Posted on December 3rd, 2009

By: Bassam Javed

The Obama Administration in the United States is currently engaged in rethinking and formulating a fresh Afghan strategy aimed at securing an exit from Afghanistan without loss of face and with at least a modicum of dignity and honour. As far as meeting the projected requirement of his top commanderƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s recommendation for induction of another forty thousand troops into Afghanistan is concerned, the new strategy may provide for some additional troops, maybe just enough to supplement current efforts at creating conditions in Afghanistan that would eventually, provide for US troops an exit from Afghan territory that is neither precipitate nor dishonourable. As of now the United States is so stuck up in the Afghan morass that an early exit may well turn out to be disastrous. The public pressure in the US and the West for withdrawal from the Afghan continues to mount. Now that the new US strategy would also visualize wriggling out of the Afghan imbroglio, would it look for a fall guy? The upcoming Afghan strategy would provide the answer.

In a related development, the New York Times in its edition of 16 November has quoted American officials as saying that the center of gravity in shaping the new strategy would be PakistanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s willingness to broaden the scope of war against Al-Qaeda beyond the militants attacking its cities and security forces and go after the groups that allegedly use Pakistani territory for plotting and carrying out attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, as well as supporting Al-Qaeda networks. The ground is being charted to determine how far Pakistan would go in this strategy. The Pakistani leadership was sounded by ObamaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s National Security Advisor General James Jones during his last visit to Pakistan when he also handed over a letter to the President of Pakistan from President Obama, urging the former to rally the nationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s political and national institutions in a concerted campaign against extremists and militants threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan. The message was tantamount to implying that Pakistan, once declared by the United States as a frontline state in the war against terror, must now relegate itself to a state that must handle the war on its own while the originator mulls withdrawing from Afghanistan. It was also conveyed that in case Pakistan agreed it would be awarded a range of new incentives covering enhanced mutual cooperation, including intelligence sharing and military cooperation, and economic assistance already pledged by the Kerry-Lugar Law.

Whatever decision is made on the number of additional troops for Afghanistan, it certainly will have repercussions for Pakistan. However, as the new strategy gets delayed strange sorts of tactical moves on the part of US and NATO troops have been witnessed on the other side of the border in Afghanistan. When the Pakistan Army went into South Waziristan it was about that time that the NATO drew down troops deployed along the Afghan border with Pakistan and consolidated some half a dozen of their remote outposts into fewer larger installations because they later said they were easier to defend with increased number of troops brought about by moving them out from border areas.

The favoured military option said to be emerging from President ObamaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ongoing review of Afghan policy is to fall back on the cities. The tactics of falling back on the cities were also the last huffs of the Russians in Afghanistan and the Americans in Vietnam prior to withdrawals from their respective theatres. Surely, both possessed high tech weapons and fully deployed them in Afghanistan and Vietnam, but both failed to consult history prior to jumping into respective quagmires. The drawing down of troops along Afghan border did create space for the terrorists to enter Pakistan for which the due concern was conveyed to the Americans. Pakistan had also requested NATO and the US forces to seal the border on the Afghan side since Pakistan Army had gone into South Waziristan to fight the Taliban terrorists.

Whether it is increase in the number of American forces, whatever their real numbers are, or adoption of the alternative of troop replacement with more drone attacks in Afghanistan, FATA or Baluchistan as propagated by US Vice President Joe Biden the strategic repercussions would be identical. The two factors, namely the US presence in Afghanistan and the two, AmericaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s increasing unpopularity in Pakistan, have only served to further divide public opinion in countries and helped the cause of Taliban to prosper. The US Commander in Afghanistan General McChrystal, who authored the report asking for more troops to stabilize Afghanistan, while lecturing at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in UK rejected proposals to switch over to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and Special Forces Operations against Al-Qaeda. Moreover as the troop level increases in Afghanistan, the supply route from Pakistan will be over-burdened, for which Pakistan Army might have to provide route security. With the focus on army operation in South Waziristan and an unfriendly neighbor in the east, Pakistan army would be overstretched in its capacity.

With the plethora of difficulties that the new democratic dispensation in Pakistan is already confronting, expanding the area of operations elsewhere would be tantamount to inviting trouble, especially in the present politically volatile situation. More so, a perception is already taking roots amongst the political and military leadership that America wants to transfer its war heritage to Pakistan to enable itself to exit gracefully from Afghanistan. President Obama while giving an interview to CNN on the eve of President Hamid KarzaiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s oath-taking for the second term, has said categorically that he would ensure that the Afghan War is over before his presidency ends and that he would like to hand over a clean slate to the next President on that account.

As far as the US administration is concerned the realization that stability in Afghanistan can only materialize once they pull out from Afghan territory is a good omen. However, a hasty and ill-planned withdrawal will have disastrous effects not only for Pakistan but for the region as well. The sudden vacuum thus created may well cause re-emergence of terrorist networks. The paramount need for the United States now is to work for the formation of a broad-based government in the interim period between now and the time they schedule for their departure from Afghanistan. While doing so, the United States is bound to face enormous difficulties bringing various power-hungry Afghan tribal groups that are poles apart, to a power-sharing deal. The task gets further difficult as the US remains engaged in fighting against a particular group in Afghanistan that is Taliban which is Pashtun dominated.

Like the Iraq war, the Afghan war can not be won. Both proved to be disasters for the United States. While the respective wars resulted in massive losses of precious Iraqi and Afghan lives, they also got their due share in getting their own people killed all for no cause. Though Iraq has taken a back stage in American misadventures however; Afghans agony persists. It will only end with the exodus of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

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