Haqqani Lisa Curtis McMaster
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Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan |

Just days after the visit of US national security advisor Lieutenant General HR McMaster to Pakistan, we saw the enormous security breach and an unfortunate deadly attack in Afghanistan, that killed over hundred Afghan soldiers (the most killed in a day following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan). The attack took place at a military base in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province of Afghanistan.

Military involvement in the attack?

If ‘forced entrance’ was the method employed, the assailants should not have succeeded in penetrating the military base without encountering two to three defensive tiers.

Such a daredevil security penetration by the terrorists was only made possible because of the slack security. Even if the assailants were led by four soldiers (insiders) who according to Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, were inside the base and had long been Taliban infiltrators, others that accompanied them should have been identified as outsiders.

If ‘forced entrance’ was the method employed, the assailants should not have succeeded in penetrating the military base without encountering two to three defensive tiers (armed check posts) before they could make their way through to the unarmed soldiers vacating on a Friday (holiday).

Read more: The US in Afghanistan: A tale of follies & miscalculations

In short, this was a terrorist attack that seemed preventable. Which is why the Afghan population asked for heads of those responsible – and indeed got them as the Afghan Defense Minister and the Army Chief resigned.  Pakistan, which has been a victim of similar kind of security breaches in the past, has over the years strengthened the safety and safeguard methods at its security installations which today are no longer easy to breach or penetrate. Maybe the Afghan security forces have a thing or two to learn from their neighbors, but would they be willing to?

Given the language that the US national security advisor used for Pakistan, while he was visiting Afghanistan, it appears that it is not in the interest of the outside powers to create an enabling environment in which the two brotherly neighboring countries engage in a solution finding dialogue. What is clear is that the ‘insiders facilitated’ attack on the military base in Afghanistan – which is also the Headquarters of Afghan National Army’s 209 Corps – as a revenge attack by the Taliban’s, for several of their senior leaders killed by Afghanistan security forces and their international backers in Afghanistan a week earlier. The 209 Corps, guards the Afghan province of Kunduz on the Tajikistan border in the north of the country.

Read more: Peace in Afghanistan necessary to defeat ISIS in the region

Maybe the Afghan security forces have a thing or two to learn from their neighbors, but would they be willing to?

Such a ferocious attack tells us about the Afghan military’s abilities and potency of the deep-rooted Taliban insurgency that targets occupation forces as well as the government troops that fight alongside them. If anything, this unfortunate attack suggests that the breeding grounds of the Taliban are all over Afghanistan, and those who accuse Pakistan of doing little to prevent cross-border Taliban movement across its border, must also consider that such movements also take place across the 965 Km border that Afghanistan shares with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

America’s Hardline policy towards Pakistan

A day before his visit to Pakistan and while he was still in Afghanistan, McMaster, in an interview to Afghan television channel ‘ToloNews’ also reiterated a point made earlier by Lisa Curtis (a senior think tank expert who has recently been appointed by White House as an advisor on South Asian Affairs). Taking a hard line in dealing with Pakistan he said that “the security forces in Pakistan must go after the militant groups less selectively” and that “Pakistan must pursue its interests in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) through the use of diplomacy and not through the use of proxies.”

Read more: Pakistan & Afghanistan: Victims of each other?

These harsh new policy options must be music to the ears of Modi-led government in India.

It is vital to recall that Lisa Curtis, before joining the White House had co-authored with Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the USA, a damning report (signed by 12 other think tank experts in their personal capacities) on Pakistan which was jointly published (February 2017) by Hudson and Heritage Foundation in the USA. The report asked the Trump administration to ‘review its policy on Pakistan’ – a policy that saw Obama administration engage in strategic dialogue with Pakistan and simultaneously offering civilian and military aid to the country. The report criticizes this policy as ineffective as it failed to change Pakistan’s behavior.

The report instead recommended to the new Trump administration to back off from supporting Pakistan unless it ‘shuts down all Islamic militant groups’ that allegedly operate from within Pakistan. According to the report, “the objective of the Trump administration’s policy should be to make it more and more costly for Pakistani leaders to employ a strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic goals”. These costs include include; revoking Pakistan’s status of United States’ ‘Non-Nato Major Ally’ within six months (if Pakistan does not amend its behavior), targeting alleged Taliban safe houses in Quetta through drone attacks, asking Pakistan to re-arrest Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi (accused to be ring leader of 2008 Mumbai attack), banning Pakistan military and ISI officials (who may have been known to have facilitated acts of terrorism) from travelling to US and lastly  – Pakistan should not be declared as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in the first year of the Trump administration but such an option should be kept for the long term, given that all other options fail to force Pakistan to change its behavior.

Read more: Optimistic Fantasy to hope for peace in Afghanistan without talks with Afghan Taliban

The objective of the Trump administration’s policy should be to make it more and more costly for Pakistani leaders to employ a strategy of supporting terrorist proxies to achieve regional strategic goals

These harsh new policy options must be music to the ears of Modi-led government in India. So should be McMaster’s criticism of imperfections of Pakistan military’s operations against terrorism that McMaster chose to address as ‘selective.’

Inda should look at its own domestic issues than bashing Pakistan

However, the wishful thinking of India for Pakistan’s imminent collapse under the weight of international isolation and likely sanctions for supporting terrorism is an embarrassment for a country which itself continues to resort to worst kind of state terrorism in Indian Held Kashmir.

McMaster needs to understand – if he does not do so already – that unless India agrees to embrace Pakistan in a comprehensive dialogue engagement the environment of insecurity will continue to prevail in South Asia and most particularly in Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power which cannot be threatened or blackmailed into submission. It’s nuclear and missile ability is well dispersed and spread all over the country in secret locations. India knows that it cannot take out these weapons with a single blow and Pakistan would most certainly retain the ability to respond to any Indian aggression in kind. That tells us that war between the two countries is not an option.

Read more: Pakistan warns US, Afghanistan could be the next Syria

If the Trump administration needs a new strategy to deal with Pakistan, then it will have to put aside Lisa Curtis indo-phile talk and our sold out former ambassador’s recommended ‘threat doctrine’ and substitute it with a more realistic ‘doctrine of mutual engagement’ between India and Pakistan. McMaster’s predecessors Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley and even James Jones knew that although it is Pakistan that the US continues to ask to ‘do more’ but it is India too that complicates Afghanistan.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan, did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Phd work is on ‘Civil Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy.

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