……….From the end-game in Afghanistan and The Secret Strategic Plan

By Tabish Qayyum

Despite the ‘successful’ Drone campaign according to US, allegedly helping them deliver lethal blows to senior Al-Qaeda leadership and the Haqqani network in the tribal areas of Pakistan, patience wears thin in the US camp. US Defense Secretary Panetta threatened Pakistan recently on a visit to Kabul saying,

“Haqqani safe havens still exist on the other side of the border. Pakistan has to take action [to stop] allowing terrorists in their country to attack our forces on the other side of the border. We are reaching the limits of our patience here.”

The Taliban and Haqqani Network continue to stage brazen and audacious attacks in Afghanistan during these final years of this infamous war. Most recently Kandahar Air Base, Lakeside resort on the outskirts of Kabul came under deadly attacks lasting for hours breaching the most secure zones of the conflict; yet again, busting the myth of the ‘Afghan Forces capability to Securing Afghanistan’ post withdrawal. According to recent indications and reports, the US continues to measure its options for a ground assault in North Waziristan, considered by it a safe haven for the Haqqani Network. This approach can result in an immense diplomatic blow-back to an already suffocating relationship between a once cherished partnerships in the ‘War against Terror’. What are the options left for US after a decade of war is yet to be determined, but the stakes involved for the war-drained super power are not much difficult to anticipate!

In order to understand the regional strategy and stakes for the US, the situation needs to be assessed in retrospect.

Mission Afghanistan

The way the tables turned in Afghanistan for the international effort led by the US along with its mammoth coalition post the 9/11 attacks, was beyond anyone’s imagination. Earlier in this war, self-complacency had further entangled the US in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as the Taliban’s resurgence came up, the possibility of which had been over ruled by the strategists in Washington; it turned out to be a US nightmare in the years to come. Today, the US seems decisive in its withdrawal plan which was not initially meant to be in the objectives of this war. On the face of it, this war was meant for the destruction of the ‘Jihadist Industry’, earlier financed by the US against the Soviets, this was the primary objective, rest were covert and strategic.

For the US, a long term presence in the region with permanent bases in Pakistan’s backyard were imperative to sustain the emerging economic and military threat of China and for further cementing ties with India vis-à-vis ending the Kashmiri resistance dream and persuading Pakistan to a submission towards Indian’s integrated plan of hegemony and economic dominance, cutting it off from China’s support and assistance that is deemed necessary for Pakistan to deal with both ‘Friends’. Another significant objective, of the US ambition has always been Pakistan’s ‘Nuclear Arsenal’, considered to be the fastest growing arsenal in the world, hence the best way to deal with it was the complete security and political control of Afghanistan, which would have been used later for immense diplomatic and military pressure in making Pakistan re-think its India-centric rhetoric and finally ‘roll-back’ its Nuclear Plan, while the US ensures to provide it with a corrupt political landscape.

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‘Cordoning’ China: Asia-Pacific Plan

In this whole end-game or perhaps the post-war scenario China is being asymmetrically cordoned as well. Pakistan is the ‘key’ to China’s flourishing economy. Providing her with trade routes via Ground and Sea, Pakistan holds high strategic and economic value for the emerging super power. Therefore, China will be directly influencing the oil supply from Oman, UAE, Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran if provided a naval base at Gwadar, hence the reason the US has deployed a permanent aircraft carrier on this trade route.

The U.S. Navy will be sending its most sophisticated ships and aircraft to the Asia-Pacific region as it builds up its presence there. US plans to shift its 60% Navy Fleet in the region by 2020, which includes, the Littoral Combat Ship, which can operate in shallower waters more efficiently than other vessels; the EA-18G plane, which can jam enemy air defenses and fly faster than the speed of sound; and the Navy’s most advanced submarine — the Virginia-class. Several of these vessels are based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the Cold War, the US kept 60 per cent of its subs in the Atlantic as a deterrent to the Soviet Union and they are doing exactly the same today to contain Chinese defense. Recently, Panetta has visited several Asian countries, clearly shedding light on their ulterior motives against China.

The US has shown unusual interest in Malaysia, in the field of defense, according to the Pentagon, press secretary George Little confirmed in a statement that the leaders of the two countries agreed to strengthen the bilateral military-to-military relationship. “During the meeting, both leaders stated that with a renewed focus on Asia as part of the U.S. defense strategy, they look forward to strengthening the U.S.-Malaysia military–to-military relationship, including expansion of multilateral exercises,” Little said. Panetta, who later visited Vietnam and India, used his Singapore visit to gather “first-hand information” in his bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and host country Singapore, so as to reinforce the U.S. presence in Asia.

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Further knitting the Defense Web around China, US have carved out strong defense deals and ensured cooperation between Australia and Japan in the recent Shangri-La Conference held in Singapore. The plan of these nations is to ensure security in the Asia- Pacific region by working together in solidarity and conduct Joint military exercises. While New Zealand and United States have also engaged in similar deals signing strategic accords needed for Washington to keep a wary eye on China.

In further attempts of this strategic focus by US, Panetta has also visited the ‘Cam Ranh Bay’ to seek its control yet again after 1975, when the Vietnam War ended. The bay and its airfield was one of three main hubs used by the US in the war. It is one of the South China Sea’s best natural harbour, and the US hopes to use it to boost its naval presence and counter the rise of China’s navy. ”Access for United States’ naval ships into this facility is a key component” of the US’s relationship with Vietnam, ”and we see the tremendous potential here”, Panetta said. This game plan in the international scenario makes the US intentions on Pakistan more visible.

Target Pakistan

In a re-shuffle of plans or strategic maneuvering the US seems to have focused ever more on Pakistan, making sure not to let Pakistan achieve any ‘strategic depth’ in Post-War Afghanistan that could further strengthen China via Pakistan and to counter Pakistan’s undeniable stakes in Afghanistan; India is being lured in as a ‘lynchpin’. On a recent visit to India, Panetta said that the US strategy sought to “expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia”. According to him, “Defense cooperation with India is a lynchpin in this strategy”. It is interesting to note that India is still reluctant due to the inevitable ripples that can potentially escalate the ‘Kashmiri Freedom Movement’. In a recent press statement the Taliban threatened India of dire consequences saying it was “totally illogical” for Indian policy makers to “plunge their nation into a calamity just for the American pleasure”. It is a ‘veiled threat’ according to Vikram Sood former Chief of RAW. Delhi has poured in $2 billion in aid and reconstruction of Afghanistan, while private sector groups plan to invest some $10 billion there, which in the view of Taliban is an effort to strengthen the Karzai government.

  Encirclement of Pakistan

In its Dual Strategy the US insists that Pakistan should step up operations against Al-Qaeda remnants and Haqqani Network in North Waziristan (NW) and mulls for clandestine or direct intervention in case Pakistan fails to do so; curb domestic terrorist organizations including LeT, Jamat-ud-Dawa to appease Indians; blame Quetta Shura for failure in Negotiations; control the source of the fertilizers used in the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (lEDs); and prevent proliferation of nuclear material/expertise, which in its say, Pakistan has always done. Among all these there is a major bone of contention; the issue of visas to US experts engaged in counter-terrorism efforts and other assistance programs. The US wants resumption of NATO supplies, disregarding Pakistan’s fresh genuine demands and the resolutions adopted by Parliament of Pakistan and shameful refusal of apology for massacre. The US House Armed Services Committee passed a bill prohibiting the preferential procurement of goods and services from Pakistan until NATO supply lines were re-opened. Pakistan is being threatened with sanctions and serious ramifications if it does not ‘move on’.

In case of any adventurism by US-AFG forces, Pakistan will try to immediately mobilize its troops on its western front while India will try to settle scores and covertly join this new surgical coalition from the eastern front. Recent beheading of 17 Pakistani Soldiers in a cross-border attack by hundreds of militants in Lower Dir (Western Border), violations of Cease-Fire on the Kashmir LOC (Eastern Border), and the latest arrest of Sabahuddin Ansari are few indications of this assertion. To add salt to the injury, internal security threats for Pakistan are elevated as incidents involving sectarian, ethnic, Anti-State Terrorism are fueled, diametrically cultivating circumstances for external threats which would finally result in changing the Geo-political boundaries of Pakistan, rendering it as an inefficient, handicapped and dependent state. Hence, it is imperative for the US to inflict deep and lethal blows to Pakistan during these last years of a failing war, if the hegemonic designs are to be achieved.

Will US be able to accomplish this uphill task or continue to live in the abyss it is trapped in, draining its remaining resources in this power struggle? Will Pakistan survive this onslaught, being resilient in the face of the US designs and secure its strategic and national interests in the region are what we wait to see.

Tabish Qayyum is the co-founder of Defense and Geo-Political Magazine Fortress and Investigative Journalist at PKKH. He is also a writer and educational consultant.