Home South Asia Afghanistan US Afghan strategy won’t work: Laments ex US Army Colonel

US Afghan strategy won’t work: Laments ex US Army Colonel

Army Colonel
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Jamal Hussain |

A point paper by Lawrence Sellin, titled “U.S. Afghan strategy will be governed by events in Balochistan” has been published by the South Asia Program at the Hudson Institute on November 10th, 2017. Lawrence Sellin a Green Beret is a retired colonel of the US Army Reserve, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars and holds a doctoral degree in physiology. He was fired in 2010 for publicly criticizing the NATO Command in Afghanistan for it’s over reliance on Microsoft slide show programs and its crushing bureaucracy. He wanted to be a real warrior killing Taliban and not a PowerPoint Ranger killing time in Afghanistan’s rear echelon.  After he had expressed his views in an online column he was fired from the job and has since catapulted into cult status as a military folk hero.  

In his paper Colonel Sellin termed the ongoing US Afghan strategy as “questionable” and maintains the US and NATO forces operating in Afghanistan “will never regain the military dominance the alliance had held in the years immediately after the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government.” He goes on to point out that the US and NATO forces do not control either the tempo or the major supply routes in the land-locked Afghanistan while Pakistan and Iran continue to fuel the insurgency with the latter maintaining a stranglehold over the supply convoys. And finally, both Russia and China are colluding to eject the US forces out of the region aiming to inflict a humiliating defeat. The thrust of his article, however, is the central role of the Pakistani province of Balochistan and he fears “the US policy in Afghanistan is about to be overtaken in Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan, rendering it obsolete.”

Only then, as a follow up to his article Sellin might come up with an Afghan strategy that would have a chance to end the stalemate of the longest conflict in the USA’s history, which is still ongoing

Colonel Sellin goes on to depict the brief history of the Balochistan province where the “Islamization” program initiated by General Zia, the Pakistani President in the late 1970s had led to the proliferation of Islamic schools “madrasas” designed to create national unity by suppressing the ethnic separatism and religious diversity. As a result, in his judgment Balochistan gradually transformed from a traditionally secular and tolerant region into one overflowing with Islamic fundamentalists. The Taliban, he believes, now have a solid foothold both in the Pashtun belt of Balochistan and deep into central Balochistan. This reservoir of able-bodied religiously motivated madrasa students is the principal source of Taliban recruitment and they will never run out of bodies, he opines.

Sellin believes there is a growing influence of China in the province because of the CPEC project and both China and Pakistan view the continued US and NATO presence in Afghanistan as an obstacle to CPEC. The presence of transnational terror syndicates, the Chinese strategic interest in the province and the activities of the Bloch Liberation Army (BLA) waging an insurgency in the Balochistan province is an explosive mix—a mix that has the potential of a new Syria-like Sunni-Shia battleground which would make the current US strategy in Afghanistan irrelevant, he maintains.

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Sellin, the soldier scholar with his background as an Afghanistan War veteran, has painted a fairly accurate picture of the ailments the current US Afghan strategy suffers from. One could argue Sellin has not touched upon some of the other key factors that would determine the success or failure of any US Afghan initiative towards conclusion of the Afghan War on a satisfactory note. His assessment, however, that any further destabilisation of the Balochistan province of Pakistan would effectively sabotage achievement of even the diluted Afghanistan end game as enunciated by the Obama doctrine towards the end of his final term of “Afghanistan good enough” appears reasonable.

Pakistan should extend an open invitation to Colonel Lawrence Sellin to visit Pakistan where he would have the opportunity to visit any part of the country (keeping the security parameters in mind) and freely exchange ideas and views with his Pakistani counterparts.

If as Sellin concludes, the stability of Balochistan is critical for any US Afghan policy to succeed, ensuring Balochistan remains stable should be the top priority of the US military planners dealing with the neologism AfPak that designates Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single theatre of operation. What the point paper lacks are recommendations by the author of measures and steps which the Afghanistan policy makers must adopt to ensure the stability of Balochistan improves and does not deteriorate any more. 

The madrasa students in Balochistan are one of the biggest recruitment sources of the Taliban, according to Colonel Sellin. He should also be aware that a vast majority of the madrasa inmates of Balochistan are children of the Afghan refugees Pakistan is hosting in the province. Pakistan had given refuge to over 3.5 million Afghans during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While their repatriation is ongoing since 2002, the progress is slow. According to UNHCR around 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees still reside in Pakistan, 62% in KPK and 20% in Balochistan. More than a million are estimated to live in the country unregistered, many with fake Pakistani documents.

Pakistan efforts to deport the refugees to Afghanistan are hampered by UNHCR convention 31 of 1951 relating to the Status of Refugees of which Pakistan is not a signatory. The convention prohibits contracting states from preventing bona fide refugees entering their states or restricting their movement from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened. Repatriating them to states where the treat of torture exists is also discouraged. Since many of the Afghan refugees belong to the parts of Afghanistan that are under the control of the Taliban where fear of torture exists, Pakistan is also discouraged to repatriate the unregistered one to their homeland. While the article is manifestly violated by the signatory countries, Pakistan comes under pressure when it attempts to control, monitor and restrict the illegal actions of the Afghan refugees—activities that allow its adversaries to accuse it of harbouring terrorist elements.

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If Colonel Sellin wants to dry up the recruitment pool of the Taliban from Balochistan, he should ask his government to help Pakistan in accelerating the repatriation process of these guests who have long outlived their welcome. The Afghan Refugee Camps in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan are suspected of providing shelter to domestic and transnational criminal and terrorists and Pakistan’s efforts to introduce tough measures to control the menace is hampered by UNHCR on the basis of alleged human rights violation. In the battle against terror outfits, Pakistan is on a war footing and deserves to handle the terror elements according to the Laws of Armed Engagement and not those applicable during peace. For the UNHCR to hamper the country’s efforts to enforce strict measures to counter the subversive activities of the refugees is akin to promotion of the terror syndicates.  

An upfront, open and no-hold barred discussion on the effort the country has put in to defeat the scourge of terrorism in the land and the difficulties and challenges it faces should help the Colonel get a better understanding of the obstacles Pakistan confronts in subduing

The cession movement by a section of the Baloch population under the banner of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) has been briefly mentioned by Colonel Sellin as a stability spoiler. For Pakistan BLA poses an existential threat to the very federation of Pakistan. Since 2004, the Baloch various left-wing underground armed groups has been fighting the government for a free Balochistan homeland. The Baloch insurgents had attacked almost all prime installations of the Pakistani government, including the military cantonment in Quetta, Balochistan’s capital, important government buildings and killed senior government officials.

The challenge has been met head on the military, political, social and economical fronts. The efforts of the past half decade has started to bear fruit and the rebellion has been contained. Majority of BAL commanders have either accepted the amnesty offer of the state giving up the armed resistance along with their foot soldiers (Ferraris) or they have been eliminated in the battlefield. The movement, however, has not yet been totally put down.

The dying embers of the Baloch insurgency are being continually fanned by India in cahoots with the Afghan government. Indian consulates in the Afghanistan provinces adjunct to the Durand Line are used as conduits to recruit, fund and launch terror raids in Balochistan and the rest of the country. The capture of Kulbhushan Yadav a serving Indian Naval Commander by the Pakistani intelligence set up in Balochistan is the smoking gun that has finally proven the direct Indian involvement in terror activities inside Pakistan. The Indian official denial that Kulbhushan was not a RAW spy has been exposed by a section of the Indian print media, much to the embarrassment of the Indian government. The opinion editor at “The Quint” Chandan Nandi was later forced under duress to retract parts of his story but the damage had been done.

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The support by India to the Baloch liberation leaders is an open secret. The case of Brahumdagh Bugti, the founder of Baloch Republican party (BRP), a Baloch nationalist group is a case in point. Brahumdagh Bugti had escaped to Switzerland and has been residing there for the past seven years. His request for asylum was turned down by the Swiss government and Brahumdagh has now reportedly applied for asylum and the Indian citizenship in September 2016 after a deal had been concluded by the banned BRP leader and the Indian government. The Indian government initial denial of the report was proven false and Bugti formally announced in Geneva that he would apply for the Indian citizenship for himself and his family. A final decision on Brahumdagh Bugti’s application has not yet been announced.

As mentioned earlier, recommendations in line with his conclusions would have been appropriate. One would imagine the Colonel has not had the opportunity of visiting Pakistan and personally viewing the situation from the other side of the fence.

Given the fact that Colonel Sellin has identified stability in the Pakistani province of Balochistan as the lynchpin for future US Afghan policy to have any hope of success, he should have enlisted steps the US administration must adopt to promote it. Some he could imminently consider are:

  1. The US administration must fully support and back Pakistan’s efforts in speedy repatriation of the refugees and enforcement of strict monitoring of their movement. At the minimum, USA’s necessary financial, moral and political support to repatriate the over a million undocumented Afghans in the country will help promote stability in the province.
  2. NATO and American forces in Afghanistan should monitor the Indian consulates in Afghanistan to ensure they are not involved in the conduct of subversive acts against Pakistan. Any financial and material aid to the BLA and other terror elements in an effort to destabilise Balochistan must not be allowed as it would be detrimental to the US interest in achieving a peaceful exit from the Afghan conundrum.
  3. Official Washington’s “regime change” strategy for nation states that are on the “enemies list” will spread chaos in the whole world. Many US legislators in line with the “regime change” strategy place Pakistan among the “enemies list” and advocate to destabilise the country’s existing set up. This must cease if USA harbours any hope of a face-saving exit from Afghanistan.
  4. Dana Tyrone Rohrabacher, a member of the US House of Representative from California publicly meets Altaf Hussain and the Khan of Kalat Mir Suleman Dawood Jan in London. Altaf Hussain was the MQM supremo and his anti Pakistan ranting led to the banning of his party in Pakistan. He continues to advocate the breakup of Pakistan. Mir Suleman Dawood is a strong supporter of an independent Balochistan. Colonel Sellin would do well to recommend US legislators refrain from activities and statements that would compromise stability in Balochistan, which in turn would severely damage the US strategy in Afghanistan.     

The point paper by Colonel Lawrence Sellin about the US Afghan policy is a fairly frank and honest appraisal of the major ailments the current US policy suffers from. As mentioned earlier, recommendations in line with his conclusions would have been appropriate. One would imagine the Colonel has not had the opportunity of visiting Pakistan and personally viewing the situation from the other side of the fence. As sages have repeatedly said, only by being exposed to the opposing points of views in a dispute one can hope to arrive at the truth.

The Indian government initial denial of the report was proven false and Bugti formally announced in Geneva that he would apply for the Indian citizenship for himself and his family. A final decision on Brahumdagh Bugti’s application has not yet been announced.

Pakistan should extend an open invitation to Colonel Lawrence Sellin to visit Pakistan where he would have the opportunity to visit any part of the country (keeping the security parameters in mind) and freely exchange ideas and views with his Pakistani counterparts. An upfront, open and no-hold barred discussion on the effort the country has put in to defeat the scourge of terrorism in the land and the difficulties and challenges it faces should help the Colonel get a better understanding of the obstacles Pakistan confronts in subduing the terror elements from within and terror threats from abroad.

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Only then, as a follow up to his article Sellin might come up with an Afghan strategy that would have a chance to end the stalemate of the longest conflict in the USA’s history, which is still ongoing— and without a radical change in the approach, it could lead to a checkmate of the lone superpower.

Air Commodore (retd) Jamal Hussain has served in Pakistan Air Force from 1966 to 1997. He was awarded Sitara-e-Basalat for his services in the year 1982. He regularly contributes articles on defense-related issues in the Defence Journal from Pakistan, Probe Magazine (Dhaka – Bangladesh) and Dawn, The News, and The Nation English Dailies from Pakistan. He is the author of two books on ‘Air Power in South Asia’ and ‘Dynamics of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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