Asif Haroon Raja
Start of Joe Biden’s innings
After the change of guards in Washington, a media campaign has been unleashed to compel Joe Biden’s administration to review the Afghan peace deal and delay the departure of troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban are projected as irreconcilable, treacherous and blood thirsty. A powerful lobby in the West with expansionist aims is not in favor of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan for a variety of reasons.
A study mandated by the US Congress has called for a delay in the pullout, warning it would effectively hand the Taliban a victory. Gen Kenneth McKenzie, head of the US Centcom, declared the Taliban as “clearly” being responsible for violence in Afghanistan, but agreed that no attack came on the US-NATO. The Pentagon also accused Taliban of not fulfilling promises that include reducing attacks and cutting ties to insurgent groups such as Al-Qaeda.
The spoilers like India, the unity regime in Kabul, Pentagon and CIA are playing their negative role to block the withdrawal of occupation troops. They are painting a gloomy picture that complete exit would lead to bloody war and ruin the reputation of the sole superpower. They blame the Taliban for the violence and bloodshed, and are exerting extreme pressure upon Joe Biden urging him to rescind or modify the Doha agreement.
The accusers fail to mention the role of ISIS that have carried out gruesome attacks against Afghan forces and targeted assassinations of journalists, politicians, judges and activists, and machinations of RAW-NDS against Pakistan. Orbaki Militias, Khost Protection Force and some other armed groups support ANSF and are guided by the CIA. Reported presence of 20,000 Blackwater operatives at Bagram airbase has also been eluded. Moreover, in violation of the terms of agreement, the US airpower has been coming to the rescue of ANSF.
Brutalities of the NA warlords, of over half a dozen anti-Pakistan terrorist groups based in Nuristan, Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktika undertaking terror attacks in Pakistan and playing football with slit heads of Pak soldiers are acceptable as long as they play ball with the occupiers. Good Taliban are also acceptable. Not a word is uttered on infamous torture dens of Bagram and Guantanamo Bay jails, or the ruthless night raids by US Special Forces.
Biden is inclined to review the peace deal and delay the departure and make another effort with the help of Pakistan to force the Taliban to relinquish violence, cease fire permanently, agree to share power with the Kabul regime as a junior partner and accept the US tailored constitution.
The Taliban denied escalating violence and not abiding by the terms of peace agreement. To put weight to their argument they said that spring offensives in 2019 and 2020 were not carried out. The Taliban have urged the US to honor their commitment of withdrawing all troops by May 1, 2021 in exchange for security guarantees and are averse to the idea of residual force.
Shear ego stops the US from conceding defeat and to hide its embarrassment, it blames Pakistan, or reinforces failure in its bid to salvage some pride.
With an eye on unexplored mineral wealth of Afghanistan worth $ 1-3 trillion of iron ore, lithium, chromium, natural gas, petroleum etc., and also the mineral resources of next door Central Asia stretching up to Caspian Sea, the US would make strenuous efforts to maintain a toehold in country and at least recoup the huge financial losses it incurred in fighting the longest war if it cannot reclaim its soiled repute.
Why does the US need Pakistan?
The reason why Pakistan has not been discarded despite so much of distrust bordering hatred is that the US cannot ignore its key role in Afghan affairs. Pakistan is the only country which has some influence over the Taliban, and will still have an important role to play both in reaching a political settlement, and in its implementation.
Though Washington might wish to quickly disengage from its troubled relationship with Pakistan, it will be difficult to do so until a comprehensive political settlement to the Afghan conflict has been reached and at least partially implemented.
Pakistan which played a key role in the Doha agreement and in starting the intra-Afghan dialogue, will be needed by the US in further negotiations as well as in helping the US troops to exit with their bag and baggage since the Northern Network is not available.
Washington will need the support of Pakistan for any of its options of continuing talks with the Taliban for a revised political settlement, or renewing a counter offensive, or pulling out. It will remain tied to Pakistan till the final political settlement to the Afghan imbroglio has been reached and implemented.
Reasons why the US failed?
Reasons of the US failures were megalomania, relying wholly on massive resources and ignoring intangibles, underestimating the enemy, military commanders failing to introspect and reappraise their weaknesses at strategic, operational and tactical levels, and correcting them by revising plans and tactics how to fight insurrectional war, or making an effort to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans. The invaders used a huge hammer to kill a fly and adopted extremely brutal methods to tame their foes.
The US intervened in Afghanistan militarily on false charges and never had a genuine cause and justification to keep it under its occupation for two decades. Conversely, the Taliban had a superior cause, and were ideologically motivated to fight the invaders and free their country.
More importantly, relying heavily upon morally corrupt India which has failed to quash any of the 37 insurgencies raging in India since very long and the freedom movement in IOK, and its failure in Sri Lanka against the Tamil Tigers; and trying to give india a lead role in Afghanistan with which it doesn’t share border or has any cultural/religious affinity.
The US made Pakistan a frontline state to fight terrorism and a non-NATO ally, but never trusted it despite its outstanding performance. It forgot that Pakistan had played a key role in ousting Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and paving the way for the US to become the sole superpower. It was due to Pakistan’s all out support that the US captured Afghanistan within a month in 2001. But for the NATO supply routes, NATO couldn’t have fought the longest war.
Reliance on corrupt and inept Afghan regime and upon corruption ridden non-Pashtun ANSF and not holding them accountable were other reasons for its failure.
The Taliban having seized sufficient space, gained moral and military edge, and with plenty of funds in hand earned from toll tax and opium trade to cater for their war expenditure, and with bolstered strength after the release of prisoners, they will never accept the unreasonable demands of the defeated USA and discredited Ghani regime. They have expressed their resolve to recommence their offensive with full vigor in case the deal is broken. For them time, fatalities, injuries, lack of logistics and hardships do not matter. They have nothing more to lose and time is on their side. They won’t accept anything short of restoring their Islamic Emirate.
The US invested over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, spent 19 years and sacrificed over 3000 soldiers with injuries to 20,000, and large numbers suffer from post-stress-disorders, and many committed suicides. Over half a million Afghan civilians were killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, drone attacks, suicide bombs/IED attacks, and 60,000 ANSF soldiers died in combat. And yet the US failed to accomplish any of its objectives and in the endgame earned nothing but ignominy and infamy.
The key of the Afghan tangle is with the Taliban and without their concurrence peace will remain a forlorn hope. Occupiers and spoilers can prolong the agony but cannot convert defeat into victory or restore the damaged image.
China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan are important pegs on the chessboard of Afghanistan and should be encouraged to join peace missions and play their role in the final political settlement.
Irrespective of Pakistan’s significance and its wholehearted cooperation, the US will not reward Pakistan at the cost of jeopardizing its own and Indian interests as well as that of its puppet regime in Kabul.
While CPEC and 05 August 2019 Indian act in IOK has welded Pakistan and China into strategic relationship with common security interests, India and the US remain steadfast strategic partners and the duo view China as their chief rival. For Pakistan, India is the arch rival and hostility of the two nuclear neighbors is perpetual. Although the US has helped in defusing tensions between the two antagonists and in averting conflicts, however, Pakistan’s closeness with China irritates both India and the US. Pakistan and China regard India as a threat, whereas the US sees India as a partner and a bulwark against China. There will be no change in these converging and diverging interests in near future.
Indo-China relations have soured in the aftermath of recent scuffles in the Himalayas due to border dispute and are not likely to normalize in near future. Same-way, the US-China relations which dipped to their lowest point during Trump’s rule are not likely to normalize due to clashing geo-strategic and geo-economic ambitions.
Much that the US would like to get back Pakistan into its fold, its history of betrayals inhibits Pakistan from getting duped once again and losing the support of trustworthy China. It irks Islamabad to see Washington failing to acknowledge Pakistan’s staggering losses (83000 human fatalities and $ 126 billion financial loss) in fighting war on terror, and refusing to validate its concerns about India abetting terrorism in Pakistan.
There are too many divergences and few convergence of interests between the US and Pakistan. The US is not likely to change its views against China and CPEC, and will continue to give preference to Indian security concerns over Pakistan’s concerns. These constraints will prevent the US-Pakistan relationship from transforming into a relationship based on mutual respect and equality.
Irrespective of this hard reality that the US will not be able to wean away Pakistan from China, it will keep Pakistan on board for the accomplishment of its short term self-interests in Afghanistan, and to also play a role in preventing nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan.
Antagonism between the three nuclear powers in one neighborhood when seen in context with antipathy between the US and nuclear North Korea, and intensification of rivalry between the US and China which is aligned with Russia, and Iran-USA military standoff, reported nuclear/missile cooperation between North Korea-Iran, have made the overall security situation in this region highly volatile and may spin out of control anytime.
Pakistan is beset with national security issues and is also plagued by economic security which has become almost an existential threat. Given the massive debt accumulated over a period of time, and floundering economy due to corruption, mismanagement, weak governance, Covid-19 pandemic and the heavy cost paid in fighting the US imposed war on terror, for Pakistan peace and stability in Afghanistan has become a strategic compulsion.
America’s chickens are coming home to roost; terrorism fomented in the Muslim world has now seeped into front yards of the US. Never before the American society was so radicalized and divided as it is today because of Trumpism. Biden is faced with grave internal and external challenges.
To hope for the return of golden days of Pakistan-US relations of the 1950s would be like wishing for the moon. As long as Muslim and nuclear Pakistan remain strategically aligned with China, goes ahead with developing CPEC, nuclear & missile power, and considers India as its chief rival, the US will never trust Pakistan and will not upgrade its self-serving tactical relations to strategic relationship. Pakistan should contend with maintaining friendly relations by playing up the overlapping converging interests without nurturing expectations and avoid earning its ire.
Blaming the violence on Taliban is a lame excuse. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose from it. If anyone stands to gain, it is the puppet regime in Kabul, India and some vested interests in the US. As for ISIS, it is hard to understand how the organisation can survive, let aside operate effectively, without extensive operational support, bases, intelligence, logistics, etc. One thing is certain, these are not being provided by Taliban who are their enemy.
Taliban have repeatedly given assurances that they will respect the rights of women and not attack civilians. They have also categorically denied carrying out the recent attacks. We need to find out first who stands to gain before assigning any blame. If we did that, the finger of suspicion may well point in some other direction. With the withdrawal deadline nearing, the Taliban have launched a string of offensives threatening at least two strategic provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan in recent months. Violence will escalate in coming May in case the US breaks its commitment.
If there is one lesson that history teaches us, it is that no outside power can ensure peace inside Afghanistan. In our living memory, we have seen the Soviet Union try and fail ignominiously and so did NATO. Pakistani rulers committed the blunder of facilitating the US to destroy Afghanistan and in the bargain ruined its own economy. To expect Pakistan to do the same all over again makes no sense and for what purpose?
If the quest for peace is based on sincerity of purpose, the US and its allies will have to quit Afghanistan and leave the rest to the Afghans. Those prophesying dooms day after the withdrawal of occupying troops do not realize that the Afghans have been living in hell since 1979, so what more catastrophe will befall upon them? The Taliban will never ceasefire and abandon fighting since this their only strength and source of survival. It may look messy to outsiders but the different factions will find the way one way or another.
If Pakistan were to get involved, the Indians and Iranians will also get involved. The same is true for any other power. If at all any help is needed it should be provided by the UN. Why this obvious option is not being discussed raises many questions of its own.
The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan is not good for the well-being of Pakistan for a whole host of reasons. The sooner it comes to an end the better it will be for Afghanistan, Pakistan and the West itself also. One can only hope that President Biden can stand his ground for what is good for America and does not cave in to vested interests whose only aim is endless war for the sake of war.
Pakistan can neither feel comfortable with a hostile government in Kabul, nor with the heavy presence of India in Afghanistan. Unless Washington starts understanding Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns, the US shouldn’t expect Pakistan to conform to its desires.
Notwithstanding what shape the endgame of Afghanistan will take, Biden’s foreign policy will be governed by Indo-Pacific strategy, the foundation of which was laid by the Trump regime in which India plays a key role and Pakistan has no role.
Afghanistan is likely to simmer and smolder in 2021. Delaying the withdrawal will be tantamount to prolonging the agony of the Afghans, the occupiers, the collaborators and of Pakistan, which is most affected by the instability in its neighborhood.
Close cooperation with China, fast track development of CPEC and TAPI, stoppage of corrupt practices, austerity measures, better governance and financial management are the benchmarks for garnering economic security.
There are clear indications that the US has no intentions to abandon Afghanistan in the near future and would prolong their stay as much as possible. Although Pakistan suffered a great deal at the hands of proxies launched by RAW-NDS and supported by CIA, it made no effort towards pushing out foreign forces from Afghanistan. Contrarily, it still wants the US forces to stay on till restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan not realizing that the US and its allies blame Pakistan for the instability, and that the illegitimate occupiers and collaborators are the real cause of violence in the Af-Pak region. Indo-US-Afghan nexus have tried all possible techniques to derail Pakistan and are still focused on denuclearizing it, but our leaders for inexplicable reasons consider them as friends and well-wishers of Pakistan.
Instead of putting pressure upon them, we have been exerting pressure on Taliban and made them agree to talk with the US and arrive at a political settlement, and again pushed them to talk with the Ashraf Ghani regime. Now to ask them to agree to the terms of the US and puppet regime and accept sharing power as a junior partner will be unfair and may impel the Taliban to stop dealing with Pakistan. Enmity with Taliban would prove fatal and could land Pakistan into a Syria like situation.
If we are interested in getting rid of proxies like TTP, BLA and ISIS, their safe havens and terror infrastructure in Afghanistan run by RAW-NDS, only the Taliban can do it and none else. Today, the Resolute Support Group, ANSF, Afghan Unity Govt, the US and India stand on a weak wicket, while the Taliban under Haibatullah have gained substantial strength and victory is within their grasping reach. Taliban are likely to further extend their sway and gain control over 90% territory by the close of this year. Our ultimate goals should be to empower the Taliban and not the pro-India puppet regime of Ghani-Abdullah.
The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, 6th book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows. Email: [email protected]