The US having failed to achieve any of the stated political and military objectives in Afghanistan is now desperate to pullout safely but cannot do so due to number of reasons. The US trained and enlarged ANA as well as police are unable to confront Taliban threat at their own. The US installed regime has not shown any sign of improvement and being highly unpopular, it is not likely to survive for long after the departure of ISAF. The country will possibly get engulfed in another bout of internecine war as it happened when the US abandoned Afghanistan in 1989.
Despite using excessive force and resorting to torture and intrigues for a decade, the US couldn’t disable Taliban power. Rather, they have become more powerful and resilient and are enjoying a military edge over the collection of most powerful armies of the world and are unprepared to negotiate with USA on its terms. With the killing of OBL, America is left with no excuse to prolong its stay, particularly when it claims that al-Qaida’s back has been broken. In fact it had barged into Afghanistan with the main objective of punishing al-Qaeda for its alleged role in 9/11. Ten years intense oppression and massacre of tens of thousands of Afghans and al-Qaeda operatives and death of most wanted top leader are enough to avenge deaths of about 3000 Americans, mostly Asian origin.
Former CIA Director and now Secretary Defence Leon Panetta who has always taken a harsh stance against Pakistan has stated that the new al-Qaeda chief Zawahiri is living in Pakistan’s tribal areas and has asked Pakistan to target him. He made this wild claim without furnishing any proof and didn’t consider it desirable to use words like ‘possibly’ or ‘could be’. This is the beginning of a new drama after OBL which in my reckoning is a prelude towards another sting operation to ‘Get Zawahiri’. Very soon the US spin doctors would start accusing the Army and ISI for sheltering him.
Likewise, American telescope will also see Mullah Omar residing in the safe house of ISI. To put direct pressure on Army, promised $800 million has been withheld. This unfriendly step has been taken at a time when the Army has performed another feat in Mohmand Agency and is currently engaged in a tough battle in Kurram Agency which will have a bearing on militants in adjacent North Waziristan. This is the price the two institutions are paying to defend Pakistan’s sovereignty and national interests. The US is exposing its hidden motives through such tomfoolery to intimidate Pakistan. It doesn’t want Pak Army to win battles and defeat terrorism but to lose.
Taking a cue from US military’s claim that al-Qaeda has been emasculated beyond redemption, and not more than 50-60 Qaeda operatives are active in Afghanistan; if this be true, how come Panetta is so disturbed over Qaeda’s miniscule strength and prophesizing that its strategic defeat was within US military’s grasping reach if 10-20 leaders of this outfit located in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and North Africa are disposed off. It indicates confusion and nervousness of US military leaders.
The US must not forget that Pakistan played a key role in weakening al-Qaeda in Af-Pak region since over 100 al-Qaeda operatives including several dozens top guns and hundreds of affiliates were nabbed by ISI and handed over to USA. Ever since the main bunch of al-Qaeda was flushed out of Ahmadzai Wazir’s South Waziristan (SW) in 2004, and later from Mehsud belt in SW in 2005 and the back of its chief patron TTP broken in 2009, this outfit has been in disarray and on the move. Remnants are scattered and hiding in North Waziristan, Orakzai, Tirah, Mohmand and Kurram Agencies. Death of OBL further jolted the runaways. Pak Army’s highly successful operations in Orakzai, Mohmand and now in Kurram Agency have virtually choked the space for Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
The US main battle in Afghanistan is with Taliban and not the disarrayed al-Qaeda whose combat strength is negligible. The misused word ‘strategic’ would have sounded more plausible if the sole super power with strongest armed forces and technological means was in clash with China or Russia and not with rag-tag al-Qaeda and Taliban. Even if last fighter of al-Qaeda based in Af-Pak region is eliminated, this outfit will not die since its main strength resides in Arab Peninsula. It has also made deep inroads in western countries and USA. Anwar al-Awlaki is American citizen based in Yemen while Zawahiri is Egyptian. A good commander should be logically at a place where main battle is raging and not at the site of auxiliary effort where al-Qaeda has little interest left. The Arab world which is in turmoil is an ideal place for al-Qaeda to operate and increase its influence among the agitating youth seeking big change.
Obama’s popularity which had slightly improved after OBL’s death is again sliding down since he has been unable to put right melting economy, solve problem of unemployment and control high expenditure on defence. Excessively high defence budget is responsible for widening fiscal deficit. Expenditure incurred on US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, for training of ANA and police, for development works, for security contractors and for covert operations is a huge drain on US exchequer. This amount spent in the name of insane war which has given nothing except pain and ignominy to USA is a big waste which can be profitably utilized for welfare of home public. It is ironic to see the sole super power mired in heavy debt and getting more and more dependent upon its archrival China for its sustenance. These compulsions have compelled Obama to pullout or at least thin out bulk of troops from two theatres of war.
Caught up in a quagmire and Pakistan not ready to play the game entirely to US benefit, hawks in USA are continuing with their efforts to sabotage troop drawdown plan. Karzai regime, India and Israel too are affected parties and are sending emergent signals to Washington urging Obama to reconsider his decision. Seeing that Obama is not budging, Pentagon has come out with alternative plans to provide backup support to ANA after 2014. These include dividing Afghanistan on ethnic lines and retaining US presence in northern and central Afghanistan; keeping 50,000 US-UK troops in five military bases of Kandahar, Kabul, Bagram, Herat and Shindad; holding on to only two military bases of Kandahar and Bagram with about 10,000 troops. Stay back force will prolong its own agony as well as of Afghans.
Having got itself completely knotted up in Afghanistan and not knowing how to untie the knots, the US has unwisely started to cross swords with Pakistan. Pakistan is keen to free USA and has been fighting its battle devotedly, but its spirits have dampened ever since the US hit it below the belt. The climb down in relations started with the arrest of Raymond Davis and climaxed after sting operation in Abbottabad. On both occasions the snooty US officials adopted a tough posture as if Pakistan was its satellite, thus adding insult to injury. They desire slapping Pakistan at will and expect the recipient to offer its other cheek without a whimper.
Show of defiance by Army and ISI has sent them into fits of rage. Their behavior has become so degrading that it is ruffling feathers of even those in Pakistan who have been singing their praises. Anti-Americanism has surged to new heights never seen before and pro-American lobby has got reduced to miniscule minority. Every second person is seeking refurbishment of our US centric policy and it seems Pakistan is fast slipping out of the hands of USA.
About the Writer: Asif Haroon is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email: [email protected]
Brig Asif Haroon Raja an Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously.
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently.
He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready.
He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national publications.