Problems and prospects in Afghanistan endgame

By:Najam Sethi

According to populist wisdom (its leading proponent is Imran Khan), if America were to quit Afghanistan right away, Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s problems of terrorism would simply melt away. But that is not the GHQ’s view, even though it has never formally said as much, because it doesn’t want to be perceived as supporting America in Afghanistan in any way. Only Gen Pervez Musharraf is on record as saying that a quick and unplanned American exit from Afghanistan “would be a disaster” because it would lead to civil war, anarchy and disintegration of Afghanistan, with hugely destabilising blowback consequences for Pakistan.

Ahmad Mukhtar, the defence minister, has referred rather unthinkingly to a related dimension of the problem. Speaking about the recent US suspension of $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, he warned that if American money to fight the terrorists was not forthcoming, Pakistan would be obliged to withdraw its army from the western border with Afghanistan (147,000 troops, 900 border posts), and let Nato/ISAF suffer the consequences of cross-border attacks from Al-Qaeda/Taliban networks safely havened in Fata. It didn’t occur to him that the Pakistani army is stationed on the border partly to discourage American boots-on-ground incursions into Fata and partly to block the same Taliban-Al/Qaeda network in Afghanistan and Pakistan from establishing a long-term base area in the northern and eastern regions along both sides of the Durand Line as a launch pad for seizing Pakistani territory.

Rather more disturbing are serious analyses that argue that if American money is not forthcoming, the Pakistani military might get “upset” and not help America, perhaps even going so far as to “initiate peace deals with the militants,” the implication being that “the Taliban terrorists will then take a heavier toll of American lives in Afghanistan.” This is a patently ridiculous and dangerous line of thinking. First, the peace-deal phenomenon of earlier times was between the Pakistani military-political administrations and the Pakistani Taliban, and not between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistanis. Second, it was proven to be a disastrous policy when it simply enabled the Pakistani Taliban to seize more Pakistani space and become stronger over time, instead of abandoning their aggressive designs against Pakistan. Third, as Saleem Shahzad’s book makes clear, it is precisely the link between Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban that is a current problem for America and a potentially graver one for Pakistan in the future. So any Pakistani “peace deals” with the Afghan Taliban are likely to prove even more destabilising and dangerous for Pakistan than the defunct ones with the Pakistani Taliban. Incidentally, the Pakistani military’s existing covert peace deals with the Haqqani network and various Mullahs in Waziristan (Pakistani assets) are already the core straining issue between Washington and Islamabad, and the last thing that we should be threatening to enlarge and strengthen!

Thankfully, the ISPR has set the record straight. “The Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan have become sanctuaries and launching pads for attacks on Pakistan by a host of terrorist groups and their leaders,” says Maj-Gen Athar Abbas. He ticked off Nato-ISAF for abandoning their military posts in these border Afghan regions and emboldening them to attack Pakistan’s Lower Dir regions. Imagine if the Americans were to flee Afghanistan without a plausible stabilising endgame, Kabul would fall to Al-Qaeda overnight and the terrorist network would overwhelm into Pakistan like a tsunami.

Therefore, if America’s endgame in Afghanistan is problematic for many reasons, Pakistan’s input is no more credible. The US is caught in the matrix of President Obama’s short-term domestic political goals and the Pentagon’s long-term and ambitious international outreach. Pakistan too cannot escape the grip of its own defence ministry which stubbornly insists on exclusively defining both national security and national interest in the context of a defunct notion of Pakistani nationalism and misplaced obsession with India. Consider.

The fact is that the military strategists of America who want to “save” Afghanistan from their Al-Qaeda enemy and the military establishment of Pakistan which wants to “secure” Afghanistan for its Taliban “assets,” have both got it tragically wrong. If they insist on having it their exclusive way, they will lose both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consider.

America’s strategy in the run-up to the Afghan endgame is inconsistent and contradictory. Ten years after 9/11, with $1 trillion down the drain, Afghan “nationhood” is out, counterinsurgency is being substituted with counterterrorism, troop surges with troop draw-downs, and not all good Taliban are dead ones. So key Taliban leaders have to be targeted by drones in order to soften up their resistance and make them amenable to a US-sponsored power-sharing arrangement in Kabul. But this strategic direction-change is tripping up for two reasons.

First, the post-2014 “Base-Afghanistan” envisioned by Washington is critically based on two factors which are eroding faster than they are being consolidated. The first is the failure to build a reliable Afghan National Army that can do America’s bidding—Taliban infiltration has made it an unreliable future adjunct. The second is America’s inability to create a viable puppet regime of strongmen that can capture space and sustain stability00as testified by the assassination of the police head of Northern Afghanistan, Gen Dawood Dawood, two months ago, and that of Hamid Karzai’s powerful, alliance-building brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, last week, followed by the abortive attempt on the life of Home Minister Bismillah Mohammadi the same day. America’s man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has never been more vulnerable than he is now.

The second is a continuing American failure to persuade Pakistan’s defence establishment to help knock out the core Al-Qaeda/Taliban troublemakers in Fata. A carrot-and-stick policy that is based on “peanuts-for-aid” for Pakistan (compared to $200 billion spent in Afghanistan) and that ignores or denies Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns (the need for a stable if not fully “friendly” Afghanistan on its western border in post-America Afghanistan) will not work. American unaccountability and unilateralism has also fuelled anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s strategy of continuing to obsess about India and making it an element of the future Afghan matrix on the basis of its Taliban “assets” is also coming a cropper. These Taliban “assets” were problematic even during Mulla Umar’s reign from 1996 to 2001 when they refused to recognise the Durand Line as the international border with Pakistan, refused to kick out radical Islamic sectarian elements belonging to the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and refused to break relations with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, even though they were plotting against both America and Pakistan. These same Afghan Taliban “assets” have since networked with Al-Qaeda in Fata to give birth to and sustain the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan which has exacted a toll of 35,000 Pakistan civilians and over 3,000 Pakistani soldiers in the last two years.

The real aim of the Al-Qaeda/Taliban network is to infiltrate the Pakistani state, pit it into conflict with India (new Mumbais), erode the army’s fighting capacity by de-motivating its rank and file, seize control of its nuclear weapons and transform its territory as a base area for a world Islamic revolution. On the basis of Mullah Umar’s past record, the Haqqani network’s current liaison with Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda’s future ambitions, the Pakistani military’s rigid protection of such assets is souring its longer-term “strategic” relationship with the international community, America in particular. This is something it can ill-afford, given its military, trade and aid dependency on the West.

Pakistan and America should put their interests and concerns squarely on the table, conduct joint operations and abstain from airing their political differences or applying countervailing pressures through the media. America’s carrot-and-stick policy won’t yield dividends with Pakistan just as Pakistan’s “double-game” breaches the trust redline. Washington’s plans for Afghanistan must not exclude Mulla Umar and the Haqqani network, just as Islamabad’s plans must not be exclusively based on them. In fact, America and Pakistan must not stake their all on their perception of their interests in the end-game in Afghanistan, because its final outcome holds no great guarantees for either of them.

The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.

THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM THE NEWS.

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Comments

  • Ijaz Khan  On July 17, 2011 at 6:04 am

    A balanced article,well argued.
    However,what the writer has maybe deliberately overlooked is that the reason for Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan is the result of a genuine misgiving towards US. The US had ditched Pakistan in Afghanistan, once USSR lost out influence there. It forgot the creation of Mujaheddin, once their purpose was served. This Hilary Clinton is on record for admitting.Unfortunately Sethi is being more loyal to the king than the king himself.
    Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1CW2XuDAQ4
    Ijaz

  • Inam Khan  On July 17, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Drone attacks may kill some key terrorists but will not be able to root out the Taliban Movement.Pakistan will have to overhaul its policy to deal with Al-Qaeda , Taliban and Jihadi elements within.
    …………………………………………………………………Inam Khan

  • Rumana  On July 17, 2011 at 7:32 am

    good read, it is definitely a start of productive debate. I commend the writer for real opinion piece and not conspiracy theory. I usually stop reading after the first sign of elaborate plans without supporting the evidence, this was no doubt very thought out article.

  • Faisal Imam  On July 17, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Najam has voiced a sane,sound anaysis about the future of the region.when the Americans,came forward this time they gave hope by promising a long time commitment to improve the conditions . There is improvement,but it is slow.the rot is deep and it will take time to fix.it requires patience and a lot of thinking through.Our choice is whether we want to wallow in the situation as it exists or do we want to enter a phase of sanity and well-being for our people.
    We need corrections in our environment.we have ignored the welfare of three generations of Pakistanis for what goals we don’t know.we have lost majority of Pakistanis from under our flag.Others are actively fighting to get away.Why are we doing this to ourselves?

  • Minhaj  On July 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Sethi Sahab
    AOA
    Good article. But, you are missing the point. Interests of Pakistani nation and USA are opposite to each other, whereas those of both gov. appear same. Army looks like trying to have a balance. How long it can keep it, no one knows. Time is passing by and it is to be seen if Pakistani nation succeeds or its gov.
    Minhaj

  • S U Turkman  On July 18, 2011 at 2:04 am

    Statements within “inverted comas’ below are from the Essay of Mr. Sethi and my comments below them.

    “Pakistan would be obliged to withdraw its army from the western border with Afghanistan (147,000 troops, 900 border posts), and let Nato/ISAF suffer the consequences of cross-border attacks from Al-Qaeda/Taliban networks safely havened in Fata” …?
    .
    TURKMAN: So what has USA been suffering from since 2003 then if not Cross-border attacks of Taliban and Pak Army Commandos disguised as Taliban?
    —-.
    ” … Pakistani army is stationed on the border partly to discourage American boots-on-ground incursions into Fata and partly to block the same Taliban-Al/Qaeda network in Afghanistan and Pakistan from establishing a long-term base area in the northern and eastern regions along both sides of the Durand Line as a launch pad for seizing Pakistani territory”.
    .
    TURKMAN: Pak Army is just there to not to let US Commandos land and kill its loving Sneak Attack Mercenaries, the Pakistanis called Taliban and Al-Qaeda. How could they take over Pakistan, when they are only few thousand and Pak Military is 700,000 strong?
    —-
    “Imagine if the Americans were to flee Afghanistan without a plausible stabilising endgame, Kabul would fall to Al-Qaeda overnight and the terrorist network would overwhelm into Pakistan like a tsunami”.
    .
    TURKMAN: A few leftover Al Qaeda are going to take over Afghanistan? Please don’t make me laugh. Pak Army disguised as Taliban and its Mercenaries the Pakistanis called Taliban would take over Afghanistan just like before if USA leaves, not Al Qaeda.
    ——-
    ” … Pentagon’s long-term and ambitious international outreach …” …?
    .
    TURKMAN: So, Pentagon has already told you that top secret Plan to take over the whole world and steal resources of every land on earth like it has been stealing from wherever US Military is right now like in Japan, Germany, Italy and other European countries since W.W. II, in S. Korea since 1952, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Afghanistan, right?
    —-
    “If they insist on having it their exclusive way, they will lose both Afghanistan and Pakistan”
    .
    TURKMAN: But have they not already lost Pakistan after getting their Military Experts were kicked out of Democracy of Pakistan recently on the orders of Pak Military?
    —-
    “First, the post-2014 “Base-Afghanistan” envisioned by Washington is critically based on two factors which are eroding faster than they are being consolidated. The first is the failure to build a reliable Afghan National Army that can do America’s bidding—”
    .
    TURKMAN: Oh so there would be a US “Base-Afghanistan” after all US Soldiers are gone back in 2014 and you have already seen that US Vision? You already know future that USA has created Afghan Army for its bidding? It would not be to defend against Pak Army disguised as Taliban and Pakistanis called Taliban, right? What is USA’s that ‘bidding’? Conquering of 8 times bigger Pakistan or 3 times more populated Iran?
    ——–
    “The second is America’s inability to create a viable puppet regime of strongmen that can capture space and sustain stability00as testified by the assassination of the police head of Northern Afghanistan, Gen Dawood Dawood, two months ago, and that of Hamid Karzai’s powerful, alliance-building brother”,
    .
    TURKMAN: Karzai Government is a “Puppet Regime”, not twice elected? That’s right. Only popular Democratically Elected regime of Amirol Momineen Mollaa Omar was not Puppet of Pak Army? Oh yes, our ISI- caused Assassinations prove that Karzai Government is not stable just like Assassinations in Pakistan like Assassination of Benazir, Federal Ministers, Provincial Ministers etc. Less Afghans getting killed by Taliban than Pakistanis and Military Killings of Balochis for last few years do not prove the same at all because we have Atomic Bombs, right?
    I am not going to waste my time reading rest of your B.S.
    ———-

  • Mohammad Chaudhry  On July 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Najam Sethi is a visionary and investigative columnist. He has dug in well in to the implications and complications of contemplated future strategy of US and NATO leadership.

    In this context, Imran Khan put up a proposition for short term, to stem up extremism within 100 days. His first parameter was entire evacuation of NATO forces from Afghanistan. Second, to stop drone attacks forth with, and third, to start a candid negotiation with Taliban on both sides of the border to build a conducive environment for long term peace process.
    Of course, the long term plan for elimination of extremism calls for a comprehensive line of action, worked out in the light of ground realities for social reorientation and mental transformation of all elements of extremism through application of all kind of resources, primarily at least five percent of over a trillion dollars spent by US on the Afghanistan war so far, in one go both in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan in the conducive environment created by short term plan as enunciated above. Application of this resource should cover the following pertinent dimensions;

    a)A comprehensive plan for enlistment of relatively enlightened and moderate social, religious as well as political leaders of Afghanistan who should develop a comprehensive curricula for social reorientation of the people, in turn to aim at mental transformation of tribal culture.

    b)A well founded comprehensive plan for building an adequate as well as efficient infrastructure in entire Afghanistan and tribal area of Pakistan.

    c)A comprehensive and industrial plan for utilization of local material and human resources to provide a respectable earning for every grown up individual. This in turn should be preceded by a network of school colleges and universities with as much foreign affiliation as possible. The poor families dependent on the wages of their offspring should be provided a financial support for their living as long as their kids are in the institutions before being on job.

    MSC

  • Inam Khan  On July 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Imran Khan Sir speaks through his hat. His talk is too babyish. I don’t want to use words like rubbish etc. You have to go in depth. Diagnose properly so that you give the right medicine.

  • S. Cadri  On July 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    There is no denying the fact that extremism, in all its manifestations is inversely proportional to the economic well being of a particular location,area or region.To weed out out terrorism from Pakistan ,we will have to improve well being of the deprived and the poor people.This will have to be done by Pakistanis primarily themselves……………………….Inam Khan

    • Syed Wajahat  On July 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

      Do you have any suggestions on how an individual Pakistani can initiate an act or a process that has
      the potential to eradocate poverty in the country.

      Syed Wajahat Hussain

  • A Rauf Khan Khattak  On July 27, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Mr. Sethi’s suggestion that Pakistani Taliban are the creation of al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban is patently wrong. I’ve dealt in great detail in my book Fundamentalism, Musharraf and the Great Double Game in North-West Pakistan (Author House, Indiana, US, 2011). They are the creation of Pervez Musharraf in his pursuit of double game to achieve geostratigic advantages in Afghanistan vis a vis India.

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