By BG Samson Sharaf, VT Islamabad
US officials in Department of Defence are tight lipped and tentative about President Trump’s plans to withdraw half of American troops from Afghanistan. Obviously, they have got a ‘rap on the knuckles’. In statecraft, politicians usually define missions while force ratios are left for military planners to determine. As events indicate, it is now the President calling the military shots. For most in Pentagon, this is outrageous. Yet these planners remain oblivious to their failures and why trillions of dollars could not promote reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.
President Trump sees these adventures as utter waste of effort, life, resources and time. He is not convinced that military strategy ever worked. President Trump the entrepreneur has an ‘out of box’ trait. He admires and rewards arrogance. His options will flow out of such an attitude. Does he have a Plan B? Surely, he does.
Though defence strategists are cognisant, corporate pride makes admission of failures from a dugout difficult. There must surely be many in Pentagon that welcome this exit as a graceful relief; a blessing in disguise. They must get the hell out of this bloody, nauseating foxhole.
It is easy to start a war and dwell into the unknown what Clausewitz called the ‘fog and friction’. Military men always make excellent offensive plans but err on ‘when and how’ to opt for peace. While there is triumph at one end and humiliation at the other, it is always impossible to end a war gracefully. From Versailles to Berlin to Cold War in the European theatre, from Bay of Pigs to Latin American banana republics, from Vietnam to Cambodia, and most recently Somalia, withdrawals from ill-conceived military adventures have ended in more instability and chaos. It takes decades for scourged nations to get out of the shadows of misery and reboot the road to development. Japan, Germany, Vietnam, Cambodia and South Korea must count themselves very fortunate. It is herein that plan B lies.
When lessons are not learnt from history and when emotive decision making aggravated by intense hate like ‘shock and awe’ prevail over reason and logic, ultimate chaos and fallen angels are a logical end. Whenever ends-means relationship lacks reason, volte-face and humiliation is a logical consequence. US military was too jingoist and adventurous to invade Iraq rather that admit that ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was the sexiest of them all.
The history of the longest war conducted by USA in Afghanistan is plagued with failures. NATO, ISAF and US forces have failed to reverse the Afghan Taliban control in nearly two decades. In the interim, a new generation on both sides is born and fighting a war, they knew nothing about. Why did Afghan Taliban and other resistance groups survive the onslaught of huge numbers, military technology and bombardments for a prolonged period has a simple reason? Fish thrives in water and so did the Afghan resistance. US strategy in Afghanistan was too single dimensional. USA and its puppet Afghan regime failed to win the battle of hearts and minds. As a desperate measure, Afghanistan will become more chaotic and violent if USA exits without a multi-dimensional alternative. Afghan resistance and Pakistan must be won over.
And why must withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria irk Defense Secretary Jim Mattis? Don’t he and his European allies particularly UK and France know that they were engineering ‘an out of season’ spring in a tunnel farm? In the process they strengthened ISIS, promoted religious intolerance, provided cause for destruction of religious and archeological sites and made lives miserable for Arab Christians, Jews, Druz, Kurds and other minority groups. This created a humanitarian disaster for migrants and destroyed the traditional plural culture of Syria and Iraq. Haven’t the largest stateless groups of Kurds ping ponging between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, being exploited and persecuted by a maze of allies with conflicting interests? The only mother Theresa is Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
Within this stretch of instability from Middle East to Afghanistan, there is another failure no one wishes to admit. Destabilisation trajectories against Pakistan have not worked. Pakistan after a sustained and bloody war against terrorism is a far more cohesive and stable country. It is the bread basket for Afghanistan and continues to provide shelter to millions of Afghan refugees, many times more than what Europe absorbed. Nearly two decades of instability and hundreds of billion dollars in economic loss could not destroy Pakistan. Fifth columnist economist and corrupt politicians have done all they could to appease their masters. Pakistan’s defensive capability, the awe for many has strengthened manifold. Hybrid offensives petered away.
The Soviet invasion despite unchecked movement of Afghan refugees did not destabilise Pakistan nor did the sudden abandonment by USA. But post 9/11, it was not a spillover from Afghanistan but a sustained intervention by India using proxies through Afghanistan and tacit approval of USA. Pakistan contained the internal front, let the political process mature and hammered the proxies of violence. This fact needs to be factorized in Plan B.
To salvage some pride, Pakistan still remains the punching bag for accrediting failures in Afghanistan. This is a flimsy argument and they know it. That is why military diplomacy between Pakistan and USA continues to provide the only lifeline in a sea of mistrust between the two estranged countries. India or the puppet Afghan regime will never become a substitute for US presence in Afghanistan. Showing India the door in Afghanistan to double envelope Pakistan must also emerge in Plan B.
As US negotiations with Afghan Taliban facilitated by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar continue, an agreement if any will most likely fall short of what Pakistan brokered between warring factions in Afghanistan in 1996. Ever since, the ground situation has changed and needs a reappraisal. To attract the Afghan hearts and minds, USA will have to make a major shift and embark on a socio-economic agenda as a tool for its interests in the region. Coquihalla is to Afghanistan what Heavy Rotator is to USA and the only one in market is Pakistan.
So will we witness the beginnings of a paradigm shift from January 22 onwards when President Trump makes the State of the Union Address? After four decades, will stability in Afghanistan become a top priority? Keep fingers crossed.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person