Time for America to introspect

by Asif Haroon Raja

Gen Petraeus has taken over same lot of demoralized coalition troops with little heart left to fight purposeless war. US military and NATO have never remained in sync; misunderstanding among them is likely to increase in coming months. Synchronized coordination among six intelligence agencies is lacking. Afghan Army and paramilitary forces are another headache needing emergent refurbishment. Introduction of Blackwater in security and military affairs has its own set of ramifications. He plays with the same battle plan conceived by his predecessor Gen McChrystal and approved by him. He is bounded by Af-Pak plan to draw a wedge between Taliban and Al-Qaeda, divide Taliban and defeat the hardliners. He too is keen for operation in NW for he feels that move into Kandahar with a heavy force would expose his southern flank and rear to militants in NW.

The Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan exactly one year after Gorbochov announced his intentions on 09 February 1988. None had believed that Soviets would ever withdraw since the big bear had no history of retracing its steps. Taliban rightly feel that they have in principle achieved the second miracle within a span of three decades. The day Americans pull out, it will be like the history of rise of Islam under Holy Prophet (pbuh) in 6th century getting re-enacted when the two super powers of the time, the Persians (Sassanian Empire) and the Byzantine Empire under Romans, having fought with each other for a longtime finally got defeated at the hands of ill-equipped Muslim Arabs on horsebacks.

Notwithstanding that Taliban have an influence over more than 70% of territory in Afghanistan, yet they are far from taking over reigns of country. Until and unless they capture Kabul and dismantle US bases in Baghram and Kandahar, which are the main power centres of coalition forces and Karzai regime, victory will remain illusive. Kabul’s fall is obligatory to achieve total victory. Kabul can capitulate if focus of terror attacks is shifted to the capital city, northern route towards Salang Pass is blocked, supplies coming from Pakistan are disrupted, and like IEDs and suicide attacks which have taken maximum toll of ISAF ground troops, means to combat aerial power acquired. Russia would be too willing to provide latest version of SAMs as a quid pro quo to stingers provided to Mujahideen by Americans in 1987-88, which accelerated the rot of Soviet forces.There is growing skepticism among policy makers in USA. The critics say that US military and civil officials associated with Afghanistan lack clarity, vision and have no set goals and their benchmarks are based on vague assumptions making achievement of goals that much unattainable. Shadow boxing for authority is continuing between Pentagon under Robert Gates cum CIA and State Department under Hillary Clinton cum White House. For Obama, next one year period is crucial to achieve some measure of stability in Afghanistan since it will have a direct bearing on the outcome of elections in USA in 2011-12.

It is time for USA to introspect and to perform postmortem as to why today the US finds itself in such a sorry state. Washington should make a candid assessment as to what the US gained in blindly trusting India and Israel and what it lost in distrusting Pakistan. Isn’t it ironic that after punishing Pakistan for nine years on fabricated charges, the US has now begun to realize that stability of Pakistan is critical to stability of Afghanistan, South-Central Asia and for US national security? Who will account for immeasurable human and economic losses suffered by Pakistan? Had the US played a fair game with Pakistan and co-opted the Army and ISI in its war plans, it could have emerged as a victor. At this critical stage, the US needs a General like Gen Patton or Gen McArthur to steady the ship and snatch the victory from the jaws of sure defeat. Like McChrystal, Petraeus too is a spent cartridge with nothing to gloat about. He is no match to one-eyed Mullah Omar who has proved his mettle and has all the qualities of a great leader. Petraeus will swim with the tide but doesn’t have the aura and drive to lift the sagging morale of 46-nation troops he commands, galvanize them into a well-knit team and kindle in them requisite warrior spirit to push back the surging tide and turn it in favorable direction. I may hazard to add that best of military plans fail under an indecisive and weak leader while an average plan succeeds under a dynamic leader.

Therefore rather than wasting time in hatching conspiracies against Pakistan, focus should be on selecting the right man and giving him full liberty of action to run the show. He should dispassionately take stock of the obtaining situation, resources available, go about refurbishing grey areas, revise battle plans in accordance with ground realities and see if pitched battles are desirable. Any military leader with little grey matter would conclude that it is pointless to reinforce failure and would advise that from henceforth all efforts should be made towards salvaging the precarious situation through dialogue only and not through a mix of dialogue and use of force since it would prove counter productive.

The intellectually bankrupt think tanks in USA instead of publishing anti-Pakistan articles scripted by Indian writers in US newspapers and magazines should critically examine as to why the US failed to usher in democracy, political stability and economic prosperity in war-torn Afghanistan? They should seek answers as to why USA could not win over the Afghans or train ANA and police despite spending trillions of dollars? An answer should be found as to why colossal amount was wasted on futile chase of Osama and other high profile militant leaders without any success? They should search their hearts and come out with honest opinion whether efforts wasted on dividing and killing Taliban will prove productive and whether it will be desirable to waste time and resources on propping up dead horse of ANA.

The US strategists must now ponder over the coming withdrawal phase of coalition troops, starting in July 2011, whether it will be a clean break under a Geneva like accord or it will be a running battle, or total airlift of manpower leaving behind all the heavy baggage, tanks, guns, mines, explosives and ordnance. They must contemplate upon northern outlet through Central Asia and southern outlet through Pakistan as to what steps are required to make them safe for supplies as well as rearward road moves. The civil leaders like James Jones, Holbrooke, Eikenberry and others in the meanwhile should also do their homework and stick to their domain rather than poking their noses in military affairs and trying to become military strategists. As a matter of fact it was because of hardnosed Holbrooke’s aggressive attitude which gave rise to civil-military tensions. He was behind making Af-Pak policy, which was devised to balkanize Pakistan on Yugoslavian model. He tried to assert his authority in Pakistan but his inflated ego was deflated by Lt Gen Shuja Pasha in April 2009 and ever since he has put on the guise of affability. However, beneath the mask of friendliness, he remains firm in his set goals. Read more of this post

Hillary widens Pak-US distrust

By General Retd Mirza Aslam Beg

Diplomats are very careful in their words while delivering political speeches and also dealing with the leadership of other countries. They are polite, articulate and courteous, and convey even very tough messages with a touch of grace. But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on her recent visit to Pakistan, appeared much emotionally disturbed, displaying a strange logic hit out to “decrease the historic distrust.” She said:

  • “Should an attack on the US be traced to Pakistan, it would have a very devastating impact.” This means, another demonstration of “shock and awe” over Pakistan as on Afghanistan in 2001, but with a mild difference. That India would also join the US, as it is also having jitters after the Mumbai attack.
  • “I believe, Mullah Omar and Osama are in Pakistan and you know they are here. Don’t double cross. Help us to get them.” For over nine years, the Americans and their allies have been trying to get them and having failed, now expect the Pakistan army to ‘produce the rabbits from the hat’, failing which Pakistan has to remain prepared to face the wrath of the sole superpower of the world.
  • Three: “Pak-China nuclear deal is a matter of great concern. We can trace the export of nuclear information and material from Pakistan, through all kinds of channels, to many different countries. We are fulfilling our commitment, but it is not a one-way street.” Since Pakistan and China have explained umpteen times that the nuclear deal is fully covered by the IAEA guarantees, it should not be a matter of concern for any one. But as this is a case of the ‘lion and the lamb’, Pakistan has to be prepared to face the onslaught of the “global-anti-nuclear-proliferation-regime comprising US, Israel and India”, ready to take out its nuclear assets and capabilities.
  • Four: “Pakistan is double crossing us in dealing with the terrorists. They are shielding the Haqqani group in particular, who are causing all the trouble for us in Afghanistan. It is time for Pakistan now to make sure that we are on the same page on Afghanistan” and “there is a gulf between how the Pakistanis define the good and bad Taliban and what Washington calls reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban.”

As if, this was not enough, Pakistan and Afghanistan delegates were huddled together at Islamabad to sign the Afghan Transit Trade Agreement, while Hillary stood behind like a headmistress with a rod in hand, to ensure compliance. The entire process was completed in such a hurry, that the Pakistan’s representatives did not get the time to discuss the matter with Parliament, or at least with the members of the Cabinet. And our PM, who should not have been there, in any case, stood at the signing of the agreement with a cynical smile on his face.

Ms Clinton scored another point, by forcing the Pakistani government to restore the privilege of our Ambassador in Washington, to issue one year multiple visit visas’ to the Americans visiting Pakistan. This privilege was, however, misused in the past by the Americans working for Blackwater and other such shady organisations. It means that the old ‘cloak and dagger’ game is on, once again. Read more of this post

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

Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan

S.m. Hali

February 5th is being observed as Kashmir Solidarity Day, which is a yearly practice since 1990 as a day of protest against the unjust occupation of Kashmir. The day is marked with renewed firm resolve to continue the struggle for the achievement of the birthright of Kashmiris to self-determination through getting the valley liberated from the Indian yoke of tyranny. Kashmiris observe the solidarity day every year not only to renew their deep-rooted love and affection with Pakistan, but also to reiterate their commitment and dedication to their liberty from the Indian occupation. Kashmiris have been struggling since 1947 to secure their freedom, which was assured by the UN Resolutions; however, subsequent Indian governments have not only remained oblivious to the UN Resolutions, but also continued to subject the Kashmiris to their reign of terror. Pakistan’s endeavours to resolve the issue through dialogue have also been spurned by India.

The Palestinians too continue to suffer atrocities inflicted upon them by Israel, which was created unjustly after evicting the Palestinians from their territory in 1948. Since then the Palestinians have struggled to regain their homeland but have failed despite extreme sacrifice and war against Israel by its Arab neighbours to liberate Palestine.

Two other Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, which were occupied by the US/NATO forces during the 21st century, are close to being liberated from the tyranny of their invaders. Afghanistan was conquered by USA and its allies, following the 9/11 debacle. The US declared Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda group responsible for the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon and demanded the then Taliban regime in Afghanistan to hand over purported culprits for trial. Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader demanded proof of Osama’s complicity to the 9/11 attack. The Taliban query was interpreted as refusal and Afghanistan was subjected to one of the most ferocious attacks in history and occupied by US and its allies.

Iraq was attacked in 2003 by a US-led coalition force under the plea that Saddam Hussain’s regime possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which would pose a threat to the rest of the world. That is another aspect that the WMDs were never found during the seven years of occupation.

A number of conspiracy theories were floated to the rationale behind occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. In the case of Iraq, control of its oil reserves is the apparent reason for subjugating Iraq and installing a pliable and malleable regime there. The case of Afghanistan is slightly different. Michael Klare, author of the book Resource Wars, which has a major focus on the Caspian region, and Ahmad Rashid, Pakistani journalist and author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, opine that in the 10 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been a new great game between Russia, the United States, China, Iran, the European companies, for control of the new oil and gas resources that have been discovered in the Caspian Sea and in the Caucuses and Central Asia. They deduce that “because Central Asia is totally landlocked, distances are huge, and the US strategy has been essentially to keep, new oil pipelines not to be built through Russia or through Iran or China.”

They quote US government Energy Information fact sheet on Afghanistan dated December 2000, which reveals: “Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographic position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes proposed multi-billion dollar oil and gas export pipelines through Afghanistan” which is the shortest route to the Pakistani coastline on the Indian Ocean. To achieve this Afghanistan had to be conquered and a pliant regime installed there.

After tremendous bloodshed and financial losses, the US administration is now considering ways and means of exiting both Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama, in his maiden State of the Union Address on January 27, presented strategies for reviving the sick economy of USA. What he failed to mention, but has been disclosed by the Information Clearing House Newsletter of January 31, 2010 that a number of Iraqis slaughtered since the US invaded Iraq so far is “1,366,350”, while the number of US military personnel sacrificed (officially acknowledged) In America’s War on Iraq is: 4,692. On the other hand, the number of International Occupation Force Troops sacrificed in Afghanistan is 1,611, while the civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 9/11 range between 11,760 and 31,357. To top it all, the cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan is a whopping $955,465,013,902. No wonder plans for the egress of the US and other international forces from Afghanistan and Iraq are underway.

General Viktor Yermakov, the Commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, while talking to CNN after the proposed troop surge in Afghanistan, commented that the “US is repeating the Soviet blunder of adding more troops in Afghanistan.” He stated that at the height of the Soviet-Afghan War, there were 300,000 Soviet troops deployed in Afghanistan, out of which 15,000 Soviets were killed, 469,685 got wounded while 500 are still missing. What he did not say was that the invasion contributed to the demise of USSR.

It is ironical that during the London Conference, General Stanley McChrystal’s despite being a fighting general, pronouncement that “there’s been enough fighting,” and Robert Gates, the US secretary of defence, proclamation: “The Taliban…are part of the political fabric of Afghanistan,” are being used to bolster Hamid Karzai’s plea that negotiations must be opened with the Taliban. The London Conference went a step ahead and approved a multi-million integration fund to lure the Taliban fighters to join the political mainstream.

We hope and pray that peace returns to Iraq and Afghanistan, but what a pity that Kashmir and Palestine continue to bleed since they neither have oil nor are situated on the oil-gas trade route. May their predicament be over and the simmering trauma gets resolved at an early date.

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