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Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region Part-3 Asif Haroon Raja

Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region

Part-3

Asif Haroon Raja

The steep decline in America’s image and standing after 9/11 is a direct reflection of global distaste for the instruments of American hard power: the Iraq invasion, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and Blackwater’s killings of Iraqi civilians. – Shashi Tharoor

Unforgiving attitude of the losers

The Taliban’s meteoric victory has dejected the USA, Europe, India, Israel, Iran, liberals and seculars all over the world but has pleased the Islamists. Countries governed by parliamentary democracy and dictatorship are also upset.

The victorious Taliban after giving general amnesty to the collaborators, have neither carried out any retributions, nor demanded trials of those who had indulged in massive war crimes as was the case with the victors of the 2nd world war carrying out Nuremberg trials of the Germans, or sought war compensations.

The losing US-NATO are however, in black mood, and seem to be primed to avenge their defeat through means other than the military to teach a lesson to the Taliban as well as the convenient scapegoat Pakistan, which was first held responsible for the instability in Afghanistan and now for the victory of the Taliban, and for supporting the new regime.

Ironically the losers are trying to dictate terms to the victors and no one is asking them as to who has given them this right.

Governed by Islamophobia, Islamic Emirate is unacceptable to the prejudiced West, and is therefore finding faults in every good or bad act taken by the new regime in Kabul and is trying to unsettle them. They want them to fulfill their promises immediately. It is like asking a one-month old baby to start running.

The US controlled UN has not fulfilled its commitments given to the Palestinians and Kashmiris 74 years ago. Did the Kabul regime, the Afghan Army and India live up to the expectations of the US, or did the US fulfill its promises made to the Afghans in their 20-year rule?

The US after forcibly occupying Afghanistan chose to keep the heavy majority Afghan Pashtuns out of power and handed over the reins of power to the minority ethnic communities. Idea of an inclusive regime never occurred to the occupiers. The two puppet regimes were responsible for fomenting subversion in the region, deepening cleavages within the Afghan society and for creating a big mess. And yet the US tolerated the puppets and richly rewarded them simply because they governed the country as a so-called Islamic Republic under the US tailored constitution.   

Ill-intended demand of inclusive regime

The interim set-up in Kabul has not pleased the US, its strategic allies, and the neighbors of Afghanistan. All are insisting on an inclusive regime not realizing that how can revolutionary Taliban accommodate collaborators who aided and abetted foreign occupation, undertook mass killings and inflicted cruelties upon them. Traditionally, the revolutionaries undertook mass killings of their opponents. 

The Northern Alliance elements are though Muslims, but have a secular bent of mind and are predisposed to the western civilization and not to Pashtunwali code. They had extended their loyalties to the invading Soviet forces and also to the western forces and served them loyally. They showed no mercy to the oppressed Afghan Taliban.

Interestingly, none has insisted on selecting honest, upright and capable persons from various ethnic communities on merit.

There is no room for liberal political philosophy in Islam which had given birth to pro-rich and anti-poor deceitful modern democracy. 

Continuation of hostile policy

Yes, war is hell. It is awful. It involves human beings killing other human beings, sometimes innocent civilians. That is why we despise war. – John O. Brennan

The US is angry with Pakistan on account of refusing to provide a military base for counter terrorism purposes, its new policy of defiance and Imran Khan’s brashness to show mirror to the West. The US has got addicted to the pliant leaders and cannot tolerate defiant leaders.  

 

 

 

 

 

While Daesh-K has been activated to carry out acts of terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, other hostile measures undertaken so far are freezing of Afghanistan’s $9.5 billion in the US banks, suspension of financial assistance by the World Bank and the IMF, and pushing the Taliban regime to grant more freedom to the women and to induct bigger number of women in the parliament.

Hybrid war has been intensified to vilify Pakistan and to disconcert the new regime in Kabul.

The US know that since the Taliban cannot be browbeaten, purchased, tricked, or humbled, the only way to have a toehold in Afghanistan is to include the lackeys from Northern Alliance in the interim as well as in permanent set-up who can be easily manipulated to act as fifth columnists and to help in sabotaging peace and stability.    

To punish Pakistan, the TTP, BLA and Daesh-K have been brought under one umbrella to accelerate terrorism in former FATA and Baluchistan, sword of FATF hasn’t been removed, and cricket teams of New Zealand and UK have cancelled their tours on account of invented insecurity. Australian and West Indies teams are likely to follow suit. Indian hand in the cricket racket has been traced and proof sent to ICC.

Political polarization and terrorism have been further intensified by the detractors to project Pakistan as politically unstable and an insecure country in order to block foreign investment.

Instability in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan suits the spoilers since it will impede the progress of CPEC and will also prevent Afghanistan getting connected with it for which the Taliban have expressed their readiness.

Taliban’s amiability

Much to the chagrin of the spoilers, the Taliban are giving right signals to elicit support of the international community. They want to expand trade ties with other countries and have expressed willingness to induct more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and also women in the cabinet. After operationalizing the badly damaged Kabul airport, they are seeking restoration of international flights. Their amiability will however be not at the cost of making compromises on Sharia laws.

The Taliban have forgiven their internal and external enemies, but have not forgotten their treachery. They have agreed to cooperate, but not at the cost of losing Islamic identity, Islamic culture and values. They have no intention of falling into their honeycombed trap promising moon and are taking measured steps sensibly. 

Pakistan’s stance

Since problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked, the latter is keen to restore stability in Afghanistan at the earliest. It is right in saying that the Afghans having gone through four decades of turmoil need healing. Apart from dispatching humanitarian assistance, trading in local currency and lowering tariffs on import of fruits and vegetables, Pakistan is lobbying hard to convince the international community to send all possible assistance to stabilize the new regime.

In its view neglecting the Taliban would be disastrous for the region in particular and the world in general due to financial, food and health crises and rising poverty in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is making strenuous efforts to bring all the six neighbors of Afghanistan in one loop to tackle Afghanistan’s socio-economic issues regionally and has made good progress.

Terrorism major worry of Pakistan

Apart from economic woes, Pakistan’s major worry is continuing acts of terrorism. Reportedly, bulk of the TTP elements and its affiliated groups have moved into Pakistan and are regrouping in Loralai and Zhob. The TTP leader Noor Wali Mehsud is dreaming of bringing back former FATA under his sway and to make it an Islamic Emirate. To win over the locals, the TTP is targeting law enforcement agencies only.

The Baloch groups led by BLA have teamed up with Dr. Allah Nazar’s Lashkar Baluchistan group. They are targeting security personnel and Chinese in Quetta, Awaran, Kharan, Turbat, Gwadar, Mastung, Sibi, Mach, and Bolan. BLA-Daesh-K terrorists are operating jointly from Nago hills in Mastung and are in contact with dacoit gangs in interior Sindh. A cell of Baloch rebels is functional at Sheerzan (Chahbahar) led by Rasool Bux. With the closure of Spin Boldak main supply route, the terrorists are receiving funds and weapons from India via Sindh, Mekran coast and Sistan.  

Several intelligence based operations have been conducted in Waziristan and Baluchistan, and good results achieved. Several militant leaders were gunned down and large caches of arms recovered. Speedy completion of fencing of southwestern border along with improved border management has become necessary.      

China’s role

China is keen to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan and has developed good understanding with the Taliban. Its flagship project of CPEC cannot perform optimally without stable Afghanistan and getting connected with CPEC through Peshawar-Kabul Highway. It has extended 200 million Yuan aid to Kabul, which includes 3 million corona vaccines. China’s foreign minister told his counterpart in Washington that it was unethical to freeze accounts of war-torn countries and advised him to unfreeze Kabul’s cash assets and to extend humanitarian assistance.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, and Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com    

To be concluded

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TWO U.S GENERALS ON U.S – PAKISTAN RELATIONS by General Joseph Votel (Ret.) and Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata (Ret.)

TWO U.S GENERALS ON U.S – PAKISTAN RELATIONS

 

 

 

 

 

The generals have summed up the situation extremely well from the U.S perspective which is not the same as that of Pakistan. The elephant in the room remains China with which the U.S has an adversarial relationship. The U.S objectives in the region are mostly centred on China. Pakistan cannot, and hopefully will not, risk her friendship with the latter for any reason or any country. It is not an issue that is open to argument knowing that if there is ever the need, China is the only country that can and will rescue Pakistan. You can only gamble with national security at your peril.
K. H Zia.
“We believe the time has come for serious policy consideration of whether and how both nations can achieve a more strategically beneficial and sustainable post-intervention relationship between the American and Pakistani governments and their populations.” 
 

The Future of US Cooperation with Pakistan

AUGUST 1, 2021 | THE CIPHER BRIEF

This piece by General Joseph Votel (Ret.) and Lt. Gen. Michael K. Nagata (Ret.) and was first published by our friends at the Middle East Institute.
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Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael K. Nagata is a distinguished senior fellow on national security at MEI. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2019 after 38 years of active duty, with 34 years in US Special Operations. His final position was director of strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center from 2016 to 2019.
Gen. (ret.) Joseph L. Votel is a distinguished senior fellow on national security at MEI. He retired as a four-star general in the U.S. Army after a nearly 40-year career, during which he held a variety of commands in positions of leadership, including most recently as commander of CENTCOM from March 2016 to March 2019. 

The United States and Pakistan have had a complex and often disappointing “love-hate” relationship since 1947 — one severely tested during the 20-year U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan. We believe the time has come for serious policy consideration of whether and how both nations can achieve a more strategically beneficial and sustainable post-intervention relationship between the American and Pakistani governments and their populations.
As we consider a new policy, the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan after two decades of leading the international coalition is almost complete. Early indications are that Afghanistan is increasingly likely to descend into significant instability and possibly serious fracture, which will have unwelcome consequences for the Afghan people and all of Afghanistan’s neighbours. It is already clear that international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State-Khorasan Province will continue to enjoy and probably grow their safe-havens.
Whatever U.S. strategic concerns may be about the future of Afghanistan, the course and direction of Pakistan’s strategic choices in coming years will also matter to the United States. There are a variety of reasons for this.

First, Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state. Decades of investments in nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India, compounded by unrelenting and mutual historical, religious, cultural, and political antagonism between them, make this one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.

Second, all of the countries Pakistan borders are consequential for the U.S. Pakistan also has significant religious, cultural, and economic ties to other Muslim states such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In an era of “great power competition,” while Pakistan may not be one of the principal players, its network of relationships can be of strategic benefit to any of the great powers now involved, including the U.S. and China.
 

Third, despite its significant political and economic difficulties, Pakistan has a growing technology sector. Its youthful population and worldwide diaspora of Pakistani doctors, scientists, academics, and other professionals have become an increasingly important part of the global community.

As long-time veterans of South Asia, both of us understand the sources of “weariness and wariness” that U.S. policymakers, in both Democratic and Republican administrations, often associate with strategic discussions of Pakistan. We have both seen the U.S. government’s reluctance toward undertaking any kind of strategic interaction or rapprochement with Pakistan because of previous disappointments or perceived betrayals. Understanding the enormous complexities of Pakistan’s relationships, influence, and strategic choices in the South Asia milieu can be intellectually challenging and draining.
Yet, we have both concluded that the only thing harder than establishing a functional and mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan is living without one. Given unstable borders, a nuclear standoff with India, the continued presence of terrorist organizations, and the high potential for all of this to further disrupt our interests, there is no better alternative.
Among those areas that we believe worth exploring with the Pakistanis are these:
First, the possibility of planning, along with other like-minded international actors (both state and non-state), to manage the consequences of significant political instability and human suffering emerging from Afghanistan, including the possibility of substantial refugee flight into Pakistan. Indeed, the Pakistanis have long and miserable memories of the surge of Afghan refugees after the Kabul government collapsed in the 1990s and have consistently expressed deep concerns about a possible repeat resulting from the U.S. withdrawal now nearing its completion.
Second, the possibility of counterterrorism cooperation against any terrorist threat that emerges from Afghanistan and prevents it from sowing further instability across the region. We do not consider it likely that Pakistan will allow any positioning of U.S. intelligence or counterterrorism elements within its borders. Still, there may be other ways (e.g., working groups, forums, or exchanges) to foster better cooperation if a threat emerges from Afghanistan that is of concern to our mutual interests.

Third, the possibility of enlisting Pakistan cooperation, and that of India, toward some type of partial de-escalation of tensions along their common border and, with it, even a slight amelioration of the nuclear weapons threat. It is instructive to recall that, before 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated a dialogue about the de-escalation of tensions that included the highly emotional issue of Kashmir. However, talks broke down without significant agreement. While we recognize this is an extraordinarily complex and fraught issue for the U.S. to embrace, given all of its other strategic challenges, the spectre of a potential nuclear conflict in South Asia should at a minimum prompt us to ask ourselves, “why not at least try?” Indeed, U.S. antagonists such as China would probably take a dim view of such efforts, and we believe that might be a reason for doing so rather than a reason to flinch from it.

We have long heard U.S. policy and operational practitioners cite phrases such as “never underestimate the Pakistanis’ ability to disappoint us.” But, unfortunately, most American policymakers do not understand how often we have heard the Pakistanis say the same thing about Americans. Thus, both sides have longstanding “neuralgias” about the other. As we end our Afghan campaign, now is the time to move beyond our neuralgias and carefully weigh the strategic costs of whether trying to somehow partner with Pakistan is more, or less, than the cost of failing to do so. We believe, in the long run, it is likely to be less costly.
   

The Cipher Brief – Experts on National Security
Experts on National Security  

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Why did the USA lose in Afghanistan? by Brig.Gen (Retd)Asif Haroon Raja

Why did the USA lose in Afghanistan?

 

Brig.Gen (Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Pakistan Army

 

 

 

The US and its allies were drunk with power and took pride in their sophisticated war munitions, technology and wealth. They were sure to win the war irrespective of having no cause, and having sinister hidden motives. The Taliban had no resources but had an edge over their opponents in the intangibles. They had complete faith in Allah and were on the righteous path. Their faith is still unshakable, and are unpurchasable. Hence their total victory is a foregone conclusion.

 

Causes of the US defeat in Afghanistan

 

Insincere and mala fide intentions filled with prejudices and injustices.

 

Cooked up charges to invade Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

 

No grounds to wage a cruel war against so many Muslim countries.

 

No love lost for the Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians, or any Muslim.

 

Minority non-Pashtun Afghans were empowered and majority Pashtuns sidelined and persecuted.

 

Pakistan which was instrumental in making the US the sole superpower, was mistrusted, ridiculed and penalized, while India which has no roots in Afghanistan, didn’t take part in the war on terror, and has been the biggest spoiler of peace, was trusted and made the main player by the US.  

 

Despite allocating over a trillion dollars development funds, the US failed to better the lives of Afghans living in poverty stricken rural areas.

 

The US continued to back the inept, corrupt and unpopular regimes of Karzai and Ashraf Ghani (AG) and failed to establish a stable government in Kabul.

 

One trillion dollars were spent on raising, training and equipping the ANSF, but the US-NATO trainers failed to develop their moral fibre, sense of discipline, motivation and will to fight.

 

ISAF and ANA were pampered, heavily paid and provided luxuries, which made them comfort loving and drug addicts. 

 

All the social crimes that were cleansed by the Taliban re-appeared and Afghanistan became the leading exporter of opium in the world.

 

Practice of ruthless bombings by jets and drones caused maximum deaths and injuries to the civilians; even funerals and weddings were not spared. Torture of prisoners and night raids were the tools widely used to break the will of opposing fighters. It gravitated the sympathies of the people towards the Taliban.

 

Too much trust in military might and no attention paid to winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans.

 

Weak military commanders who didn’t know much about Afghanistan’s geography, tribal history and culture, and terrain. They never strategized or modified tactics to grapple with the tactics of the resistance forces. The IEDs threat couldn’t be tackled. More so, they didn’t inspire their own troops, what to talk of the military contingents from 48 countries. Some top commanders were involved in love affairs and sex scandals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Courtesy – Global Times, People’s Republic of China

The initial plan of occupying Afghanistan by the Western and Northern Alliance forces left much to be desired. The country was strategically ringed by establishing air bases in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, but the inner circle was not contemplated to encircle and trap the leaders and fighters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Probably avoidance of boots on ground to avoid casualties hindered this option.

 

It was a frontal invasion from the north by the Northern Alliance troops under the umbrella of airpower. Gigantic carpet bombing was carried out recklessly. With their rear areas safe, the defenders first withdrew to the caves of Tora Bora with ease, and then slipped into FATA. No effort was made to circle Tora Bora where all the wanted elements including OBL were present. Emphasis was on dropping tons and tons of molten lava from the air.

 

No effort was made to seal the porous and vulnerable border with Pakistan, again due to shortage of troops. Whole reliance was on Pakistan but it had to be a collective effort to make the concept of anvil and hammer successful. The reason was that the US wanted the border with Pakistan to remain open for clandestine use by the RAW-NDS. That’s why the Kabul regime and the US strongly objected to fencing of western border by Pakistan.

 

The ISAF made up of 48 military contingents including 28 from NATO fought the war without initial battle inoculation, and acquisition of basic knowledge of geography, terrain, culture of tribes, meaning of Pashtunwali, and training in guerrilla warfare. No motivational training was given to the troops to inculcate in them the will to fight and die. Except for top commanders, none knew the aims and objectives of the war.

 

Opening of the second front in Iraq in 2003 when the Afghan front was fluid, indulgence in covert wars, and hybrid war were at the cost of consolidating gains in Afghanistan through development and education. Only important capitals were finely developed while the vast rural areas were neglected.  The two-front war resulted in distraction and division of resources and enabled the Taliban to bounce back in 2006.     

 

The real war started in 2009 after the two troop surges swelling the combat strength of the ISAF from 8000 to 1, 40,000, but Gen McChrystal lost heart in the first major offensive in Helmand due to heavy casualties of the ISAF. 

 

Biggest mistake made was when the ISAF troops were withdrawn backwards and bunkered in the safety of 8 military bases in capital cities in 2009. The entire rural belt in the eastern and southern Afghanistan was vacated thereby allowing the Taliban to gain initiative and a military edge over the occupiers and their collaborators.

 

Obama should have exited from Afghanistan after he concluded that it was an unwinnable war, and the main mission of killing OBL and professed destruction of Al-Qaeda had been accomplished. Clinging on to Afghanistan for next nine years on the insistence of Pentagon and Resolute Support Mission commanders was militarily unsound. This inordinate delay swelled the avoidable human and financial losses of occupational troops as well as of the ANSF and the civilians.  

 

The next mistake made by Obama was his broadcasted plan to withdraw troops by Dec 2014. The thinning out started in July 2011 and by 2013 frontline security was handed over to the ANA. It demoralized the ANA, snatched the fighting spirit of the ISAF whose troops wanted to return home alive and in one piece, spurred the Taliban and they stepped up their offensive. Their momentum accelerated from 2015. From that time onwards, the US for all practical purposes had lost the war, but due to pressure from the Pentagon, the US kept reinforcing failure.

 

To avoid body bags, Obama introduced the deadly pilotless drones as a choice weapon of war. Disproportionate use of drones was cowardly and unethical.

 

The US didn’t seriously negotiate with the Taliban between 2006 and 2014 when it was strong on ground and became serious in 2018-19 when it had become weak.

 

The decentralized Taliban field commanders under one Ameerul Momenein Mullah Omar outclassed the ISAF commanders in strategy and tactics. No change came in their vigor under Mullah Mansour and incumbent Mullah Haibatullah. New recruits kept getting enrolled and the numbers swelled. 

 

The US spent more time on blame game rather than focusing on its primary mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. By blaming Pakistan, Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura for its political and military failures, the US tried to cover up its fault lines. This blame-game continued even after all the terrorist groups were flushed out of FATA in 2015   

 

Trump tried to salvage the fast deteriorating security situation but failed and ultimately had to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban at Doha in February 2019. All foreign troops were to withdraw by May 2021. That was another turning point in the fortunes of the Taliban since the historic agreement had given them recognition and enhanced their stature internationally. 

 

Yet another defining moment came when Joe Biden announced on April 14, 2021 that the longest war will be winded up and all foreign troops would pull out by Sept 11, 2021. This date was advanced to August 31.

 

All roads in Afghanistan were opened for the triumphant Taliban to race forward and capture as much territory in May, June and July. With 80% territory and most trade transit points in the control of the Taliban, the final phase to capture cities that are already under their siege is likely to start after August 31, or Sept 11. For the ANA, the summer period up to Oct/early November is tough.

 

Endgame

 

In the endgame, the losers have suddenly changed their stance from a military solution to a peaceful solution of the tangle. Their narrative of blaming Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan has been modified and now the Taliban are painted as violence prone and anti-peace.

 

While the winning Taliban have expressed their willingness to accommodate all less Ashraf Ghani (AG) and his team, the US and the whole world in general including Pakistan are standing behind the unpopular regime in Kabul and are pressuring Taliban to share power with AG and accept him as the elected president till next elections. The spoilers as well as others are also against the basic demand of the Taliban to establish Islamic Emirate.

 

This change of narrative clubbed with a petrifying story that there will be chaos, prolonged civil war, bloodshed and refugee exodus due to Taliban’s obstinacy and fancy for bloodletting, has drifted the attention of the world from the stupefying victory of the Taliban and disgraceful defeat and abrupt exit of the US forces. Whole focus has shifted to the future horrid scenario of Afghanistan based on premeditated assumptions.

 

For 20 years the world quietly stomached the brutalities of the mad adventurers wanting to bludgeon Al-Qaeda and the Taliban without a murmur. A minority government of non-Pashtuns remained in power and the majority Pashtuns remained in the backwoods. 

 

And now when the Taliban are getting closer to regain power which was illegally snatched from them, the world led by the spoilers of peace are giving sermons of peace to the winners and advising them that there is no military solution to Afghan crisis.

 

The infatuation of the US for the puppet regime in Kabul is so passionate that the US has announced its full diplomatic and financial support to it and air support to the shaky ANA. While Pakistan is in two minds, China is unhesitant in extending full support to the Taliban and to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan.

 

                                 

 

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Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace By Touqir Hussain The Diplomat

The Diplomat

The Diplomat

Why Trump’s Troubling Pakistan Policy Dooms Afghanistan Peace

The administration’s approach to Islamabad undermines potential solutions in Afghanistan.

By Touqir Hussain
February 15, 2018 
 

For a 16-year-long war in Afghanistan, whose failure lies in an endless list of complex causes – including flawed strategy, incoherent war aims, return of the warlords, rise of fiefdoms and ungoverned spaces, corruption, power struggles and a competitive and conflict-prone regional environment – U.S. President Donald Trump has one simple solution: get rid of the Haqqani Network and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And if Pakistan does not oblige, cut off aid.

Like the Afghanistan war, the equally complicated U.S.-Pakistan relationship is also being narrowly defined, thereby obscuring the many different ways it can serve or hurt the very American interests that the Trump administration is trying to serve.

It is certainly true that Pakistan has a lot to answer for, especially for its illicit relationship with the Taliban. But sanctuaries did not play a defining role in the war’s failure, nor will their eradication, if they still exist, play a salient part in its success.
Sixteen years into the war, which has been described as “16 one year wars,” Washington has shown no better understanding of the complexities of Afghanistan and the region than when it invaded the country in 2001. Some understanding of what has gone wrong might help us find the way forward.

The War in Afghanistan: What Went Wrong

It was a war that may not have been unnecessary but was nonetheless possibly avoidable. It has been an unwinnable war in the way it has been conducted, especially given the realities of a strife-torn country wracked by multiple conflicts since the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973.  The 1980s war against the Soviets and the subsequent civil war had raised the profile of the mullah and jihad and changed not only Afghanistan but also the adjoining tribal territories in Pakistan. Home to millions of Afghan refugees and base to mujaheddin, these territories almost became like one country along with the areas across the Afghan border.

Pakistan’s heartland too was affected by the religious infrastructure spawned by the 1980s war and by Islamabad’s own follies,  to which Washington made no small contribution, first through the ISI- and CIA-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan, and then by sanctioning Pakistan in 1990 and leaving it to its own devices. The Taliban were an extension of this slow unravelling of Afghanistan, and strategic overreach of the Pakistan army and societal changes in the country.

Former President George W. Bush made grievous mistakes upon America’s return to Afghanistan. He showed no understanding of what had been going on in and around Afghanistan since Washington’s last exit. It was a strategic mistake to try to defeat al-Qaeda by defeating Taliban who were not going to fight but instead run away to Pakistan. The focus should have been on al-Qaeda. The context of dealing with the Taliban was fixing fractured Afghanistan through reconstruction and stabilization of the country with a new ethnic-regional balance acceptable to all the Afghans. That is what you call nation-building. But Washington, of course, would have none of that.

Instead, Bush outsourced much of the war to warlords and rushed to institute democracy, guided by the need to get domestic support for the war and by a flawed view that democracy is nation-building. Actually, democracy and nation-building are two separate challenges, with one sometimes reinforcing the other but not always.

In Afghanistan, democracy did not help. It made Karzai dependent on the political support of warlords and regional power brokers, the very people who had brought Afghanistan to grief in the 1990s. This led to payoffs, corruption, a drug mafia, power struggles, and bad governance, facilitating the return of the Taliban which led a resistance that was a part insurgency, part jihad, and part civil-war. And by creating a dual authority – their own and that of the Afghan government – Americans set up a perfect scenario for clash of personalities, policies and interests, making for a poor war strategy.

 

 

 

 

While Bush went on to fight another war, for his successor, it was a story of dealing with his deeply conflicted approach to the war where policy and legacy collided. Indeed the policymaking itself was not without its own conflicts, strife-torn as it was by turf wars, interagency rivalries and bureaucratic tensions.

The Trump Strategy

Now Trump is seeking a military solution to the conflict. There is a talk of a political solution, but that seems to be just a Plan B in case the military option fails. The suspension of aid to Pakistan is aimed at pressuring Islamabad to help Washington defeat the Taliban. But Pakistan is finding it hard to oblige without relinquishing its national interests in favour of U.S. aid, and that too in the face of public humiliation by Trump. It certainly will not do so in this election year, and not in an atmosphere where Pakistan sees the Indian threat having doubled with India’s increased presence in Afghanistan from where it is allegedly helping orchestrate terrorist attacks on Pakistan. If anything, this should enhance Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban, which may be demonstrating their value as an ally with the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Kabul.

The Taliban are the biggest card Pakistan has to secure its interests in Afghanistan, and it would not give it up easily unless it knows what comes next.  Pakistan also feels the U.S. strategy would not succeed and may in fact backfire. A disinherited Taliban on a retreat from Afghanistan would be a much greater threat to Pakistan and to the United States, especially if the Taliban joins forces with other jihadist and Islamist groups.

The Washington-Islamabad standoff thus continues. Pakistan feels it can take the heat, and that if Washington dials up the pressure, it would fall back on China. Washington thus has to consider the geostrategic implications carefully in this respect.

The China Factor

A Pakistan closely aligned with China could conceivably take a harder line against India. If the United States continues to see China as a threat and India as a balancer, what would serve American interests better: an India whose resources are divided by a two-front deployment, or one that has friendly relations with Pakistan? For that, Washington should not burn its bridges with Islamabad.

A relationship with Pakistan would also give the United States leverage against India. Furthermore, it will be useful to have Pakistan on its side in a region that is increasingly coming under the strategic shadow of Russia and the creeping influence of Iran. Most importantly, Pakistan’s role remains critical in stabilizing Afghanistan, and in helping Washington’s counterterrorism efforts.

A Political Solution?

After considering all other options, the discussion always reverts to the talk of a political solution. But the irony is such a solution remains as elusive as the military one. How do you have power-sharing or coexistence when the Kabul government and the Taliban subscribe to two different political systems? And if instead of sharing it, you divide power by relinquishing the governance of some areas to the Taliban rule, are you not consigning the populations to the Middle Ages?

Pakistan has a limited influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table and has little incentive to do so when there is lack of clarity about American policy and Pakistan’s own relations with Washington are strained. The upshot is that Taliban themselves are divided. Some are irreconcilable, but those who want peace worry that if they do lay down the arms and accept a deal while the American forces are still there, they might be shortchanged.

The Taliban trust China and its guarantees that they would not be betrayed. But the Chinese need support from Washington and Kabul. The Quadrilateral Consultative Group process offered the prospect of such a support.  But the Trump administration prefers military option and going it alone, and that also suits Kabul: this way, at least the Americans will likely stay for the long haul.

What is needed is a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only Kabul and Islamabad together can deal with the Taliban, politically if possible, and militarily if necessary. Counterinsurgencies are essentially a governance issue. Afghanistan needs to conciliate the areas under the Taliban control, and Pakistan should help by making its lands inhospitable to them. And both must work on joint border management and resolution of the refugee problem. This is a long-term plan, but it is doable. U.S. engagement with them would be essential to their success, as would be China’s involvement.

But the Trump administration is not thinking in these terms. Instead, Trump has defined the Afghanistan war very narrowly and in immediate terms as a terrorism problem. American soldiers under attack from sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than the war itself, preoccupies the Trump base. As for the military, it is only thinking of the military solution, and that also highlights the sanctuaries issue. So, right now, U.S. Pakistan relations are stuck, which makes the prospects of any political solution in Afghanistan quite dim.

Touqir Hussain, a former ambassador of Pakistan and diplomatic adviser to the Prime Minister, is adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and Syracuse University.

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If US Betrays Pakistan’s Trust Again, Redress May Not Be Possible

America is preparing to leave Afghanistan at the mercy of a lame government and an army of questionable loyalty.

The search for “good” Taliban is on in Afghanistan; the U.S. has announced that no action is to be taken against those who are not a threat to the U.S., including Mullah Omar.

The United States has said that after Jan. 2, 2015, the U.S. Army will not take any action against Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders in Afghanistan if they pose no direct threat to the United States. Addressing a press conference in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that the U.S. will not operate against anyone simply on the basis of their being Taliban members. Nevertheless, he used the occasion to clarify that those who fight will not be spared by any means. Kirby emphasized that any Taliban who operate against the U.S. or against its Afghan partners will automatically fall within the scope of the U.S. military operation.

Addressing the final news conference for the year last Friday, President Barack Obama reassured the American public that he is committed to his promise to end the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Obama said that in less than even two weeks, the U.S. mission that has continued in Afghanistan for more than 13 years will come to an end. However, Obama gave full permission to his troops to combat extremists in the event of their becoming direct threats to the U.S. or to Afghan forces.

After 9/11, America’s enemies in this region were al-Qaida and the Taliban. The U.S. and its allies needed Pakistan’s cooperation in confronting these enemies, cooperation which Pakistan provided. With this cooperation, and with the use of modern arms and trained armies, the U.S. and its allies totally crushed Afghanistan. Ammunition and iron rained down on the land of Afghanistan, and land forces also employed their talents and weaponry to the full extent. Thousands of al-Qaida members and Taliban were killed, and at the same time, hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were also killed, including children, old people and women. In the words of America, it broke the back of al-Qaida.

The Taliban were removed from power but could not be eliminated. They still exist as a force in Afghanistan and some other countries, and the U.S. has even carried out direct, as well as indirect and secret, negotiations with them at times. Although the U.S. stayed in Afghanistan for 13 years with full pomp and power, it could not realize its desire to completely eliminate the Taliban; nor could it persuade the Taliban to cooperate with the Afghan government. Now that a big part of the U.S. Army will be leaving Afghanistan in about a week and a half, without coffins, the Americans are hoping that the Taliban who continued to confront them for 13 years will start behaving like good children and pledge allegiance to Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. This is not simply an illusion or a misconception on the part of the U.S., but inane thinking. The Taliban maintain a hold in many areas of Afghanistan and influence in several others; they are simply lying in wait for the U.S. and its allies to leave Afghanistan — when they can implement their plan to occupy Kabul.

Despite the presence of tens of thousands of military experts and their operations, the governments of the previous Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and current President Ashraf Ghani have remained weak in most areas other than in cities such as Kabul. At the beginning of the coming year, following evacuation of NATO forces from Afghanistan, the government of Ashraf Ghani will have to face severe problems despite having full or partial authority in different regions. Perhaps the U.S. and the Afghan administrations are relying on the 150,000 members of the [Afghan] National Guard. But these are the very U.S.-trained soldiers who carried out dozens of attacks on their American teachers. It is possible that tomorrow these U.S.-trained soldiers will be seen standing in support of the Taliban in the same way that the army of President Hafizullah Amin joined the Taliban following the Russian evacuation.

The U.S. defeated Russia with help from Pakistan; it then took the route home, leaving Afghanistan in a state of anarchy and leaving Pakistan suffering to this day from the ill effects of its actions. Had the U.S. restored peace in Afghanistan by establishing a strong government there, the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees would not still be a weight on Pakistan after 35 years. As it did in the past, the U.S. is once again leaving Afghanistan without any planning. Pakistan today is in the grip of terrorism and lawlessness that is stronger than any it experienced in the past. Pakistani Taliban — products of the Afghan[istan] War — have turned the whole country into an ammunition pile.

On Dec. 16 these terrorists, carrying out the worst example of brutality and barbarity in human history, bathed hundreds of children in dust and blood at the Military Public School in Peshawar. According to the brutal terrorists, this was retaliation for operation Zarb-e-Azb, being conducted by the Pakistani army to eliminate the terrorists. Following this incident, the whole country united under the Nawaz Sharif government for the elimination of terrorists. The prime minister lifted restrictions on the death penalty to be effective immediately. So far there have been six executions, while gallows have been constructed in prisons for more.

After the Peshawar incident, the government immediately called a conference of parliamentary parties in an effort to form a working group that would reach a consensus regarding a strategy. Yesterday, this group agreed on eight recommendations including the establishment of military courts and repatriation of Afghan refugees. The prime minister was briefed about these recommendations and, in this context, has called a meeting of parliamentary parties to approve an action plan based on the working group’s recommendations. The meeting will be attended by political leaders, including Imran Khan.

Along with execution of terrorists, the Pakistani army is conducting rapid operations in which 200 terrorists were killed within a week and twice the number arrested. In the most recent action in Karachi, 13 terrorists belonging to al-Qaida and the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban were killed in confrontations; arms and suicide jackets were recovered from them. About 300 suspected terrorists were arrested in operations carried out in Mansehra and Islamabad.

Pakistan helped the U.S. with its heart and soul in the war against terrorism, as a result of which, the flames of warfare that were extinguished in Afghanistan have started flaring up in Pakistan. Until yesterday, the U.S. was placing pressure on Pakistan to take evenhanded action against those who posed a danger to Pakistan as well as those who did not pose a danger to Pakistan, without discrimination. Now the U.S. is in search of “good” Taliban in Afghanistan.

Whether the matter relates to Pakistan or to Afghanistan, “good” Taliban are those who give up arms. Taking the position that we will not confront those who are not confronting us is equivalent to deceiving oneself. This thinking is no different from saying that “you cannot use your weapons; but if your reservations lead you to wield arms, then we will also retaliate.” Prior to the U.S. invasion, the nature of the Taliban position in Afghanistan was no different from this; they had not hurt U.S. interests and even bin Laden had not stood up with his gun in Afghanistan. Still, the U.S. placed a price of $10 million on Mullah Omar’s head. In light of the U.S. statement today, how would the U.S. treat him if he makes an appearance at the beginning of next year, decorate him with garlands?

America is preparing to leave Afghanistan at the mercy of a lame government and an army (the [Afghan] National Guard) of questionable loyalty. Further, the fire of terrorism is blazing in Pakistan. Should the U.S. once again leave Pakistan without its friendship and support — as it has done in the past — then Pakistan will eventually emerge from the morass after it faces difficulty. However, its trust in the U.S. will be finished and it will not wish to cooperate with the U.S. ever again. It is possible that in only a few months following evacuation, the U.S. will be in need of Pakistan’s cooperation in Afghanistan.

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