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Fall of another superpower in Afghanistan   by Brig.Gen(Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Fall of another superpower in Afghanistan

 

Asif Haroon Raja

 

Afghanistan occupied under fake charges

When George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in order to avenge the attacks in New York and Washington allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden (OBL) led al-Qaeda on 9/11, the US was the most powerful country of the world and it had carved out a New World Order to monopolize the world for next 100 years. After its capture in Nov 2001, Afghanistan was converted into a permanent military station. Northern Alliance forces supported by the air umbrella provided by the Western forces captured the most impoverished country, singing the song of freedom and liberty, promising to make it democratic and prosperous and to emancipate the Afghan women by promoting education and liberalism. The dancing and cheering crowds in Kabul welcomed their Western liberators and thanked them for freeing them from the clutches of the brutal Taliban. The happiest were the Afghan Northern Alliance forces who came riding on the shoulders of the western forces.  

 

Hidden Objectives. The major objectives of the US were:-

Destabilise China’s Xinjiang Province by stoking Uighur and ETIM movement. Disrupt China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and effectively contain China. Unsettle resurging Russia. Denuclearize Pakistan and make it a compliant state. Affect a regime change in Iran. Monitor the unravelling of the Middle East after capturing Iraq, again on false charges. Demonise Islam.

 

The US also planned to make India a key player in Afghanistan, economically and militarily fortify it to become a bulwark against China and a policeman of the Indo-Pacific region. Pakistan was taken on board as a tactical partner for the achievement of its short term objectives and its nuclear teeth were to be extracted covertly.

History of Al-Qaeda & OBL

30, 000  Mujahids assembled by the CIA from different Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, were brought to FATA, chosen as a base of operation in 1981, to beef up the strength of Afghan/Pakistan Mujahideen and to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The war was won by the Afghan Mujahideen, helped by Mujahids from other countries including FATA tribesmen, and fully supported by the ISI. Not a single American or European soldier took part in the ten years war. After the war, not only Pakistan and the Mujahideen were abandoned by the US, the latter were not accepted by their respective countries. They had to reside in Afghanistan and in FATA. (Today the US is worried about the settlement of the pro-Afghan regime and the US Afghans who didn’t part in the war, and intend to shift 18000 Afghan interpreters, who had worked with them, all-told 80,000 with families, by July 2021).

The holy warriors under OBL named as Al-Qaeda by the CIA were declared as terrorists in 1997 and were hounded after they attacked American targets in two African countries and the Gulf of Aqaba in reaction to their relinquishment. The CentCom under Gen Zinni attacked Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan with cruise missiles from a naval warship deployed in the Arabian Sea in 1998 but missed OBL. Since this outfit was on the hit list, it was promptly blamed for the 9/11 attacks. No proof of Al-Qaeda’s involvement has been furnished to this day. Not a single wanted militant was killed in the massive Tora Bora bombing in Dec 2001 in which not even a lizard survived. Suffering from acute kidney disease, OBL slipped into North Waziristan and next to Haripur. It was widely reported in 2005 that he had died, after which the biggest manhunt ever launched went cold. For sure, he was completely cut off from Al-Qaeda and posed no threat to the USA. Reportedly, he was killed by the US Navy Seals on May 2, 2011, in a house in Abbottabad, but the story of his killing woven by the USA left many lingering doubts about its authenticity and it is not certain whether it was OBL or his son, or a dummy. Dumping the dead body in the sea secretly raised many questions which have not been answered. Most of the Naval Seal members who had taken part in Operation ‘Get Osama’ died either in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan or were killed by mysterious hands.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo- Courtesy Al Jazeera

 

 

 

After taking the credit of killing OBL over whom $ 25 million head money had been announced, President Obama proudly declared in 2012, that Al-Qaeda had been effectively disrupted, dismantled and destroyed. In actuality, it was weakened mainly by Pakistan security forces by netting over 600 senior and middle-order leaders. They were handed over to the CIA for onward transfer to Guantanamo Bay. The majority had shifted to Arabian Peninsula in 2004/05 after the invasion of Iraq by western forces in March 2003 and had formed APAQ under Al-Zawahiri.

Bounce back by Taliban

The Taliban under Mullah Omar who had taken active part in Jihad against the Soviets and had lost an eye, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and had made the lawless country stable and peaceful. He refused to hand over OBL, whom he treated as his guest, without furnishing proof of his involvement, and on account of the injunctions of Islam and demands of Pashtunwali. On the insistence of Pakistan, he agreed to hold his trial in Saudi Arabia or any other country under Islamic laws. The US rejected his reasonable demands since they had no proof and 9/11 was an in-house drama.

In the wake of the relentless carpet bombing of the invaders, Mullah Omar in consultation with his Majlis-e-Shura wisely decided to carry out a tactical withdrawal into FATA in Nov 2001 to save the people and the country from further deaths and destruction; regroup and fight an insurrectional war. Within a year they started hitting back and thereon fought the invaders ceaselessly.

Unlike in the 1980s when the Mujahideen were backed by the whole free world under the USA, this time they fought single-handedly without any external support. By 2008, they managed to bounce back in a big way in their home bases of southern and eastern Afghanistan, from where they could target the invaders and collaborators in other parts of the country. Mullah Omar’s fighters in the south and Haqqanis under Sirajuddin in the east surged forward in coordination and started hitting targets in all parts of the country. They were ready to face the two troop surges ordered by Obama in 2009 from Iraq and the USA.

ISAF’s change of posture

Gen McChrystal who had earned fame untruthfully on account of defeating Al-Qaeda in Western Iraq, (but the feat, in reality, had been achieved by Sunni Iraqis), was posted to Afghanistan as ISAF Commander in 2008 to defeat the surging Taliban. With no dearth of airpower and resources, he requested for additional 100,000 ground troops which were granted by Obama. With over 140,000 combat strength, he launched a major offensive in 2009 in Helmand province which had become the hotbed due to the attraction of poppy trade, and where Britain had built the biggest cantonment near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and named it Camp Boston. After Bagram airbase, it was the strongest fort of the occupiers. An auxiliary was launched in Kunar-Nuristan.

The ISAF suffered much more casualties in Helmand operations than they had suffered in previous years, and also met a big fiasco in Nuristan. Frightened by the mounting casualties, the General lost his offensive steam and hastened to adopt a rearward posture, confining the troops to the 8 military bases and terminating the use of boots on the ground. Support to the Afghan forces was restricted to air cover only. The defensive strategy enabled the Taliban to gain the initiative and a military edge that could not be regained by the occupiers and the collaborators.

Obama’s drawdown of troops

Obama after spelling out his Af-Pak strategy in March 2009, made Holbrooke the coordinator. He wanted hot pursuit operations by Special Operations Forces into FATA based on actionable intelligence, but Gen Ashfaq Kayani put his foot down, saying his forces were capable of dealing with the militant threat. Seeing that the war couldn’t be won, Obama rightly took the decision at the Brussels conference in December 2010 and ordered a troop drawdown in July 2011 which was to be completed by Dec 2014. With the achievement of major objectives of destroying Al-Qaeda and killing OBL, there was no justifiable reason for the US to prolong the drawdown of troops from July 2011 to Dec 2014. On one hand, Obama opened peace talks with the Taliban in 2011, on the other hand, he stepped up drone war and declared drones as his chosen weapon, the brunt of which fell upon Waziristan in Pakistan.

Pentagon and the spoilers prevailed upon Obama to sign a bilateral security agreement with the new unity regime of Ashraf Ghani-Dr. Abdullah in Sept 2016 by virtue of which a Resolute Support Group (RSG) of about 12000 troops were to stay in Afghanistan in all the airbases for another year, but the dates of their departure kept extending.  

Once the bulk of the 1, 40, 000 ISAF troops withdrew by Dec 2014, and the two power contenders of the unnatural unity government remained engaged in power tussle, the Taliban accelerated their spring offensives each year and kept gaining more and more space. Nothing was achieved by prolonging the occupation, except for prolonging the agony of the resistance forces, the occupying forces, the government forces and the civilians. But the Pentagon kept painting a rosy picture to befool the American public that the US was winning the war and all was okay.

Doha agreement

Trump, after adopting a hardline approach in 2017-18, reopened peace talks with the Taliban in Sept 2018 and signed a peace agreement at Doha on Feb 29, 2019. The Kabul regime was kept aside throughout the talks. While the Taliban agreed that they will not allow Afghan soil for terrorism against any other country, the US agreed to exit by May 1, 2021. It was also agreed that both sides would refrain from attacking each other, Taliban leaders would be removed from the UN blacklist, and the Taliban would start an intra-Afghan dialogue soon after the release of prisoners. 

By the time Trump left the White House, only 2500 US troops were left in Afghanistan. Commitments made with the Taliban had mostly remained unfulfilled. 3500 foreign troops had been killed and more than one lac casualties of civilians had taken place in Afghanistan since 2009.            

Violation of Doha agreement by Biden

No sooner Joe Biden took over in January 2021, the lobbyists sprang into action, some pro and some against the pullout by the due date. Those against the retreat spread scary stories. On March 29, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough used his high-profile “Morning Joe” show to suggest that pulling out would lead to Islamic State militants burning people in cages and the Taliban “cutting off the heads of young girls.”

Influenced by the Pentagon, Israel, Kabul regime, India and 18000 security contractors in Afghanistan, Biden decided to review the Feb 2019 Doha agreement and seemed inclined to delay the departure by six months or so under the plea of arriving at a political settlement. He blamed the Taliban for violating the Doha agreement and promoting violence.

The Taliban shot back saying they were strictly abiding by all the clauses of the agreement but it was the US that had not honoured it. They recalled that the US failed to get their 7000 prisoners out of 10,000 locked up in jails of all the 34 provincial capitals, it failed to remove Taliban leaders from the blacklist, and the US airpower struck their fighters during their fight with ANA.  

New date of Sept 11 given for the pullout

Those in favour of timely pullout began to mount pressure on Biden giving their set of arguments and reminding him of the homesickness and demoralization of the leftover troops in Afghanistan, increased trends of suicides, and tens of thousands suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After wrongfully blaming the Taliban for not abiding by the terms of an agreement that were refuted, sense prevailed and Biden acted before it was too late to avert the blowback by announcing on April 14 the new exit date of 11 Sept to end the longest war in US history. Four months extension was a bad idea, futile and at the cost of loss of face. It heralded the burial of the third superpower in the graveyard of Afghanistan. 

Extension of withdrawal date was taken by the Taliban as a violation of the agreement. They warned that after the deadline of May 1, they will be justified to launch their spring offensive with full force.

Hurried Departure from Bagram airbase

The foreign troops started exiting from May 1 onwards and the bulk of pullout was completed by July 3 to ensure participation of the troops in the US Independence Day on July 4. The largest and strongest Bagram airbase was the last to be vacated on the night of 2 July. The lights of the base were put off to conceal the exit which was undertaken in complete secrecy. Even the ANA Commander who was to take over the security and management of the airbase learnt about it 2 hours after their departure. No handing/taking took place nor any sendoff was arranged. The date and time of exit were kept secret to ensure the security of the US troops.

Fear was not from the Taliban who they knew would honor their commitment, but they were not sure of the loyalties of the ANA since they had been involved in Green over Blue attacks and several Americans had died at their hands inside Bagram base. 

One can imagine the fright and jangled nerves of the last batch of US soldiers during the first half of night 2/3 July impatiently wanting to sneak out safe and sound in one piece. Huge dumps of storage, arms, ammunition and sophisticated equipment (3,500,000 items) were left behind unattended. For two hours the base was looted by the people living in close vicinity and they managed to run away with whatever booty they could lay their hands on. It was a sorry spectacle, an inglorious withdrawal undertaken in panic and a disgrace. Only about 650 to 1000 American troops are now present in Kabul for the protection of American diplomats and Kabul airport. They are expected to leave by the end of August 2021.

Stepped up offensive of Taliban

The Taliban had already drawn a comprehensive war strategy and had divided the country into five commands (Western, Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central) with respective field commanders. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqub are the two deputies of Haibatullah Akhundzada. Taking advantage of the speedy withdrawal of occupation troops, the Taliban stepped up their attacks after May 1, and in May-June captured 60-100 new districts including seven in Badakshan northeastern province and several districts in northern Kunduz province. . At several places, the ANA surrendered without putting up resistance and handed over military equipment. Well over 1000 ANA troops bolted to Tajikistan from Badakhshan leaving behind a huge quantity of arms, ammunition, equipment, tanks, armoured cars and vehicles.

Badghis province including its capital Qila Nau fell to the Taliban on July 6, which is the first urban centre to fall and will not be the last. In the remaining half a month of July, and 4 weeks of August, the Taliban are likely to capture many more districts/cities and tighten the noose around major cities including Kabul. Ultimately the centre of gravity will reside in Kabul.

The Taliban now control 85% of Afghanistan’s territory including 270 of 398 districts. They have succeeded in dominating all the major highways and almost all major cities are under their siege. With such speedy and easy successes, the Taliban stopped the intra-Afghan dialogue and got wholly focused on exploiting the momentum gained and capturing as much territory in the shortest possible time and stand on a strong bargaining position.

Having gained control over Sher Khan Killi in a district in Kunduz, which is a dry port on the border with Tajikistan, the Taliban are now in control over the sole crossing point between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Likewise, Islam Qila crossing point in Farah province bordering Iran, three crossing points of Torkham, Chaman and Spin Boldak into Pakistan, Torghundi into Turkmenistan, and the one into Uzbekistan have also been seized. The Wakhan corridor is in their grasp. The Taliban recovered Rupees 3 billion from the office of Afghan intelligence Col near the entry gate at Chaman, which was meant for payment to the proxies. 

With all the transit points used for trade with other countries and also the inter-provincial crossing points in their control, the Taliban have started earning billions from custom duty and toll tax to run the administration by shadow governors and to dispense justice through Qazi courts.

The Taliban will prefer to throttle the cities and the government rather than head-on attacks. This has become evident from the seizure of oil tankers moving to Kabul and other big cities by the Taliban to deny fuel to the ANA vehicles, tanks, helicopters and jets and thus force them to surrender.

With the acquisition of surface to air SAM anti-air launchers as well as anti-tank FGM 148 Javelin rockets, the Taliban are now in a position to strike ANA’s attack helicopters and tanks. One helicopter was recently shot down and seven ANA pilots were killed. Sensing that the Taliban are now in possession of long-range rockets and might be supplied drones by Iran, the US has installed an air defence system at the airport. Indian pilots flying Afghan air force helicopters and India having promised to supply 21 helicopters would now be thinking differently

Bounded by the Doha agreement, the Taliban refrained from attacking the foreign troops. Had they attacked them and caused fatalities and injuries, could Biden afford to accept responsibility for more deaths and that too without any tangible results? It was quite obvious that when 1, 40,000 strong ISAF couldn’t reverse the tide from 2009 to 2019, what could 2500 troops achieve.

 

Lessons from history

Learning from history, the Taliban have activated their political and diplomatic fronts and have sent their delegations to Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, Islamabad, and capitals of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, assuring them that they are against bloodshed. China and Turkmenistan’s concern would be the ETIM and that of Tajikistan IMU. The Taliban have stated that they will not allow cross border terrorism, do not war with any neighbour, will maintain friendly relations with them, will ensure safe, secure and strong Afghanistan, will not allow bloodshed of the Afghans, and are keen to rebuild the country, and would welcome the international community to develop the war-torn country.

They have adopted a forgiving attitude and are welcoming the Afghan troops surrendering to them. They have assured all uniformed personnel with job surety. They have already indicated their leniency towards the education of girls and have also said that the future government will be all-inclusive, and the system of governance will be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people. So far no case of killing or torture or humiliation of the surrendered troops has been reported. All hospitals, schools, and administrative bodies have been allowed to remain functional. A department of public works has been opened which is busy constructing/repairing roads and bridges all over the country. All this indicates that the Taliban are maintaining a happy balance between their military, political and diplomatic strategies and are projecting themselves as seasoned, well versed and balanced.

Respecting the coming Eidul Azha, the Taliban announced on July 15 a 3-month ceasefire which will be subject to the Afghan regime agreeing to release their 7000 prisoners and the US removing their leaders from the blacklist. These are not new demands but are contained in the Doha agreement. It is a smart move since it will placate the Taliban fighters, shift the ball into the court of the other side, allow the Taliban to consolidate its gains in the captured areas, and also will refrain the ANA from launching counter-attacks to recover some of the lost regions.     

The threat of isolation.

In response to the pressure exerted upon the Taliban that they will be ostracized by the international community if they refuse to let go of their resolve to establish an Islamic Emirate instead of the Islamic Republic, and shirked from establishing a broad-based government inclusive of the incumbent regime in Kabul, or if they take over Kabul by force, they say that governed by the pulls of geo-economics, the world needs Afghanistan, while they could do without the support of the world as they had done in their previous rule. They said that the Doha agreement was by itself a certificate of world recognition.   

Role of spoilers

 

The tottering Afghan regime, dejected India and the biased western media are collectively spreading scary stories and demeaning the Taliban that they are responsible for the violence and instability and are non-cooperative to restore peace. To tarnish the Taliban’s policy of forgiveness and announcement of general amnesty to all, a story is in circulation that the Taliban killed 22 Afghan commandos in their captivity. The news was denied by the Taliban, saying that after losing the battle, the commandos were caught while they were trying to cross into Turkmenistan and they are with them as guests.

 

In order to hide their embarrassment, the government officials of Afghanistan are spreading false news that Pakistan army special units are taking part in operations with the Taliban against the ANA. They also allege that the PAF is providing close support to the Taliban in certain areas. Going further, they allege that the PAF has warned ANA and air force that any attempt to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak will be repelled by PAF.

The propagandists in Afghanistan and their western backers look the other way to the double-dealings of India. India’s two C-130s were sent to Kandahar on July 10 -11 to evacuate their stranded diplomats and RAW operatives. On each day, 40 tons of war munitions consisting of 120 mm mortars, 122 mm artillery shells and small arms ammunition was offloaded for use by the ANA. On one hand, India is bending over backwards to win the friendship of the Taliban and has sent its delegations to Doha, and on the other hand, it is supplying arms to the ANA to fight the Taliban.   

 

The US legacy of failures

 

The Americans are leaving a legacy of failures. They could neither defeat nor contain the Taliban nor were in a position to stay on or exit safely. They could not develop the country, alleviate poverty and reduce illiteracy. They also failed to end corruption and improve the governance of the regime it installed in Kabul, and couldn’t sufficiently train the ANA and inculcate desired motivation and will to be able to fight the rag-tag Taliban. A small percentage of the elite and the ruling regime got rich while the vast majority still live in abject poverty. Not a single objective could be accomplished. The US earned nothing from this ill-conceived venture except for losing grace, respect and incurring a huge financial loss. It has shown the world that there has been yet another war that the US couldn’t win.

War losses

 

The foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan — almost 3,500 of them, including 1,892 American combatants — have died for nothing.  The entire war has been a disgraceful catastrophe.

Cost of Afghan war $ 2.26 trillion; human cost 241000; refugees 2.7 million; persons displaced 4 million; to train one soldier in Afghanistan $175,000 and salary $ 45000; expenses of technology, research and vehicles $ 300,000 per soldier; miscellaneous expenses $ 1.5 million per soldier; guns & equipment $28,000 per soldier. A soldier cost $ 2 million to the US exchequer. It doesn’t include the expenditures on treating 66000 PSDs cases, thousands of injured and crippled, or the amount spent on bribes and covert operations.  After recklessly spending so much, Afghanistan was left worse off than before.

Afghan urbanites in panic

The urbanites in Afghanistan are in panic and are spending sleepless nights fearing how the Taliban would deal with them. They are trying to flee the country; hundreds are lined up daily outside the embassies seeking visas. They are thoroughly disappointed and disillusioned with the American forces, and feel they have been left high and dry at the mercy of the marauding Taliban.

Elbowed by the faltering Afghan regime, few hundred women came out on the streets in some cities holding guns and placards and chanting anti-Taliban slogans, in their bid to stir up demoralized Afghan forces. A rally of non-Pashtuns was also stage-managed to show to the world that the people are against the Taliban and the situation is getting ripened for a civil war. Historically, the liberals and seculars have mostly welcomed the invaders and became their loyalists, or fled the country, and seldom took up arms.       

Iran and Pakistan’s importance

Iran which sits on the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Indian Ocean is important for China for the extension of CPEC into Middle Eastern and African markets and beyond. For this purpose, Beijing signed $ 450 billion long term strategic agreement with Iran and managed to throw out India from the Chahbahar project and the railway line project connecting Zahidan with Helmand and beyond in Afghanistan. The agreement included the stationing of 5000 Chinese troops on Iranian soil.

China eager to fill the power vacuum

After the departure of the US, China is anxious to fill the vacuum left behind by the US in Afghanistan. It is already in close liaison with the ruling regime in Kabul and the Taliban. It had been persuading Ashraf Ghani since 2016 to join the BRI but he was reluctant due to American and Indian factors. After the Doha agreement, the Chinese officials were constantly in touch with the Taliban and found them receptive. The CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, which cannot attain its optimum economic potential without taking Afghanistan in the loop. 

For China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are equally important for the success of the CPEC, and in this regard peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan, which is contiguous to Pakistan and three Republics of Central Asia is essential in order to draw maximum benefits from the six mineral-laden Central Asian States.

China is keen to build a highway connecting Peshawar with Kabul to connect Afghanistan with CPEC and is looking forward to laying road infrastructure, railway lines and gas/oil pipelines.

Both China and Pakistan can jointly do a lot to develop the war-ravaged country. China must also be eagerly eyeing the mineral resources of Afghanistan, which the US couldn’t extract.

Turkey’s insistence on defending Kabul airport

Turkey has been part of the coalition taking part in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Since 2007, its 500 troops have been defending Kabul airport and are still there. Being part of NATO, Erdogan offered to continue performing this role after the departure of the US troops. He asked the US to provide financial, political and diplomatic support. He also asked for Hungary and Pakistan to provide additional support. Probably Erdogan has made this offer hoping that the US would remove sanctions imposed over the installation of the Russian S-400 air defence system in Turkey, facilitate Turkey’s membership of EU, and overlook Turkey’s intrusion in the eastern Mediterranean for oil and gas exploration.

The Taliban have however reacted strongly stating that if the Turkish troops didn’t withdraw by Sept 11, it will be against the Doha agreement and the violators will be branded as occupiers and dealt with accordingly. They said that they are quite capable of managing and defending Kabul airport. 

Prospects of civil war

In my view, the spoilers of peace are drumming up a fake narrative of civil war, refugee influx and all regional countries getting affected by the intensified instability in Afghanistan under the Taliban. What could be worse than what has been experienced by the Afghans and Pakistan during the 20-year war on terror? The situation would gradually calm down after August 31 provided the spoilers are kept at bay and the Taliban allowed to restore peace and order, and Pakistan plays its cards sagaciously. Pakistan should avoid going the extra mile to help the illegitimate Kabul regime which is pro-India and anti-Pakistan, merely to please the US and in the bargain dishearten the Taliban. In case the situation becomes explosive in Afghanistan brewed up by the spoilers, there is a possibility of China deploying its peacekeeping force in the war-torn country.

Pakistan’s response

Instead of reaching out to the Taliban and extending support to them in their testing times when the whole world seems to have ganged up against them, Pakistan has teamed up with others to maximize pressure upon them and is creating hurdles in their way. It looks as if Pakistan is friendlier with its adversaries. It has been constantly pressuring the Taliban to enter into an agreement with the US-installed regime in Kabul which the Taliban view as collaborators and illegitimate.    

The loaded statement of the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid is evocative and says it all. The last sentence of his interview to a Pakistani TV channel was, “If our decisions were in the hands of Pakistan, the USA would have succeeded in its mission a long time back, forcing us to surrender and after tying our hands and legs, handed us over to others”.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, he took part in the epic battle of Hilli in the 1971 War with India, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, his sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com       

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Prospects of Taliban-US peace talks by Brig Gen(R) Asif Haroon Raja

Prospects of Taliban-US peace talks

 

Asif Haroon Raja

 

17 years have gone by but so far there are little prospects for the longest war in Afghanistan to come to an end. Lilliputians have paralyzed the Gulliver and brought a standoff in the war. Neither side is in a position to defeat the other. Since time is on the side of the Taliban, a change is discernible in the jingoistic mindset of the US administration under Donald Trump over the last six months. Both the military and civil American leaders are talking of peace which is something new and unique since so far their outlook toward Afghanistan has been to derive an outcome of their choice by using excessive force. All these years, the successive regimes of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump sought to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, forcing them to surrender their arms, bring them to the negotiating table and then compel them to sign the US dictated peace treaty and arrive at a political settlement.

  

Governed by geo-economics interests, George Bush had initiated the war on terror after 9/11. After occupying Afghanistan in November 2001, ignoring demographic factor he installed Northern Alliance heavy regime and sidelined the majority Pashtuns. In May 2003, Iraq was occupied under trumped-up charges and a Shia regime installed. Torture dens like Bagram prison, Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo Bay functioned unchallenged. Bush used force throughout his 8-year rule and it was during his rule that the apparently defeated Taliban after regrouping had started striking the occupying forces and Afghan forces (ANSF) fiercely. Likewise, Iraqi resistance forces in league with Al-Qaeda gave a tough time to the invaders.  

 

Besides the two-front war, the US in collaboration with India and the puppet regime in Kabul had opened a third front against Pakistan which it had declared as an ally, a frontline state and non-NATO ally to fight terrorism. The US and its strategic allies had opted for a secret covert war against Pakistan to extract its nuclear teeth and make it a compliant state. When the militancy in Afghanistan was pushed into Pakistan in 2003/04, the latter had to deploy 100,000 security forces in FATA to combat foreign paid terrorists in FATA. Baluchistan was also heated up in the same timeframe. The troop numbers have now increased to about 200,000 in the northwest.

 

CIA spread its outreach to Eastern Europe and colour revolutions started in the Baltic States during Bush time. China-US and Russia-US rivalry picked up momentum. Blackwater was used in Iraq.

 

From 2004 onwards Indo-US-Afghan nexus embarked upon a coordinated and sustained vicious propaganda campaign against Pakistan to supplement covert operations through proxies. Major accusations were: Nuclear proliferation, unsafe nuclear program, Pak Army and ISI in cahoots with militant groups are rogue outfits, Al-Qaeda headquartered in South Waziristan. Later on, it was accused of not doing enough. Do more mantra was aimed at weakening Pakistan from within.      

 

Once Obama took over in January 2009, he closed the Iraq front and carried out two troop surges in 2009 under his Af-Pak policy in order to let ISAF under Gen McChrystal and ANSF to quell the Al-Qaeda and Taliban threat. ISAF strength rose to 1, 50,000. The proxy war in FATA and settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was stepped up forcing Pakistan to launch military operations in Malakand Division, Swat, Bajaur, South Waziristan and other agencies of FATA in 2009-10. Black Water was inducted in Pakistan in 2008/09 to fan terrorism in urban centres. Quetta Shura was added in the list of accusation in 2011. Pakistan was blamed for terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

 

Obama brought in drones to target militants in Afghanistan and Waziristan. He also opened fronts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, and Sudan through Arab Spring. ISIS phenomenon took birth in Iraq, Syria and other Middle East (ME) countries in his tenure. Regime change in Ukraine was masterminded by CIA, which impelled Russia to capture Crimea and to support resistance forces in Eastern Ukraine. Russian air force stepped into Syrian war in September 2015 during Obama time. The only de-escalating step taken by Obama regime was the nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015 which averted a warlike situation in the ME. 

 

When troop casualties of occupying forces in Afghanistan doubled in 2009 and 2010, Obama was forced to announce a drawdown plan starting July 2011 and ending it by December 2014. During this period, not only the Taliban remained aggressive and maintained a dominating edge in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the ISAF faced increased suicide and post-stress disorder cases as well as green over blue attacks. Occupying troops indulged in atrocities through night raids and air war.

 

As a result, Obama initiated a political prong in 2011 and resorted to the strategy of fight and talk and to divide the Taliban. Efforts were made to separate Haqqanis under Jalaluddin and his sons from Taliban under Mullah Omar and pitch former against the latter but failed. No worthwhile results accrued from backdoor parleys because of the insincerity of the US and its allies and the insistence of USA that talks should be between the Taliban and the Kabul government only. This was unacceptable to the Taliban who viewed the Karzai and later the Ghani regimes as collaborators and illegitimate.

 

In 2011, Raymond Davis incident, followed by US Navy Seals raid in Abbottabad and Apache helicopters attacks on military posts in Salala dipped Pak-US relations to the lowest ebb, forcing Pakistan to cut off military relations and close the NATO supply lines for 8 months. Washington had to apologize to normalize the relations.  

 

In June 2013, a political office of Taliban was set-up at Doha. When the drawdown was nearing completion, the Pentagon, CIA, Israel, India and Kabul regime prevailed upon Obama and forced him to sign another bilateral agreement with the unity regime in Kabul managed by John Kerry to leave behind a Resolute Support Group (RSG) of 5-6000 to provide training, technical assistance, counter-terrorism and air support to ANSF.

 

 

The security situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate after the departure of the bulk of ISAF troops and the Taliban gained total control over 47% of the country’s districts from where they could strike targets in all parts of the country.

 

In June 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched by Pak Army in North Waziristan which dismantled all the bases of foreign-sponsored TTP and other militant groups totalling over 60, flushing them out of FATA. Although the major demand of USA was fulfilled, it was, in reality, a setback for the schemers as far as their ulterior designs against Pakistan were concerned.

 

In 2015, quadrilateral peace talks were initiated by the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan were asked to use its influence and make the Taliban agree to talk. When Islamabad arranged the talks in July that year and scheduled another meeting in the same month which would have surely made a breakthrough, the spoilers in Afghanistan scuttled the peace process by announcing the death of Mullah Omar. They didn’t want to negotiate from a weaker wicket.

 

Pakistan made another attempt when the Taliban were under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. But the latter was killed by a US drone in Baluchistan in May 2016, thereby demolishing the peace process.

 

The US wants the Taliban to compromise and accept the US-drafted democracy and constitution, share power as a junior partner, disallow use of Afghan territory by foreign terrorists and to maintain friendly relations with the USA. 

 

The Taliban under Haibatullah Akhundzada have continued with their offensive drive to free their homeland from foreign occupation, regain the seat of power they were deprived of, and restore Islamic system of governance.

 

Like Bush, Obama kept its tilt toward India and visited India twice skipping Pakistan. All big deals with India like civil nuclear agreement, strategic partnership, missile deal, logistics, strategic communications and maritime security agreements were signed with India during Obama’s tenure. The two US leaders have been instrumental in enhancing the presence and influence of India in Afghanistan.  

 

When Trump took over power in January 2017, the US was no more a great country. It had lost its prestige owing to failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, unipolarism had given way to multi-polarism, and the USA had become the most hated nation in the Muslim world because of its anti-Muslim agenda. Instead of taking steps to call off the war on terror, he sheathed the political prong, increased the troop level of RSG to 18000, and gave a signal for a fresh military push against the Taliban to shore up ANSF.

 

At the same time, while announcing his new Afghan policy in August 2017, he put the whole blame of instability in Afghanistan upon Pakistan, and not only accused it of providing safe havens to the HN and Afghan Taliban but also supporting them. Since then, Pakistan is on notice and there is no letup in his belligerence. Punitive steps have been taken to compel Pakistan to do more. These include disinformation campaign, threats, suspension of reimbursement of CSF, putting Pakistan in the grey list, suspending military training, and directing IMF not to provide loans for repaying loans to China or for CPEC, provoking India and Afghanistan to step up hostile acts against Pakistan.

 

Trump has earned the hostility of Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Mexico and Pakistan, and has made NATO and EU resentful.    

         

Over one year has lapsed but the US military and ANSF have failed to turn the tide in their favour. Taliban have now started fighting battles in provincial capitals Lashkargah, Ghazni, Farah, Zabul, Uruzgan and Kunduz. Kabul and Bagram have been attacked repeatedly. They now control about 65% of the territory. While the Taliban have expressed their desire to hold talks and that too with the US only, they are not desperate for talks. They know that the wind is blowing in their favour.

 

Ashraf Ghani has been offering unconditional talks since last February and reportedly offered them control over four provinces in southern Afghanistan. Without peace holding of parliamentary elections in coming October will be problematic.   

 

The US, on the other hand, is desperate for peace since the ANSF lacking in fighting spirit and rived in discipline problems cannot defeat or even contain the Taliban, and are in disarray. The unity government is tumbling due to inner rift, inefficiency, corruption and unpopularity. The RSG is fast losing heart and is feeling insecure. The general public has now started holding protest marches asking the foreign troops to quit. Home pressure is building on Trump asking him to exit from the quagmire of Afghanistan at the earliest since it has become a drain on country’s economy. The TTP created by Indo-US-Afghan nexus to defeat Pak military is in tatters. In anger, Fazlullah was killed in June 2018. India which has been made a leading player has abstained from helping in reversing the dipping fortunes of the USA in Afghanistan. The US has lost its leverage over Pakistan after closing the taps of military aid and training. Pakistan has refused to get intimidated and is veering towards China and Russia.

 

The prospects for peace talks brightened when a 3-day ceasefire was religiously implemented on the occasion of Eidul Fitr in June. The two warring opponents mingled and embraced each other and took selfies. The effectiveness of the truce during which the Taliban laid down their arms, and then resumed fighting after the truce signalled how much control the Taliban leaders have over their fighters. 

 

It was under such distressful circumstances that the US agreed to hold preliminary direct talks with Taliban at Doha for the first time on July 28 to find a way out for restoring peace. Its willingness indicates the urgency to end the conflict. This comedown is seen as a diplomatic victory for the Taliban. The latter is no more solely dependent upon Pakistan since Russia, China, Iran, Qatar are supporting them. Moscow had invited the Taliban, US and Kabul for peace talks, but the latter two declined. Increased interest of Russia in Afghan affairs is another factor which is impelling the USA to patch up with Taliban.   

 

The second direct talks are likely to be held this month, in which the issue of release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay will be discussed to create an amiable atmosphere. The Taliban are showing flexibility in their stance by not insisting on occupying forces to withdraw first and then hold talks. They now want a firm timetable of withdrawal and do not agree to retention of even a single military base as desired by the USA. They would certainly seek a larger role in the future government.

 

One of the major reason for Russia and Iran to support the Taliban is the presence of Daesh (Khurasan) under Wilayat Khurasan (WK) who were brought and settled in Nangarhar and married with Jamaat-al-Ahrar by CIA-RAW in 2014 to fight the Taliban as well destabilize Pakistan. Russia and Iran are also opposed to the US-led reconciliation. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are also wary of Daesh who have an international agenda.

 

Having seen the fate of Syria at the hands of Daesh, the Taliban are also desirous of peace and are seeking the cooperation of other regional countries. They are suffering since 1978 and have learnt lessons and would not like to commit old mistakes and get isolated in the world comity. They also do not want the recurrence of 1991-94 like civil war, or Syria like conditions and like to have a peaceful transition of power. They have given an assurance that unlike al-Qaeda and Daesh, they have no international agenda. They opened communications with Russia, China and Iran which enabled them more avenues of arms supplies to continue with their freedom struggle with greater vigor. But the fact is that no one wants the US to pull out abruptly and ignites another civil war.

 

Notwithstanding the desire for peace by Haibatullah, it must not be overlooked that he has opponents within the Taliban movement who are opposed to him and to peace talks. Rahbari Shura and HN have little appetite for peace talks. Quetta Shura leaders particularly WK linked with HN oppose Haibatullah. It is owing to internal strife that Haibatullah wants to consolidate his position and negotiate from a position of strength after achieving major victories in the battlefield. He aims at capturing a provincial capital. It was with this end in view that big efforts were made to capture Kunduz and Lashkargah and lately Ghazni. While the Taliban have the capability to capture a city but do not have the capacity to retain it as had been seen in Kunduz.

 

The US was at ease as long as Kabul, provincial capitals, strategic communication lines and its eight military bases were safe. Attacks on Kabul and other capitals have unnerved the military forces. What is most worrisome for the US is that it is losing on all counts and finds itself in a nutcracker situation. It can neither afford to exit as a defeated superpower nor can it stay for long. It has lost the war but is not acknowledging it and badly wants a face-saving formula. It can exit only through Pakistan and not via the northern network which is no more available to ship out heavy baggage. The US is faring poorly on all other fronts including the domestic front where Trump has become highly unpopular. Both Pakistan and Taliban are defiant and holding their ground.

 

Judging from the mood of new Pakistan in which the civil-military leadership have come on one page, it cannot rule out the fast emerging possibility of Pakistan slipping out of its hands and shifting to Russo-Sino camp, which could be joined by Iran and Turkey, both antagonist to the USA. The US has realized that the ANSF has become a liability, and Ghani-Abdullah unity government is not delivering.

 

The only tangible factor which has handicapped the Taliban from capturing and retaining the captured cities is the air factor. The US fears the possibility of Russia giving surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban to counter air threat. Ever growing Russo-US rift over Syria and Ukraine is turning the possibility into a reality. That will be doomsday for the occupiers and collaborators.

 

Last but not the least, CPEC has come up as a hissing cobra for both USA and India, which would not only smash their global ambitions and isolate them, but also strengthen their foes China and Pakistan.     

 

While Indo-US-Afghan nexus had yet to absorb the shocks of near demise of TTP, and Pakistan’s decision to repatriate Afghan refugees, the trio got another shock when Pakistan undertook the construction of 830 km fence, and over 400 border forts, along some of the world’s harshest terrain – the Pak-Afghan border last year. Work is expected to be completed by 2019. Why would Pakistan exert such monumental effort, allocating thousands of troops and required logistics for this undertaking? Perhaps Pakistan grows weary of waiting for other ‘vested’ interests to fulfil their promises. It is strange that the US, the Afghan regime and India are objecting instead of assisting to prevent the alleged cross-border infiltration from both sides. Obviously, it would block the covert war.

Finding itself cornered with very little room to manoeuvre, it appears that Washington has now decided to make one last attempt to secure its mercantile interests in the region at a low cost. To this end, it has once again appointed former American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in the USA as a special envoy of Af-Pak region. He served as an ambassador in Kabul for 5 years during Karzai rule and he had great influence over Karzai and his administration. Being a Pashtun, he has had access to key areas and had developed a relationship with Mujahideen leaders including Hikmatyar during the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops. He has an ill reputation of inflicting extreme torture and excesses upon the Afghan Pashtuns.

 

It seems another plan has been hatched as a last resort to re-enact the reign of terror in Afghanistan. After inducting Daesh, the US is actively considering to induct Black Water in Afghanistan and hand over security duties to it and kill key leaders of the Taliban. Eric Prince has already undertaken two visits to Kabul. Blackwater was initially inducted in Afghanistan during his last tenure and he had a big hand in the persecution and slaughter of militant Pashtuns.

 

Khalilzad and Blackwater coming together once again may not be a coincidence and possibly a repeat action could be in the offing. Khalilzad wants to regain contacts with old Mujahideen leaders and also help Hikmatyar in winning the election and in paving the way for the exit of US troops and formation of a new regime. He is likely to play a role in the next presidential election and possibly in bringing Karzai and his team back in the saddle.

 

From the above, it is evident that the US is not interested in peace since it wants to extract mineral resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia and to accomplish its agenda of denuclearizing Pakistan. India is also anti-peace since it wants to retain its presence to encircle Pakistan and to gain access to CARs through Pakistan’s land corridor. The Kabul government is also not keen since it knows it will crumble and ANSF will splinter soon after the exit of occupying forces.

 

Peace talks are a ruse to throw wool into the eyes of the world. Had the US been sincere in arriving at a viable political settlement, it should have accepted the basic demands of Taliban such as freeing of prisoners, putting them off the blacklist, allowing them freedom of movement, unfreezing their accounts, curtailing human rights abuses and making them a stakeholder. Peace talks could be a deception to widen the existing rift within the Taliban and exploit it by pitching WK against Haibatullah.

 

Similarly, the US should not have distrusted and maltreated Pakistan because, without its wholehearted cooperation, peace is not possible. It should have acknowledged its huge sacrifices in a war it didn’t ask for, nor did it initiate. It should have lauded the efforts of Pakistan, the only country in the region to turn the tide against militancy – despite heaviest odds. It should not have prioritized Indian interests in Afghanistan over ours and pressured Pakistan to grant land access to India for trade with Afghanistan/CARs.   

 

The US must not forget that in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, America spent billions of dollars destroying the region but practically did nothing to rebuild much of the destroyed basic infrastructure, forcing millions of Afghan refugees to flee to Pakistan where, according to UNHCR reports, approximately 1.38 million registered and one million unregistered remain sheltered to this day. The US callously overlooks the human and financial sacrifices Pakistan has made, including 70,000 war-related civilians and security forces injured or killed; and a financial loss of $ 120 million. 

Stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan is vital for Pakistan since it frees Pakistan of twin threat to its security and plays a part in dictating our relations with the US and India. It is with this end in view that earnest efforts have been made to appease the US-installed regime in Kabul which have so far borne no fruit mainly due to the role of spoilers. FM Qureshi visited Kabul on Sept 15 with the hope of melting the ice. He seems satisfied saying the visit was ‘advantageous’.     

 

Taking a cue from the frivolous statement of the US Ambassador in Kabul, Pakistan should remain vigilant that in its enthusiasm to melt the ice, it shouldn’t barter away national interests. Any concession to India regarding trade corridor should be linked with the resolution of Kashmir dispute and end to clandestine operations against Pakistan by India. 

What should be understood by Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah is that the war is unwinnable, and the only way to end the war is through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan can play a constructive role in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and is in the best position to bring all sides together and work for a détente.

Pakistan’s efforts will be fruitful only if its sacrifices and good work are acknowledged and spoilers are kept aside. Except for India and Kabul regime and some hawks in US administration/Senate that have constantly poured scorn on Pakistan out of malice, the world comity including UNSC Monitoring Team, Global Terrorism Index and others have heaped praises.   

Pakistan will have to promote its counter-narrative cogently to convince the world that it played a lead role in the war on terror, was the biggest victim of terrorism, and has achieved the best results.

Pakistan should remain watchful of the designs of Indo-US-Afghan nexus, be prepared to take on the emerging threats of Daesh and Black Water, speed up fencing and return of refugees, deal effectively with internal enemies promoting foreign agenda and find ways and means to deal with the catastrophic effects of hybrid war attacking the homogeneity of the society.  

 

Factionalism within Taliban leadership and vested interests of the spoilers preclude the possibility of a big breakthrough in peace talks in 2018.

 

The writer is a retired Brigadier, a war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows and seminars. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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Trump’s Hydra-headed National Security Strategy   General Mirza Aslam Beg Former COAS Pakistan

Trump’s Hydra-headed National Security Strategy

 

General Mirza Aslam Beg

Former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan

friendscolumn@hotmail.com

 

 

“Trump’s Security Strategy is a farce because it has no National Security Strategy.  It has outbursts.” – Roger Cohen

 

Trump’s outbursts grow from his notion of America First, where he merges his existence with passion, that defines his National Security Policy:

Protect homeland way of life; promote American prosperity; persevere peace through strength; advance American influence in the world; build India as a counterweight to China.

Trump strategy flows from the above policy. It is a hydra-headed strategy, targeting Palestine, Afghanistan, Iran, China, North Korea and Pakistan in particular

Palestine. Trump celebrates the 100 years of Balfour Declaration of 1917, which is a public statement issued by the British government during World War I, announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, then an Ottoman region with a minority Jewish population. It read:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

 

              Thus Trump has wrecked the possibility of establishing the states of Palestine and Israel, bringing the whole of Middle East to a state of crisis and catastrophe. This would result in decimation and destruction of more Muslim countries like Crusade one, which began in 2001. This is now Crusade Two, “to advance American influence in the world through strength.” Therefore chances of peace in Palestine now are remote, because the Arab World has its interests diverted towards war in Syria, Iraq and Daēsh and is engaged in managing the ravages of Arab Spring, while America, who could negotiate peace, has taken sides with Israel.

Afghanistan.

America Lost the War in Afghanistan- Egged-On By Trump Business Partners in India -Trump Wants to Make Pakistan the Fall Guy for US Afghanistan Failures

 America lost the war in Afghanistan by the year 2010, when they sent Richard Armitage to me, seeking dialogue with Afghan Taliban, who were not ready to be cheated again, as in 1990 and demanded occupation forces withdrawal as the pre-condition for talks. Despite setbacks and a gradual erosion of authority, Trump continues to reinforce his defeat through various machinations such as indirect support to Daēsh in Afghanistan, thus creating very serious security dilemma to all the neighbouring countries. He is also threatening Pakistan, to contain and curb the rising power of the Afghan resistance, so that he could “build India as the counter-weight to China”, and establish Indian hegemony from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, under the Indo-Pacific Regime. The purpose is “to persevere peace through Strength.”

Iran. Since 1980, Iran has been demonized as a serious threat to the regional countries, yet Iran has emerged resilient and strong despite sanctions, embargoes and trade restrictions, compelling America to find peace with Iran, by signing the Nuclear Deal. Trump now calls this deal “the worst deal ever been negotiated” and is not ready to sign the waivers on Iran sanctions, and threatens that “the best way to lock-in the Iranian hard-liners for the two decades would be to tear up the deal.” Trump may tear-up the deal, yet he cannot shake-off the resolve and self-confidence of the Iranian people, to “struggle to persevere peace through strength.”

Trump Choose India as a Counter-weight to China

China. Trump has called China “the strategic competitor.” Instead of joining hands with China and follow their geo-economic strategy of peace through regional cooperation, he is trying to build-up the Indian counter-weight, against the rising military and economic power of China. The Indian Counter-weight, which could not contain and curb Pakistan from rising, now has been assigned the task to contain China, with “the United States locked and loaded”, in support of India. A withering superpower could do no better than this.

Trump’s Policy Focused on Containment of China

North Korea. With limited nuclear weapon delivery capability, North Korea has been able to deter America, despite possessing a stockpile of nuclear weapons, most efficient delivery system and a state of the art air defence capability. Yet America has failed to develop a strategy that could build up pressure on North Korea and is showing a kind of helplessness, expecting China to bring sanity to the North Korean leader. The state of helplessness in case of North Korea, as well as Afghanistan, exposes the hollowness of super-power America, trying to advance their influence in the world, through farce policy initiatives.

Iran-Afghanistan-China-Pakistan-Russia

Pakistan lies at the centre stage of the regional conflict syndrome. It has to tread carefully protecting its interests, through the support of the people, embodied in the elected parliament, and building blocks of regional support of Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan, under the security partnership of China and Russia. Pakistani nation shares with Iran, the will to resist and reject, pressures and threats and continues to rise with the sublime dignity of the great civilizations with whom it shares common borders.

Pakistan – Heart of Asia

Pakistan is the Heart of Asia, as late Liaquat Ali Khan reminded the nation and we have to prove to be true to this great heritage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superficial Emergency Session of the OIC

The Emergency Session of the OIC did not show any seriousness amongst the members of the states. Only a few heads of the State attended. There has been an erosion of unity amongst them, and the Arab world, in particular, has been in a state of disarray after the Arab Spring. Taking advantage of the regional anarchy, America and Israel have struck, which seriously “prejudices the civil and religious rights of the Muslims and other communities of Palestine”. The situation poses a big challenge to the entire Muslim World. Except for Turkey and Iran, none seem to be taking the matter seriously. The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly voted against Trump’s Palestine Policy, and hopefully, it would put a check to Israel’s ambition of expanding at the cost of Arab territories for Greater Israel!

 

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Who is Behind Afghanistan’s Blame Game against Pakistan? by Sajjad Shaukat

Who is Behind Afghanistan’s Blame Game against Pakistan?
By Sajjad Shaukat

 

When any terror attack occurs in Afghanistan, Afghan government revives old blame game
against Pakistan.
On May 31, this year, a massive truck bombing of the Afghan capital’s diplomatic section killed
more than 150 people and injured hundreds of others, including foreigners. It was the deadliest
terror attack in the 16-year- old conflict.
Taliban denied responsibility for the terror attack. But, Afghanistan’s intelligence service
accused the Haqqani network by saying that a Taliban-affiliated group in Pakistan, carried out
the attack. Addressing the conference-the “Kabul Process on Peace and Security Cooperation”,
held in Kabul on June 6, 2017, which was attended by representatives from 26 countries and
international organizations, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani criticized Pakistan for a lack of
cooperation in promoting Afghan peace and alleged that Taliban insurgents are using sanctuaries
on Pakistani soil to wage the insurgency in Afghanistan.
In the same speech, President Ghani offered peace talks to the Afghan Taliban by reiterating his
preconditions such as recognition of the Afghan constitution, continuity of the reforms of
educating and advancing the rights of women, and renunciation of violence and linkages with
terrorist groups.
A Taliban spokesman rejected Ghani’s offer of a peace dialogue by stating that it is another
attempt to endorse and to prolong foreign occupation of Afghanistan.
However, during the same of the conference, a powerful bomb went off at a main mosque in the
western city of Herat, killing at least 10 people. Again, Taliban spokesman denied its
involvement in connection with the explosion.

 

 

On the other side, Pakistan’s special Corps Commander Conference took the stern notice of
Afghanistan’s allegations and threats and vowed to defend the country the with full forces.
According to the press release of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), issued on June 6,
2017, the “Special Corps Commanders Conference presided over by Chief of the Army Staff
General Qamar Javed Bajwa called for Afghanistan to introspect and not allege Pakistan of
sponsoring terrorism…the conference reviewed the security situation…Strongly condemning
the Kabul blast…meeting has expressed complete solidarity with Afghan government…instead
of blaming Pakistan, Afghanistan needs to look forward and identify the real issues…Armed
forces will defend the country from each challenge and will continue work to establish peace in
the region.”
ISPR statement further reported that the meeting reaffirming continued support to regional
peace and stability, the forum reiterated military’s resolve to defend the motherland against all
types of threat.

Nevertheless, we need to know that who is behind Afghanistan’s blame game against Pakistan
and why the same continues unabated in wake of terrorism-related assaults in Pakistan.
It mentionable that the armed forces of Pakistan have successfully broken the backbone of the
foreign-backed terrorists by the successful military operations Zarb-e- Azb and Radd-ul- Fasaad
which have also been extended to other parts of the country, including Balochistan. And
Pakistan’s primarily intelligence agency, ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by
capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts.
Besides, since the government of the Balochistan province announced general pardon and
protection to the Baloch militants as part of reconciliation process, many insurgents and their
leaders have surrendered their arms and decided to work for the development of Pakistan and
peace has been restored in Balochistan.
Peace has also been restored in Karachi and other provinces of Pakistan, including the tribal
areas. But, recent blasts in Balochistan and other regions of the country show that the US-led
India, Afghanistan and Israel have again started acts of sabotage to destabilize Pakistan and to
damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
In this regard, as part of the latest wave of terrorism, at least 35 people, including nine police
men were killed and several others injured in a suicide blast near Arfa Tower on Ferozpur Road
in Lahore on July 24, 2017.
On the same day, ISPR statement said that Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed
Bajwa raised concerns with the visiting Commander Resolute Support Mission (RSM) and
US Forces in Afghanistan, General John W. Nicholson, over “the blame game perpetrated by
some quarters in Afghanistan and United States to undermine Pakistan’s contribution to the
war on terror.
The army chief elaborated, “This theme is being played at a time when policy review is
being undertaken in USA…despite provocations, Pakistan will continue to act positively as
we consider defeat of terrorism as national interest.”
The ISPR statement further pointed out that Nicholson reiterated his appreciation of
Pakistan Army’s professionalism and admiration for resilience of the people. Both agreed on
need for continuous engagement and coordination for peace and stability in the region.
Notably, a visiting United States (US) Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain
was taken on a tour of South Waziristan by Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa on July 3, this year.
During their visit to South Waziristan, the delegation was briefed on recent measures taken for
the improvement of the fencing of the Pak-Afghan border and enhanced surveillance.
Speaking at the event, Senator McCain stressed the importance of continued cooperation
between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Senator Graham expressed his satisfaction with the progress
against the fight against terrorism by stating, “I cannot stress how impressed I am with what’s happened in the last two years. It speaks well of the Pakistani Army and the people in this
region”. Senator Whitehouse also lauded the military’s efforts in curbing terrorism.
As a matter of fact, the US and India do not want to see peace and prosperity in the region.
Sadly, Pakistan’s dominant role in Afghanistan’s peace process under the Quadrilateral
Coordination Group (QCG) has, deliberately, been sabotaged by killing of the Taliban leader
Mullah Akhtar Mansur in CIA-operated drone attack in Balochistan. After the incident, Afghan
Taliban leaders refused to participate in the US-sponsored talks with the Afghan government.
While, in the recent past, with the help of Pakistan, a series of meetings were held in Islamabad
and Kabul among the representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US to develop

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Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and Current Challenges By Asif Haroon Raja

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and Current Challenges

Asif Haroon Raja

Overview

Pakistan has, since birth, been faced with one crisis after another. The tense geopolitical environment created by hostile India and unfriendly Afghanistan was the motivating factor which impelled our leaders to accord preference to security over developing institutions and strengthening the economy. Security concerns governed our foreign policy.

Pakistan joined Western pacts mainly to find an umbrella to mitigate its security concerns. But the US never became a trustworthy and sincere ally, as was the case of former the Soviet Union with India. The western pacts proved elusive when Pakistan was truncated in 1971.

India had been working upon East Bengal since 1948 with the aim of subverting the minds of Bengalis and poisoning their minds against people of West Pakistan through an orchestrated subversion plan. It wanted to disprove Two-Nation theory. India in collusion with the former-the Soviet Union and supported by several other countries hatched the gory plan of the dismemberment of Pakistan. After nine months insurgency, Indian military jumped in to cut Pakistan to size and create Bangladesh. Indira Gandhi chortled that Two-Nation theory had been sunk into the Bay of Bengal.

In the aftermath of 9/11, another international conspiracy was hatched to dismember Pakistan. This time the conspiracy was much larger in scope and more dangerous in intent. Pakistan was to be befriended and then cut into four quasi-states. In this, India is being supported by USA, Afghanistan, Britain, Israel and the West in general. The tools in use are TTP, BLA, BRA, BLF, MQM and segment of media bolstered by bloggers, foreign paid NGOs and international media. Daesh is the latest group added to their arsenal.   

The goals are to destabilize, de-Islamise, denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan using covert means and psychological operations.

 

 

 

 

 

Pakistan was made to fight terrorism on its soil, then accused of harboring terrorists in safe havens in FATA and aiding cross border terrorism in Afghanistan, occupied Kashmir and India, and then constantly pressed to do more. The terrorist groups in FATA, Baluchistan were funded, equipped and trained to fight and exhaust Pak security forces. MQM was funded and its militants trained in India to make Karachi lawless.

India and Afghanistan were projected as victims of terrorism and Pakistan as an incubator of terrorism. The covert war launched from Afghan soil in 2002 has incurred a loss of 60,000 fatalities, injuries to tens of thousands, destruction of property, $ 118 billion financial loss and immense social trauma.

Pakistan has come under a foreign debt of $70 billion.  

The US imposed War on Terror has heightened ethnicity, sectarianism, extremism, provincialism, political instability, economic fragility and moral degeneration of society as a whole.

As a result of these frailties, Pakistan which is a nuclear power with robust armed forces that are second to none has abundant resources and resilient manpower, it has become vulnerable to foreign coercion, manipulation, and aggression.

Of all the crisis faced by Pakistan in its 70 years history, the present one is perhaps the most dangerous, both in terms of its nature and its possible consequences. Without a doubt, Pakistan is in the vortex of grave dangers and the country today stands at the cusp of survival and disaster. The Titans that have marked Pakistan as a target are impatient to fragment it. 

Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Having given the background and overall geopolitical environment, I shall now discuss the five stages through which Pakistan’s foreign policy has moved forward to confront multiple challenges.

Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah had spelled out Pakistan’s foreign policy soon after the birth of Pakistan in these words:

 “Our objective should be peace within and peace without. We want to live peacefully and maintain cordial and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors and with world at large. We have no aggressive designs against any one. We stand by the United Nations Charter and will gladly make our contribution to the peace and prosperity of the world.” 

Our foreign policy is one of the friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principle of honesty and fair-play in national and international dealings and are prepared to make our contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world. Pakistan will never be found lacking in extending its material and moral support to the oppressed and suppressed peoples of the world and in upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.” 
Pakistan opened diplomatic relations with all the countries of the world except Israel owing to Palestinian dispute.  Successive regimes made concerted efforts to normalize relations with India but failed because of unresolved Kashmir dispute and India not reconciling to the existence of Pakistan. In its desire to become the unchallenged big power of South Asia, India whipped up a frenzy against all its neighbors. It applied multiple pressures on Pakistan and went to war thrice so as to force Pakistan to accept its hegemony and become its vassal state.

Pakistan in search of security and recognition

Pakistan started its journey as a nonaligned nation and remained the member of Non-Aligned Movement from 1947 till 1954. In the first 15 years of Pakistan’s life, the founding leaders remained deeply engrossed in establishing credentials of Pakistan’s statehood in the face of massive propaganda of India that Pakistan was a monstrosity. It was described as a transient phenomenon and Indian economic wizards had given six months life to Pakistan. International recognition was sought and obtained in those agonizing years. 

In its formative years, Pakistan attached importance to relations with Muslim countries and championed Muslim causes. Its efforts to build Muslim unity couldn’t make any headway. It cultivated special ties with Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan joined Western pacts

Aggressive posturing of India, its expansionist designs and intentions to absorb Kashmir, together with Afghanistan’s enmity, former USSR’s heavy tilt towards India, deepening economic crisis in early 1950s, sense of isolation, and the UN and Commonwealth failing to resolve the Kashmir dispute were some of the reasons which impelled Pakistan to join the US created SEATO and Baghdad Pact/CENTO in 1954/55. Thereon, its foreign policy was governed by the US interests.

Pakistan became part of the US defensive arc stretching to Iran and Turkey to contain the spread of communism in South Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan did so despite the fact that it had no direct clash with USSR, and had to pay a heavy price for it. When Pakistan acted as a conduit in 1971 to bring China closer to the USA, it further antagonized Moscow and it decided to teach Pakistan a lesson.

Alignment with the USA however, helped Pakistan in improving its economy and defense capability phenomenally during the 10-year Ayub’s golden era.

Tilt towards China

After the Indo-Sino border clash in 1962, in the wake of Moscow, Washington and the West providing arms to India at the cost of disturbing the regional military balance, Ayub Khan started tilting towards China and Russia. This move was seen as an act of defiance by the USA and it decided to penalize him. The US discriminatory attitude was discernible in the 1965 War with India when it stopped extending economic and military assistance including the supply of spare parts, whereas Russia kept supplying arms to India.

It is believed that both ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib were cultivated to trigger agitations in both the wings to bring down Ayub regime and then pave the way for the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.

Southwestern Asian Identity and policy of Bilateralism

After the 1971 tragedy, ZA Bhutto scrapped SEATO pact and membership of Commonwealth stating that those had proved worthless. He then tried to carve out Southwest Asian identity so as to draw economic strength and security from oil rich Arab States. This tilt towards the Gulf States brought in financial bonanza and job opportunities for Pakistan in the 1970s and also gave an opportunity to Pak military to make inroads into the GCC States. Saudi Arabia never hesitated to extend financial support to Pakistan in its testing times.

Another change in Pakistan’s foreign policy was affected by the Simla agreement in 1972 which led to the policy of bilateralism and non-alignment. Ceasefire line in Kashmir was renamed as LoC and Kashmir issue put on the back burner. India however, maintained its belligerent policy and carried out the nuclear test at Pokhran in August 1974, which impelled ZA Bhutto to go nuclear.

Afghan war (1980-1989)

Pakistan-US relations nosedived when Pakistan under Gen Ziaul Haq was put under sanctions in April 1979 by Carter regime on account of suspicion that it was pursuing nuclear program covertly. However, the Afghan war in the 1980s once again made Pakistan a close ally of USA and was bestowed with $3.5 billion assistance and F-16 jets.

Pakistan had to face Russo-Afghan-India nexus and Al-Zulfiqar terrorism (militant wing of PPP). The Afghan war brought Pakistan coolness in Pak-Iran relations but brought Afghanistan under Mujahideen very close to Pakistan. Both talked of providing strategic depth to each other.

Pakistan’s challenges in Post-cold war era

After the breakup of USSR in 1991 and end of Cold War era, Pakistan was faced with multiple foreign policy issues. The US abandoned Pakistan, imposed sanctions on it under Pressler Amendment and befriended India.

Pakistan was up against Indo-US-Israeli nexus geared toward destroying Kahuta plant.

The other issue was the fallout effects of the Afghan war in the form of Kalashnikov and drug cultures, the load of 3.5 million refugees, the radicalization of the society and sectarianism fomented by Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The other was the armed uprising in occupied Kashmir which forced India to pump in 750,000 security forces to quell the insurgency and to propagate that Pakistan was abetting it.

Pakistan had to bear with the domino effect of Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).

And lastly, nuclear explosions by the two arch rivals in May 1998. Pakistan’s external climbed up. These challenges made the democratic era weak and uninspiring. Despite being repeatedly betrayed, Pakistan didn’t deem it fit to diversify its foreign policy and kept its hopes alive to get into the good books of USA.

Impact of 9/11

9/11 changed the global politics and Pakistan was once again befriended by the USA and made a coalition partner to fight the global war on terror as a frontline state. Pakistan for a second time shifted all its eggs in the basket of USA.

Between 2004 and 2008, Indo-Pak relations improved as a result of the peace treaty and resumption of dialogue, giving rise to optimism that core disputes will be resolved. Euphoria died down after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 when India blamed Pakistan. Indo-Pak relations have hit rock bottom after Modi led BJP regime espousing Hindutva came to power in June 2014.

Ongoing fast changing global dynamics and ever growing strategic partnership between USA and India has impelled Pakistan policy makers to revisit the foreign policy and suitably modify it to meet the future challenges.

Pakistan’s current challenges

India has not reconciled to the existence of Pakistan and strives to reduce it to the status of a Satellite State.

India is a strategic partner of the US, Israel, Afghanistan and is the darling of the west. The trio is pursuing common objective of destroying Pakistan.

India is making concerted efforts to destabilize Pakistan through covert war, encircle Pakistan by consolidating its presence in Afghanistan, Central Asian Republics (CARs), building North-South Corridor linking Mumbai with Bandar Abbas; and connecting Chabahar with Afghanistan-CARs.

India is working hard to isolate Pakistan by tarnishing its image and spoiling its relations with Afghanistan, Iran, Gulf States and the US.

Kashmir is an internationally recognized dispute but India stubbornly maintains that it is its integral part well knowing that the Kashmiris hate Indians and want freedom at all cost.

To keep Pakistan on the defensive and force it to forget Kashmir, India is playing terrorism card, Baluchistan and Sindh cards, and water terrorism to bend Pakistan on its knees.

India’s Cold Start doctrine is aimed at offsetting Pakistan’s strategic nuclear doctrine and executing it at a time when the bulk of Pak forces had got pinned down in designated restive areas.

The upturn of Pakistan’s sunk economy and its image, control over energy crisis and terrorism coupled with development works and fast progressing CPEC have increased the anxieties of India. To give vent to its frustrations, it is carrying out unprovoked firing across the LoC and working boundary in Kashmir relentlessly.

For all practical purposes, Pakistan has fallen from the grace of USA and time is not far when it will be once again be ditched and put under harsh sanctions.

Indo-US-Israel agenda of disabling Pakistan’s nuclear program, or as a minimum curtailing its minimum deterrence capability remain unchanged.

Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai remained aligned with India and hostile to Pakistan. Afghan Unity government under Ghani-Abdullah is far worse.

Pak-Iran relations are frosty and practically, Iran is more close to India and Afghanistan.

Net outcome in 2017

Pakistan foreign policy makers are faced with perpetually hostile India, near hostile Afghanistan, and the changed attitude of the US. Washington has callously whipped Pakistan under its ‘do more’ policy and is now hurling warnings. It’s heavy tilt towards India is a matter of anxiety for Pakistan.

Iran nurtures grouses on account of Pakistan’s closeness with Saudi Arabia, and for sending Gen Raheel to Riyadh to head 41-member Sunni Muslim States Alliance.

Warmth in a relationship with the GCC States has diluted because of Pakistan not agreeing to send troops to Saudi Arabia to ward off the threat from Yemen. Saudi-Qatar tiff is another challenge faced by Pakistan since it cannot afford to take sides.

Pakistan has been deliberately kept politically unstable by making it play the game of ladder and snake so that it remains economically dependent. It was pulled down whenever it grew economically strong. That is why it has been lurching from one crisis to another in its 70 years checkered history.

Pakistan can ill-afford political disharmony and disunity at this critical juncture when black clouds are hovering over its horizon.

Geopolitical realities

Pakistan is faced with multiple threats of Indo-US-Afghan covert war, India’s Cold Start Doctrine, the US Af-Pak doctrine, and Hybrid war and all these threats have now become menacing.

The threat to its security has heightened after the signing of three Indo-US defense agreements in 2016 and the US openly expressing its enmity against Pakistan and love for India.

India is getting unnerved on account of high-intensity freedom struggle in occupied Kashmir, which is slipping out of its hands and is endangering the unity of India. India has no other choice except to keep persecuting the Kashmiris ruthlessly, keep the LoC on fire and to diplomatically place Pakistan on the back foot.

Muslim Pakistan, laced with nuclear/missile power and now getting economically strong due to CPEC is unacceptable to USA, India, and Israel. The trio may go to any extent to disrupt CPEC.

Pakistan is faced with the threat of two-front war from east and west, inauspicious southwestern backyard, vulnerable seacoast, not so friendly Gulf States, together with the internal war on terror and internal war on terror

Pakistan’s viable nuclear cum missile capability deters India from waging an open war.

Nuclear factor has compelled India to resort to indirect strategy to weaken Pakistan from within through unrelenting covert war, discredit and isolate it through propaganda and diplomacy, extract its nuclear teeth clandestinely, and then apply the military instrument through Cold Start doctrine.

Having tried out all possible means short of war, the only other option left with enemies of Pakistan is to create political chaos and logjam, paralyze the government machinery and then trigger civil war as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Many are suspecting a game plan behind the current political imbroglio.

The success of $21 trillion One-Road-One-belt projects of China hinges on successful completion of CPEC. In view of China’s ambition to become leading economic power and its heavy economic stakes in CPEC, it is bound to come to the aid of Pakistan whenever its security is threatened.

Pakistan is a target and not an ally of USA. Earlier Pakistan gets out of the enchantment of USA, better it will be.

Inferences

Any expectation of goodwill and empathy from India, Afghanistan under Ghani and USA, which in pursuit of their common objectives have been inflicting tens of thousands of cuts on the body of Pakistan and its people, will be foolhardy.

The newly appointed Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif in consultation with the new PM Khaqan Abbasi, CJCSC Gen Zubair Hayat, and Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa need to revisit the foreign policy at the earliest to make appropriate changes after correctly identifying friends and foes and accordingly diversifying the policy to meet the upcoming challenges.

Foreign policy instead of being defensive, apologetic and reactive, should be infused with dynamism and pro-activeness.

The change in foreign policy should not be abrupt, but gradual and orderly without violent fluctuations. The change should be akin to autumn changing into winter, or winter into spring.

While maintaining a working relationship with the USA, Pakistan should draw closer to China, Russia, Central Asia, SCO, and ASEAN.

Pakistan should work hard to bring Iran in the loop of China-Russia peace-talks initiative, possibly draw in Turkey and conjointly work to restore peace in war torn Afghanistan.

Pakistan must strive to establish a friendly regime in Kabul.

Surging Afghan Taliban and not the corrupt and inept unity government in Kabul toeing Indo-US agenda should be kept in the loop.

Pakistan should continue to play a mediatory role in the Iran-Saudi ideological rivalry and in Saudi-Qatar tiff to narrow down their differences and also allay the misperceptions of Gulf States on account of Yemen crisis. It will be unwise to call back Gen Raheel and detach Pakistan from 41-member Muslim Alliance.

CPEC should be made use of as a strong magnet by our foreign policy makers to attract as many nations from Central Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe to ward off Indian inspired threat of isolation.

Gwadar-Chahbahar economic rivalry should be converted into an opportunity to complement each other’s strength.

Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan. Comprehensive and pragmatic Kashmir policy should be devised to keep the cause of Kashmir alive.

Conclusion. While many developing countries have raced ahead, Pakistan is still struggling and has neither become an Asian tiger or a secure country. Political parties are behaving irresponsibly and are advised to shun politics of agitation and division and promote the concept of “Unity in Diversity”. Strong and united home front is the best defense against internal and external challenges.

 

The writer is a retired Brig, a war veteran, defense and security analyst, columnist, author of five books. He is Director Measac Research Centre, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Editor-in-chief “Better Morrow’ magazine, editor of website group ‘The Patriots’. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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