Asif Haroon Raja
The US-NATO-ANSF military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan have been going on since October 7, 2001 relentlessly and have now reached a stalemate. For all practical purposes, the US had lost the war after it pulled out bulk of 150,000 ISAF troops in December 2014 and allowed its chief foe Taliban to gain initiative and an upper edge in the battlefield. The US is however refusing to accept its defeat and is prolonging its stay.
After abandoning boots on ground strategy and relying on airpower and weak Afghan National Army, the occupation forces are locked up in 8 military bases with limited freedom of action. The 3,52000 strong ANSF have suffered extremely heavy casualties since 2016. On average, their casualty rate has been 5000 per year.
The occupiers are in a quandary since they can neither convert their defeat into victory, nor can contain the Taliban offensive, or can pressurize them to ceasefire and sign the peace deal on their terms. They are caught in a quagmire of their own making in which they can neither stay for long, nor can they curtail casualties, or can pullout and exit safely and honorably. They are surviving on the logistic routes provided by Pakistan and are also dependent upon Pakistan for their departure.
The songs of human rights, women rights, fruits of democracy have all evaporated in thin air. And so has the bloated arrogance over its invincibility after the US agreed that political solution was the only viable option to restore peace and for that purpose sat across the table to hold talks with so-called terrorists and beseech them to ceasefire.
The Taliban having gained initiative and a decisive military edge over the occupiers and collaborators in 2015, are constantly attacking high value targets all over the country and are constantly gaining space. No respite was given during the nine rounds of peace talks. In the last session at Doha, all friction points had been settled and Trump had extended an invitation to the Taliban leadership to sign the peace agreement at Camp David.
The peace process was however, halted after Trump abruptly canceled the meeting scheduled on 11 September, 2019 on a flimsy excuse of death of one US sergeant. The spoilers once again succeeded in derailing peace and letting the orgy of bloodshed to continue. Disruption of peace process didn’t bring any change in aggressiveness of the Taliban and they continued to strike targets and draw blood. Major victims of the firefight between the two rivals are the ordinary civilians whose death rate has increased significantly.
Presidential election was held on 28 September despite disturbed security situation but the results have so far not been announced due to widespread irregularities. Political uncertainty favor the Taliban and disfavors Ashraf Ghani.
In October, Zalmay Khalilzad was once again sent to renew talks and his efforts helped in swap over of prisoners and to lower tensions. In November, one American and one Australian in captivity of Taliban were freed in exchange of three Taliban prisoners including Anas Haqqani detained in Bagram jail. However, the month of November proved costly for Americans; 19 US soldiers died in combat. Trump made an unannounced visit to Bagram airbase on 28 Nov. While addressing the troops he reaffirmed his desire to reduce the US troops by 5-8000. He announced that talks with the Taliban were being resumed.
Suicide attack on Bagram airbase on 11 Dec was the biggest attack in the 18-year war causing heavy casualties in men and material. It jolted the US administration as well as Pentagon and impelled them to resume peace talks in real earnest. The 10th round has commenced at Doha but ceasefire and direct talks with Kabul remain the sticking in points.
It is yet not clear whether a breakthrough will be achieved. While the Taliban have so far not hinted at agreeing to ceasefire as claimed by Trump, the spoilers are still active to scuttle peace process.
In case peace deal is signed and the war torn Afghanistan become peaceful, the biggest losers would be India, puppet regime in Kabul, Israel, Pentagon, US security contractors, drug mafia and Afghan warlords, all of them nurturing mercantile interests. India wants to retain its perverse influence in Kabul so as to draw maximum economic benefits from next door Central Asian States, and to pose twin threat to the security of Pakistan. Regime in Kabul knows that without the crutches of USA, it will fall instantly. Pentagon wants arms industry of military industrial complex to garner maximum profits. Others have their own commercial interests. The US also realizes that control over Eurasia would ensure its world domination.
These vested entities had egged on George Bush and Obama to remain focused on use of force. They had prevented Obama from making a clean break in December 2014 and compelled him to leave behind Resolute Support Group. Same pressure groups pressurized Trump to increase force level and to drop more bombs in 2018 than ever before. Now they are not letting him to withdraw 15000 US troops and want the war to drag on. He is being scared that complete withdrawal would be catastrophic for the US geo-strategic and geo-economics interests in the region.
They are least concerned that Afghan war has become the longest, bloodiest and deadliest in the US history which has surpassed the toll of the two Great Wars. It has cost $ 2 trillion and 2500 fatalities to USA apart from tens of thousands of injuries caused to the US soldiers and the social trauma suffered by the families of the victims.
The US is mindful of the growing influence of Russia, China and Iran in Afghanistan and their closeness with the Taliban, which is detrimental to its geo-strategic and geo-economic ambitions in this region. China’s BRI project has unnerved the sole super power since it has the potential to make China the leading economic power of the world by 2025. That is why, the US has accelerated trade war with China.
The US had occupied Afghanistan with a view to make it a permanent military garrison and by virtue of its strategic location, be able to meddle into the affairs of China, Russia, Iran, denuclearize Pakistan, oversee Middle East and above all gain monopoly over the resource rich Eurasian belt stretching from Central Asia to the Caspian Sea. It also had eyes on opium and minerals like lithium in Afghanistan.
What is most upsetting for USA is that in spite of spending colossal amount and using excessive force, it has not been able to accomplish single objective. Conversely, it has lost its prestige and élan and today it finds itself in lose-lose situation. It has come to this sorry pass because of its insincerity of purpose, evil designs, and wrong selection of allies that have been pursuing their own selfish agenda.
Another reason is weak and visionless military commanders, overestimating theirs and underestimating the capabilities of foes, painting rosy picture and imagining that they are winning the war. Devoid of fundamental understanding of Afghanistan, they didn’t have foggiest idea as to why they were fighting the purposeless longest war and how to keep their under commands motivated. They didn’t learn any lesson from history that Afghanistan has been the traditional graveyard of super powers where it was easy for the victors to barge in but near impossible to extricate safely. The ghost of Vietnam is now stalking and haunting the very being of Americans operating in Afghanistan.
Even after reaching the edge of precipice, the US leaders are still hoping against hope that they will snatch victory out of the jaws of sure defeat. Gen Nicholson stated in November 2017 that the ANSF would expand control over 80% of Afghan territory in next two years. It was a shot in the dark and devoid of emerging ground realities. Contrary to the claims made by senior US officials that progress was being made in Afghanistan, the fact is that the Taliban have control over 56% of the territory and the rest is contested. The government writ is confined to capital cities only, which are also frequently targeted by the Taliban.
The Washington Post of December 9 has spilled the beans. Quoting official documents, it stated that war is unwinnable, and that the American people have constantly been lied to. The Pentagon papers reveal the impressions of US officials that after toppling Taliban regime, killing Osama bin Laden and dismantling Al-Qaeda with the help of Pakistan, the US had no business to stay on and undermine its reputation. All reports initiated from Kabul to Washington presented “All OK”, whereas on ground nothing was OK.
Failing to defeat the Taliban in the battleground, the US has been trying to weaken the Taliban by dividing them but failed. Having failed on all fronts, the US instead of taking corrective measures, found Pakistan a convenient scapegoat and held it responsible for all its failures. To hide its embarrassment, it derives some satisfaction by whipping Pakistan. The US is now exerting pressure on Islamabad to force the Taliban to ceasefire, hold direct talks with the regime in Kabul, share power with them, and allow the US to retain few military bases. Or else fight and defeat them.
Pakistan has suffered the most in fighting the US imposed war on terror and servilely abiding to its dictates. It has also produced best results against terrorism, but instead of being rewarded, it is accused, insulted and punished for uncommitted sins. India and Afghanistan have been in the forefront to conduct proxy war as well as propaganda war against Pakistan. On account of policy of appeasement pursued by Pakistan, the trio has been successful in selling its narrative to the world that Pakistan is a terror abetting state and a nursery of terrorism. From the time of Gen Musharraf, Pakistan has been receiving invectives and lashes without a whimper thereby encouraging the real offenders to indulge in one-sided defamation campaign unobtrusively.
The US which is the strategic partner of India and the ruling regime in Kabul has thoroughly misused Pakistan to serve its self-seeking interests. Pakistan was taken on board as a tactical partner for the achievement of short-term objectives but was always regarded as a target. Pakistan has been subjected to series of conspiracies, covert and overt operations for over 16 years relentlessly. In collusion with India, Afghanistan, Israel and the West, the US has now stepped up the hybrid war using all possible kinetic and non-kinetic resources to make Pakistan a compliant state. Billions are being spent on proxies, media, NGOs.
Pakistan’s economy which is reeling under the weight of mountain of debt is being targeted through IMF and FATF in addition to fomenting bedlam. India’s aggressive posturing since February 24th, followed by the August 5 action in Indian Occupied Kashmir, are being reinforced with series of internal disturbances such as PTM movement, Azadi March led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, controversial decision given by the Chief Justice regarding extension of the Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, students agitations demanding restoration of student unions, and now the lawyers-doctors clash at Lahore. These disturbances are designed to deflect the attention of the world from the sin committed by Modi regime in Kashmir and to destabilize the PTI govt.
Modi’s misadventure in occupied Kashmir is proving costly. The spirits of the Kashmiris locked up since 5 August, denied of basic human rights and subjected to worst torture have not dampened. As predicted, the violent clashes in the northeastern states particularly in Assam in reaction to the recently passed controversial citizenship law, and protests in other parts of India in reaction to Modi regime’s fascism against minorities and craze for Hindutva might prove fatal for the unity of India. Likewise, if Trump further delays the departure of US troops from the inferno of Afghanistan, the end result could be catastrophic.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac research Centre, member think tank PESS. [email protected]