Asif Haroon Raja l
Longest War Winding Up: When George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan to avenge terrorist attacks allegedly master minded by Osama bin Laden (OBL) and also to ensure homeland security, India offered its full services and tried hard to convince Washington to tackle both Afghanistan and Pakistan simultaneously. Bush Administration ignored the counsel and preferred Pakistan over India because of its remarkable role in war in Afghanistan against Soviet forces in 1980s. The other constraining factor was Pakistan’s nuclear capability and delivery means. India was however assured that Pakistan was being taken on board as a tactical partner to achieve short term objectives and subsequently it will be denuclearized and made a compliant state through indirect strategy.
The stated objectives under Operation Enduring Freedom were to topple extremist Taliban regime, dismantle and eliminate al-Qaeda, make Afghanistan peaceful, educated, prosperous and democratic. The hidden objectives were to make Afghanistan a permanent military station from where the US could contain resurging Russia and prospering China; keep an eye over fundamentalist Iran, nuclear Pakistan and vital oil producing Middle East. The other objective was to extract vast mineral treasures specially Helium in Afghanistan, and to gain control over untapped mineral resources of Central Asia up to Caspian Sea.
While Mullah Omar’s regime was successfully tumbled and ousted from Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda network incapacitated, both with the help of Pakistan, the Taliban couldn’t be debilitated.
As long as Washington trusted Pakistan and its premier institutions it made good progress. No sooner it started to mistrust Islamabad and indulged in undesirable ‘do more mantra’ under the influence of India and Israel and US think tanks, and opened 2nd front in Iraq, it lost direction and things began to go haywire. Once the initiative slipped out of US hands it could not be regained.
By the time Bush handed over power to Barack Obama in January 2009, the Taliban had resurged in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Obama on whom high hopes were pinned proved to be the other side of the same coin. He followed self-destructive policies of his predecessor since his sources of information and influencing bodies were the same, and so were the objectives.
When the power of Taliban couldn’t be broken in spite of two troop surges in 2009 and raising 352000 ANSF, perforce the ISAF had to adopt a rearward posture and abandon boots on ground strategy to avoid casualties. Change of posture helped the Taliban to gain a military edge. Obama was forced to open political talks in 2011 and also order drawdown of about 150,000 troops by end 2014. Taliban were allowed to open a political office at Doha in June 2013.
Under pressure from Pentagon, India and Israel, and pleadings of the newly formed unity government in Kabul, Obama agreed to leave behind Resolute Support Group of 6000 troops and retain eight military bases.
Once the bulk of ISAF troops withdrew, it enabled the Taliban to gain space rapidly and turn the tide in their favor. From 2016 onwards, the civil and ANSF casualties multiplied due to extensive use of airpower and attacks by Taliban. By that time Pak security forces had defeated and controlled rural and urban terrorism and had established the writ of the government in all parts of the country.
Ignoring major role of Pakistan in netting over 600 Al-Qaeda operatives and leaders, Obama took the credit of dismantling Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. But Al-Qaeda under Zawahiri had shifted to Arabian Peninsula in 2005 and still exists.
While George Bush destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama destroyed Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia. Sudan was bisected after bloodying it from 1983 onward. Regimes were changed in Tunisia and Egypt. ISIS was created by CIA and Mossad to change the boundaries of Middle East. This monster wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Sate under Baghdadi created in June 2014 stretched from Raqqa in Syria up to Dyala in Iraq.
Drone war was intensified in Afghanistan and in FATA. Separatist movement in Baluchistan, rural terrorism of TTP in FATA and settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and urban terrorism of MQM in Karachi were fully backed by CIA, RAW, NDS, Mossad, MI-6 based in Kabul.
By the time Donald Trump took over power in January 2017, Taliban had gained control over half the country. Instead of pulling out troops from Afghanistan as promised by him, he further upped the ante. After announcing his Afghan policy on 22 August 2017, he suspended peace talks with the Taliban, carried out modest troops surge and resorted to excessive force to tame them. He suspended CSF, squarely blamed Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan, and threatened Pakistan of dire consequences if it failed to close the alleged safe havens of Haqqani network and Afghan Taliban. It amounted to declaration of war against Taliban and Pakistan. He somehow didn’t take into account the fact that with over 50% Afghan territory under the control of Taliban, why would they need sanctuaries in Pakistan?
By September 2018, the hard reality dawned upon hawkish team of Trump that the US had for all practical purposes lost the war and it was not possible to defeat the Taliban or to contain their offensive. Trump was thus forced to renew talks with Taliban in November 2018.
The two sides have held ten rounds of talks. After the ninth round when the peace agreement was about to be signed at Camp David, the process was suddenly disrupted in September 2019 by Trump on a flimsy ground. But he had to once again renew talks in December due to series of high profile attacks in Kabul and Bagram base. 2019 was the worst year in which the civilians and ANSF suffered 10,000 casualties.
The spoilers (India, Kabul regime, Israel, Pentagon, security contractors, drug mafia) had a big role in disrupting peace talks since peace is not in their interest. Pakistan on the other hand has all along played a positive role and was instrumental in convincing the Taliban to hold talks and arrive at a political settlement so as to restore peace in war-torn country.
The war on terror has dragged on for over 18 years and has become the longest war ever fought by USA. During this period, much to the delight of Israel, India and neo-cons in USA, the Muslims have been butchered ruthlessly. Millions of Muslims have been killed, as many maimed for life and millions displaced. Worst form of torture and human degradation have taken place at the hands of the so-called most civilized nations of the world.
In this war of bloodshed and wanton destruction, American and western troops have also suffered. They are suffering from battle fatigue, weariness, loss of heart and immense psychological traumas. More so, having spent over $ 2 trillion and lost about 3000 soldiers in Afghanistan, the US couldn’t achieve any of its stated and hidden objectives.
Neo-cons of George W. Bush era are still active and influential, while Pentagon and CIA in league with hawkish elements within Establishment, State Department and Congress have occupied front seats and are calling all the shots.
With Iraq and Syria still in turmoil and Afghanistan fast slipping out of its hands, the US-NATO military is seeing defeat written on the walls of Afghanistan. The Taliban have gained an upper edge because of their influence over 70% of Afghan Territory. They have acquired the capacity to strike targets in all parts of the country including fortified Kabul and provincial capital cities.
Shooting down of a high-tech military aircraft at Ghazni has frightened the US since it is an indication that the Taliban could have procured surface-to-air sophisticated missiles from Iran or Russia. If so, the Taliban have found an answer to the aerial threat which has remained their major weakness.
The US finds itself lost and marooned since it can neither win the war, nor tame or befriend the Taliban, or to contain their offensive, and are also not in a position to carryout safe exit. It has lost its global prestige, self-respect and credibility because of gross human rights violations, callousness, injustices and double standards. It has earned the distinction of most hated country in the world for having created turmoil in Af-Pak region and in the Middle East. Anti-Americanism within the entire Muslim world has peaked and never before it was abhorred so intensely.
Today the American officials are innocently asking in bewilderment as to why America is hated. The American public kept in a cocoon and unaware of barbarities committed by US forces against hapless people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and creating chaos in several Middle Eastern and North African countries is equally puzzled.
Israel and India have preferred to remain in the background restricting their activities to covert operations only and letting USA to face the music. Pakistan has remained their common foe and both have played a role in building distrust between US-Pakistan relations by playing up the theme of Pakistan’s premier institutions linkage with Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and circulating scary stories about Pak nukes, which pose no threat to USA.
18-year long war on terror has all the gains for the deceitful Indo-Israeli axis and they have nothing to lose. The duo obsessed with global ambitions is instrumental in plunging the fortunes of USA.
Russia and China having stayed out of the war have consolidated their respective military power, economies and stature in the global dynamics. They are merrily watching the endgame of the declining power of sole super power from the sidelines with a twinkle in their eyes.
The US Government doesn’t want to abandon Afghanistan and to let Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan fill up the vacuum and also gain influence over the Eurasian belt. It has been trying hard to convince the Taliban to share power with Ashraf Ghani and to let it retain 2-3 military bases but failed.
USA has been wanting India to take over the security duties but so far India is in two minds. It knows that if military contingents of 48 countries led by sole super power couldn’t defeat the Taliban, how would its 1-2 Divisions make a difference.
Pakistan has restricted its support to peace process only and has refused to fight someone else’s war as desired by Washington.
The US and India understand that the Taliban are no more isolated but have support of Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Arab Gulf States and Turkey. Time, tide and casualty factor are not in favor of USA.
Seeing that Afghanistan has slipped out of its hands as well as of India, the US is looking for an alternative base in the Af-Pak region. Ladakh in J&K suits USA the most from where it can meddle into Sinkiang as well as CPEC. This strategic consideration impelled Trump to elbow Modi to go ahead with his plan to integrate disputed occupied Kashmir into Indian Union. However, in the light of ongoing turbulence in Kashmir and in India on account of enforcement of discriminatory Citizenship Act, the next best option for Trump is to pressure Islamabad to allow a military base. To lure Pak leadership, Trump has twice offered to mediate on Kashmir. Resolution of Kashmir dispute through Trump’s mediation for sure will be on Indian terms and Pakistan will be a loser.
2020 being the election year, Trump is desperate to pull out 60% of 13000 US troops before Christmas as promised by him.
All these factors impelled Trump administration to end the longest war fought by USA and sign the peace agreement with Taliban. The two sides arrived at an understanding and agreed to ceasefire and curb violence for 7 days starting from 22 February. The peace deal is expected to be signed on 29 February. The next meeting will take place on 10 March to workout modalities of withdrawal and to start intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at establishing a broad based government. During the interim period of 7-day ceasefire, the US will test the control of Taliban Shura over their field fighters.
India is most upset over this development since it has major stakes in Afghanistan. It has a key role in prolonging the war and in sabotaging peace process with the help of RAW, 14 intelligence units, NDS, Afghan parliamentarians and Afghan media. Taking into account its grandiose plans to become the policeman of Indo-Pacific region and a strong bulwark against China, it cannot afford to lose Afghanistan which enables it to reach Central Asian markets and to pose a twin threat to Pakistan. As such, India will try to once again scuttle peace process by conducting a false flag operation against a military base with the help of paid terrorists and put the blame on Taliban.
In order to maintain pressure on Taliban and to keep Afghanistan on the boil, the US has brought in Daesh (Kurdistan) and aligned it with TTP as well as over 20,000 Blackwater elements.
In order to further boost the military power of Indian armed forces, Trump on his recent two-day visit to India signed $ 3 billion defence deal, which will enable India to purchase most sophisticated arms & equipment from USA. This deal which probably include THAD air defence system when seen in context with S-400 deal with Russia will grossly tilt the regional military balance in favor of India and will put Pakistan at a great disadvantage.
In the backdrop of Indo-US-Israel dangerous designs against Pakistan, the overall geo-strategic situation will remain tense and volatile during the current year.
The writer is retired Brig Gen, fought the epic battle of Hilli in former East Pakistan, defence & security analyst, columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Center, Member CWC and Think Tank PESS. [email protected]