By Dr Subhash Kapila*
The United States original sins on Afghanistan and the after effects of which haunt the United States in 2017 is that in both its military interventions in Afghanistan and more so the recent one in 2001 still ongoing, it overly depended on an unreliable and double-timing Pakistan to deliver US strategic objectives.
To oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the decade of the 1980s the United States unwisely strategized more out of political expediency to exploit Pakistan’s ill-reputed ‘rentier state’ proclivities and coupled it with US permissiveness to let Pakistan use the dubious instrument of Islamic Jihadi terrorism under directions of Pakistan Army’s intelligence agency the ISI to force the Soviets to exit Afghanistan.
United States and Pakistan may have succeeded in prompting the exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, but with what results? In the deleterious debris of the United States first military intervention in Afghanistan one can find three major spill- over effects which impacted the United States and regional security and stability.
Pakistan emboldened by the Soviet Forces exiting Afghanistan was led to the arrogant belief that if Pakistan could so force a Superpower to retreat, it was not difficult for it to inflict the same on India or elsewhere by using the same weapon of Islamic Jihad. The United States did not foresee the unintended consequences of introduction of Islamic Jihad as an instrument of statecraft in hands of a volatile country like Pakistan. Soon Islamic Jihadi terrorism was to spread its wings globally as a scourge that still persists.
One would not be wrong in saying that even the terrorist attacks in earlier decades emanating from Palestinian unrest were not intensely Islamic Jihadi in nature. It was spawned by the Palestinian struggle for independence. But the terrorism that Pakistan spawned from its ISI-sponsored Taliban terrorist factories in the Pakistan Occupied Afghanistan and exported it worldwide was decidedly Islamic Jihadi in nature, intensity and content. The Holy Islam religion was grossly misused by Pakistan for its narrow political ends.
It was tragically ironic that Pakistani Islamic Jihadi instincts were used with brutal force to subjugate an Islamic country of Afghanistan to submit to Pakistan Army dictates.
Neither the United States nor the rest of the world ever thought that one day its original sin of permissiveness on Pakistan Army’s use of Islamic Jihad would visit Homeland United States. The 9/11 devastating terrorists’ attacks on the citadels of American power, namely New York and Washington were spawned from the Islamic Jihadi factories that sprung up in Afghanistan by the likes of Osama bin Laden. It was conceived, planned and facilitated by Pakistan’s agencies. The United States continued in a state of denial of Pakistan’s complicity and double-timing of the United States in both its Afghanistan military interventions till it had to liquidate Osama bin Laden, deeply ensconced in the midst of Pakistan Army’s largest garrison cantonment of Abbottabad.
That the United States had to resort to a second major military intervention in Afghanistan in December 2001 was the second major impact springing from the American original sin of the 1980s to exploit Pakistan Army’s Islamic Jihadi propensities. Pakistan used its Islamic Jihadi affiliates and its creation, the Taliban, to capture Afghanistan and place it under brutal medieval Islamic governance.
The United States went with a vengeance to oust the Pakistan Army propped proxy regime of the Taliban in Kabul. Ironically, the United States was victorious in doing so not on the shoulders of the Pakistan Army but on the shoulders of the Northern Alliance which spearheaded the US drive to capture Kabul and displace the Taliban regime. The Northern Alliance was incidentally supported by India and Iran as a counterfoil to Pakistan’s Taliban proxy regime in Kabul.
The third major impact was that the Pakistan Army coerced by the United States into joining President Bush’s ‘Global War on Terrorsism’concluded that the United States while remaining transactionally engaged with Pakistan would never let the Pakistan Army to convert Afghanistan into a subservient satellite state of Pakistan. Thereafter, there was a more major drift towards China. In 2017 while still providing transit facilities for US logistics for its military presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan jettisoned its strategic partnership with the United States and embraced China.
As I reflected in my Book and writings on China that Pakistan was no longer a ‘Front Line State of the United States’ in its Global War on Terrorism as Americans so boasted earlier but in 2017 Pakistan now appears fully as a ‘Front Line State of China’ and as a part of the Chinese strategic blueprint against the strategic diminution of the United States and force the Americans exit from Afghanistan
Let me also repeat what I have emphasised in my past writings and that is that the US Military Forces in Afghanistan in the second US military intervention performed creditably and so were the operational directives and leadership of US Generals in Afghanistan. They were hamstrung by political micro-management of the US war efforts and success inflicted by the Washington policy establishment who were more concerned with catering for Pakistan Arm’s sensitivities not only on the direction of the US war effort in Afghanistan but worse still did not allow the expansion of the Afghan National Army in the initial stages beyond 150,000 which was inadequate to secure Afghanistan. I had in those years recommended that the Afghan National Army should have strength of 500,000 to safeguard Afghanistan sovereignty against Pakistan Army depredations.
None of the above was done chiefly because Washington was fixated on pampering Pakistan Army’s sensitivities on Afghanistan and keeping Afghanistan in the Pakistani orbit, spurred more by US political expediencies rather than a realistic appraisal of ground realities.
With the above contextual failures of the United States in its two major military interventions in Pakistan or lack of success therein, we can now proceed to list briefly the major prognostications for the United States 0n Afghanistan in 2017 as the new US Trump Administration begins to grapple with the challenges so staring.
The first major recommendation is that the United States has only one viable option and that is for the United States to stay embedded militarily in Afghanistan and in strength. This is not only an imperative for US larger global security interests in South Asia and Central Asia but also to prevent the China-Pakistan-Russia ‘Mission Creep’ into Afghanistan as a prelude to a full scale military intervention in Afghanistan.
Pakistan can never be a determinant of the stability and security of Afghanistan. Pakistan is the major problem impeding the same and is not part of any solution. The Trump Administration should exorcise the Pakistan Army ghost from any future American policy formulations, if the United States wants a stable, secure and stable Afghanistan allied to the United States.
The United States should also exorcise from its policy perspectives and formulations that the Taliban holds the key to Afghan’s future. The United States should rule out completely bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and participate in future governance of Afghanistan. It would be akin to having brought Osama bin Laden to the negotiating table and making him part of Afghanistan’s future governance.
In 2017, the United States should recognise that the Taliban now is not only being propped up by the Pakistan Army but more markedly by China and Russia in their convergent aims of making the United States exit Afghanistan. Can the United States afford this?
Also needing exorcising from US perspectives and policy formulations is the fixation in US policy circles that China is a responsible stakeholder in Afghanistan’s security and that the United States can rely on China to assist in securing Afghanistan. The converse is true.
All of the above leads to the final recommendation that the US Trump Administration should order a major surge of US Forces in Afghanistan to steady the worsening situation where Pakistan Army affiliates like the Haqqani brothers and the Taliban have once again intensified their depredations and terrorist activities. This time around Washington should allow the US Generals to get on with their main mission and not fight anti-Afghan Forces with one hand tied to cater for Pakistan Army sensitivities.
The last point that I would like to repeat is that to succeed in Afghanistan, independent of Pakistan, the United Sates needs a drastic change in its mindset on Iran. At the height of the US military lack of successes in Afghanistan, what was noticeable is that Iran did not take advantage of the US lack of military success. On the contrary Iran earlier lost nearly a dozen diplomats earlier in Mzaar-e-Sharif murdered by the Taliban. If political expediencies could prompt the United States to temporise with a disruptive Pakistan, surely, the United States could afford a transactional relationship with Iran so that any forthcoming US troops surges in Afghanistan are no longer dependant on Pakistan’s logistics connectivity, Viable alternatives exist through the Indo-Iranian joint project of Chah Bahr and the ongoing connectivity to the Indian constructed road links in Afghanistan.
Concluding, in 2017, the stark message that stares at the United States is that it is Afghanistan that needs to be saved at all costs and not Pakistan as was the obsession for the last two decades and a half. Pakistan and the Pakistan Army can be left to stew in the broth of their new colonial masters—China. Afghanistan can be saved as a credible asset of the United States global security interests by the imperatives of a sizable US military embedment in Afghanistan lying at the crossroads of Asia. The Middle East is no longer a strategic asset for United States future, but Afghanistan is surely one.
*Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at [email protected]