General McChrystal – The Conscientious Objector

By General Mirza Aslam Beg

A soldier has the right to disagree with the higher civil and military command, but there is a method in doing so, and the way General McChrystal expressed his dissent, was no doubt, ‘unbecoming of an officer’. Perhaps, he lost his sense of discretion, under influences, beyond his control, as one of his close associates remarked: “he worked in a very right inner circle, doing every thing together including getting drunk.” However, there are some important aspects, connected with this incident, which need to be analyzed.

President Obama, as we all know had promised, while campaigning for the presidential elections that he will pull out troops from Afghanistan, engaged in a purposeless war and also made a firm commitment to address the Kashmir issue, but on assuming the office of the president, he reneged on both the issues. He caved-into pressure by ‘the military high command and the defense industries lobby’ for a military solution and a troop surge, although it was easy for him to say: “President Bush has accomplished the mission in Afghanistan, and therefore, I have decided to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.” The Americans and the NATO allies would have hailed this decision. On Kashmir, the Indian lobby forced him to restrict Holbrook’s responsibility to Afghanistan and Pakistan only. Now, Obama is in a stronger position, to carve-out a realistic exit-strategy.

McChrystal, no doubt, was frustrated at his failure to achieve military success, whereas, General Petreaus was able to achieve a degree of success in Iraq. General Petreaus exploited the ethnic divide in Iraq and mounted a successful strategy to divide the Shia-Sunni population, through a process of ethnic cleansing, ethnic riots and target killings, using Black water security agency. On the contrary there is no such ethnic divide in Afghanistan. The Pakhtuns are fighting the invaders, while the Northern Alliance, consisting of the minorities mainly supported the invaders and rode the American tanks to occupy Afghanistan in 2001. Together with the occupation forces, they also stand defeated.

The Afghans have won, and therefore peace conditions are to be established, on this ground reality. David Miliband rightly suggests: “The legitimate tribal and ethnic groups must be given real stake in the political process, a peace settlement in which we include the vanquished, as well as the victors.” Obama, therefore has to initiate the political process, for the peaceful settlement of the eight year long, purposeless and brutal war, and the step that, he has to take, must be well-considered and appropriate. As the first step he must engage and enter into dialogue with the Taliban, under Mullah Umar and remove the trust deficit and reach agreement on the basic issues, such as: Time frame of withdrawal of the occupation forces; declare ceasefire; remove the ban on Taliban freedom movement; release all Taliban prisoners, and negotiate a political settlement, with full realization that, trying to establish a democratic authority on a country with a tradition of decentralized governance, would prove counter productive.

The Karzai government at best can act as the facilitator, for the negotiations with the Taliban who may be willing to call a Loe Jirga to decide the formation of a national government, and the new constitution of the future political setup. Other important issues such as these must also be considered and consensus arrived at:

  • The status of US-Afghan relations, in the post independence period.
  • Guarantees for no-use of Afghan territory for militants activities against other countries.
  • Firm commitments from the UNO, USA. NATO and Russia to pay for the war damages and a Marshal Plan to rebuild Afghanistan.
  • Complete independence and freedom for the future Afghan government, to establish diplomatic, economic and socio-cultural relations with all countries of the world.

Pakistan has had the best of relations with Afghanistan, during the 80’s, but distrust, doubts and apprehensions were created in Afghans’ mind, when Pakistan’s ISI, which had supported and conducted the war against Soviet occupation, was pulled-out of Afghanistan during the 1990 under the American pressure. In the second phase, ISI was purged of all such operators, who had good contact with the Mujahideen, but the greatest damage to Pakistan’s security was caused in 2003, when Musharraf, pulled-out the ISI and other intelligence agencies from our own tribal areas of Swat, FATA and Balochistan, and the space so created was handed over to CIA, to be joined by the Indian spy network established in Afghanistan, with the result that, our entire border region was infested with foreign spies, agents and saboteurs, who fomented trouble in our tribal belt, threatening Islamabad and Peshawar and an out right rebellion in Balochistan, thus creating a very serious security lapse for Pakistan. The new government formed in 2008, therefore, decided to restore the writ of the government, in these areas and ordered steam-roller military actions in Swat, Dir, Bajaur and South Waziristan.

Pakistan Army actions could succeed only with full intelligence support, which meant, re-claiming, the territories, lost, to CIA, RAW and Mossad under Musharraf regime. Now our intelligence is well established in these areas and therefore, the tirade against it, for having established contact with the militants. This was an essential operational demand for the success of the military operations. But I am not sure, how far such contacts have helped, narrow-down the trust deficit between Afghan Taliban, Pak Army and our intelligence agencies. Taliban are one, under Mullah Umar, who is sympathetic to Pakistan, despite betrayals, but the young Taliban under him do not trust the Pakistan government, the Army and the ISI. What leverage does Pakistan therefore has to bring the Americans and Taliban, on the negotiations table? Minimal!! The much needed trust therefore must be re-established, to play a positive role in determining the peace parameters in Afghanistan, as the exit process of occupation forces begins. Unfortunately, scope and options are limited for Pakistan.

Thank you General McChrystal, for having facilitated the exit and the hurtling down of the “rolling stones” down the rocky mountains of Afghanistan. If I am not wrong, perhaps, it were you, who remarked a few years back: “every thing is so hard about the Afghans – their mountains, the people and their will to resist.” You have proved right!!

General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief of Army Staff who was heavily involved in Afghan Operation during USSR’s occupation and thereafter. Now he has established his Think Tank FRINDS in Rawalpindi.

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