The Afghan War of Liberation has twice changed its course in a short period of three decades. In 1987, it was the ‘stinger missiles’, which forced the Soviets to withdraw and now it is the “suicide bombers”, which have forced the Americans to change course in Afghanistan.

The Stingers: In 1986, the Soviets inducted heliborne-commando Brigades, which caused heavy casualties on the Mujahideen. This was the time when General Crist, Centcom, visited my Headquarters at Peshawar, and was surprised to hear about the reverses suffered by the Mujahideen. Within a week, General Wikam, commander US Army, came to Peshawar to seek confirmation. He made ground checks and went back convinced of the need for a hand-held anti-air missile – the stingers, which were soon inducted, causing unacceptable casualties to Soviet helicopters. This happened to be the turning point of war , as the Soviets decided to withdraw. A correct decision at the right time.

The Suicide Bombers: This is not something new, but has assumed new dimensions with Taliban commander’s son Abdul Rehman Khalid leading the suicide squad, riding a captured Humvy, loaded with explosives. This act alone has ignited the minds of thousands of young freedom fighters, readjusting themselves for attack on fortress garrisons held by American and allied troops. Just imagine, half a dozen vehicle mounted suicide bombers, attacking a garrison, to shatter the will of the defenders, followed by foot suicide bombers exploiting the break-through battle. While it is yet to happen, the policy makers in Washington now are seriously thinking of finding a way out of Afghanistan.

In fact, the Americans and their allies were thoroughly defeated by the year 2010, but they didn’t show the grace to accept defeat like the Soviets to withdraw at the right time. However, they did send their emissary to me, Richard Armitage (the person who phoned General Musharraf, after 9/11, forcing him to accept the seven conditions for joining America’s war on Afghanistan) the head of the Committee of the Senate for Afghanistan, seeking dialogue with the Taliban. We discussed the details and succeeded getting the nod from Mullah Umar, who nominated a five member delegation, ready to meet the Americans. But meanwhile, something strange happened in Washington. Pentagon muffled Richard Armitage, who cut-off all contact with us after the treacherous kidnapping and killing of Col Imam and Khalid Khawaja.

Since 2010, the Americans and their allies have been “trying to win victory out of their defeat”, but could make no headway against Mullah Umar’s firm demand: “Exit now and leave us alone to decide our future.” This was to happen, in any case, as I had warned on September 23, 2001 in an open conference. I condemned General Musharraf for joining the American war on Afghanistan, saying “Taliban would regroup and re-organise, to fight back to win the war against United States and the Allies” – everyone laughed at me. Now they are laughing at themselves.

Therefore, prominent American analysts and policymaking quarters now are suggesting ‘changing course in Afghanistan’, with some examples mentioned below.

“Tragically after 16 years of committing substantial treasure in blood and money, with no end in sight to make Afghanistan safer and more secure, the alternative ranges from bad to worse.” (Harlan Ullman. Senior Advisor, Supreme Allied Command Europe, 2004-2016.

“We cannot be successful in Afghanistan, unless we have higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan.” – Gen Dunford, JCOS, US.

“It is time for the White House to acknowledge that most of the US troops are doing very little in Afghanistan at the considerable cost of over $23 billion a year. Doubling down on an unsuccessful war is not act of strength or persistence. It’s trying the same thing again and expecting a different result.”

“The need for changing the course has finally been realised by US policymaking quarters, who are expecting different results than the one these policies have been yielding all these fifteen years. It is a sign of insanity if you do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”

“If the US seeks to occupy and liberalise terrorist’s safe heaven, it will run-out of troops long before the terrorists run out of land.”

“Pakistan’s need for Strategic Depth satisfy the Taliban demand for a foreign exit and grant Afghan (PAKISTAN) Pakhtuns, the dignity of living free from foreign influence. It is the least bad of a range of bad options.”

The US now recognises our concept of strategic depth. The struggle for freedom in Afghanistan having run a full circle, now has reached the choice point where Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan stood in 1988, together to form the strategic pivot of the Muslim world, providing depth of strategic security, in all its wider dimensions. On August 25, 1988, as the new Chief of Army Staff, addressing my senior offices, I had said “We are now witnessing the dawn of supremacy of Islam and democratic values. The three countries, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are emerging free, strong and resilient and are moving towards a common destiny to form the bastion of power – the strategic pivot of the Muslim World. It’s a vision which must be converted into reality.”

That is the dream to be realised as our most important foreign policy objective and also “to satisfy our demand for foreign troops exit from Afghanistan and gain the dignity of living free of foreign machinations, influences and intrigues. Realisation of this deal would form the cornerstone of our national defence demands.

The writer is a former COAS, Pakistan.

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