American game plan in Afghanistan
07 December, 2006
By Muhammad Ahsan Yatu
Before 9/11, Americans were talking about a war between India and a Talibanised Afghanistan that would be fought after 15 years. It was a convincing forecast. Not only India, but also Russia, China, Iran, Central Asian States and even some European nations would have fought this war jointly, and much earlier. The rise, spread and strength of the Taliban were the reasons behind the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Interestingly, before the birth of SCO, the US was supporting the Taliban as openly as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and UAE did.
The US also tried for the Taliban’s entry into the UN. Not only that, when Russia, enraged by the Taliban militancy, threatened to air raid Kabul, the US and Britain sided with the Taliban. The US, despite the sanctions, continued to help the Taliban regime financially. Only God knows what happened that turned the Taliban against the US. Perhaps they were in a hurry to accomplish the task of Arabisation of the region and wanted to oust the American factor at all costs. The US tried its best to effect reconciliation. In the year 2001, the opinion pages of Pakistani newspapers were full of praise for the Taliban who had brought peace to 90 percent of Afghanistan. Not only that, eminent Pakistani social scientists living in the US suggested the Islamic way of life as the best option for Pakistanis and reconciliation with the extremist religious organisations as the need of the time. These and other US efforts did not bend the Taliban attitude and ultimately 9/11 happened.
There were three options for the US to restore its pride. First, an immediate attack on Afghanistan supported by both ground and air forces. It would have created a situation like the one when US forces occupied Germany during World War II. Second, before the occupation of Afghanistan, a nuclear attack on the targets that they very well knew. It would have created a post-World War II Japan-like situation in Afghanistan. Third, a delayed attack and that too by using only the air force first. The US preferred the third option.
In Iraq, the US did not consider the nuclear option at all. Here too, it preferred the option of air raids first and occupation later. Later on, Israel fought against Hezbollah using similar war tactics. The US could not achieve its objectives in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Israel’s success in Lebanon was also incomplete. It defeated Hezbollah in war, but the effects of war strengthened Hezbollah politically and that further weakened the authority of the government of Lebanon.
No one has analysed the tactical failures of the US and Israel in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon respectively in the way that Richard Armitage, the former US deputy secretary of state, recently did. According to him, one of the biggest US mistakes in Iraq was not learning the lessons from efforts to democratically rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II. On Israel’s war with Hezbollah he said, “Israel conducted the 34-day July-August war in a manner that was guaranteed to fail by trying to do it antiseptically from the air, instead of learning the lessons that we seem to have forgotten in Iraq, and that is that only a soldier with a bayonet can bend an enemy’s will.”
Elaboration of Armitage’s analysis is that the US victory in Afghanistan and Iraq was incomplete. Total victory would have come either through absolute destruction of the enemy as was done by dropping nuclear bombs on Japan, or through involving the ground forces simultaneously with air raids as was done in the case of Germany. Armitage, though ruthless, is right. Victory in one-to-one combat certainly has a devastating effect on the loser. Thus the situation after the war becomes easier to handle. Is Armitage only analysing these wars, or is he exposing the future war strategies of the US? Armitage is simply telling the world that the US knew about the faults in their war tactics, but it was all intentional and well-planned.
A one month delay in the Afghan war destabilised Afghanistan further and it also helped the Taliban leadership and hardcore militants to move away from Afghanistan and take refuge in safe areas within and outside the region. The Americans knew about it. They rather allowed it. Speaking precisely, they had planned it. Here it will be pertinent to point out that the Taliban had started regrouping again in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan only a few months after the end of the Afghan war. Gulbadin Hikmatyar, who had otherwise remained dormant during the Taliban rule, was on the job once again. Never once were the Americans worried about such happenings. They remained silent. They broke their silence when a scared Russia threatened to use the nuclear option in the region to counter religious militancy. The Wana operation was the outcome of the Russian threat.
The US strategy was not altogether devoid of constructiveness. It had simultaneously planned reform of the Afghan political structure; if democracy could succeed against all the odds, that too was to their benefit. All that they needed was obstruction of regional harmony. A friendly democratic government, anarchy or religious militancy, whichever could create that kind of situation, was acceptable to the Americans. They are fearful of a situation that would help connect Europe and Asia through land routes. If that were to happen, the US supremacy over the globe will be reduced by at least 50 percent.
The role of Pakistan in this great game plan of the US is that of a facilitator only. Pakistan is politically and economically so vulnerable that it cannot afford the wrath of the US. It is true that for some years Pakistan has been closer to the Arabs, but after 9/11 the renewed equation between Saudi Arabia and the US changed the situation and Pakistan is again in the US fold, of course with the consent of Saudi Arabia.
So Pakistan’s another U-turn on Afghanistan, as evident from the statements of its foreign minister and spokespersons of the Foreign Office and ISPR, is for all practical purposes the US’s U-turn. For the past six years we have been saying that our support to the US in its war on terror was in our national interest. Today, all those who matter are saying that NATO should surrender before the Taliban who are the genuine representatives of the majority of Afghans and are not extremists, but proponents of Pushtoon nationalism. In this regard, Kasuri’s advice to NATO, as the editorial of The Post (December 1, 2006) rightly describes it, is suicidal. The US can afford all sorts of experiments. Pakistan on the other hand has to act wisely. Another round of Talibanisation in Afghanistan is bound to isolate it not only from the region, but also from Europe and the Far East.
Let us see what the US advice suggests. Armitage in his above-mentioned discourse says, “Continued clashes in Afghanistan could also have knock-on effects on India, which may already perceive itself to be surrounded by failed or failing states such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.” Does Armitage mean to suggest a halt to continued clashes through cooperation with the Taliban, or involving more ground forces against them? Whatever he means there is an underlying threat that destabilisation is on its way to grip Pakistan.
It is up to Pakistan to decide whether it should remain a party in the US’s game plan in Afghanistan or plan its own destiny? One option for Pakistan is to tell the US that its involvement in Afghanistan should be wholehearted and that it should not only increase NATO troops, but also offer substantial financial support to the Afghans. The second option is a wise one, though difficult. It would require us first to live within our limited resources and simultaneously fight our own case against religious extremists, including the Taliban. If we are not able to opt for any of the suggested, then a war in the region is imminent, in which case Russia, China, India, the Central Asian Republics and Iran would be together against a radicalised Afghanistan and the Americans would watch the destruction while sitting in an area that is seven seas away.