Reverse gearing the Afghan conflict
IN yet another rebuke to Pakistan, America has repeated the beaten line: “The US continues to be clear with Pakistan about steps it should take to improve the security environment and deny safe havens to terrorist and extremist groups,” the Pentagon said in its six-monthly report on Afghanistan sent to the Congress on June 17.The US defence secretary Ashton Carter has not given a certification that Pakistan has taken action against the Haqqani network. As a result, the Pentagon has withheld $300 million in Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan. It is interesting the no Afghan Taliban faction has ever claimed the title of Haqqani network. Both Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sirajuddin Haqqani have always maintained that they are part of mainstream Taliban under late Mullah Umar and his successors.
As regards human aspect of Afghan conflict, new UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has aptly said: “Afghan refugees had already been forgotten by the international community before they began arriving in Europe en masse last year”. Grandi urged international community to stabilize Afghanistan so that these refugees could return to their country. He noted that “voluntary repatriation has gone down to very few numbers”. Pakistan has been hosting up to 6 million refugees at the cost of strains on its economy and law and order. To see the positive aspect, hosting of refugees alongside investment by Pakistan in numerous grass root people welfare projects in Afghanistan and generous grants/scholarships to Afghan students, Pakistan enjoys tremendous goodwill amongst the Afghan people.
And Afghan people’s sentiments about Pakistan are much different from the dry attitude of successive Afghan governments. Contours of Afghan conflict management are changing fast. Americans have long been working to go back on their promise of pulling out of Afghanistan. Crimean crisis came as a God-sent occurrence that helped enhanced marketing of the idea within American strategic community and its European camp followers. The day President Obama announced extension of stay of his troops in Afghanistan, it was clear that peace had no place in the American thought process. Turmoil in Afghanistan also syncs well with Indian dream to sandwich Pakistan between Eastern and Western theatres, so as to keep its armed forces in a state of overreach and perpetually engaged status while maintaining pressure through proxy warfare for destabilizing Pakistan’s tribal belt and urban centres through sponsored terrorism. For this Kabul’s present political dispensation is gleefully playing in Indian hands, while Iran is jockeying to take position.
The US strategy for reverse paddling its drawdown hinged on: creating circumstances that justify Afghan government’s request to the US for augmenting its military deployment and broadening its scope of military operations from advisory to active combat. Erstwhile Murree peace process came in the way of this plan and was scuttled. Yet, Taliban were about to come to negotiation table, and to prevent this Mullah Mansour was droned. Even then the successor leadership has indicated its readiness for talks. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy chief of the Afghan Taliban has said that Taliban are open to negotiations: “Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] is not opposed to talks… Our Political Commission deals with the issue of negotiations. If we were opposed to talks, we would have not formed this commission.” However, he rejected calls for entering into dialogue with ‘powerless Kabul administration’.
Even though jigsaw was falling in place, in an indecent haste and without waiting for formal request from its proxy Afghan government, President Obama has abandoned his troop withdrawal plan, and has instead allowed the American troops to undertake combat missions against the Taliban. America wants to enhance and perpetuate its military presence in Afghanistan. Its proxy AshrafAbdullah duo is fully on board as they are beneficiaries of continued turmoil in Afghanistan. Peaceful Afghanistan would throw up apolitical dispensation that would erode their power.
The US is co-opting India as a full partner in the rebalance strategy, which of course would pit India against both China and Pakistan. The US counts on India to join the effort to disrupt the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and frustrate the strategy by China and Russia to create a Eurasian economic bloc. The echoes of the US’ rebalance are now being felt in various parts of Asia. To achieve this objective it is necessary that war in Afghanistan becomes a credible alibi to beef up the US military presence in the region, one objective being to intimidate Pakistan and to break its partnership with China.
Independent analyst are now reaching a consensus that at some point US will demand a direct Indian military role in Afghanistan. For which India is busy making logistical arrangement through the Chabahar Port. More importantly, the upcoming Logistics Agreement with the US will come extremely handy if the Indian forces get involved in a military role in Afghanistan. America hasalso decided not to permanently close any of its bases in Afghanistan. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said several nations have also committed to a troop presence next year in Afghanistan. “With a regional presence, we will continue to advice, train and assist the Afghan national forces because we are very committed to continuing to support Afghans,” Stoltenberg said.
The Afghan Taliban have warned Obama that his decision to remove some restrictions on American forces in Afghanistan will result in more American casualties and waste of its resources.In a Pashto-language statement released on June 11, Taliban condemned extension of US troops’ presence in Afghanistan, and said, “The US cannot win this war even if it prolongs it for 100 years.”The statement further said that President Obama’s move will bear the same results as his decision to increase US troop presence in 2010: “That decision was misplaced and you lost everything you expected to achieve.”
Seeing these erratic developments, 13 retired American generals including Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus have written an open letter to White House, carried by the National Interest magazine on June 3. These generals wrote, “Unless emergency conditions require consideration of a modest increase, we would strongly favour a freeze at the level of roughly ten thousand US troops through January 20. This approach would also allow your successor to assess the situation for herself or himself and make further adjustments accordingly”.
The US-Indian estimation seems to be that through a policy of systematically decapitating the Taliban both in the field and at leadership level, it will be possible to splinter the movement and weaken the insurgency to a point that the Afghan government could dictate the terms of a settlement. Pakistan believes that effective border management is vital for checking the infiltrations across long and porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Presently the border exists on paper only. Guns, drugs and every conceivable type of smuggled goods shuttle to and fro unhindered. Pakistan’s sincere efforts for border management are being sabotaged from across the border. If Pakistan and Afghanistan are to ever get a handle on movement of terrorists and arms between the two countries, they have to become serious about border control. Afghanistan would have to decide whether it wanted to support Pakistan’s efforts for peace in region or play someone else’s game in region. — The writer is consultant to IPRI on Policy and Strategic Response.