The international and national media are speculating events that would lead to the end-game in Afghanistan. Commentators world over are drawing different scenarios on how USA would hedge its interests in the region against Al Qaeda, its affiliates and nuclear proliferation (declared) and its political economy (China, Central Asia and Pakistan, undeclared). This debate was energised by the US operations that killed Osama Bin Laden followed by the decision by President Obama to reverse the ORBAT of 33,000 US surge troops Embedded within these debates are deliberate leaks to coerce Pakistan into pliability.
The debate is also a rationale for an existential victory (disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda) and an elusive victory (secure Afghanistan within the context of Great Game). Also tucked between the failure of the Third Surge and the Victory Speech is Obama’s AF-PAK Strategy, a sticky mess that will not allow USA to let go; with the potential to sink the entire region with it. Perhaps, these events and the change of US Command in Afghanistan also bring into contention, the superimposed COIN Strategy (a lesson learnt from Iraq) and McChrystal’s painstaking JSOC Strategy. This strategy was framed under the tutelage of Dick Cheney to pursue objectives framed by the elitist group of US strategists including Henry Kissinger to control the region and tame Pakistan. Though JSOC covert operations began much earlier, it was officially given space to operate in Pakistan in 2007. This is precisely why I had written in an article titled ‘Time to eat Grass’ in 2008 that instability of Pakistan was the key to a successful US strategy.
It also brings into sharper focus the debate between the military experts and counter insurgency experts in the USA on how best to ensure US interests (not peace) in the region. Nothing can stop USA from declaring victory in a war fought for its own interests; and who cares if millions of Afghans and Pakistanis are left to contend with the mess left behind. But will US withdraw after having followed a plan relentlessly at a very high cost and intrigue?
Let readers not be misled. This is not the truth. The truth is that US is here to stay for an indefinite period. The corollaries of the plan secretly compartmentalised from each other for over a decade are now piecing together. The US game in the region has entered its most dangerous phase.
The State of Pakistan is equally responsible for the mess it allowed to be created within its regions. Unlike USA that has always had a flexible, well thought narrative to shape the environment, Pakistan has never cared or bothered to evolve a proper cohesive plan? The entire operation in the past ten years has been reactive and the sole domain of the Army. I do not think that the establishment ever evaluated alarm bells being raised by both Pakistani, foreign analysts and writers. It seems that having remained in constant touch with USA through military diplomacy and foreign office, the ability to think clearly was eclipsed by being an insider and exclusivity syndrome. Sermons by US ambassadors, visiting dignitaries and the façade of aid also played its part in lowering the guard. Hence, step by step, Pakistan allowed the entire backwash of US operations to be pushed into Pakistan under a misperceived strategic concept and false assurances.
On the political front, the US compliant Pakistani government ensured the meltdown of Pakistan. It never took the basic measures to prevent the economic collapse, squandered opportunities arising out of natural disasters, ensured that energy crises persist in all its forms and manifestations, and keeps the political landscape destabilised. The rulers never gave an impression that the country faced serious challenges to its existence. Rather they have presided to a point wherein a complete melt-down becomes a possibility. Pakistan’s decision to roll back the Tethyan Copper projects and reluctance to resolve the Balochistan crises also fits the same plan. We now have a situation where the army is sucked into a difficult situation; a political dispensation that does not care for national interests.
If readers flash back to my article ‘The Wilting Obama Surge’ I wrote, “It appears that the ambitious third surge had a multi directional approach towards a military exit from Afghanistan based on half facts and assumptions derived from institutional biases. The hypothesis was too simplified through exclusion of both hardcore Taliban and Pakistan. Based on a misleading premise, it led to the logical”. In the next article titled, ‘The AFPAK Strategy’, I wrote “Nothing had worked as per the plan; neither the carrot, nor the stick nor stacks of cash for the breakaway Taliban…It was indeed at the heels of this failure that USA decided to co-opt Pakistan in the Strategic Dialogue diplomacy. Guns and Roses were offered to win over Pakistan’s military establishment towards a US driven operation in the region… but as events proved, Pakistan resisted the trap. US could not have its way and a new strategy became inevitable’. Rather than the military, the USA next chose to rely more on its civilian counter-part. I also explained that this strategy was based around JSOC, drones, CIA covert and sting operations. Already Raymond Davis, Kakul raid, Mehran Base and many incursions into Pakistan from Kunnar have come to pass. This is only the beginning and Pakistan army will be ultimately sucked into fighting its internal front.
In tandem with this destabilising strategy is the latest US NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012 that sanctions military operations beyond Al Qaeda and the Taliban to any associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States. Counter proliferation efforts are also part of this Act. It also sanctions assistance for such operations to allied and friendly nations (India, Afghanistan and Pakistan). At a first glance apart from what is enunciated, the Act is also an implied threat to Pakistan. It is this pressure that USA will leverage with Pakistan to force the Taliban into negotiations on a timed continuum to extract the maximum dog-fighting from Pakistan Army. Further destabilisation will enhance US prospects in the region.
On the diplomatic front, USA made considerable progress. Tripartite talks in Tehran had US approval. The bulk of logistic traffic is already shifted to Iran and Central Asia. UN has been re-engaged in the peace negotiations in Afghanistan. Consequently the troops that would ultimately be withdrawn will not be the all the surge element but rather logisticians and its protective detachments, intelligence analysts and non essentials.
The lines across the Hindukush range will be kept secure with the Northern Alliance, New Afghan Security Forces, ISAF, Indians and maybe even Iran backed warlords. The South comprising Pashtun areas will be left open for attacks from the air, drones and selective military operations from fortresses at Bagram, Kandhar, Kost, Jalalabad etc. It is also ominous that USA has already abandoned large parts of Kunnar, Laghman and Nuristan where the anti Pakistan Taliban and Al Qaeda are based. These elements have already launched attacks in Mohmand, Bajaur and Dir.
As Pakistan destabilises, this intensity and frequency will increase. Ultimately, drawing borders with blood, USA could have a corridor through Balochistan with twin objectives to contain Iran and tap the resources.
But will the US be able to achieve all these objectives?
No one including USA have all the cards to bring stability to Afghanistan. If history is an indicator, they will not.
First, the Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan called Taliban will not allow any US bases in Afghanistan even for the sake of peace. History tells us that they will fight on. As Pakistan destabilises further, so will its resolve to gel with the forces fighting foreign occupation.
Secondly, other state actors in the region will also exploit these sentiments to advance their interests. These actors include India, Russia, China and Iran.
Thirdly, for nearly four decades, the Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan is emotionally tied to Pakistan. They cannot be used against Pakistan. However, the notion of a separate Pashtun state after the practical division of Afghanistan may materialise into a security threat to Pakistan.
Fourthly, nuclear capitulation of Pakistan will have to be a surgical procedure. Given the capabilities of JSOC, this is not possible. As a prelude, USA and UN will have to reach some agreement with the Pakistani establishment. But the moment such intentions become visible, Pakistan will explode. Military revolts and large scale insurrections cannot be ruled out. The WOT will over flow the brims of Pakistan.
USA would have paid the price of its open ended narratives in AFPAK.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.