Asif Haroon Raja
After making Pakistan an ally and a frontline state in September 2001 to help the US in occupying Afghanistan and in fighting global war on terrorism, it was first asked to sever relations with Taliban regime in Kabul. Later on, it was coerced to flush out Al-Qaeda elements and their supporters from South Waziristan (SW) in 2003. Pakistan sent regular troops in violation to the pledge Quaid-e-Azam had given to the people of FATA that they will be allowed to retain their customs and system of Jirga and that except for the Frontier Corps, no regular troops will be deployed in the tribal belt. Backpedaling on the pledge proved fatal since it provided an opportunity to the enemies of Pakistan to win over a segment of resentful tribesmen bitter over Pakistan’s decision to ditch Taliban whom they considered as their role models. They were tasked to carryout guerrilla war against Pak security forces. In addition, CIA and FBI that had established outposts in FATA to trace and kill Al-Qaeda operatives and their supporters created a shady organization called ‘Spider Web’, in which retired Pakistani and Afghan soldiers were inducted. The hidden objective was to assassinate tribal elders and clerics loyal to Pakistan. Over 400 loyalists were murdered to create space for the militants.
Helped by foreign agencies, the misled militants called Pakistani Taliban managed to establish Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) in December 2007 under Baitullah Mehsud. During this period, Pak agencies netted over 600 Al-Qaeda operatives including high profile leaders with head money and handed them over to the US. The TTP in the meanwhile kept receiving funds, weapons, explosives and equipment from their patrons based in Afghanistan and extended their influence from the seven agencies of FATA to several regions within the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and made Swat into a state-within-state by 2009.
On one hand Pakistan was eulogized for fighting the war and making sacrifices, on the other it was admonished for not doing enough and asked to do more. It was also brought under a malicious propaganda campaign to discredit its premier institutions. Maps and stories of Balkanized Pakistan showing Greater Baluchistan and Greater Pashtunistan as separate states were circulated. Many western and Indian writers predicted that Pakistan would crumble by 2015 if not earlier. Besides fanning fears that Pakistan is a failing state and soon it will become a failed state, it was propagated that Pak nukes are unsafe and are likely to fall in wrong hands. Pak security forces and ISI were accused of being aligned with Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The US military and the US think tanks kept making accusation that either Pakistan was complicit or incapable of fighting and defeating the terrorists.
Large scale operations were undertaken in end April 2009 and by November that year Swat, Malakand, Shangla, Dir, Buner, Bajaur and SW (main operational base of TTP) were cleared of the presence of militants and order restored. There on, smaller operations were launched in 2010 and 17 out of total of 18 administrative units under the influence of TTP were retaken and writ of the state re-established. No sooner SW was recaptured, the US began to press Pakistan to start another major offensive in North Waziristan (NW) and flush out Haqqani network (HN). Showing utter insensitivity to Pakistan’s compulsions and its security concerns, the US kept demonizing HN and repeating the demand of operation in NW. To intensify pressure, it withheld counter terror equipment as well as CSF. The reason was that the Afghan Taliban from 2008 onwards had started gaining an edge in eastern and southern Afghanistan and the US military gave an impression that HN was the major source of terrorism in Afghanistan.
Failing to evoke the desired response, the US launched a stealth helicopters attack in Abbottabad under the plea of nabbing or killing most wanted Osama bin Laden (OBL) on May 2, 2011, who from all accounts had died in 2003 owing to kidneys failure. OBL’s two wives and 11 children were residing in Abbottabad house which was attacked. Cross border attacks by fugitive Fazlullah’s terrorists were intensified in Mohmand Agency and Dir. When Pakistan still declined to launch an operation in NW, the NATO Apache helicopters callously attacked military outposts at Salala in Mohmand Agency on November 26 and killed many soldiers. Never before an ally was stabbed in the back so coldheartedly. For next six months, Pak-US relations hit rock bottom but even though the relations normalized in July 2012, the element of distrust remained. The US and Afghan government held Pakistan and the HN responsible for their failures in stemming the upsurge of Taliban in Afghanistan.
Once the decisive operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in NW in June 2014 and HN, Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group, IMU, and other local and foreign terror groups were flushed out and peace was restored, Washington and Kabul showered rose petals on Pakistan and urged it to help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The Indo-US-Afghan nexus poured cold water on Pakistan’s efforts twice, first time in July 2015 by mischievously announcing death of Mulla Omar at a wrong time, and second time droning the new Taliban Ameer Mulla Mansour in May 2016 in Baluchistan to sabotage peace process. Once the US and the unity government in Kabul assumed that either Pakistan cannot convince the Taliban, or else was playing a double game, and that the security situation in Afghanistan rather than improving had gone worse, the duo changed their stance and rose petals changed into stings and arrows.
Rather than owning their mistake, Pakistan is being blamed for not doing enough to convince/coerce the Taliban under the new leader Haibutullah Akhundzada to agree to talk. The other crib is that Pakistan is not agreeing to the US-Afghan proposal to fight the bad Taliban refusing to talk. The US want Pakistan to forget about Indian threat, Indo-Afghan cross border terrorism from Afghanistan, and rebellious BLA, BRA and BLF operating in Baluchistan, and instead concentrate fully on Afghan Taliban and make them agree to the US tailored peace formula. The US is resorting to its old coercive tactics and has stopped payment of $ 300 million CSF as well as delivery of eight F-16s and has also adopted a belligerent posture.
The US has all along been playing a double game with Pakistan. Under the garb of friendship and making Pakistan a non-NATO ally, it has been striving to rob Pakistan of its nukes and making it a client state of India.
The US gets upset whenever Pakistan fails its evil plans. Swat, Bajaur and SW had been converted into extraordinary strong fortresses and strategic ambush sites, where the partners in crime had hoped that Pak Army would get sunk into one of the quagmires.
When Pak Army emerged victorious by November 2009, the US soon after started pressing it to jump into the inferno of NW straightaway without taking a breather and consolidating its gains. It didn’t care that the Army had suffered 3000 casualties to achieve those brilliant triumphs. And now when their last wish has been fulfilled, it is still dissatisfied and wants Pakistan to do more by hunting leaders of HN and Quetta Shura and at the same time convince them to talk.
The US and its strategic allies had hoped that a military venture into the last bastion of NW would bring all the terror groups as well as Afghan Taliban on one page and their collective effort would pin down bulk of Pak Army in the northwest and create conducive conditions for Indian military to launch its Cold Start doctrine against the weakened eastern front. It was with this end in view that Baluchistan and Karachi were destabilized to fix the Army in the three conflict zones. The MQM had also kept requesting the Army to takeover Karachi operation from the Rangers. Another reason of destabilizing Baluchistan was to equate it with Kashmir and use it as a card to make Pakistan forget Kashmir.
Brilliant success in NW has decisively broken the back of foreign supported TTP and its affiliates. It has turned the tables on the conspirators who were very optimistic that the TTP in concert with BLA-BRA-BLF would help in weakening the Army and in slowing down the work on CPEC and in scuttling it. Ongoing combing operation all over Pakistan to search facilitators and collaborators is giving sleepless nights to the masterminds. The Army has become more robust and battle worthy and is today rated as second to none.
Substantial progress has been made in improving the law and order and security situation in the other two conflict zones of Baluchistan and Karachi that had been made restive through proxies. Not only that, freedom movement in occupied Kashmir which apparently had been curbed by 700,000 Indian forces operating under draconian law of AFSPA, has once again erupted like a volcano. Pakistan’s proactive moral, political and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris in distress has added to India’s woes and flabbergasted it.
Latest terror attack in Quetta in which about 60 lawyers lost their lives was in all probability aimed at giving vent to their pent up anger, ego and frustration by giving pain to Pakistan. It also indicates that from now on, main effort of proxy war will be concentrated in Baluchistan.
Let us now recapitulate the performance of ISAF which fought the longest war in the contemporary history in Afghanistan. The US-NATO forces removed the Taliban from power and occupied Afghanistan in November 2001 on the plea that the Taliban were linked with Al-Qaeda and had refused to hand over wanted OBL. The Taliban had been projected as fanatics who had made the lives of Afghans miserable because of their extremist ideology. Singing the songs of ‘Enduring Freedom’, democracy, women rights and prosperity, the 150,000 strong ISAF consisting of military contingents from 48 countries sounded bugles of victory all too soon and declared the Taliban and Al-Qaeda down and out. They didn’t take into consideration the possibility of tactical withdrawal by the two for regrouping purposes and then striking back within a year time. They could never contemplate in their wildest stretch of imagination that the Taliban would regain the initiative and force them to withdraw bulk of their forces from Afghanistan despite their overwhelming superiority in men and material and use of excessive force and torture for 14 years at a stretch.
1, 40, 000 soldiers of the ISAF exited without accomplishing any of the stated objectives. The US has also failed to convince the Taliban to agree to sit and talk and work out a political settlement. A token force called ‘Resolute Support Mission’ (RSM) comprising 12000 soldiers is stationed in Afghanistan. This force is meant to continue imparting training and technical assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and also undertake limited counter terror and combat operations. The RSM is likely to be halved by the end of this year and probably exit by December next year.
Reasons why Obama administration decided to pullout was increasing rate of casualties, in-house killings, suicide cases, post stress disorders, fatigue, demoralization and home sickness.
The ANSF have 3, 60,000 soldiers and policemen fully trained and equipped by the US and UK, and have 12 years of combat experience to their credit which they have gained by fighting war against resistance forces on their home ground. They have the numerical as well as strategic, tactical, administrative, technical, technological and intelligence advantages over their opponents who are very less in numbers and devoid of air power, drones, gunship helicopters, tanks, artillery, multi-barrel rockets. The Taliban do not have a safe and secure base of operation, or a logistic base or a caliphate like the IS in Syria-Iraq. Their leadership remain in hiding and cut off from the fighters and keep shifting from one place to the other to avoid detection.
Despite multiple advantages, the ANSF have been unable to cope with the Taliban threat which is becoming menacing with every passing day, given the number of deadly attacks all over Afghanistan. They have suffered maximum casualties in 2015-16 and are demoralized and involved in all sorts of indiscipline cases like corruption, private business, drugs, arms stealing, green-over-blue attacks, desertions, infighting and insubordination. The writ of unity government doesn’t extend beyond Kabul which also has been repeatedly attacked by the Taliban.
The Taliban Shura has now decided to capture whole of strategically important Helmand province which is contiguous to Baluchistan and flanked by Nimroz province (sharing border with Baluchistan and Iran) and Kandahar from where the Taliban movement under late Mulla Omar had started in 1994. They feel the time has come for the Taliban senior leadership, which is spread all over the country, to base itself at a permanent and safe place in Afghanistan with escape routes and tactical positions to fight positional battle whenever required. This need was felt in the wake of increased vulnerability of Taliban leaders belonging to Quetta Shura outside the borders of Afghanistan after the droning of Mulla Mansour in Baluchistan. Earlier on, the Shura under Mulla Mansour had selected populous Kunduz in northern Afghanistan for this purpose and the Taliban had captured the province more than once, but taking into consideration the difficulties faced by the locals due to excessive aerial bombardment, had vacated it.
Helmand, besides being hilly and having less population which is scattered, has several tactical advantages. It dominates strategic Kandahar-Kabul highway and facilitates its blockage. Being a Pashtun region and the people being 100% pro-Taliban, they are confident that unlike in Kunduz the CIA and NDS will find it difficult to gather information. Both Nimroz and Kandahar being strongholds of Taliban will make it difficult for the attackers to launch direct assault on Helmand. The Taliban have already taken over most of its districts including Sangin district and the military camp and police centre in Garam Ser district and are now knocking at the gates of capital city Lashkargah and are trying to penetrate it from all sides. Capture of Helmand will convert guerrilla war into semi-guerrilla war cum positional war, and will encourage the Taliban to change their strategy and start besieging cities to cause bigger casualties on their foes. The Afghan forces have assembled a force of 40,000, 2 km away from Lashkargah and the RSM jets are pounding Taliban positions intensely. But for air attacks the Taliban by now would have overpowered the province.
Fall of Helmand which had remained in the control of British troops from 2004 to 2014 will be the biggest setback for the unity govt and it will pave the way for fall of Zabil, Qandahar and Urzgon provinces. Kabul govt is already rived in serious crisis owing to increased rift between Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. The latter whose two-year term as CEO expires in September this year is miffed with the former and has stated that he is unfit for the presidency. Neither the constitution has been amended nor has Loya Jirga been called to authorize the post of PM. If Abdullah is edged out of his office, it may create political crisis which the country cannot afford at this critical stage. Both are string puppets of USA and India and that is why the Taliban are not agreeing to talk to them.
Having narrated the above facts, what is ironic is that the ones who have performed poorly and committed big blunders repeatedly owing to which it has suffered successive reverses and for all practical purposes lost the war in Afghanistan, have the audacity to censure Pakistan and ask it to it to do more. The age old saying “bad workman quarrels with his tools” fits well for the US. Rather than admitting its faults, exiting gracefully and carrying out in-house postmortem to determine where and why it went wrong, the US is behaving like a bad loser and shifting the blame of its failures on Pakistan which has performed outstandingly.
Shouldn’t George Bush and his team of neocons who planned the war on terror with selfish motives be held accountable and punished for war crimes? After all, millions have died in this senseless war and millions displaced. Spillover effects have penetrated Europe and the heat is being felt in USA. And what has the US achieved in this dirty war except for earning a bad name and making USA a descending power and facilitating China and Russia to surge forward as ascending powers? Shouldn’t Bush and Tony Blair in particular be punished for faking WMDs and invading Iraq? Who will answer for the mess created in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen and pushing the whole of Middle East in the vortex of chaos? What about the innocent victims of drones? Who will account for the sufferings of the innocent suspects that were locked up in prisons of Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharaib without trials for years and subjected to water boarding and soul searing torture? Should Pentagon not be asking the military commanders of ISAF equipped with world resources for their abject failures against a small rag tag enemy?
The US need to do a lot more to clear up the messes it has created rather than blaming others. The US is digging its own grave by prolonging its stay in the graveyard of super powers and is reinforcing failure by supporting the effete horses. Earlier it quits better it will it be since time is running out and time is not in favor of USA.
Let us see where the US went wrong. Although the list is long, in my view following were some of the major reasons for its failure in Afghanistan:
- 9/11 was a false flag operation engineered by the neocons and Jews to steal the resources of Muslim world and to discredit Islam.
- The war was launched with insincere intentions and without a plausible cause.
- Relying on minority non-Pasthuns (Northern Alliance) and sidelining majority Pashtuns was a blunder. 4. No narrative was constructed to counter Taliban narrative who had a just cause to liberate their homeland.
- Opening second front in Iraq without consolidating in Afghanistan and that too on concocted charges put strains on military and economic resources.
- Total dependence upon perfidious India and Israel and distrusting time-tested Pakistan that had played a key role in pushing out Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, which fragmented USSR and brought down Berlin wall, and made USA the sole super power.
- The US has become most hated country because of its all-out support to barbaric Israel and India. Ruling elites of the trio are birds of same feather and are therefore flocking together.
- Wasting time and resources in covert operations, indulging in drug business and making little effort to win hearts and minds of the Afghans and economically developing the country.
The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence & security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre, Director Thinkers Forum Pakistan, member Executive Council Ex Servicemen Society and of Tehreek Jawanan Pakistan. Takes part in TV talk shows and delivers lectures. [email protected]