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Issue No.: 560 | February 2014

End Game in Afghanistan

Hiranmay Karlekar

End Game in Afghanistan, By . Published by Sag Publications India, New Delhi. 2012 Pages 353 Price not mentioned.

Reviewed by Brig. Suresh Sharma (Retd.), adviser to the telecom industry, freelance writer, and member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First. Email:  
The book examines the likely developments in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops in 2014. 

 The US and Northern Alliance succeeded in defeating Taliban comprising 60,000 Afghans and 15,000 foreigners at a cost of one US and several Northern Alliance soldiers. Taliban had suffered a strategic defeat but only temporarily. The West is interested in bringing oil from Central Asia and exploiting one trillion dollars worth of minerals. Afghanistan would be rich and requires peace for development. Taliban’s objectives are to end of the US hegemony, subjugation of the West and establishment of Caliphate.
The Taliban reject the values, social and political structure associated with modernity. On capture of Kabul on 26 September 1994, they imposed virtual gender apartheid. The women had constituted 70% of all teachers, 50% of civil servants and 40% of doctors. After takeover by Taliban, they were begging to feed the children. Weddings in Kabul used to be accompanied by music and dances. All this disappeared during Taliban rule. This is a repetition of what happened when Turks and Central Asians were converted to Islam. To them religion offered power in this world and pleasure in the next. They practiced a violent and intolerant form of Islam.
Efforts are being made to win over the good Taliban to make the task of peace keeping feasible after departure of NATO troops. Pakistan ISI has encouraged this approach but has not been able to identify any good Taliban. A conference was held in London on 18 June 2011 with representatives of good Taliban. It is believed that only 1% of the people in the Taliban cadres are hard core. President Karzai held a three days jirga on 3 June 2010 for reconciliation with the extremists. The author believes that groups like Hikmatyar and Haqqani will not give up violent methods. They will try to hasten the departure of US troops by participating in talks while increasing terror attacks. Kayani is reported to have offered to broker a deal with Mulla Omar. The USA is aware that Pakistan is supporting terror groups but needs Pak’s support. Pakistan too cannot oppose the USA for long as it is dependent on it for economic survival.

There are quite a few analysts who predict that USA cannot win this war and will have to retreat just like the Russians. Referring to a book, The Bear Trap, by Brigadier Yousuf of Pakistan Army, the author cites that the cause of Russian defeat was their strategy to occupy towns and roads and not fanning out to the country side. Yousuf has missed the point that Soviet strategy was to hold towns and roads and leave the task of dominating the countryside to the Afghan Army. They had plans to train and equip four Afghan divisions. Two factors brought about Soviet failure. Firstly, the downturn in Russian economy did not permit military aid to the newly raised Afghan divisions. Secondly, supply of large number of Stinger missiles to the Taliban neutralized the tactical advantage of Russian gun helicopters.

Initially, USA had plans only to harass the Russians and not oust them. Zia too had given instructions to keep the pot boiling. He had apprehensions that a strong nationalist Afghan Government may question the legality of Durand Line. It is of interest that Mullla Omar did not endorse the Durand Line. He only kept quiet. As an opportunity occurred for a Russian retreat, the goal of the USA and Pakistan enlarged.
The collateral damage on civilians caused by the Drone attacks on Taliban leads to loss of goodwill to the West and a corresponding gain to the Taliban. The two major problems for the USA are the double game of Pakistan and corruption in Afghan Government. The key to success lies in the ability of the Afghan Army who has proved itself competent in the recent Taliban attacks.

The US belief that Taliban are not capable of carrying out attacks in their country may not hold. They can and will use grass-root extremists already in USA. The liberal laws of the West are a boon to them. Pakistan has been applying for US aid since its birth. Jinnah had realized the need for a big power as a friend and had asked for aid of USD 2 billion which was ignored. Pakistan did not give up. Ayesha Jalal revealed that the Pakistan Intelligence Agency fabricated reports of activity by the fledgling communist party in order to gain US sympathy. Pakistan managed to get massive aid by signing a mutual defence agreement on 19 may 1954. USA was not able to restrain Pakistan from using this equipment against India. Russian entry into Afghanistan brought them closer. Pakistan was looking for strategic depth, a result of confused thinking, and the USA wanted to convert Afghanistan into Russian Vietnam. So important was Pakistan’s contribution towards jihad in Afghanistan that USA ignored their nuclear programme and diversion of resources to jihad in Kashmir and help to Sikh terror groups.

On 21 November 1979, a mob attacked the US Embassy in Islamabad under the belief that USA was behind the attack on the Mecca Mosque. The security services of Pakistan did not respond, yet USA thanked Pakistan for help. It shows how dependent USA was on Pakistan for Afghan operations. Pakistan’s policy has been consistent – extract as much aid as possible, sponsor terror acts against India and support Taliban. This support for Taliban continued even after the USA and Northern Alliance were at war with Taliban.

Pakistan had to mount a major operation to establish rule of law in Swat. Pakistan is now paying the price of once harbouring and assisting the terror groups who have no qualms of hitting out at those who support them. Pakistan’s inability to combat terror has been rightly attributed to their plan to keep the Afghan Taliban intact for strategic depth. It is no secret that fundamentalists have penetrated the army and police which is clear from militants’ attack on Musharraf and defence establishments.
USA has been exploring alternate routes for supplies to Afghanistan. Russia has agreed for use of their air space and rail network. USA has negotiated arrangements with Central Asian countries for supplies to Afghanistan. Currently, 70% cargo is transferred through this route; the only limitation is that it is open only for non-lethal material. Putin had proposed cooperation with USA against Taliban. USA did not respond since cooperation with Pakistan was more important. An understanding with Russia and Central Asian countries could be the alternate plan to ignore or get tough with Pakistan. The author has investigated this scenario.
The revised strategy of the USA for counter-terrorism does not aim at holding territory but instead works on intelligence driven attacks. The US interests in Asia Pacific may detract from the war on Al Qaeda which has a strong base in Pakistan, North Africa and Yemen. US aid to Yemen has shown some results. It would be a mistake for the USA to ignore threats from Al Qaeda which is acquiring a wider reach.

The book gives a clear narration of the rise of terror groups and progress by US troops. According to press reports, there is a move for an India-China meeting on Afghanistan. Both the countries have made large investments in Afghanistan and are interested in peace there. The two great powers of Asia working together can ensure a conflict-free zone for development. It is difficult to predict the future as there are too many imponderables.






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