By Brig (R) Asif Haroon Raja
THE US leaders are repeatedly saying that success in Afghanistan is not achievable unless Pakistan is part of the solution and not part of problem. While it is gratifying that the US has at long last realized the importance of Pakistan, but Pakistan can be of real use only when it is treated as an ally and not as a satellite. Having lost the war on terror in Afghanistan because of faulty policies and priorities, the US at this belated stage is in no position to reverse the tide and win the war. Minimum it can hope for is to salvage its troops out of the boiling cauldron of Afghanistan in one piece and with grace.
Had the US treated Pakistan as an ally and relied upon Pak Army and ISI rather than on untrustworthy India, Israel and Afghan government, it could have ended the war on a victorious note. At this late stage the only role Pakistan can play is to arrange safe withdrawal of coalition forces by using its influence it enjoys over forces that matter in Afghanistan.
If Pakistan refuses to act as a facilitator between Taliban and Washington or between Taliban and Karzai, they are not in a position to work out a political settlement through negotiations at their own. Neither the occupying forces are in a position to make the Taliban submit to their demands by force. Pakistan’s linkage with Taliban irks USA and has remained a principal cause of misgivings and annoyance. If Pakistan blocks supplies to NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan through Torkham and Chaman, the US has no viable means to provide armaments and food to 150000 troops. Although Pakistan provides the lifeline to US led coalition forces, but it is distrusted and given a raw deal. Factually it is USA, India, Israel and Afghan regime which are part of problem and not Pakistan. This can be judged from the 9-year performance of the four in Afghanistan vis-à-vis Pakistan’s performance in war on terror which is fighting the war under so many constraints and handicaps. Even the casualties suffered by both sides at the hands of militants will give an indication as to which side fought the war more tenaciously and with dedication.
As against less than 2300 total casualties suffered by armies of 43 countries from 2001 till this day, (including 521 in 2010), Pakistan security forces suffered over 8000 fatalities. Total Pakistani casualties in acts of terror are 31243. The whole country is suffering on account of US triggered war on terror since end 2001 while the US military and its coalition partners are playing games in an occupied country to keep their respective homelands safe. None minds if Afghanistan and Pakistan get fragmented as long as their homelands are safe and their strategic and commercial objectives are achieved.
The NATO/ISAF has failed to pacify Helmand despite two troop surges and has so far been unable to launch much hyped Kandahar operation to be able to gain an upper hand in critical southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan where the Taliban enjoy complete sway. Obama has admitted that Afghanistan is much harder than Iraq. ISAF is now relying on drones and aerial power since relatively higher casualty rate in recent months has sapped out its offensive spirit. 2010 has been the deadliest year since 2001 in which 521 fatalities of ISAF took place. Aerial weapons particularly drones kill 2% militants and 98% innocent civilians and in no way help in dominating the territory. It helps the military to the extent of minimizing its casualty rate since the Taliban have no means to contest pilotless Rapiers and Apaches. However, this passive approach is unhelpful in regaining initiative which is in the hands of Taliban since 2008. The latter are hitting targets at will in all parts of Afghanistan including heavily fortified Kabul and relatively safe northern regions and drawing blood. While Pakistani troops along with the commanders are out in the open fighting the militants inside their strongholds and have disarrayed them, coalition troops enjoying all the strategic and tactical advantages in terms of weaponry, mobility, firepower, technology, logistics, intelligence and finances, are defensive and bunker based. Instead of owning up their mistakes and giving it up as a bad job, the military commanders and hawks within US Administration are justifying their weaknesses by blaming Pakistan. Rather than striving to stabilize the most troublesome regions in Afghanistan, the US has adopted an easy course of putting the blame of all its failures at the doorstep of Pakistan and wasting all its energies in areas firmly in control of Pak forces.
To start with, Wazir dominated South Waziristan (SW) was declared as the trouble spot. Next in line of fire was Mehsud inhabited SW; thereon North Waziristan (NW). Emphasis then shifted to Swat and then to Al-Qaeda and it was alleged that its entire leadership was based in FATA. When this trick didn’t work, it was claimed that Afghan Taliban are the chief threat and its Shura led by Mullah Omar was located at Quetta. Once this scheme also backfired, Lashkar-e-Taiba was played up and presented as a global threat as deadly as Al-Qaeda. Latest concoction is about NW where it contends that all the militant forces including Osama bin Laden, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Haqqani network, Al-Qaeda, affiliated militant groups have assembled. Tehrik-e-Taliban which CIA had midwifed in December 2007 has also come in its bad books and declared a terrorist outfit. Since start of 2010, the US is putting extensive pressure on Pakistan to launch an operation in NW.
Pakistan having deployed 150000 troops in several troublesome areas and employed 60,000 troops on flood relief duties can’t afford to spare troops and to open another front at a time when its economy is crumbling, political situation is messy and India is edgy over uprising in Kashmir.
Pakistan rightly feels that it has done more than its capacity and now it is the turn of coalition forces in Afghanistan to do more and end the futile war. When Pakistan withstood multiple pressures, including a threat of physical invasion hurled by Gen Petraeus, and took a principled stand based on cogent reasons that it was not possible to stretch out any further for the time being, the US began its drone offensive in NW. In order to justify its intensive drone strikes, incident of Times Square in New York was played up out of all proportions by making a connection with NW. In order to make the Al-Qaeda threat emanating from NW more startling, the US floated a report that Al-Qaeda had prepared a plot to strike cities of three European countries on the pattern of Mumbai attacks in November 2008 and that its hideouts were being systematically destroyed by drones to thwart the impending attacks. Portion of Mumbai style attacks has been added up by RAW. This report has been rubbished by concerned countries. To up the ante, two attacks were made by Apache helicopters on 26 September in NW killing 30 civilians. Instead of owning mistake and assuring that it will not be repeated, NATO high command gave a curt reply to Pakistan’s protest that it had every right to chase the militants as a defensive measure for safeguarding its security interests. NATO helicopters again intruded into Kurram Agency twice in broad daylight on 01 October and fired on an unsuspecting border post manned by Frontier Corps killing three and injuring same number. The post is situated 5 km this side of he border. A video released by Dawn channel shows two jet fighters providing cover to the attacking helicopters. Video gives a clear indication that it was not a hot pursuit operation to hit the running militants but a static post. It was a deliberate act with nasty intentions.
There was uproar in Pakistan and the PM issued a terse warning on the floor of the national assembly asking NATO to apologize and to give an assurance that such violation will not be repeated otherwise Pakistan would be constrained to react. Stern reminder together with closure of supply route via Torkham had a telling effect and NATO hastened to tender regrets and assured that such incidents would be avoided in future. Impact would have been greater if Chaman route had also been blocked. Although a joint inquiry is in progress, however it will be worthwhile if NATO provides details captured by cameras installed in helicopters and jets to see whether the attack was accidental or intentional. The US threat to step into FATA is a bluff since with its hands full in Afghanistan, it is completely nonplussed how to pullout of the trap which it had laid for the Afghans. Having adopted a rearward posture out of security compulsions since it has lost control over regions bordering Pakistan, the US-NATO military cannot possibly stretch its neck out. Any attempt to do so will provide a lucrative target to the Taliban to sever it with ease. It will be a godsend opportunity for Pakistan to bring all the tribesmen of FATA on board who would love to fight their sworn enemy and settle scores. The US is advised to desist from indulging in intrigues and bluffing game and to become part of the solution instead of becoming part of the problem.