US’ Afghan policy and military strategy therein have many contradictions. The ambiguous intent, grossly inadequate force levels and resultant operational strategy are hard to fathom, may even be seriously flawed. The operational strategy aims to deny victory to the Afghan Taliban/Haqqani Network Combine (TTA/HN), wear them out, convince them of the futility of their struggle and thus force them on to the negotiating table. Instead of aiming for victory themselves they are employing the poorly trained and demoralized Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) against the TTA/HN and heavily coercing Pakistan to deny them the “so called safe havens” on its territory.

Battlefield victories need to be won, not managed/maneuvered into!

The prevalent regional environment appears detrimental to US interests. In a strong paradigm shift Pakistan is demonstrating signs of independence from the US. China has already made ingress into the South Central Asian Region/Afghan Pakistan Region (SCAR/APR) through its CPEC/OBOR initiatives. Russia and Iran are seriously engaging Pakistan as well as the TTA/HN in Afghanistan. The CARs remain under Russian influence. The stage seems set for the SCO to become meaningfully proactive. US’ isolation in the SCAR/APR is thus total except for peripheral India which continues to destabilize the region by relentlessly launching its terrorists/proxies into Pakistan from Afghanistan and Iran.

Terrorism Central, after having been routed out of North Waziristan by Pakistan’s Armed Forces, is now reorganizing and regrouping in the Eastern Afghanistan provinces of Khost, Paktia and Nangarhar. The IS, on relocating from the Levant, has the ETIM, IMU, TTP, Jamaat ur Ahraar, Al Qaeda remnants, Chechens and other fringe terrorist outfits for company. It has the RAW/NDS/CIA/MOSSAD for patronage and is already carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

US’ compulsion to outsource tasks to India in Afghanistan is detrimental to Pakistan’s vital national interests. This alone is unraveling the US-Pakistan partnership in the war on terror with seriously negative ramifications at other policy/strategic levels as well. The downward spiral in US-Pakistan relations is headlong, endemic and a clash of interests appears inevitable. Washington DC’s stark and public coercive diplomacy, the cacophony of harsh policy statements by the Trump Administration and the measures threatened therein are clear indicators to that end.

First, in its declared policy for South Asia the US demanded that Pakistan “do more” to deny the so called “safe havens” to the TTA/HN on its territory. It warned that Pakistan had much to lose by not following US dictates and much to gain if it did so. US’ preference for India at Pakistan’s expense was writ large and clear all over the policy statement.

Second, the US Secretaries of State and Defense visited Pakistan in quick succession. Secretary Tillerson reiterated that the US would achieve its objectives in South Asia/APR through other means if Pakistan did not cooperate. He asserted further that the US would only cooperate with Pakistan where their national interests converged and where they did not it would take unilateral action - clearly indicating potential US military operations against the “so called safe havens”, if Pakistan did not destroy them itself. Secretary Mattis magnanimously gave Pakistan “one last chance” to acquiesce to US dictation.

Third, post Track II diplomacy sessions in Islamabad US Ambassador Richard Hale was quoted as saying that Pakistan had between six to twelve months to fall in line with US regional aspirations while Michael Kugelmann thought that the breathing space was a few weeks only. Either way, a short time line appeared to have been laid for Pakistan to get onto the bandwagon or else!

Fourth, the Trump Administration has asked the US Senate for an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). Short of declaring war, this authorizes the US President to employ US military forces in the pursuit of US national interests in specific areas/regions, for given purposes and for a specified time. The Trump Administration however now wants an AUMF unhindered by any “time or geographical” limitations - a virtual carte blanche! Pakistan beware!

Fifth, the US National Security Strategy document after repeating the “do more” and “safe havens” mantras asks Pakistan to demonstrate “stewardship of its nuclear program”. It has expressed concerns over a possible Indo-Pak nuclear flare up, too.

Sixth, the US Vice President Mike Pence, while addressing US troops in Bagram Airbase near Kabul “put Pakistan on notice” to comply with US demands in the war on terror or else!

Seventh, President Trump has berated Pakistan’s “lies and deceit for 15 years” and the “naivety” of previous US Administrations in giving Pakistan US $ 33 billion in “aid”. He intends to put a stop to this.

This crescendo of US belligerence is building up at a hectic pace and must predictably have a well defined end state to achieve!

Could Pakistan then become the first battle field of President Trump’s military adventurism; to what end state then? Is all this a prelude to consummate a particular military/operational/CT contingency on Pakistani territory? Could these just be limited to the destruction of these so called “safe havens” of the TTA/HN? Or could there be deeper strategic objectives like the disruption of the CPEC/OBOR initiatives before they could reach irreversible proportions? Or/and in the process deny China the opportunity to become the sole (or a competing) global economic power? Is the desired end state then to circumscribe China’s potential sphere of influence? Or all of the above?

The India co-opted US operational strategy could unfold with drone, missile, air attacks and helicopter-borne raids on the so called “safe havens” in Pakistan. In this garb the US could target critical nodal points of the CPEC /OBOR projects, particularly in Balochistan, while simultaneously destabilizing Pakistan through cross border terrorist attacks, internal upheavals, “strategic strikes” and flare ups along the LOC/WB et al. Furthermore, if the US-Indo Combine fails in disrupting the CPEC/OBOR initiatives, they could readily consummate the Free Balochistan campaign already being conducted in Geneva, London, New York, New Delhi and the US Congress. A truncated Pakistan, one without Balochistan, would meet joint US-India strategic objectives in the region - disrupting and destroying the CPEC/OBOR initiatives and cutting nuclear Pakistan down to size!

(To be continued)


The author is a retired Brigadier and is currently on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).