No Light at the End of the Tun­nel

Afghanistan has be­come Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s tough­est chal­lenge and great­est threat. As the coun­try grows in­creas­ingly un­sta­ble, will he be able to pull out U.S troops re­spon­si­bly and still safe­guard Amer­ica’s rep­u­ta­tion?

Southasia - - Cover story - By Lt. Gen. (R) Talat Ma­sood

Pres­i­dent Obama had all along main­tained that for the US, Iraq was the wrong war but Afghanistan was the right one and framed his for­eign and mil­i­tary poli­cies ac­cord­ingly. He agreed to the mil­i­tary surge in Afghanistan that was meant to gain op­er­a­tional su­pe­ri­or­ity over the Tal­iban so as to bring them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. In the last four years how­ever, Pres­i­dent Obama has learnt that the war in Afghanistan (also the long­est in US his­tory), is an un­winnable propo­si­tion and that he will have to scale down his ex­pec­ta­tions about its out­come. In fact, dur­ing the US Pres­i­den­tial de­bates it was clear that there ex­isted a con­sen­sus be­tween the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can par­ties to with­draw US forces from Afghanistan by 2014.

In his new term, Pres­i­dent Obama’s main for­eign pol­icy agenda will be to leave Afghanistan with his cred­i­bil­ity in­tact and with the legacy of hav­ing se­cured, for the medium term, some of the goals the US fought the war for in the first in­stance, notably that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for Al Qaeda and its suc­ces­sors or fran­chise. More­over, the US will hope that post 2014, the Afghan government would en­sure that the so-called demo­cratic sys­tem and frame­work that has been cre­ated with their as­sis­tance is hold­ing and the coun­try does not plunge into a civil war.

In 2014, Afghanistan will be hold­ing elec­tions but if last elec­tions are any guide, there are se­ri­ous doubts if free and fair elec­tions could be held by the present regime. Rig­ging and elec­toral mal­prac­tices could lead to lack of cred­i­bil­ity and a se­vere set­back to the demo­cratic process.

The Tal­iban al­ways con­tented that “you have the watches we have the time”; the great­est chal­lenge will be to pre­vent the Tal­iban from forc­ing Afghanistan to re­vert to the state it was be­fore the US in­va­sion. If they do, it would rep­re­sent an ut­ter po­lit­i­cal de­feat of the US en­ter­prise. A ma­jor es­ca­lat­ing prob­lem for the US will be the need to demon­strate that the so-called progress made in trans­fer­ring se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the Afghans is based on real progress and not on wish­ful think­ing of

po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious peo­ple like Gen­eral Pe­traeus (whose com­ments that the Afghan Na­tional Army and Afghan Po­lice are ac­tu­ally ready to take over, were un­founded).

The US plan is to hand over se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the Afghans in a phased man­ner com­menc­ing by the mid­dle of 2013 and fi­nal­iz­ing it by end 2014. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times about ten thou­sand US and few thou­sand al­lied forces will re­main in Afghanistan af­ter 2014 giv­ing a strong sig­nal that US and NATO are not go­ing to aban­don Afghanistan. As a part of the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment, the US af­ter 2014 will main­tain its bases and keep Spe­cial Forces in Afghanistan.

In ad­di­tion to an ad­vi­sory role, the US is likely to main­tain a base in Ba­gram and an­other in Kan­da­har, leav­ing Spe­cial Forces and units of air force to sup­port ANA and Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

In ad­di­tion to an ad­vi­sory role, the US is likely to main­tain a base in Ba­gram and an­other in Kan­da­har, leav­ing Spe­cial Forces and units of air force to sup­port ANA and Afghan se­cu­rity forces. The US will also rely heav­ily on preda­tor drones and pre­ci­sion guided mu­ni­tions for tar­get­ing Al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups.

Af­ter Washington de­cides the strength of troops to be sta­tioned in Afghanistan post 2014, it will also have to de­cide on the draw down plan. De­spite US sup­port, it is doubt­ful whether Afghan forces will be able to re­tain con­trol in Hel­mand, parts of Kan­da­har and many of the east­ern prov­inces. How­ever, the US will make ev­ery ef­fort that Kabul does not fall to the Tal­iban. In all like­li­hood with US sup­port, Herat, Mazar Sharif and most of West­ern and North­ern parts may be able to re­sist the ad­vance of the Tal­iban.

The greater chal­lenge will be to re­tain the in­tegrity of the Afghan Na­tional Army af­ter 2014. There are fears that eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences may per­me­ate the ranks of the army that has yet to gel as a strong na­tional in­sti­tu­tion.

An­other di­rectly re­lated chal­lenge will be to rec­on­cile Amer­i­cans to the idea that lit­tle or none of the so­cial progress that in their minds jus­ti­fied this very long war (ex­am­ple on the sta­tus of women) is likely to sur­vive if at all af­ter their de­par­ture. More­over, the drug trade is likely to grow and the US will be have to face war­lords who are be­hind it. Th­ese and other re­lated is­sues are chal­lenges that no US government is well equipped to han­dle ef­fec­tively and could eas­ily fail at do­ing so.

Fi­nally, as of now there is no game plan on what to do about Pak­istan, the key neigh­bor­ing coun­try that will play a ma­jor and per­haps de­ter­min­ing role in what hap­pens next door as the US leaves. Washington is un­likely to de­velop a Pak­istan pol­icy that is ef­fec­tive, be­cause it hasn’t thus far. The US success in Afghanistan would also de­pend to what ex­tent Pak­istan is will­ing and ca­pa­ble of con­fronting ter­ror­ists and elim­i­nat­ing safe havens within its bor­der. A sim­i­lar ex­pec­ta­tion is there from the Pak­istani side that sanc­tu­ar­ies in Afghanistan’s east­ern prov­inces where Pak­istani Tali- ban are tak­ing refuge, will be cleared by the US and Afghan forces.

How­ever, in its quest for an or­derly with­drawal from Afghanistan, the US ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue to en­gage Pak­istan and seek its co­op­er­a­tion. It wants Pak­istan to re­lease the Tal­iban lead­ers and use its in­flu­ence to bring them to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. The aim is to per­suade at least the lower and mid­dle rank­ing Tal­iban to aban­don vi­o­lence, in­te­grate in the so­ci­ety and be­come part of the po­lit­i­cal or­der. If the po­lit­i­cal process were in­clu­sive then it would pre­vent the re­cy­cling of vi­o­lence and fa­cil­i­tate the trans­fer of power to the Afghans.

It is pos­si­ble that some of the lower and mid-rank­ing Tal­iban are now war weary and will­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the ne­go­ti­at­ing process. The ques­tion how­ever re­mains: can the sec­ond tier lead­ers like Mul­lah Ba­rader, even if they are re­leased by Pak­istan, de­liver on their own or are de­pen­dent on Mul­lah Omar’s dic­tates to agree to any form of ne­go­ti­a­tions?

Then there is the is­sue of the re­lease of the Guan­tanamo Bay pris­on­ers. If the US were to re­lease at least some of them it would meet a long-stand­ing de­mand of the Tal­iban and will be a ma­jor con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sure. More­over, if both sides could agree to a tem­po­rary cease-fire it would fa­cil­i­tate talks and demon­strate that the Tal­iban and the US gen­uinely want to find a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. As of now, this seems un­likely. Talat Ma­sood is a re­tired Lieu­tenant Gen­eral of the Pak­istan Army Corps of Engi­neers. Gen­eral Ma­sood holds a Masters in De­fense and Strate­gic Stud­ies and has also served as a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Stim­son Cen­ter in Washington, D.C. He was a con­sul­tant for the lead­ing U.S. de­fense man­u­fac­turer United De­fense Lim­ited Part­ner­ship (UDLP) for five years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.