Taliban proved more resilient than US expectations. A decade on, US defeat at the hands of rag-tag Afghan Taliban is an embarrassing truth for the world’s sole super power. Instead of accepting the reality, cutting its losses and devising a strategy for a negotiated settlement, the US has opted for bizarre arrangements, envisaging back door negotiation with Taliban without involving Pakistan,

By S. M. Hali

In retaliation to 9/11, USA unleashed a ‘Shock and Awe’ crusade against Taliban to expeditiously defeat them but success evaded them as Taliban proved more resilient than US expectations. A decade on, US defeat at the hands of rag-tag Afghan Taliban is an embarrassing truth for the world’s sole super power. Instead of accepting the reality, cutting its losses and devising a strategy for a negotiated settlement, the US has opted for bizarre arrangements, envisaging back door negotiation with Taliban without involving Pakistan, pulling-out major part of troops by end 2013 but retaining 10 – 15000 strength, comprising Special Forces (SF) and Marines. SF will hold the bases at Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. US Military pundits have propounded the extended use of drones and employing SF for surgical operations. Such operations will be particularly focused on Pakistan. This has already pushed Pak-US relations to the brink. Under public pressure, Pakistan is left with no option but to retaliate against deliberate violation of her sovereignty. The methodology and extent of retaliation is a matter of command decision.  The strategic cost of such clandestine actions by US, therefore, would far outweigh the tactical gains and the fall out on relations with Pakistan.

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Operational environment is not favorable for this revised US strategy. There are extreme anti-US sentiments within Afghanistan and some of its neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran, while Russia and China too favour an early exit for the US from Afghanistan, since continued US involvement in the region is an impediment to peace. The Al-Qaeda bogey has been played far too long and too many times to lend further credence. To form a broad-based Government, US must leave Afghanistan, and stop playing favourites or furthering its pawns.

Under the circumstances, it is imperative to analyze the contours of US exit strategy from Afghanistan and its implications for Pakistan. US and Pakistan have been at odds over appointment of US contractors and their visas to Pakistan had been drastically cut down. These officials are reportedly assigned various duties such as logistic support, audit and accounts monitoring in terms of the Coalition Support Fund.  There is a need to rationalize the presence of US officials in Pakistan in such large numbers. During a roundtable meeting at Pentagon with military media representatives, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stated that US must continue to work with Pakistan for it was difficult to win in Afghanistan without winning in Pakistan. The arrogant US Defence Secretary, after wreaking havoc on Pakistan as CIA Chief, following the Raymond Davis episode and high drama to “eliminate” Osama bin Laden, still has aces up his sleeve. Was the latest episode of successfully apprehending the senior Al-Qaeda operative Sheikh Yunis Al-Mauritania, with shared intelligence between the CIA and ISI only a flash in the pan?

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The loquacious US Defence Secretary needs to check his instincts to needlessly target Pakistan. While addressing military officers at the US National Defense University, he ruled that relations with Pakistan were difficult because elements of Pakistan Government had links with Haqqani network, which is staging attacks on US-led troops in Afghanistan, while he blamed LeT for orchestrating attacks in India. Such ploys are to force Pakistan’s hands in commencing operations in North Waziristan. The US should realize that Pakistan will do so only at a time of its own choice. Take another example: A police station of Xinjiang Province of China bordering Pakistan was attacked by the terrorists on July 18, killing 18 people.  Some foreign vested interest spread the disinformation that the suspects had been trained in Pakistan.  This incident was planned and executed to malign Pakistan and to create misunderstanding between Beijing and Islamabad.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland announced that $ 800 million military assistance to Pakistan would be tied to its ability to cooperate with US in the war against terrorism. The US remains oblivious to the fact that setting of pre-conditions on the funding will hamper operations against extremists and ultimately cause grief to the US. On the other hand, the drone strikes remain a source of friction between Pakistan and US.  Even renowned US defence analysts have pronounced that the drone campaign is counter-productive and a breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty as they kill hundreds of innocent civilians. The 9/11 10th anniversary addresses by Presidents Bush and Obama failed to credit Pakistan’s sacrifices. We need to ask Obama what George Bush asked of President Musharraf in the aftermath of 9/11: “Are you with us or against us?”

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