Dialogue July-September 2009, Volume 11 No.1
AfPak Strategy: Hobson’s choice
US President Barack Obama is well on his way into
implementing his AfPak strategy, which was unveiled shortly after he took
office. The idea is to look at the war in Afghanistan in a composite manner,
taking into account, among other things, Pakistan’s intimate involvement. The
problem is that Taliban fighters find safe haven in Pakistan and can operate
with impunity against US and NATO forces across the border. The AfPak strategy
seeks to smash the Taliban by constricting them from two sides. US forces
operating on the Afghanistan side are expected to constitute the anvil while the
Pakistani Army on the other side of the border is to be the hammer. Between the
two, the hope is to pound and obliterate the Taliban.
Whether this will happen or not is the million dollar question. Either way, the continued war in Afghanistan, the latest AfPak initiative included, is destined to have a profound impact on the region. For, regardless of whether the AfPak strategy succeeds or not, the United States really has only one long term choice – that is to leave Afghanistan. The only uncertainty is the timing, whether four years or fourteen.
This paper looks at the impact the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is having on Afghanistan, Pakistan, the region and the world as a whole.
Understanding the AfPak Strategy
Political aspects of President Obama’s AfPak strategy and its implications for the war in Afghanistan. What we should know about current US thinking.
Obama’s political compulsions
Barack Obama was not elected by the American people to solve the Afghanistan problem. He was elected with a specific agenda of building a new America, where market fundamentalism is to be replaced by welfare and social concerns. Obama promised to fix the economy, provide more job security, health care and welfare measures for the underprivileged. This is his priority. As he looks to the end of his current 4-year term and possibly, another term, his aim would be to deliver on those promises and keep the Democrats in power.
The Democrats’, and Obama’s, biggest nightmare is Afghanistan turning into a quagmire sucking in more and more resources and critical Presidential attention. Many of Obama’s key advisor’s have warned him about repeating the mistakes of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was voted to address domestic issues but who got inextricably entangled in the Vietnam War, which eventually took all his attention and time. President Obama will not let this happen to him. President Obama’s AfPak policy was articulated in a speech he delivered on 27 March 2009 as well as in a White Paper issued on the same day. In his Afghanistan speech, Obama clearly states that he would not “blindly stay the course” and that he would evaluate his progress. Obama in subsequent interviews has repeated that the US commitment to the Afghan war would not be open ended.
The next two years in Afghanistan will be crucial. If the increase in troop levels and the AfPak strategy does not bear fruit, a wholly different set of policies would be set into motion, which would include some sort of deal with the Pakistanis, the Taliban and the Afghans. Towards the end of his term, Obama would start downsizing in Afghanistan with a promise to pull out as from Iraq. He would not like to be seen persisting in a rut from which there is no escape.
Should his AfPak strategy produce results in the next couple of years, then there would be less motivation to start a phased withdrawal, although there would certainly be a reduction in US forces. Long term commitment would be in the form of a core US force providing the Afghan government and armed forces advisors, trainers and technical support, perhaps even a limited degree of air power. At any rate, the eventual aim is to wind down the US military presence, one way or the other.
The US and its allies in Afghanistan thus have only one long term choice: win or lose, they have to eventually leave the country. Before leaving they have to show some sort of progress and make an exit deal. That is the importance of special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who achieved both fame and notoriety by ramming down a deal in the Balkans.
This is the big picture.
President Obama ordered a review of the Afghan war with very good reason. NATO was not winning the war and by end 2008 more American soldiers were dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq. A review was imperative. Obama got together some of the best experts on the region, including former CIA operative and old Pakistan hand, Bruce Reidel, and the veteran diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, among others. There is reason to assume that Obama realised that war winning should be the core of the new strategy.
He was right if he thought so. Because political dialogue follows and does not precede success in anti-insurgency operations. This is a simple truth Indian politicians have learnt over the decades. An enemy which thinks it is winning will not negotiate.
At the same time, it was becoming increasingly obvious that simply defeating the Taliban or ousting them from a particular area would not help. This is what the US military had been doing in the past. Operating out of fortified camps and forward operating bases, US forces would attack Taliban concentrations as and when reported, inflict casualties, disperse the Taliban and then return. Over the next few days the Taliban would creep back.
By late 2006, it was clear that Taliban concentrations in southern and Eastern Afghanistan had risen to very high levels. To counter this, the profile of the ISAF mission was raised. Five operational command areas were designated and non-US officers took command of parts of the country for the first time in 2007. The British, Canadians and the Dutch were given overall responsibility for operations in the Southern Regional Command (Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, Uruzgan and Daikundi). The Germans were given the north because there was hardly any activity there; the Italians were given the West; French Kabul; and the Americans keep the turbulent east to themselves. Despite this overhaul, the ground situation changed little and by end 2008, ISAF and US commanders had to admit that the war was at a stalemate.
One of the first realisations by the Obama team
was that more troops were required to hold ground and give fight to the Taliban.
His envoys repeatedly requested the Europeans for more troops but they were
rebuffed. Obama initially talked about increasing US troop levels by 40,000 men.
In the end, he signed for only 21,000 more. The new contingents have been given
four tasks and four deployments. One group (estimated at 4,000) is merely for
training; about 11,000 for Helmand (Camp Leatherneck) and an equal number to
secure the areas around Kabul and the East.
The idea today is to hold ground, resurrect the long gone civil administration, train and upgrade local police force, and prove to the Afghan people that they can provide a viable and better administration than the Taliban. Another critical objective is to raise the Afghan National Army into a force capable of taking on the Taliban and defending the country’s borders.
To be fair, the US military and leadership have been learning on the job. On 2 July 2009, the new US brigade in Helmand launched its first operation codenamed Kanjar, which involved 4,000 Marines and additional Afghan National Army troops. Brig. Gen. Larry D. Nicholson, the commander of Task Force Leatherneck, said: “What makes Operation Kanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go, we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces.” The new US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has requested his troops not to call in for air or long range artillery support except in the most exceptional of circumstances. He has also briefed his officers on the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.
The new emphasis is on holding ground and building local institutions. This is a major departure in tactics. There are, however, doubts whether it will succeed so late in the day. A news report in The New York Times (3 July 2009) remarked: “Yet Taliban control of the countryside is so extensive in provinces like Kandahar and Helmand that winning districts back will involve tough fighting and may ignite further tensions, residents and local officials warn. The government has no presence in 5 of Helmand’s 13 districts, and in several others, like Nawa, it holds only the district town, where troops and officials live virtually under siege.”
Already the deficiencies are showing. In operation Kanjar, only 650 ANA soldiers participated, pointing to a failure in raising an effective Afghan army. The other glaring failure was that of the US civilian component of Kanjar. None of the hundreds of civilians promised showed up. Thus for the first time, the US war effort is witnessing a huge gap between expectations and achievements.
Clearly, the war has entered a new stage and there is no telling which way it will ultimately swing.
Washington continues to be deeply divided in its views on the best means to win the war in Afghanistan. One section favours total war with the single minded pursuit of the total destruction of the Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They argue that the war has not succeeded so far precisely because its aims have been so muddled. The ISAF is building schools and hospitals, doing guard duty as well as fighting.
Others argue that the main task is to build
civilian institutions and bring development to Afghanistan. This, they argue,
will win the war and not the killing of Taliban and pilling up of civilian
casualties. One section of US strategists feel that sending more troops into
Afghanistan would be counterproductive as it would cause more civilian
casualties, alienate the local population and do nothing for the long term
stability of Afghan
This is one reason perhaps why President Obama scaled down the number of additional troops for Afghanistan and highlighted the need for simultaneous developmental activity. “So to advance security, opportunity and justice, not just in Kabul but from the bottom up, in the provinces, we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That’s how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn’t dominated by illicit drugs. And that’s why I’m ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. ..At a time of economic crisis, it’s tempting to believe that we can short-change the civilian effort. But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don’t invest in their future.” Obama declared in his speech.
Thus the strategy in Afghanistan will be two pronged: War fighting as well as development. The AfPak White paper stressed: “Our counter-insurgency strategy must integrate population security with building effective local governance and economic development”. The latest operation (Kanjar) suggests that this policy is being implemented seriously.
Desired End State
Successful wars are those that have a clear end state or clear objective. If strategic aims are muddled then no amount of combat success will bring about a clear win. In Afghanistan, the desired aim of the war is to defeat the al Qaida and prevent its return.
President Obama’s core statement is unambiguous: “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved." [President Barack Obama, 27 March 2009].
By al Qaida, President Obama also means the Taliban. For, later in his speech, he clarified: “There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force. And they must be defeated. But there are also those who have taken up arms because of coercion or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course.” Thus while also identifying the Taliban as the enemy; he left the door open for negotiations.
While President Obama and his team know what they are up against, there is an inherent problem in the objectives. Disrupting, dismantling and defeating the al Qaida might be the easy part but to prevent their return in the future is a hugely difficult, if not impossible task.
There are many who believe that an end state acceptable to the West is unlikely. One of UK’s top military commanders, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, bluntly and publicly declared: “We’re not going to win this war.” He felt that negotiations with the opposing Taliban were the only way out and that the world should not expect a decisive victory in Afghanistan.
There are two parts to the problem. One is creating a stable, progressive government in Afghanistan that is capable of taking care of its own security. This is not going to happen soon. President Hamid Karzai remains dependent on Washington for his political and physical survival. Afghanistan is far from acquiring the status of a functioning democracy and an indigenous army capable of taking on the Taliban is many years away. The other part of the problem is Pakistan, which continues to view Afghanistan as part of its sphere of influence and is bound to interfere in one way or another once US forces leave.
Impact within Pakistan and likely scenario
Pakistan is the key to stability in Afghanistan. This much the AfPak policy recognises clearly. As President Obama said in his AfPak policy speech, “we must recognize the fundamental connection between the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan; which is why I’ve appointed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is here, to serve as special representative for both countries, and to work closely with General Petraeus to integrate our civilian and military efforts.”
The aim of the AfPak strategy is to destroy the
al Qaida and its allies in Pakistan. President Obama argued that “al Qaeda and
its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within. It’s
important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in
going after al Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, they
are rugged and they are often ungoverned. And that’s why we must focus our
military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to
root out the terrorists.”
Apart from military aid, the United States will provide the Pakistan government US $ 1.5 billion dollars worth of economic assistance through the John Kerry and Richard Lugar Bill. The aim is to build schools, hospitals and other welfare projects. This time though, the money given to Pakistan will be very closely monitored.
The big question is whether Pakistan will or can deliver. The immediate task is to contain and destroy the Taliban and its allies in Pakistan’s tribal and other areas. The civilian leadership, judging from the recent statements by President Asif Zardari, seems determined to rid the country of jihadis, if for no other reason, then because the future of mainstream politics depends on it.
The attitude of the Pakistani Army remains somewhat ambivalent. While the Army seems determined to smash the “rebel” outfits like that of Maulana Fazlullah, Maulana Faqir Mohammad and Baitullah Mehsud, the original Taliban led by the one-eyed mullah as well as pro-establishment jihadi outfits like the Jammat ud Dawa remain protected.
Successful containment of Taliban insurgents in the rugged FATA and NWFP districts require fairly large and sustained troop deployments. Pak army is not entirely willing to do this, or else it is not entirely capable. Although it does appear that the Pakistan Army has committed fairly large numbers of troops. According to one estimate, the Pakistani Army has deployed almost 80 battalions in NWFP and FATA to combat the extremists.
In most places, a combination of Frontier Corps
(FC) and Army units are involved in the fighting. FC(North), which is
responsible for the NWFP and FATA areas, is said to have 14 groups of three
battalions each. The Pakistani Army’s crack SSG units as well as the US trained
SOF (Special Operations Forces) are also involved in the fighting. Two squadrons
of helicopter gunships have also been deployed and close air support is being
provided from Peshawar and Sargodha.
The Pakistan Army divisions involved are believed to be roughly as follows:
Swat - 37 Div plus FC (ex Gujranwala)
Buner - 23 Div (ex Jhelum)
North Waziristan - 7 Div (ex Peshawar)
South Waziristan - 9 Div 9 (ex Kohat)
Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan & Mir Ali - 14 Div (ex Okara)
Dir & Bajaur - Ad Hoc FC(N) force headed by IG Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan
Reserve - 17 Div (ex Kharian) plus additional units from LoC
The X Corps HQ has been moved from Rawalpindi to Swat.
Significantly, the Pakistani Army, contrary to expectations, has moved substantial forces from the borders to NWFP & FATA.
Impact of Current Operations
Militants in Swat, Buner, Bajaur and parts of Waziristan have been severely disrupted. However, there is serious dispute about the Pakistani Army’s claims of thousands of militants killed. Some sources have been bandying the figure of 7000 militants killed by Pak army in recent times. It would be surprising if they actually killed even half that number. For, a close scrutiny of media reports emanating after the fighting will show the scepticism of most foreign reporters’ to the Army claims. Most reports point to the astonishing fact that they rarely found the presence of dead bodies in the areas bombed and cleared. The jihadis in the FATA and NWFP have fought the Pakistani Army earlier and are not idiots who would wage a conventional war against a superior force that will not hesitate to call in air and artillery support. As in the past, this time too the jihadis have taken to the mountains where they will continue to harass the Army.
The Pakistani Army has been using heavy artillery and air support to conduct these operations. A record number of people have been displaced. Some estimates claim more than 3 million people have been displaced in Swat and Buner alone. This is an astounding way to fight an insurgency.
The Indian Army has been fighting insurgencies in Kashmir and the North-East. Nowhere has it caused such a catastrophic exodus. What could be the reason for this? Two possibilities: One that the Pakistan Army has no idea how to conduct anti-insurgency operations where the aim is to painfully but carefully separate the chaff from the grain. The Pakistan Army appears to think that everything needs to be ground to dust. This might be permissible in a conventional war against an enemy country but is ridiculous in an in-country operation. The other possibility is that the entire affair has been deliberately choreographed. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the latest Pakistan Army operation in Swat began the day President Zardari along with DG ISI and DGMO in tow arrived in Washington D.C. President Obama had summoned the presidents of both Pakistan and Afghanistan to demand cooperation, offer incentives and spell out some pretty tough disincentives. Thus while the three presidents “discussed” the vexed problem on the far reaches of the planet, the Pakistan Army once again began occupying position in Swat, abandoned only in January of the previous year.
At the same time, there is also a realisation within the Pakistani military high command that they must crush a section of jihadis that have turned against the Pakistani state. General Musharraf’s actions in Lal Masjid were a turning point. Jihadis once nurtured by Pak establishment turned rogue. Many jihadis saw the Pakistani army as unreliable and mainstream politicians as enemies. They felt that the United States was dictating terms and the Pakistani establishment was following an anti-Muslim agenda.
This led to the beginning of attacks on the establishment. Gen. Musharraf too had come under attack. This trend is going to continue. Its intensity would depend on how much the Pakistani Army can weaken the anti-state jihadis. But the schism that has been created between Pak establishment and jihadis is not going to go away. Also, today Pak army realises that the jihadis are now trying to fight for the same political and ideological space.
This internal conflict will intensify, especially after the US exits the region. Moreover, it is now clear that the schism between the jihadis and mainstream forces is not restricted to NWFP and the FATA. Punjab and Sindh too have been affected. There are significant pockets of dormant jihadis in these two provinces.
Moreover, this schism finds reflection even within the armed forces. There have been reports of mutiny in Parachinar, Kohat and Turbat (Balochistan). The Army leadership has been forced to renew indoctrination and stress that their actions are correct and the jihadis are wrong. But there is a problem. Well known analyst and author, Ahmed Rashid, has pointed out that the Pakistani army chief is facing an ideological dilemma: “He cannot tell his men that they are fighting for Islam, because that is what the jihadis themselves are saying”.
Secondly, the wide displacement of civilians due to the Swat, Buner and Waziristan offensives is bound to have an extremely negative long term effect. Locals will view the Pakistani army and establishment as hostile. Relief has been poor while states such as Sindh and to a lesser extent Punjab have not welcomed the IDPs. (Internally displaced persons).
Recent reports suggest that ethnic sentiments, especially anti-Pashtun, sentiments are growing. In Karachi there have been terrible clashes.
Basic problem in Pakistan is that the establishment cannot change its politico-ideological orientation which is essentially anti-India. It requires an Islamic identity to distinguish itself from the subcontinent’s overarching culture and traditions. Today, it is clear that the Pakistani establishment’s ideological choices have led to extremism within. Even Western analysts realise that the Pakistani thinking is flawed and that it is itself responsible for creating the Taliban threat.
A recent report[i] by a US think tank pointed out: “The government of Pakistan played a pivotal role in strengthening extremists among the Pashtuns by helping the Taliban take over Afghanistan and supporting the regime throughout the 1990s. Indeed, Pakistan was one of only three states (with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. This policy stemmed from a pre-occupation with India. A weak, but sympathetic, regime in Afghanistan ‘so the thinking went’ would give Pakistan much sought after “strategic depth,” allowing its military forces, in the event of an Indian invasion, to retreat westward into the Afghan mountains, regroup, and then counterattack across the Indus. An attempt to address one strategic threat thus laid the foundation for another.”
Pak army decisively defeats Taliban in FATA & NWFP. Initiates moves to “de-Islamise” the country’s identity. Highly unlikely
Pak Army has partial victory and occupies permanent position in the towns. Continues with anti-India, Islamic identity. Nurtures pro-establishment, anti-India jihadi groups. Very likely.
Pak Army loses FATA battle. Unlikely.
The second scenario is the most likely. The problem is that this stance combined with Pakistan’s increasing economic problem can only ultimately lead to a severe internal crisis in Pakistan. Given regional instability and intensifying sub-nationalistic demands, the state could even start showing signs of break up. Question is how we would deal with an unstable and perhaps disintegrating Pakistan in the long term?
Impact on India & Region
political institutions and a professional, subservient military force are
unlikely to emerge in Afghanistan in the short or medium terms. Regional forces,
as well as some global powers, will continue to play their games in Afghanistan
for a long time to come. What will India do?
As of now, the success of the US and its allies in containing the conflict in Afghanistan has shielded most regional countries from the adverse fall out of the war. Prior to the US intervention, all regional countries were affected in varying degrees by the situation within Afghanistan and most of them tried to influence events within that country. Most regional countries, with the exception of Pakistan, were completely against the Taliban regime for various reasons. Iran, India and Tajikistan actively aided the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Turkmenistan was the only regional country to remain successfully neutral during the Taliban years.
Most regional countries, India and Iran included, while wary of expanding NATO influence in the region, broadly accept that US intervention has stabilised the situation. They also realise that they would be adversely affected should the US leave Afghanistan without defeating the Taliban and its allies. This is one reason why most countries including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Iran are helping the US war effort in one way or another.
The question is what will happen once the US and NATO forces exit the region?
In the long run, US and NATO presence in Afghanistan will be minimal but not non-existent. Left largely to itself, Afghanistan could probably take on the Taliban and restore a semblance of stability. Even a Taliban government by itself would not be a cause for concern. A weak Taliban contained by strong neighbours would still be manageable.
Afghanistan is not the problem. Instability in a weak, impoverished nation can be contained. It can be argued that Iran as well as the weak Central Asian states neighbouring Afghanistan can secure their borders and prevent Taliban infiltration. Countries like Tajikistan and Turkmenistan might require a bit of help but not Uzbekistan. But no regional country is likely to even contemplate actively intervening in Afghanistan. Without US military presence no other country or coalition will get militarily involved in Afghanistan. However, different countries are likely to fund and support their favourites within that country.
Pakistan is in a different league with its huge population, considerable resources, ideologically motivated groups, powerful military and a history of using extremists as foreign policy instruments. Consequently, it is the impact on the AfPak strategy on Pakistan that needs to be assessed as a priority.
There is little chance of the Taliban keeping to themselves. The most pro-active would be Pakistan that would seek to establish its hegemony over the country through the Taliban or through another grouping with a very different name. In short, Pakistan will get involved in Afghanistan militarily as well as politically.
How Pakistan’s active intervention will affect the politico-security environment in the region is difficult to assess given that most countries in the region are themselves in a state of flux. These countries include the economically and politically weak Tajikistan, the economically beleaguered Karimov regime in Uzbekistan, cash strapped Turkmenistan and dissension ridden Iran. The other Central Asian and Caucasus states are equally unlikely to get involved in any manner.
While there would be a trickle effect of jihadi elements into regional countries, it is unlikely to be a deluge. These regional countries would also be ruthless in eliminating jihadi elements within their borders and funding anti-jihadi forces within Afghanistan.
There is also a strong possibility of the de facto partition of Afghanistan along Pashtun and non-Pashtun lines. The Tajiks, the Uzbeks, Hazaras and some smaller non-Pashtun groups had been severely mauled by the Pashtun Taliban in the past and they are not likely to let history repeat itself. Despite attempts at de-weaponisation in Afghanistan, ethnic minority as well as most Pashtun commanders have retained most of their weaponry. Some groups, particularly the Tajiks, have also grown immensely rich post-2001 and have purchased large tracts of land in and around Kabul. This time they will not let Kabul go as easily as it went in the past. It is also suspected that this time round the Americans are secretly helping the Tajiks. For, it was the Tajiks mainly who helped US forces clear the country of the Taliban in 2001 and 2002. The Americans must be aware that a civil war could well break out along ethnic lines once they depart. The former Northern Alliance, like the Kurds in Iraq, will not be entirely forgotten. Whether or not this de facto partition will endure depends largely on the vigour with which Pakistan thrusts into that country. My readings suggest that this time, the Pakistani Army would not find it easy to overrun Afghanistan for three reasons: first, the last time, the Pakistani establishment had Washington’s nod to use the Taliban, this time they do not have that; second, the Americans would continue to monitor the region and fund both Pakistan and Afghanistan long after they exit the region militarily; and, third, the regional countries would be more pro-active in supporting anti-jihadi forces.
India and its diplomatic operations in Afghanistan would be a major Pakistani and jihadi target. The continuation of Indian missions and national presence in that country in the form of large number of commercial entities and their employees would be contingent, as of now, entirely on the goodwill of the former Northern Alliance leadership and its Pashtun partners. This is not a happy scenario. Ideally, Indian objectives and its missions in Afghanistan should be secure irrespective of whichever political dispensation occupies power in Kabul. This is the goal our Afghan policy should aspire to. Or else the US $ one billion plus assistance to Afghanistan would have been in vain. Moreover, next time round too we might have to beat a hasty retreat out of Afghanistan as in 1996.
It should also be recognised that of all the regional countries, India is the least shielded from the impact of the AfPak strategy because of its multifaceted relationship and multiple impact points with Pakistan.
The first set of problems arises from Washington’s belief that the only way to get the Pakistani Army to “re-tool” for its western borders is to ease the “Indian threat” in the east. In order for this to happen, the Americans feel that Kashmir, supposedly the only major irritant in India-Pakistan relations, needs to be resolved. Washington does not go along with the Indian view that Kashmir is kept on the boil by the Pakistani Army in order to sustain its anti-Indian rhetoric within Pakistan. By keeping Kashmir alive, the Pakistani Army, among other things, ensures its own dominance and importance in the Pakistani polity. Whatever be the reality, the fact is that the AfPak policy has put tremendous pressure on New Delhi to first begin dialogue with Islamabad and then re-start negotiations for a “final settlement” of Kashmir.
There are other points of impact in the Pak-India relationship: political, military, trade and the jihadi factor.
Militarily, there is unlikely to be any sea change on the ground, despite a significant amount of thinning out of Pakistani Army assets from the borders for the FATA operations. Political and trade relations should improve in the medium term as US pressure on both countries would seek to achieve tangible results and CBMs. The jihadi factor would continue to be a major problem for India as the Pakistan based jihadis would seek to hurt India, undermine its prestige and regional role as well as exacerbate tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Yet, on the whole, India is on a potentially good wicket. But in the end, it will depend on how the country’s leadership takes on American pace and Pakistani ‘doosra’ attacks. A last point to note is that Washington has no reason to foist unpopular or damaging decisions on New Delhi. This applies to a Kashmir “solution” as well. For, the US might need Pakistan in the short and medium terms, but it needs India far more in the long term. India needs to develop the stamina to pursue long term policy in a sustained and unrelenting manner. It also needs institutions and mechanisms to sustain such an endeavour.
Afghanistan is intimately linked with larger geopolitical issues involving Asia. Europe is withdrawing, the US is growing weaker, and China is growing more powerful while Russia is stagnating. Political Islam has emerged as a major global force as Muslims seek greater voice and control of their destinies. Afghanistan is a key battle in the larger geopolitical war.
Some strategic thinkers in the United States are beginning to believe that Iraq and Afghanistan could be the precursors to endemic irregular warfare in different parts of the world.
This is one reason why a host of former US
secretaries of state, including Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright, are
arguing for more funding for the State Department. The idea is to use civilian
diplomacy and economic development to achieve US foreign policy goals. Writing
in Foreign Policy (2 July 2009), analyst Robert Haddick says: “The era of
“persistent irregular conflict,” if that is what we are in, will not occur in
European or Asian capitals, but at forward operating bases and combat outposts. In these cases, the interlocutors of U.S. diplomats and development specialists
will in many cases be tribal and non-state groups rather than government
Afghanistan may well be the last European combat commitment outside their continent. This signals the weakening of Europe as well as its growing inwardness. Europe has become a high cost economy that is increasingly unable to compete with many of the emerging economies of Asia and South America. Within European society, religious and ethnic intolerance is growing as is evident from recurring race riots and the rise of the right wing. French President Sarkozy might have opened France’s first overseas military base in the Gulf last month, but he is unable to get his soldiers to fight in Afghanistan or increase their numbers in any significant manner. In all, Europe is battening down.
China is keeping out of the turmoil in Afghanistan
and instead concentrating on other countries in the region. It views Pakistan as
a close ally and feels it will stand to gain in whatever dispensation that would
follow post-NATO in Afghanistan.
Russia too accepts that the US is as of today securing its southern belly. This is why Moscow has allowed the passage of weaponry, troops, and supplies to traverse its territory on way to Afghanistan. This is a significant concession coming as it does during a period of continuing crisis in US-Russia relations, which are dominated by larger security and disarmament concerns.
The rest of the world too realises the importance of the Afghan war but in different ways. The supporters of political Islam all over the world are counting on the Taliban and the al Qaida to humble yet another super power. Such a defeat would add hope to their cause and swell their ranks with fresh volunteers. These forces are ranged against the status quo in the Muslim world and various democratic regimes under fire from jihadi terrorists.
The War in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the Palestinian question continues to exercise the Muslim world, as does the continued existence of authoritarian regimes. The United States and several European states continued to be viewed as supporters of authoritarian regimes and an unrelenting anti-Muslim agenda. This was the real cause for the War in Afghanistan. That factor remains despite President Obama’s best intentions. It would therefore be naive to assume that Afghanistan would cease to become a conflict zone following the weakening or even defeat of the Taliban. The world is in for a long period of global sporadic conflict. Sadly, Afghanistan will remain in the vortex of conflict for many years to come.
There can be only one logical conclusion to any strategy devised in Washington: Ultimately, Afghanistan will have to be left to itself and to the mercy of Pakistan. The future of Afghanistan depends on what kind of Pakistan will emerge once the AfPak strategy has run its course.
Notes [i] Triage: The Next Twelve Months in Afghanistan and Pakistan By Andrew M. Exum, Nathaniel C. Fick, Ahmed A. Humayun, David J. Kilcullen June 2009. Center for a New American Security.
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