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Holding US accountable for its miscalculations in Afghanistan

Lt. Gen Tariq Khan, Ex-Commander Pakistan's 1st Strike Corps based in Mangla and former Inspector General FC, had written this piece in January of 2019 for internal discussion with a select group. Two years later, the questions he had raised then have become all the more pertinent for both the US and Pakistan.

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The biggest threat to the US national security is a strategic miscalculation. In Afghanistan, even when there was an intel-oriented conflict that afforded a confused and open-ended definition, the US insisted on calling it COIN (Counter Insurgency Operation). The US playbook for madness got exposed in multiple dimensions – ignoring geography, history, culture and ideology. In its uncalibrated enthusiasm, the United States leapfrogged from one plan to another in pursuit of a hollow strategy – paying little heed to external voices. A combination of ignorance and arrogance is fatal. Manifested in the outcome of the Afghan War; despite total air supremacy against an enemy that had no tanks, artillery or air defence, the US managed to put itself in a losing situation.

The only worthwhile ally, Pakistan – which could have helped the US emerge victorious in a fierce battle – ensuing in the stability of Afghanistan – was cast aside. The alliance was broken through manipulation by an enemy that would have made Napoleon Bonaparte swell with pride. Breaking an alliance was Napoleon’s forte and was an obvious first step that an enemy would have taken in this case too. Could this enemy be anyone but one of our own? The US, leader of the world, commander of all armies, now cannot whine and blame others for its failures. It must set the course right and take responsibility for all that came to pass. Being held to the highest standards of accountability comes with the leadership role that the US loves to play.

Here are some obvious political, military, economic policies carried out by the US that need thorough explanations.

Read more: Biden’s impending challenges in Afghanistan

Political failures 

  • Removal of the Taliban government, which had a Pushtun leaning. The Pushtuns represent about 50 to 60 % of the Afghan population.
  • Replacement of the Taliban with a Northern Alliance based government that represented less than 40% of the people.
  • Introduction of a universally unacceptable constitution, hoping that it would catch on. It did not.
  • Adoption of a reconciliation process based on the top-down approach.
  • Adoption of an integration model based on the bottoms-up approach.
  • Negotiations with the Taliban without speaking to the Pushtuns. The former believe in ideological discourse, the latter a political one. Though most Taliban are Pushtun, a strictly Pushtun dialogue would keep out the foreign spoilers.
  • The assassination of any Taliban leader willing to talk about drone attacks.
  • Pressurizing Pakistan to arrange negotiations and when it did, the US spurred mistrust by killing the very Taliban commanders in Pakistan willing to talk.
  • The setting up of a ‘Unity Government’ based out of an artificial structure with no jurisdiction beyond the precincts of Kabul.

Operational shortcomings

  • The basing of operations on garrisoning troops and failing to secure lines of communication – relying on air support over ground forces.
  • Failure to dominate open spaces resulting in losses such as the liberty of action and freedom of movement.
  • Rotation of troops every year, affecting familiarity with the terrain and Continuity in such military operations is necessary and not a choice.
  • The utilization of Google Maps for understanding of the combat zone.
  • Dependence on Northern Alliance intel and interpreters. These people let their hatred for Pakistan take them away from any meaningful information. Salalah type operations were the product of misleading the US troops. Operations of this kind are based on accurate intel.
  • The unrealistic timelines set for the raising of the Army. This resulted in the highest rate of desertions and casualties. The NDS has still no capacity to stand ground regardless of the ‘feel good’ propaganda emanating from TOLO News.
  • Failure to establish a footprint in two vital areas, i.e., Nuristan/Kunar valley, where the US pulled out unilaterally and Paktia where the US always complained of cross border Haqqani battle groups’ trespassing.
  • The reluctance in shutting down mobile networks along the Afghan Border despite repeated SIMs are still functional on the other side while Pakistan had shut its cellular services a while ago. Thuriaya Communication based in Dubai can easily be controlled.
  • Not extending support to Pakistani Operation in North Waziristan by failing to meet its commitments of deploying a US brigade to block the Border. This resulted in the ‘revolving door’ effect.
  • Shifting the bulk of blame on Pakistan instead of holding enquiries for the losses incurred by small tactical groups. Not a single case of tactical failure being attributed to incompetence or bad procedures is heard of. It’s as if no American can do wrong.

Read more: Afghanistan’s Ghani urges Biden to increase pressure on Taliban

Menace of Corruption

  • A drug trade developed under the nose of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that is now engaged in transactions amounting to $80 Billion annually. It’s noteworthy that the Taliban are being funded by these funds being generated from drug proceeds.
  • Corruption in the government has removed public’s trust in the leadership.
  • For clarity, please read the SIGAR report. https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-17-62-LL.pdf

Miscellaneous policy failures

  • ISAF’s fixing of responsibility for its failures in curbing drug trade in Afghanistan on Pakistan. The lies were repeated and broadcasted so often that the US and its coalition partners now believe it to be true.
  • The concession of about 50% space in Afghanistan where there is no government writ. The Taliban have signed $3Billion worth of contracts with the Chinese. Why would the Taliban need space in Pakistan when the resources and the area are available to them right there?
  • Bringing in India, an enemy state into Afghanistan, and then expecting Pakistan to celebrate it.
  • Resistance to Pakistan’s attempt at border fencing when the charge against Pakistan was cross border movement.
  • The insistence that Pakistan should keep hosting millions of Afghan Refugees, when it faces multiple security problems because of it.
  • Blaming Pakistan for the indigenous movement in Kashmir.
  • Stating that the CPEC route was going through a disputed area, whereas, such a statement was highly uncalled for.
  • Inserting ISIL into Afghanistan to challenge the Taliban was a bad idea. Russia has openly stated that they support the Taliban because of this and so does Iran. The US remains conveniently quiet on the Russo Shura and the Iranian Shura.

Read more: Op-ed: What’s The Future Of Afghanistan After Trump?

Confronting stark realities

The US desires to coerce Pakistan into fighting the War for the US and ‘do more’. It is evident that it is no longer about the War on Terror but more about containing China, disrupting CPEC and supporting India. Hence, Pakistan faces a complete divergence of interests with the US. There is no single dimension – moral, political or military where Pakistan finds its national interests being served by cooperating with the US.

It has now come full circle. Today, Pakistan’s national interests can only be served by a comprehensive defeat of the US at the hands of the Taliban, if things do not change for the better. The time when the US success in Afghanistan was in line with Pakistan’s interests has long elapsed.

Americans unaware of what has happened or is happening – need to be informed of how the US has bungled here in Afghanistan. The people of the United States must restrain and contain their government in taking up a highly immoral position. If democracy has any substance to it, then a mechanism has to be put into place where the other side of the story is heard. Do the Americans have the courage to listen to the truth?

Finally, a joint public enquiry of the US and Pakistani military commanders is necessary for a much-needed explanation of their respective positions during the War.

Future of the region

If Pakistan stands its ground, the US and Pakistan can improve their relations. However, it will take a while before both countries could begin trusting each other.

Read more: How the Afghan Endgame can spiral out of control

The US would benefit from becoming a part of CPEC; becoming a strategic partner with China would make better sense now than becoming a competitor in a region where the US is a stranger in town. This could be of immense value to Afghanistan as well, and they too could benefit from CPEC.

Understandably India would not get what it is looking for, but then, should the US make a fool of itself in support of India?

The US can only benefit from the current crisis by being the leader it ought to be, having the moral courage to call a spade a spade, and the wisdom to promote stability rather than chaos.

Lt. General Tariq Khan, former Commander of Pakistan’s 1st. Strike Corps, based at Mangla and former Inspector General also commanded the 1st Armoured Division in Multan and the 14th Infantry Division in South Waziristan. Gen. Khan gained fame when he led the Frontier Corps to victory against the Taliban in the Battle of Bajaur in 2009. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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