America’s Great Game in Afghanistan
War on terror has entered tenth year but the US is still clueless when and how it will terminate the war. One of the reasons for its lack of progress is that in its given set of priorities, Afghanistan was accorded lower priority since it was considered an almost accomplished affair. Another reason for prevalent confusion is that rather than keeping its allies friendly and regional countries friendly and within its loop, it has either annoyed them or kept them out of the loop. It has upset Pakistan by meddling into its domestic affairs, using drones despite protests, continuing to sing ‘do more’ mantra and distrusting it. While Pakistan has been assigned the frontline duties in war on terror and made non-NATO ally, the US has all along given preference to India over Pakistan.
None can deny that brilliant performance of Pak Army has been the only silver lining amidst dark clouds of gloom and doom in Afghanistan for US led ISAF. Although the US admits that Pakistan is relatively in a better position to help in finding a political settlement in Afghanistan, yet it cannot help distrusting and maligning it. It also knows that in case of a running battle, Pakistan Army is the only entity capable of providing security cover to withdrawing coalition troops by road via Torkham and Chaman.
Despite the contrasting performances of resource heavy ISAF and ill-equipped Pakistan Army fighting under severe constraints, the US officials have the cheeks to point fingers at Pakistan and ask it to do more to destroy safe havens of militants in North Waziristan, They do so without realizing that it would be counter productive to make further demands on Pakistan and may exacerbate existing tense Pak-US relations.
Pakistan has been bashed with a vengeance in spite of the fact that Pakistan has borne the major brunt of terrorism. It has suffered the maximum in terms of human, social and economic losses. It is being projected as the hub of terrorism where Osama and other Al-Qaeda leaders as well as Mullah Omar and his Shura live. A small banned group Lashkar-e-Taiba is presented as an equivalent of Al-Qaeda threatening world peace.
Majority in Pakistan view USA as an enemy more dangerous than India. As a consequence to anti-Pashtun policy, terrorist outfits like Tehrik-e-Taliban created by CIA-RAW combine are now becoming hostile towards USA. NATO tankers carrying fuel and supplies are often set ablaze in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while on way to Afghanistan. Within Afghanistan, Taliban in particular and Pashtuns in general hate Americans.
Hamid Karzai although still tied to the apron strings of USA is not too pleased with Washington ever since he won last elections narrowly. He is against use of excessive force and collateral damage to civilians and is not party to US game of dividing Taliban. He is working hard to win the support of Pashtuns and to keep Afghanistan united. He is also trying to cultivate certain important leaders in central and northern provinces to be able to form a broad based government. Contacts with Karim Khalili, Qasim Faheem and Ustad Muhaqiq have been established. Latter arrangement suit Pakistan and is helping Karzai in his endeavors.
Russia cannot be relied upon because it is still nursing the wounds it had suffered in 1980s. It is reasserting its influence over its ex Republics. China is America’s competitor and chief rival. Both Russia and China would not like USA to steal the mineral resources of Central Asia. Nuclear North Korea closely allied with Russia and China and anti-America has made Korean Peninsula turbulent. India is in no position to bailout USA from the swamp of Afghanistan. Tajikistan had closed US military base in 2005 while a powerful Islamic movement is raging in Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan has still not fully stabilized after bloody riots last year. Iran has been made hostile because of policy of belligerence.
The US is fretting over growing economic power of China and about perceived secret plans of Iran to achieve weaponized nuclear capability. Russia’s resurgence and America’s interest to extend NATO’s reach to farthest ends of Eastern Europe and to establish anti-missile defence shield are other distractions. While the US gaze is fixed on mineral wealth of Central Asia, its ambitious plans to lay oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan down south cannot materialize until Afghanistan is stabilized. These self-created commercial ambitions and security concerns have kept the US distracted from its primary mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
In order to justify induction of NATO in Afghanistan and to prolong the stay, myth of Osama bin Laden led Al-Qaeda was drummed up through a well orchestrated propaganda campaign. Spin doctors kept circulating fanciful stories to scare the Americans and impressing upon them how vital it was to fight war on terror in far flung areas to keep US homeland secure from any future 9/11 like attacks. The people of USA and western world were led to believe that a hazardous but noble task was being performed by coalition troops to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism and to make the world peaceful. Deceptive information was fed to the desired audiences through stories concocted by paid think tanks, newspapers, magazines and journals. As a consequence, time, effort and huge resources were wasted in chasing the ghost of Osama and achieving nothing.
Notwithstanding that the US is outwardly trying to give an impression that it is ready to hold talks with the Taliban to end the war and arrive at a negotiated political settlement and usher in peace in war torn Afghanistan, inwardly it has not given up its favorite game of intrigue and deceit. It is continuing with its double game since the US leaders haven’t accepted the hard reality that for all practical purposes the US has lost the war and has not been able to achieve any of the stated objectives.
It has also not reconciled to the fact that Taliban are winners and qualify to take over the reins of power in the near future. While they have in principle made up their minds to exit, they want to depart not as losers but as victors. They desire future government in Kabul friendly to USA so that its regional interests could be well served. The two wishes seem far fetched in the face of ground realities. The Taliban having suffered a great deal at the hands of Americans are likely to remain anti-American for times to come.
While the Americans do not foresee any scope of recovering southern and eastern Afghanistan, they still feel that central, northern and possibly western Afghanistan can be retained since the influence of Taliban in these regions is so far not as strong as in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In case the Taliban do not come to terms as per US wishes, as a last resort the US intends giving up the two regions dominated by Taliban and consolidate its power in military bases of Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad.
The US is busy with its efforts to divide Taliban by offering inducements to the moderates, making continuous overtures towards key Shura members of Taliban and isolating Mullah Omar and Haqqani network, winning over Gulbadin Hikmatyar led Hizb-e-Islami, dividing Afghanistan into two on ethnic basis, all in a bid to weaken resistance movement and forcing the hardliners to come to the negotiating table. It is continuing to support Karzai regime despite its questionable performance and loss of credibility but is also preparing Abdullah Abdullah to become president of northern part if situation so desired.
ANA and Police are being feverishly expanded and up-graded to be able to start taking over relatively peaceful provinces in northern and central Afghanistan from June 2011 onwards. Coalition troops would start thinning out in July but stay behind force will strive to hold the front till mid 2012. In case security situation gets out of hand, they would pull back into northern Afghanistan and provide full backup support to ANA grappling with Taliban. It will be under such dire conditions that Indian forces will be inducted to give a helping hand to ANA. Indo-ANA forces under the umbrella of firepower of US military may be launched to reoccupy certain key cities like Helmand and Kandahar.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites.
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