying to negotiate a political settlement with Taliban. Peace agreement between two warring parties doesn’t mean turning the guns against the third country as is wrongly interpreted. It is not Pakistan under the garb of friendship playing a double game to harm US interests but it is USA in league with its partners which is playing a dirty game against Pakistan. Yet the US has the brashness to point fingers at Pakistan.                  

While ignoring dozens of small and large scale military operations in seven tribal agencies of FATA and several parts of Khyber Pakhunkhwa in last nine years, the US is now stuck with NW and is trying to give an impression that Pak Army is reluctant to undertake action against militant sanctuaries or is incapable of fighting them in their stronghold. They forget that within NW, 33,000 troops are stationed since 2005 and have conducted several big and small operations. It was owing to successes achieved that Gul Bahadur was forced to sign a second peace agreement in 2008.

A full-fledged operation on the scale of Swat and SW cannot be undertaken at present since troops are outstretched and extra deployment is at the cost of weakening critical eastern front. Very little rehabilitation work has been done in Mehsud belt of SW since majority of displaced persons living in camps of Jandola, Tank and Dera Ismail Khan have still not returned. Severe weather which will persist till March is another constraining factor; so is lack of resources particularly helicopters and funds. Civil administration is still reluctant to take over its duties in SW.

  Pakistan Under Siege

To say that issue of terrorism will get settled after a successful operation in NW and that it will have a salutary impact  on dwindling fortunes of US-NATO in Afghanistan will be naïve and far-fetched. It must be understood very clearly that small numbered Haqqani network and other militant groups in NW are not making any material difference on the outcome of war raging between Afghan Taliban and occupation forces and unpopular Afghan National Army (ANA). Forays if any are too few and insignificant. These can be easily blocked if ISAF establishes border check posts at known crossing sites and mine/fence them. Bulk of resistance forces of Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbadin Hikmatyar are residing in provinces of southern and eastern Afghanistan and are operating all over the country from there. With 80% of territory under their sway they hardly need any sanctuaries across the border.

Sanctuaries are made use of only under duress as was the case from 2001 to 2003 when the Taliban and al-Qaeda were on the run and had no base within Afghanistan to operate. The ground situation has altered from 2007-08 onwards and now the Taliban are making effective use of their secure firm bases in Pashtun inhabited southern and eastern Afghanistan to hit targets anywhere in the country. The big question is that has the ISAF been able to stop or even curtail Taliban’s forays into central, western and northern parts of Afghanistan including Kabul from their forward bases? As such the hullabaloo about NW is misplaced and mischievous in intent. It has no relevance whatsoever on the outcome of war in Afghanistan which the coalition forces have lost. Even when NW will be cleared of presence of militants, the latter will not get liquidated but will shift to other areas.    

None can deny that as against brilliant performance of Pak Army, the performance of US-NATO equipped with most sophisticated weaponry and technology and having plentiful material resources duly supported by Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan regime have been poor. They have been constantly losing battles and conceding space and have got confined to major cities. Their two efforts to recover Helmand province failed while freeing Kandahar from the hold of Taliban is still a far cry. Civil leadership in Washington particularly ruling Democrats want early closure of war and return of troops while Pentagon and US-NATO Generals are not prepared to gracefully accept defeat and are also not in favor of early withdrawal. They are insisting that they will be able to turn the tide by the new extended dateline of 2014. 

This logic could have worked had the coalition troops not been suffering heavy casualties and incurring mental disorders and the US economy was recovering. While morale of coalition troops is down, ANA is entwined in discipline problems. Fast melting economy of USA is having adverse effects on domestic health. Quagmire of Afghanistan has not only begun to pull down occupation troops but also the prestige and honor of the sole super power. Uni-polarism has come under duress and talk of fragmentation of US imperialism is often heard.

The Taliban smelling victory are unwilling to negotiate with the US or with Karzai and that too on US conditions which call for surrender of arms, detachment from militancy and Al-Qaeda and changing their anti-American mindset. Considering the trials, tribulations and sacrifices rendered by the Taliban for three decades, it is absurd to expect from them that they will overlook America’s betrayal and oppressions and will throw away its gains made at a very heavy cost and agree to unreasonable demands of USA. Going by pure logic and reason, why should they trust USA and accept a formula tailored in Washington? Time and tide are in their favor and they can see that the invaders have got caught up in a whirlpool from which they cannot extricate at their own.  They will allow the time and tide to flow for they know that longer the occupation forces stay, it will render them more vulnerable.

  Hopeless but not serious

Notwithstanding rhetoric of US-NATO Generals that progress has been made and they will sooner than later reverse the tide, the withdrawal in all probability will commence from coming July and by end 2011 about 30,000 US troops would reach their homes. Significant thinning out in NATO forces will also take place and by mid 2012 weight of counter insurgency will start shifting on to the shoulders of ANA.  A new bait of meeting military, economic and intelligence needs of Pakistan has been thrown by Washington to keep it tied to war on terror for times to come.

Whatever methodology adopted by USA will be 90% in its own interest and 10% in Taliban’s or Pakistan’s interest. With insincere intentions and selfish interests, hope for an agreeable solution to Afghan tangle will be implausible. Unless ground realities are understood in right perspective and realism overtakes delusion, the situation in Afghanistan will remain turbulent and its ripple effects will keep falling on Pakistan.

If the US continues to eye Pakistan with distrust and insists on providing space to India in Afghanistan in spite of Pakistan and Iran’s strong reservations and makes no effort to solve the chronic issue of Kashmir simply because India doesn’t like it, it will leave behind messy Afghanistan and Pakistan which will keep the region destabilized for a long time. Instead of getting transfixed on NW, the US leadership should tackle macro issues dispassionately rather than self serving micro issues favoring USA only.

Lasting solution to Kashmir is a must to curb extremism in the region. So far, the entire focus of US leadership is to keep India appeased even at Pakistan’s cost. It should do away with its discriminatory policy and initiate concrete steps to solve Kashmir tangle before it departs. This will help in making South Asia a cradle of peace and will contribute a lot towards restoring badly mauled credibility of USA in Pakistan. It is doable particularly when India has let go its stubbornness and is giving signals for renewal of composite dialogue. For a change, the US leaders should deflect the mantra of ‘do more’ on India and upon itself.

Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites.

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