The recent visit of US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman to Islamabad on October 28, the expected visit in November of the Pakistani Chief of Staff Raheel Sharif to the US, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to host a conference on Afghanistan in November, has once again brought Afghanistan back to the top of policy making agendas. Given this, it is important to review how successful the US has been in securing its strategic objectives for Afghanistan. And to recap US strategic objectives behind the invasion of Afghanistan, these were: countering the Russian and Chinese domination of Eurasia, controlling hydrocarbon resources from Central Asia, and preventing the emergence of a powerful Islamic State

This is based on the following evidence:

“Eurasia is home to most of the world’s politically assertive and dynamic states. All the historical pretenders to global power originated in Eurasia. The world’s most populous aspirants to regional hegemony, China and India, are in Eurasia, as are all potential political or economic challengers to American primacy. After the United States, the next six largest economies and military spenders are there, as are all but one of the world’s overt nuclear powers, and all but one of the covert ones. Eurasia accounts for 75 percent of the world’s population, 60 percent of its GNP, and 75 percent of its energy resources. Collectively, Eurasia’s potential power overshadows even America’s. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia…almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy.” [Zbigniew Brzezinski, “A Geostrategy for Eurasia,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997]

“The US has had the ultimate aim of preventing the emergence of any major power in Eurasia. The paradox however is as follows – the goals of these interventions was never to achieve something but to prevent something. The United States wanted to prevent stability in areas where another power might emerge. Its goal was not to stabilize but to destabilize.” [George Friedman, “The next 100 years, a forecast for the 21st Century”, 2009]

There is no question that America has struggled to achieve the forgoing strategic objectives, and therefore under President Obama there is the realization that for strategic objectives to be achieved, there is need to overcome the central hindrance to this blockage: the Mujahedeen existing in Pakistan’s tribal areas, who have found a safe haven, resulting in a strategic headache for the US. They have launched numerous attacks against NATO and US forces and then retreated into Pakistan’s tribal areas where they have natural relationships and are capable of organizing and re-attacking. This continuous barrage of attacks has hindered the US from stabilizing Afghanistan, re-building Afghani institutions and focusing on countering Russia and China in the region. Also regional actors have been reluctant to be dragged in, knowing of the quagmire, the large resource investment and potential blowback.

Given this US necessity, in particular North Waziristan which is known to be the hotbed of the Mujahedeen and Haqqani networks, the US has urged the Pakistani government to enter this area since 2010. In 2012, testifying before the Senates Foreign Relations Committee, US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olsen stated ‘the primary focus of US engagement with Pakistan will now be to convince its government to act against the Haqqani network which has sanctuaries in North Waziristan Agency.’ Olsen added, ‘The greatest challenge facing the US was to convince Pakistan to act against the deadly Afghan insurgency group... this will be a primary focus of my activities and diplomatic engagement with the Pakistanis to encourage further measures against the Haqqani network, further squeezing of the Haqqani network’. Given the extensive nature of the military campaign demanded, the former spokesman for the Pakistan army has said that, as army chief, General (retd) Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani despite his support to the US in Afghanistan, balked at launching a military operation in North Waziristan for fear of public backlash.  In 2012, the Pakistani military came close to moving into North Waziristan in a big way to undertake an operation against the Taliban. However, a premature statement by the US secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, announcing the imminent launching of the action prompted the army high command to abort the operation. Pakistan didn’t want to be seen to be undertaking military operations at the behest of the US in view of strong anti-US sentiment in the country.

Given US desperations, it renewed efforts in 2014 to pressure the Pakistani political and military leadership into North Waziristan, through linking military assistance in the next fiscal year with military operations in North Waziristan. The Carl Levin National Defence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 in the US congress, links providing military assistance to Pakistan with Islamabad conducting military operations in North Waziristan. With this development, along with the inevitable failed peace talks with the Taliban and a number of surprise consequent attacks in Pakistan, the Pakistan government on 15 June announced the beginning of operation ‘Zarb e Azb’ with the objective of cleaning out the Mujahedeen and securing the area. Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute said, ‘I know there is great relief here that the Pakistanis are addressing the Pakistan Taliban problem’, and Shujah Nawaz of the Atlantic Council has said that the US do not have enough troops to securitize the Afghan side of the border, and thus are heavily reliant on Operation Zarb e Azab to seal North Waziristan from Afghanistan. With the new fictional government coming to shape in Afghanistan, the US is fully aware its stability and wider strategic objectives depend on achieving control over Pakistani tribal areas, in particular North Waziristan, and there is no surprise given this context that we witness the arrival of Dan Feldman and November’s visit of the Chief of Staff to the US, with North Waziristan likely to be at the top of the US agenda. These new back and forth exchanges not only show US dependency on Pakistan but also its desperation, as it heads for limited withdrawal, growing criticism over President Obama’s foreign policy  and a continuous decline in the morale of the US army. North Waziristan has become America’s Stalingrad, with her strategic objectives dependant on its fall and capture.


The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.