US Misfortunes in Afghanistan Will Not End

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

With so many wise heads cobbled together in Kabul devising strategy how to finish the endgame in Afghanistan on a winning note, none has been able to come out with a workable and viable plan. George Bush led team intoxicated with power relied entirely on force and itched to crush any opposition coming their way. By the time they were unseated from power, they had inflicted incalculable harm to US prestige, image and credibility. The new team led by Obama promising a big change made no change in the overall war strategy. The only change Obama made was to shift centre of gravity from Iraq to Afghanistan and to crush Taliban-Al-Qaeda nexus through troop surge led by new military commanders Gen David Petraeus and Gen Stanley McChrystal who had supposedly done well on Iraq front. They were chosen to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Policy makers did not learn any lesson when the troop surge failed to deliver in 2009. Rather, Helmand operation turned into a disaster resulting in large scale casualties of coalition troops.

Instead of making amends they are reinforcing failure through another troop surge of 30000 getting completed in August. Kandahar operation is being undertaken in September despite failure in Marjah. Vice President Joe Biden and many among Democrats were not in favor of sending additional forces as asked by Gen McChrystal. They suggested reducing number of troops and focusing on Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan. They preferred greater use of missile strikes and Special Forces operations in Pakistan, seen as the main base of al-Qaeda.

Having flipped-flopped between self-defeating mix of surge and exit, US leaders are again treading simultaneously on the twin path of use of force and reconciliation. It speaks of utter confusion and uncertainty prevailing in Washington how to convert defeat into victory. They want to sail in two boats and hope to cross the stream by bleeding the Afghans with stick and trying to recon ciliate with them through carrot. After nine years of constant use of force the American leadership has now grudgingly agreed to Karzai’s proposal of reconciliation with Taliban, but arrogance comes their way. They want to first sufficiently hemorrhage the Taliban and then negotiate with them from position of strength. Karzai has been mandated to win over second and third tier leadership of Taliban including some members of Taliban Shura and ordinary fighters to be able to isolate hardliners led by Mullah Omar, Haqqani and Hikmatyar.

The success of new plan hinges on successful Kandahar operation, winning over sizeable number of Taliban leaders, killing irreconcilable Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders based in Afghanistan and FATA, expanding and training ANA and police, and making them operationally worthy to be able to assume charge by mid 2011. This plan has run into snags at the very outset due to several reasons. Kandahar operation has been postponed for the third time since Marjah operation was a fiasco and Helmand province as a whole is still restive. Civil administration has been unable to take over the administrative control of the province because of apathetic condition of ANA, Afghan police and other departments. Police serving in Helmand are addicted to opium and cannabis. The police being thoroughly corrupt are most hated by Afghans. As per Pentagon’s assessment prepared in April 2010, of 121 districts in Afghanistan, regarded as critical in struggle against Taliban, none support the government, 29 were sympathetic, and 48 districts either empathized with insurgency or backed it. Karzai regime has shown no improvement in curbing corruption or improving governance.

Worst of all for USA is the rebellious streaks emerging in Karzai who has started doubting the ability of coalition forces to defeat Taliban movement. NATO countries are keen to pull out because of rising casualty rate and economic constraints. In 2010, up to 23 June 75 fatalities of NATO have taken place which makes it the worst month since 2001. In August 2009, 77 foreign soldiers lost their lives which had forced McChrystal to abandon forward posts and concentrate in main cities. So far 295 casualties have occurred this year. Dutch and Canada have already announced their decision to withdraw. Strains have appeared between US senior military leadership and US Administration because of disagreements on conduct of war.

As if these woes were not enough for Obama, an interview of Gen McChrystal and his aides using derisive language against top US civil leadership published by Rolling Stone Magazine created a storm in Washington. US top officials including Obama, Joe Biden, Ambassador Eikenberry, Holbrooke and James Jones were contemptuously criticized. McChrystal’s main crib was that Obama was uninterested and rather uncomfortable in discussing Afghan war during a meeting at Oval Office. James Jones was called a clown and Holbrooke a wounded animal. Fuming Obama summoned McChrystal in Washington. Ignoring his apology he gave him his piece of mind and told to resign. His resignation from his current post of commander US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has been accepted and CENTCOM Commander Gen Petraeus asked to takeover his duties as well. Robert Gates has now ruled out major pullout in July 2011. Read more of this post

UN exposes myth of ‘Quetta Shura’

ISLAMABAD – A series of meetings among key Taliban leaders, top United Nations officials, and Indian and US diplomats took place during December 2009 and January 2010, prior to the one reported in a questionable news item carried by foreign news agencies.

After the publication of the particular report revealing a secretive meeting reportedly held on January 8 in Dubai between UN Afghanistan’s Chief Kai Eide and some moderate Taliban representatives allegedly hailing from ‘Quetta Shura’, this newspaper contacted its sources in United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and representatives of some credible stakeholders, who said that such kinds of covert meetings had become a routine affairs and were extensively been held in Kabul with the active collusion of Indian consulates. It was the result of these negotiations that Hikmatyar’s spokesman had hinted about dialogue with Afghan government provided that ISAF and NATO devised a roadmap regarding their eviction from Afghanistan. Contrary to Taliban’s expectations, the London Conference did not address the issue of troop surge and laid the provisions of training programmes for Afghan National Army instead, which led the Taliban to reject London Conference.

However, given that the particular news item surfaced just a day after London Conference, its timing and ‘selected venue’ make the entire affair very suspicious as a concocted plan to malign Pakistan. It is widely believed among diplomatic circles that US has deliberately floated this unfounded news among the sections of media and associated it with ‘Quetta Shura’ only to breed the evasive notion that unrest in Afghanistan was nurtured and sponsored by Pakistan.

In addition, the statement, quoting a UN official in the specific news report as saying (about Taliban) “They don’t want to vanish into places like Bagram,” bears less relevance with existing scenario in the wake of UN’s demand regarding expediting the review process pertaining to Bagram detainees. The closure of notorious base is under heated discussion.

It needs to be questioned since when did the term ‘Quetta Shura’ which had been coined just recently, started existing, while bordering areas of Afghanistan, especially North Waziristan and FATA, had been slammed by the West and Afghanistan for sponsoring cross-border terrorism. After Pakistan’s military command and key regional players have taken a tougher stance on Indo-US nexus and it became evident that Afghan terrorism is indigenous and its corruption-ridden government is incapable of combating the menace, Quetta has been selected as a new scapegoat for the purpose.

The news regarding ‘Quetta Shura’ has proved this perception true that all those calls seeking Pakistan’s support in London Conference are likely to be given a reversal in the days ahead and India was deliberately kept out of London Conference to avoid negative fallout.

After UN has given a clean-chit to Pakistan and has categorically slammed Afghan government in its reports exposing massive corruption, administrative deficiencies and rigged presidential elections coupled with UN’s statement in the Security Council that Pakistan has suffered more than any neighbouring country ever suffered, US needed a loud excuse to justify its nexus with India in Afghanistan, and the ‘Quetta Shura’ is ‘destined to do the favour.’

Pakistan’s neighbouring countries say their concerns regarding the planted London moot were not unfounded and the signs of malicious Indo-US alliance are evident. These neighbours’ reservations surfaced out of tiptoe meetings in Afghanistan. US, UN and Indian diplomats have met Taliban and are still believed to be meeting them mostly in Kabul, its suburbs and unspecified venues in Middle East and Europe. by Sikander Shaheen

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