Have we given up on our Afghan policy (after it failed to deliver what we planned to achieve?) The address by former Prime Minister Gilani at the 6th convocation ceremony of National Defence University (NDU) is important not only for its contents but for the choice of the venue where it is delivered.
Most beneficiaries of the NDU will be handling high-profile appointments at least to regulate and run the military strategy drawn from the ‘Renewed Afghan Policy’. At the core of the renewed Afghan Policy are three important factors spelled out by the prime minister in his speech. They are: “Solution to Afghanistan will come from within Afghanistan. Kabul is the most important capital for us in the world, and a peaceful, stable and sovereign Afghanistan is an absolute necessity for Pakistan.” What had been our Afghan policy goals in the past? We always sought a quiet and peaceful Afghan frontier; not a 1,500-mile-long border that drew in more troops, resources, effort and attention. Did we have a friendly border that allowed us to concentrate all our resources and efforts against the border with India? Or did we have a border that ate on ‘our strategic reserves’ of eastern front?
The core element of our Afghan policy had been to avoid ‘war on two fronts’ or ‘encirclement by the Indians’. Did we achieve this? And most importantly are we likely to achieve this in future? Across the border on the Afghan side the world led by Americans is planning an orderly retreat and a respectable exit. The Afghanistan that they will leave behind will have 250,000 trained Afghan army, 20,000 US troops (battle enablers) and 2,000 Nato trainers. Besides this, the US will provide the Afghan army close air support, logistical backup and air surveillance.
The world will not abandon Afghanistan and will provide annually $3.6 billion for supporting Afghan National security Force. Afghanistan may not have an active/operational air force but it surely will have trained army mandated and trained to guard and defend its frontiers. Our military is today split trying to match threats that exist on both fronts. On the Afghan border the threat is not only from within but also from without. Will this threat diminish after the Americans leave in 2014? Most likely not. Will the world witness November 1995-like Taliban’s self-styled blitzkrieg when hundreds of Toyota Helix with Taliban’s mounted on top advanced like German Panzer Division towards Kabul.
Not now, not after US predators, drones are regularly patrolling AfPak skies. Cyber warfare together with satellite and drones has technically altered the balance in favour of those who rule the skies. The US is spending more money training the ‘drone controllers’ than training conventional aircraft pilots. This is bad news for the Taliban. But the good news for Taliban sympathisers (and it is hoped our government is not amongst them) is that madressahs will continue to churn out Taliban in the hundreds so there never will be dearth of ‘paradise seekers’ drawing attention of US drones. Pakistan will have to help Afghanistan achieve peace and stability and for that our army should be looking at further and increased military engagement/involvement on the western frontier.
The future of the Taliban and their likely resurgence looks bleak. PM Gilani has done well to spell out the core foundations of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Will his government and subsequent governments be able to execute this policy through the army and intelligence agencies? Only time will tell.
MUHAMMAD ALI EHSAN,
Karachi, June 19.