Troop Surge in Afghanistan is a Military Fallacy


By Faryal Leghari
Khaleej Times Online

Afghanistan, at the centre of global strategic focus during the days of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Occupation in the 1980s regained significance after 9/11 attacks as the US-led coalition launched strikes against the Taleben government headed by Mullah Omar for giving refuge to the Al Qaeda high command.

Eight years later, to date, Afghanistan poses a bigger challenge than Iraq, to the international coalition forces including US and Nato troops. US President Barack Obama has been pushing for a greater emphasis on both Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas that are, as estimated by US intelligence, the seat for launching the next major attack. Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has since more than four years now been subjected to US drone attacks against Al Qaeda targets and military operations by the Pakistan army against militants that included Pakistani Taleban groups and foreign fighters. Both the Pakistan and the Afghan governments have welcomed Obama’s call for a revision of strategy; they feel that increased political engagement as well as added economic assistance should be part of the new strategic plan apart from increased focus on military aspects.

Khaleej Times, in order to get an independent and comprehensive perspective on the strategic issues facing Pakistan and Afghanistan, talked to a visiting defence analyst, Zaid Hamid who heads Brass Tacks, a think-tank based in Pakistan.

“The troops surge is what I would call, a historical and military fallacy,” is how Zaid Hamid, described President Obama’s measure of sending additional troops to Afghanistan. “It is not going to work as America sinks deeper into the mess it has created like the Soviets who, with half a million soldiers could not control and defeat the Afghans.” Hamid said, “The stationing of additional troops on the Pak-Afghan border is expected to create further instability in Pakistan’s border areas. The AfPak doctrine that lays the blame for the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s tribal areas would create further destabilisation. It is bound to increase friction with the Pakistani security forces as the expected incursions across the border into Pakistan by coalition troops are likely to result in an open confrontation.”

“Obama’s promised “change” of strategy has spelt disaster for Pakistan because it views Pakistan equivalent to the Afghan theatre of conflict.” How this translates in strategic policy-making is that Pakistan is now equally open to operations by international forces. “Instead of an ally Pakistan is now “being described as a hostile entity; without consideration of geographical boundaries American attacks are expected to be carried out with impunity on Pakistani territory under the new doctrine that considers Pakistan’s tribal areas as the pivotal point for launching attacks on the US Homeland.”

Critical of the US policy orientation, Hamid warned that the restive mood among the Pakistan army officials shows anger and mistrust and he suspected that in the likelihood of the Pakistan government’s further ceding to US diktat it would not be able to withstand the public outrage and opposition that will be generated.

Holbrook’s appointment as the special envoy to southwest Asia is viewed by Hamid as implementing the Yugoslavia imprint on Pakistan. “There is a bigger plan that aims at the dismemberment of the state and eventual control of its nuclear programme under the justification that as a “failed dysfunctional state” Pakistan is unable to control its strategic assets from falling in the hands of rogue elements,” said Hamid.

Though this might contain the ingredients of a far-fetched conspiracy theory, it was only last year that a map of a greatly reduced Pakistan with redrawn border was created and circulated in the US military circles.

A political solution to Afghanistan in Hamid’s opinion could be achieved through talks with not just the Taleban, whose core group led by Mullah Omar is no doubtedly influential and carries a lot of weight among the Pashtuns, but also with other groups led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. “It is important to engage the Anti Coalition Militia (ACM) and not just focus on Taleban”, said Hamid.

“There are elements among even the hard-line core of Mullah Omar groups that are keen for rapprochement and negotiations. The Taleban factions have wanted to establish and start talks with both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Engaging the diverse insurgent factions from a consensual platform such as the Pak-Afghan jirga, which is already in agreement about reaching out to the dissident factions must be carried out to expedite a political solution to the problem.”

While commenting on the role played by regional states in Afghanistan, he opined that the insurgency is currently being used for vested interests in embroiling the US by Iran, Russia and China. In fact arms are being supplied to the insurgents by the respective states. Collaboration of certain elements in the Afghan government with the insurgents in providing them with weapons pilfered from US and Nato supplies, as was brought up recently in Washington, is also ascertained.

“The Iranian dual role in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, has been of cooperation with the government in Kabul and of covertly supporting the Taleban, despite ideological differences, on the other hand.”

Similarly, he didn’t foresee any concrete development from the Russian side in helping the US in Afghanistan. Hamid said, that “On the contrary, Russia would like to see the United States to be bogged down in the same way it had during the Afghan jihad.” The US efforts to look at alternative supply routes for its forces in Afghanistan other than Pakistan are not likely to materialise. “Both Iran and Russia are not likely to allow the passage of US military hardware and the presence of some logistical US base in their countries for the purpose.”

Hamid’s assessment of the presence of the Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan is that they exist only in small numbers. “Their presence and capacity is greatly exaggerated. It is not possible that the so-called exaggerated threat perception by the West about another 9/11 attack being waged from Pakistan’s FATA or Afghanistan takes place.” Hundreds of Arabs had left Afghanistan at the time of the US attacks following 9/11, those who stayed back allied themselves with the Taleban for protection and were thus accommodated, creating the so-called nexus. Hamid felt “the Al Qaeda-Taleban alliance, was driven by necessity and emerged as an enforced coalescing of two groups with diametrically opposed agendas since the Taleban are a localised nationalist movement and the Al Qaeda has a global militarist agenda.”

To a question about the funding of the insurgency by narcotics, Hamid said that, “considering the fact that the Taleban were the same people who had banned opium production in their regime, it was unlikely that they were using it as a major financial supply line. The reason why Helmand despite the presence of the largest number of British forces continued to produce more than 50 pe cent of Afghanistan’s total opium was because of the heavy involvement of some elements in the Afghan government in the drug trade.”

Though his assessment of the nature of the security threats facing Pakistan and the great game being staged in Afghanistan might not portend a positive outcome, it may be a good idea for both Afghanistan and Pakistan to look beyond past mistakes and blame games and to look for solutions within the region with minimal outside diktat.

PKKH Note:
As you are aware, the UAE has a very large and vocal Indian community. We do NOT want to see the ‘Letters to the Editors’ section filled with hateful letters towards Pakistan in response to Zaid Hamid’s staunch nationalistic views that mirror ours and all patriotic Pakistanis’.
We need YOU to voice your opinions in support of Pakistan.
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