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Wednesday, January 25, 2023
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Analyzing the stimulated instability in Pak-Afghan region (Part 5)

According to Asif Haroon Raja, a retired Brig Gen since taking power in August, the Taliban have repeatedly expressed the expectation that the international community will recognize their authority as the new government of Afghanistan and have taken several procedural steps to pursue recognition. In the light of current events, Pak-Afghan relations are also taking new directions but for the better or worse only time will tell.

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After the drama of chest-beating by the senators in the US Senate which was more of a political charade, the top US generals, Gen Lloyd Austin, CJCS Gen Mark Millay, CentCom Commander Gen Frank McKenzie testified before the House of Armed Services Committee. Millay candidly stated that Afghanistan was a strategic failure. It was brought out that the drawdown of troops spanned a period from July 2011 to Aug 2021. Given that conflict is almost certain to intensify after U.S. and international forces withdraw, battlefield developments will take center stage. The Pak-Afghan relationship is likely to further deteriorate, and vitriol on both sides could foreclose on any remaining opportunities to reach a negotiated settlement.

McKenzie was of the view that the Doha deal giving out the cutout date of the pullout of foreign troops had a pernicious effect on the Afghan regime and its security forces and led to their collapse. He said, after the reduction of the US troop level to 2500 in Jan 2021, the unraveling accelerated when Biden decided to complete the withdrawal by Sept 11. Gen Austin pinned the blame on the State Department for the US delayed evacuation of the Americans and special immigrant visa applicants.

Read more: Analyzing the stimulated instability in Pak-Afghan region (Part 1)

Post mortem of top US generals

No general appreciated the role of Pakistan in occupying Afghanistan, for providing logistic supply routes to fight the longest war, facilitating the Doha agreement and kick-starting the intra-Afghan dialogue, and above all, facilitating pullout of marooned US-NATO soldiers, security contractors, diplomats, civilians and Afghans. Blinken had the grace to acknowledge Pakistan’s contributions in facilitating peace talks.

The generals failed to mention massive human rights abuses and wanton atrocities committed by the occupying forces on their orders and not even spare weddings and funerals.

No mention was made of the series of mistakes made which led to strategic failure. Gen Wesley Clark in his book ‘Winning Modern Wars’ wrote that Pentagon had planned a short and swift war in Afghanistan and a five-year military campaign (2001-2005) against seven Muslim States. As per John Pegler in his book ‘War on Terror – False Victory’, “attack on Afghanistan was unnecessary. Tony Blair was the one who insisted the most to wage a war”. Jeffrey St. Clair writes in his book ‘Grand Theft Pentagon’, “George Bush and Rumsfeld disdainfully declared that there were to be no negotiations. They were interested in invading Afghanistan and not in putting Osama Bin Laden on trial”.

They didn’t mention that successive ISAF/CentCom/NATO Commanders from 2011 onwards were against the drawdown plan of Obama. Gen Petraeus had serious reservations over the withdrawal spread over 42 months, arguing that it had bolstered the spirits of the Taliban and demoralized the Afghan National Army (ANA). In order to force him to change his plan, rosy feedback was given saying that soon they will turn the tide and defeat the Taliban. They forgot that the mission was to dismantle and destroy Al-Qaeda, which was achieved in 2011, and not to defeat the Taliban.

Obama wilted under pressure and agreed to keep a small Resolute Support Mission (RSM) of up to 12000 troops. Trump increased the strength of RSM but then brushed aside all opposition and signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Feb 2020. He was keen to complete the withdrawal by Christmas (Dec 25, 2020), or latest by Jan 15, 2021, but couldn’t. He reduced the strength from near 20,000 to 2500 US troops, with 5400 NATO troops and 6300 security contractors.

Read more: Analyzing the stimulated instability in Pak-Afghan region (Part 2)

Biden’s order of hasty withdrawal

The urgency to get rid of Afghan imbroglio was that the war had depleted the US economy, impinged its reputation, exhausted the tolerance of the Americans for body bags, and kept the US distracted from its chief competitor China which was galloping ahead in the economic race.

After remaining in two minds for two months, Biden made an announcement on April 14 that withdrawal will be completed by Sept 11; the date was shifted back to Aug 31. The exit of the last batch was speeded up in July-Aug after seeing the rapid offensive of the Taliban.

Biden could be questioned if he had reverted the withdrawal date from May to March or April, or asked as to why he extended the date of pullout from May to Sept, and not as to why he hastened the withdrawal. He did what he was supposed to do. The claptrap of waiting for the political settlement is an argument similar to the misleading story of turning the tables on the Taliban propounded from 2012 onwards but making no progress on the ground.

Trump is blamed for throwing in the towel by signing the unfavorable Doha deal, and Biden for undertaking hasty withdrawal which caused panic. It was Bush, Obama and Trump who created the mess, and not Biden. He should be credited for ending the illegal occupation and the torment.

The fact is that the sudden and unexpected fall of Kabul much before the speculated time triggered a rush to flee.

If the ANA army officers are blamed, why not their trainers? If the ANA displayed lack of guts, what about the ISAF commanders who abandoned boots-on-ground strategy, and vacated their fortified military bases in a hurry? Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that ‘you cannot purchase courage and will to fight by spending money. Complacency and lack of foresight of the RSM Commander resulted in a disorderly withdrawal.

What has hurt the hawks in the US ruling party, the Pentagon, CIA and the spoilers is that why there was no bloodshed, and how the Taliban gained control over the whole of Afghanistan so swiftly and with so much ease?

The conspirators were expecting pitched battles in major cities, bloodletting and a huge exodus of urbanites into Pakistan, and had planned to take advantage of the melee to push out all the terrorists into Pakistan.

Honestly speaking, Obama should have brushed aside the pressure of the Pentagon and ensured complete withdrawal by Dec 2014. After signing the historic Doha agreement, Trump should have shown grace by handing over power to the Taliban from whom power was snatched and exited honorably. The US should have gracefully accepted defeat instead of blaming others for its failure.

Read more: Analyzing the stimulated instability in Pak-Afghan region (Part 3)

Profiteering by fat cats in the US 

The military-industrial complex was not interested in ending the war or defeating the Taliban. For the generals and the avaricious defense contractors and corporates, prolongation of war for as long as possible to maximize profits was their sole interest. For them, war is the most profitable business on earth.

Of the over $14 trillion spent by the Pentagon, one-third to one-half went to private military contractors

The Pentagon has paid the arms industry at least $4.4 trillion since 9/11.

Mixed response of the international community

While the UN, WHO, WFP, Europe and the Muslim world are inclined to extend help, the US is still in two minds. It readily spent $ 2.3 trillion in Afghanistan ruled by corrupt and incompetent puppets, but now it is reluctant to unfreeze Kabul’s $ 9.5 billion foreign exchange reserve and has become stingy and nasty to spare few millions to overcome their teething problems. The US wants to prove to the world that Afghanistan was peaceful and prosperous under its rule and has become chaotic after its departure.

Dilly dallying by the regional countries including six neighbors of Afghanistan in recognizing the Taliban regime is encouraging the US to continue with its aggressive policies in the Af-Pak region. The passiveness of Russia and China against the defeated and enervated USA is quite surprising. Is it their fear of Islamic radicalism which is keeping them shy of coming forward in support of the Taliban boldly?

This factor had impelled the duo to approve the invasion and occupation of neighboring Afghanistan in 2001 by their archrival. Iran has its own reservations since it sees its influence in Afghanistan waning after the fall of Panjshir and Herat-based warlord Ismail Khan joining the Taliban.

Read more: Analyzing the stimulated instability in Pak-Afghan region (Part 4)

Driven by selfish interests, the heartless world powers are disinterested in the plight of 11 million Afghans living below the poverty line and in urgent need of food, medicines and hard cash. The disinclination of the Islamic world is disquieting.

Dangers of neglecting Afghanistan

Diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime is likely to be considerably delayed unless the regional countries led by Russia and China and some Muslim countries take the initiative.

Cash strapped Afghanistan faced with scarcity of food items, healthcare and experts to run the administration due to brain drain will suffer from increasing poverty, hunger, diseases, law and order and could lead to civil strife duly fueled by vested groups.

Soft behavior of the Taliban interim regime and its inclination to make compromises in order to win the cooperation of the international community might evoke resentment among the hawkish elder Taliban leaders and a new generation of Taliban, impelling them to exert pressure on the moderates to enforce strict Sharia laws and deal with the oppressors harshly.

In case the rulers relent and adopt a hard posture, it would invoke a strong reaction from the international community in general and detractors and local ethnic/sectarian groups in particular.

If they decide to follow the moderate path, it could incite internal differences and lead to skirmishes.

Disturbing security and law & order would provide space to terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, Daesh-K, IMU, ETIM, warlords to exploit the situation.

Read more: Pakistan in favor of expanding CPEC to Taliban-led Afghanistan

The Taliban have the capability and capacity to defeat and eliminate Daesh-K but will need the moral and political support of the regional countries.

The Humanitarian assistance

This is not the time for lecturing, politicking and machinations. The worsening situation in war-ravaged Afghanistan demands prompt humanitarian assistance. Unless the international community comes forward to help the new regime in Kabul to tide over its monumental socio-economic challenges, this region is up for turbulent times.

China, Qatar and UAE coupled with the UN, WFP and WHO have the financial capacity and can play a big role in alleviating the hardships faced by the Afghans. Humane behavior in testing times is the only way forward to curtail extremism and terrorism.

Pakistan’s possible initiatives

Taking into account Pakistan’s geographic contiguity and deep-rooted religious and cultural affinities with Afghanistan which no other country enjoys, it becomes incumbent upon Pakistan to extend wholehearted support to the neighbor in distress. Though food and medicine supplies have already started, a lot more is required to be done. A well-thought-out plan to meet short, medium and long-term objectives should be formulated and implemented on war footing to avert impending famine-like conditions.

While maintaining high vigilance to prevent undesirable infiltrators, all border crossing points need to be opened for delivering supplies and for barter trade. Besides medicines, medical teams should be sent, or medical centers opened at transit points.

Services of skilled persons and professionals are offered to run the banks, social and entrepreneur sectors.

Pak-Afghan trade received a big setback in the last two decades since the bulk of the trade needs of Kabul were met by India, Iran and the Central Asian States. It should be revived to pre-2011 levels. The two countries have a trade potential of $ 8-10 billion.

Read more: Pakistan wants envoy of old Afghan govt. to leave UN?

To overcome the threat of terrorism, it is wise to make an offer of amnesty to the runaway TTP and Baloch groups agreeing to disarm and give up terrorism against the state. 3000 Baloch rebels have surrendered and joined the mainstream. PTM has been orphaned. Consequent to the killings of several senior leaders of TTP by the Pak security forces, some TTP groups conveyed their desire to the Afghan Taliban to disarm and return to Pakistan. The TTP North Waziristan chapter (Uthman Wazirs) under Hafiz Gul Bahadur has announced a three-week ceasefire from 01 Oct to facilitate talks. Elements not involved in heinous crimes should be pardoned and a handful of hardcore terrorists isolated and eliminated.

In Sept 2001, Pakistan was coerced to provide airspace, airbases and seaport to facilitate the occupation of Afghanistan. It is once again being pressured to provide an airbase or as minimum airspace to renew air/drone attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan should stand by its ‘absolutely not’ stance and should maintain its defiance, and reciprocate by promising to continue extending its services for the promotion of peace.

The proposed anti-Pakistan bill moved by the US Senators influenced by the Zionists, Jewish and Indian lobbies shouldn’t intimidate Pakistan since it is standing on high moral ground and the former is standing on slippery ground. Succumbing to blackmail and resorting to punitive measures against the Taliban will be immoral. The controversial bill is bound to backfire.

Read more: Pakistan urges UN to unfreeze Afghan assets amid economic collapse

In the wake of the possibility of recommencement of the drone war and air attacks by the US under the garb of counterterrorism, Russia, China, SCO, Pakistan and Iran should plan to put up a joint defense shield against the future air threat for the overall safety of this region.

While Pakistan’s southern border and coastal belt require increased vigilance, the sudden heating up of the Azerbaijan front which is likely to pitch Iran against Turkey is a worrying development.

The warmongers are trying to fuel a new cold war between the US-led Quad and Russia-China-SCO block and to heat up several conflict points to keep their war industry running.

 

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, took part in an epic battle of Hilli, defense & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, & Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. He can be reached at asifharoonraja@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.