Re­v­erse gear­ing the Afghan con­flict

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email:won­der­ous101@gmail.com

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.

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