The US occupation of Afghanistan was never a consequence of strategic logic. As described in these columns, it was a war that stemmed out of revenge and hate post 9/11. The impulse to pulverise the already primordial and fiercely self-independent tribesmen to the Stone Age far outweighed any strategic hypothesis. The urge was to demonstrate and employ leading edge technologies to obliterate the defined enemy that was pronounced as al-Qaeda, but as events proved, beyond that. Drone war was a lie.
In the final analysis, Pakistan will continue to pay a heavy price for joining a conflict with unstinted support, no homework and an engagement situation that warranted a paradigm shift outdone by compulsions of the homegrown social dimensions. Pakistan wasted this time holding one gun to its head and another to a floating threat, while an NRO sponsored regime set to its task of dismantling the state edifice. In case the worst comes to pass, no one in Pakistan’s establishment, including military and politicians, will be able to absolve themselves of the role they played in such attrition.
In his book, “The Nature of War”, Julian Lider describes war as an activity of choice and opportunity on a perspective of relative equilibrium from cooperation to coercion. Violence is exercised in rare and extreme cases. The transition to war is logical with an ends-means relationship to the ultimate objective of restoring equilibrium; usually peace on terms. The rationale for war is never built on emotive factors, but rather on cool and calculated political logic. However, the point at which the conflict must end is always difficult to ascertain. This is due to the uncertainty, fog of conflict and intrusion of strong emotive factors that result in prolonging a conflict, making it more illogical. In long drawn conflicts, emotive factors cast a shadow and defeat strategic and military logic.
In the invasion of Afghanistan and now its exit plans, the US supported by its most erstwhile ally, the UK, is guilty of violating both. The most dangerous aspect of this development is that primacy of politics in conflict so endearing to Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard and Peter Paret has repeatedly been overtaken by ‘military absolutism’ with an illogical end-means relationship.
As a minion, Pakistan too pursued a relationship and cooperation least cognisant that in great power play, it had limited independent options. The situation was complicated by mutual suspicions and lack of trust between USA and Pakistan, which resulted in ambivalent strategies on the part of both. Either way, the proposition to define a friend from a foe remained self-defeating. In a post-withdrawal scenario when violence reaches new levels, the armed forces of Pakistan could be sucked into another cycle of intense operations lacking civilian management capacity.
Every war imposes psychological limits on fatigue and how courage is spent. The USA having spent 10 years is finally calling retrograde. But for Pakistan Army, the real test of its combat hardiness is about to begin, despite intense combat in hardy environments and very high casualties. In an ironic and contrasting dimension, it could facilitate civilian control over a tired military, the main theme of Memogate that lies in the dustbins of judiciary.
Historically, the USA is once again guilty of repeating the Gulf of Tonkin tragedy that sucked and destabilised many countries in the Vietnam conflict. On the larger canvas, the springs in the Arab world have brought socio-economic disasters in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and now Syria. Countries that once prided themselves on being bastion of religious and communal harmony have been plunged into violent anarchy and proliferation of religious extremism. In Iraq, both US and British intelligence agencies through sexed up dossiers led the State Department and Pentagon into the mother of all battles. As 2014 closes in, the effects of this bad policy based on similar intelligence will have to be endured by the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a very scary hypothesis, the Durand Line could just melt away in spates of floating violence.
After 9/11, the USA convinced itself to pulverise Afghanistan into the Stone Age. The conscientious decision was based on intelligence reports that were tailored to suit the declaration of war. The US policy planners failed to factorise the primordial tribal culture, proliferation of private armies and propensity of Afghan economy to thrive in conflicts. Mostly, they ignored the lessons of history in which all occupation armies in Afghanistan failed to achieve their objectives in the region. The British with their experience of Afghan wars and deployments against imperial Russia disregarded their own experiences to plan and execute an ill conceived military operation culminating in a dismal retrograde, meaning disengagement, scorched-earth policy and withdrawal.
In contrast, the Afghan Taliban and resistance see this from a different perspective. For them, it means the defeat of USA. Therefore, they in typical tribal fashion will wait patiently for the time of their own choosing and move in for the kill. To assume that relative peace in southern Afghanistan is a victory of the US-led Isaf operations leaves lot to doubt.
The USA wasted over a decade, lost more than 1,679 combaters, 1,173 US civilians working for US contractors and over $641.7 billion in a mission to eliminate only a few hundred of al-Qaeda militants. However, the leaks on the efficacy of drone strikes against al-Qaeda and other targets indicate the lack of focus on the declared mission. With huge collateral damage and creation of anti-US sentiment, the disadvantages and hate thereof, far outweigh minor gains.
Once the operation control is completely handed over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the US-led forces thin out with stay behind parties and imbedded contractors, the futility of following the wrong policy will finally dawn.
The entire exercise of using private contractors to train and arm tribal lashkars will backfire against both Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is when the fury of militants, hidden in the densely forested and difficult regions of Kunar and Nuristan, will debouch and unleash their wrath on the ANSF - high on desertions and low on professionalism and morale. This will most likely be a new spate of militancy that may also flow into the TTP-led activities in Pakistan.
For many decades to come, Pakistan may have to pay for the US folly of debouching on Herat and Kabul from the north and pushing the entire muck through the porous and pervious Durand Line into Pakistan; despite its support in a war, few in Pakistan had the courage to own.
As the dates of US withdrawal edges closer, Pakistan’s policymakers need to make a realistic appraisal of the situation and how best to deal with the most dangerous hypothesis described above. The issues below need an incisive analysis and discussion.
First, what were the factors that prevented Pakistan from capitalising on the US presence in Afghanistan for 10 years and why it failed to control militancy in its tribal regions and urban centres?
Secondly, is there a linkage between the sudden collapse of a growing and dynamic economy in 2007, its continued downslide and the WOT?
Thirdly, is the failure and collapse of state institutions linked to the economy with the ultimate objective of making Pakistan a failed and discredited state, or is this development being used to make it pliant?
Fourthly, will the Pakistani establishment, future governments and the judiciary, have the resolve and determination to affix blame on those responsible and punish them?
Fifthly, will the armed forces and law enforcement agencies of Pakistan get the necessary backing and support from future governments to become part of a national counterterrorism policy to play the role assigned to them in bringing stability to the country, while the US-led coalition is still in Afghanistan?
The next 12 months are critical for Pakistan to decide the fate of non-state actor conflicts in the region. The Pakistan army on its part has made a good beginning in Tirah Valley and must seal, contain and eliminate terrorists in the area with military precision.
The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.
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