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Afghanistan 2011: Imperatives For US To Recast Strategic Blueprint – Analysis


By Dr Subhash Kapila

The United States in 2001 had codenamed its military intervention in Afghanistan as Op-INFINITE JUSTICE and that seems to have been achieved with the US targeted killing of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces deep within Pakistan, his fortified hideout nestling in the midst of Pakistan Army major garrison town of Abbottabad. The United States later under Islamic pressure codenamed its military operations in Afghanistan as Op-ENDURING FREEDOM. With Osama liquidated and Pakistan Army’s perfidy now staring the United States, which was in a state of denial on the issue, the international community sincerely hopes that the United States revises its strategic blueprint on Afghanistan to ensure that ‘ENDURING FREEDOM’ in Afghanistan is crafted by the United States, insulated and ensured by United States military might.

Afghanistan finds itself in 2011 at strategic cross-roads, not of its own making but caught in a cleft-stick created by United States acts of commission and omission in American policy formulations on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s obdurate strategic obsession that Afghanistan rightly falls in Pakistan’s sphere of influence and that Afghanistan must serve Pakistani strategic interests.

Both the United States and Pakistan seem to be oblivious to the fact that Afghanistan is not the colonial preserve of either the United States or Pakistan. Afghanistan however politically and militarily turbulent today is an independent nation and deserves the right and respects due to a sovereign nation.

Afghanistan’s future cannot be decided in Washington or Islamabad. At best, Afghanistan’s future need to be decided in an equitable dialogue between Kabul and Washington since the United States has been in direct control of Afghanistan since 2001.

Ten years after the United States military intervention in end-2001 with the avowed aim of stabilization of Afghanistan by rescuing it from the clutches of Pakistan’s colonization through its proxy Taliban regime and the destruction of the global Islamic Jihadi terrorism infrastructure of Osama bi Laden and the Al Qaeda in Pakistan-Occupied Afghanistan the hapless nation of Afghanistan finds itself at square one.

The United States would not have been mired in a strategic quagmire in Afghanistan for the last ten years had it pursued relentlessly the US aims of military intervention spelt out in a Joint Session of the US Congress 0n September 21, 2001 by President Bush. Regrettably former President Bush himself reversed gears from his stated aims.

Pakistan traditionally and historically has been the Achilles Heel of United States policy formulations in the South Asian region. The international community and countries of South Asia were aghast when the United States co-opted Pakistan in its Afghanistan strategic blueprint to stabilize Afghanistan after nearly a decade of medieval Islamic brutalization by Pakistan ISI controlled Taliban regime that was placed in Kabul. Strategic amnesia seems to have colored United States thinking forgetting that Pakistan was complicit in the Taliban and Al Qaeda’s emergence and in the perpetration of 9/11.

Be as it may and there is no point in berating American follies in Afghanistan during the period 2001-2011 resulting from United States over-reliance on a duplicitous Pakistan Army/ISI and successive US Administration’s fawning of Pakistan Army Chiefs, namely, General Musharraf and General Kayani now.

What is at stake now is that with the targeted liquidation of Al Qaeda supremo last week by US Special Forces in a fortified hideout deep within Pakistan in a Pakistan Army major garrison town, how does the United States review and redefine its future strategic blueprint on Afghanistan?

Would the United States learn the correct lessons from the decade-long strategic follies of not surgically disconnecting Pakistan from its Afghanistan strategic blueprint or still persist in being adhesively stuck to its traditional mode of pandering to Pakistan Army sensitivities on Afghanistan?

Before examination of the imperatives of review of US strategic blueprint on Afghanistan post-Osama liquidation, one would like to recall two major US strategic aims spelt out by President Bush in his address to the Joint Session of the US Congress on September 21, 2001 and these were:

  • United States global war on terrorism will target all countries that aid, abet or provide havens for terrorist organizations
  • United States war on global terrorism will not end with the destruction of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda

The United States singularly failed on the first named strategic aim in relation to Pakistan and one cynically views the likelihood of United States achieving the second strategic aim as even with destruction of Osama the United States may hesitate/falter as it would again entail military operations within Pakistan if terrorist entities like Mullah Omar and the Lashkar-e-Toiba have to be neutralized.

United States imperatives for recasting its strategic blueprint on Afghanistan are examined under the following heads, briefly:

  • Afghanistan 2011: The Contextual Security Setting
  • Pakistan Army Stances on Afghanistan in End-2001
  • Pakistan Army Likely Stances on Afghanistan in Post- Osama Liquidation Period
  • Pakistan Prime Minister’s Harsh Attacks on the United States and Defending the Pakistan Army and its ISI
  • Pakistan Prime Minister Plays the “China Card” Openly
  • United States Imperatives for Recasting its Existing Strategic Blueprint on Afghanistan

Afghanistan 2011: The Contextual Security Setting

  • Security- wise, Afghanistan presents the following contextual security setting;
  • Southern Afghanistan provinces bordering Pakistan continue to be under varying Taliban control and Taliban attacks on US &NATO Forces continue.
  • Taliban is also attempting a presence in Northern Afghanistan
  • Pakistan despite its repeated assertions that it has 80,000 troops deployed on the Afghan frontier is complicit or incompetent in preventing Taliban cadres to ingress into Afghanistan for attacks on US Forces
  • Pakistan continues to provide havens for Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban in Quetta
  • Pakistan despite forceful assertions that Osama bin Laden was not in Pakistan, was ultimately traced by US to a fortified hideout in the heart of Pakistan Army’s major garrison town deep within Pakistan where he was killed by US Special Forces last week
  • Pakistan Army refuses to proceed against Mullah Omar and the ISI terrorist outfits affiliates in North Waziristan

Belatedly realizing after ten years Pakistan Army’s duplicity, Pakistan –United relations went into a denouement phase from last year. Rupture between the CIA and ISI is visible. The United States in the face of Pak Army Chief’s refusal to mount military operations in North Waziristan has resorted to intensification of drone strikes in that region despite warnings by Pak Army Chief.


The United States assertion to continue its military presence in Afghanistan till 2014 and even beyond has upset Pakistan Army strategic calculations on Afghanistan Pakistan Army has realized that despite somber media reports, US Forces are making appreciable headway against Taliban forces in Southern Afghanistan after the recent troop surges. This is again not good news for the Pak Army coupled with US drones-targeting of Pakistan Army affiliated terrorist strategic assets in North Waziristan.

In brief what continues to hold the United States and Pakistan in such a security setting is Pakistan Army’s desire not to disrupt the inflow of massive amounts of US aid and military hardware. For the United States the single military consideration is the reliance on Pakistan for its logistic lifelines to Afghanistan and the nuclear blackmail by Pakistan Army of the United States.

Politically, the United States is loathed to forsake Pakistan on over-exaggerated grounds of Pakistan’s state-failure and dangers of Pakistan nuclear weapons falling into hands of Jihadi organizations. This leads to strategic myopia in US strategic formulations not only in relation to Afghanistan, but South Asia as a whole.

Any worthwhile strategic review of United States policies on Afghanistan in the coming months would entail the United States disabusing the above perceptions from its strategic planning.

Pakistan Army Stances on Afghanistan in End-2001

A brief recapitulation is required to connect the dots of Pakistan Army stances which have a recurring repetitiveness all along in relation to its so-called support to the United States on Afghanistan as a designated Major Non-NATO Ally.

The following observations made by me in my Paper in September 2001 entitled “United States Blueprint for Operation INFINITE JUSTICE’ (SAAG Paper No 328 dt 24.9.2001 have held good in the follow-up period:

  • Pakistan Army’s intelligence on Taliban and Al Qaeda would be deliberately inaccurate and misleading
  • Pakistan would not rein-in inflow of Islamic Jihadists into Afghanistan
  • Pakistan would surreptitiously act as conduit for fuel and supplies for Taliban forces in Afghanistan
  • Pakistan and its frontier areas could logically emerge as refuge for Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Taliban cadres

Nothing more need to be stated on the sordid record of United States double-crossing by Pakistan Army Chiefs, namely General Musharraf and General Kayani thereafter.

Pakistan Army Likely Stances on Afghanistan in Post-Osama Liquidation Period

The Pakistan Army, the ISI and the Pakistan Army Chief were silent for the first 48 hours of the liquidation of Osama bin Laden by the United States in the cradle of Pakistan Army’s prestigious Pakistan Military Academy and three infantry regimental centers in Abbottabad.

Pakistan Army’s likely stances in the following period can be best assessed from answers to the following questions:

  • Will the Pakistan Army discard its strategic obsession that Afghanistan needs to be under control of a Pakistan Army-friendly regime, preferably the Taliban to ensure ‘strategic depth’?
  • Will the Pakistan Army dispense with the use of Islamic Jihadi terrorist organizations like the Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Toiba etc as instruments of state policy?
  • Will the Pakistan Army be reckless enough to forego billions of US military aid and economic aid which sustains Pakistan? Or will it be able to persuade Saudi Arabia and China to offset US aid discontinuance?

The Pakistan Army on no account is likely to give up its obsession and strategy of viewing control over Afghanistan as a strategic imperative. More so sensing that US domestic political compulsions in the run-up to the next Presidential election would weaken US resolve to stay embedded in Afghanistan.

Tightening of screws by United States in the Post-Osama phase will not deter the Pakistan Army from its disruptive activities against the United States. On the contrary as Pakistan comes under increasing US pressures, the Pakistan Army and its ISI can be expected to ratchet-up the use for asymmetric warfare by the Afghan Taliban, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the other Jihadi outfits in North Waziristan.

Logically, Pakistan Army cannot be expected to forego billions of dollars of US aid but recklessness is the hallmark of Pakistani Generals. Pakistan seems to have done some contingency planning to offset US aid by similar aid from China and Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, the follow-up stances of the Pakistan Army will also be shaped by its readings and perceptions of United States intentions, especially the “strategic indispensability of Pakistan” in American policy formulations. This time around Pakistan Army may be overcalculating United States intentions on this count.

Pakistan Army’s follow-up stances are also going to be determined by the domestic political dynamics arising from a visible dent in Pakistan Army’s domestic image arising from the Osama liquidation and the Army’s ability to rebuild the scare of Talibanization of Pakistan for scaring the United States.

The Pakistan Army has harnessed the Prime Minister to defend on the floor of the National Assembly the services of the Pakistan Army and the ISI. In an unprecedented move the three Chiefs of the Pakistan Armed Forces along with other top brass have got themselves invited to give an in-camera briefing to the Parliamentarians on the Osama issue and the American operations deep within Pakistan last week.

Pakistan Prime Minister’s Harsh Attacks on the United States and Defending the Pakistan Army and the ISI

The Pakistani Prime Minister’s statement in the National Assembly on May 09 2011 to explain to his countrymen as to how the United States Special Forces could enter deep within Pakistani territory, carry out liquidation of Osama bin Laden in the midst of Pakistan Army’s major garrison cantonment of Abbottabad in an operation lasting forty minutes and then leave with Osama’s dead body for Afghanistan, was full of holes which defied all logical analysis.

Either the Pakistan Army hierarchy, notably the Pakistan Army Chief and his DG ISI were complicit in the US daring military operation deep within Pakistani territory to execute Osama bin Laden or the Pakistan Army is downright incompetent professionally to have been caught unawares with its pants down by the US execution operations. The latter is difficult to believe. It seems that the Pakistan Army Chief was complicit with the United States.

Pakistani Prime Minister’s statements with all its threats and dire warnings to the United States not to repeat such operations seemed to be a smokescreen to deflect Pakistani public’s criticisms on Pakistan Army’s incompetence and its ability to secure Pakistan’s frontiers.

International observers opine that the civilian political leadership in Pakistan failed to exploit the window of opportunity to tame the Pakistani Army Generals when they were reeling under Pakistani public criticism.

Contrarily, the Pakistani Prime Minister issued commendation certificates in the National Assembly defending the competence of the Pakistan Army and declaring the notorious ISI as a “National Asset”.

This indicates two things. First, that the Civilian government is still held hostage by the Pakistan Army and secondly defending the Pakistan Army and the ISI by the Prime Minister, which are under severe criticism and scrutiny by US lawmakers indicates that something is terribly amiss in Pakistan –United States relations.

Significantly, of greater import than the dire warnings and threats to the United States was that without any context the Pakistani Prime Minister played the “China Card” while contextually issuing threats to the United States. In other words the Pakistan Army through the Prime Minister was making it known on the floor of Pakistan’s Parliament that China could act as a countervailing power against any United States severe actions against Pakistan in the future.

China’s call on Pakistan’s assertions would be shortly known when the Pakistani Prime Minister visits Beijing on May 17 2011

United States Imperatives for Recasting its Strategic Blueprint on Afghanistan

The United States strategic blueprints on Afghanistan have repeatedly stood flawed in the last one decade of US involvement in Afghanistan. No efforts to set mid-course corrections were ever applied. Even the Af-Pak Strategy applied in 2009 was flawed and suffered from earlier infirmities.

Repeatedly asserted in my Papers on Afghanistan in the last ten years was the notable fact that United States Armed Forces and US Generals commanding the forces in Afghanistan were professionally competent and had the aggressive spirit not to allow Afghanistan to turn into another Vietnam for the United States.

The strategic imbroglio in Afghanistan in which the United States finds itself after a decade is the making of US Presidents and their policy establishments who “politicized” US Afghanistan military strategies to suit the sensitivities of the Pakistan Army, thereby impeding the military effectiveness of United States Forces in achieving decisive results in Afghanistan.

Should or would the United States policy establishment recast its strategic blueprint on Afghanistan after belatedly recognizing the duplicitous role the Pakistan Army has played against the United States and also taking into account the changed contextual security environment which dictate US imperatives to stay embedded in Afghanistan even beyond 2014?

Recasting a strategic blueprint on Afghanistan would need to address the following issues by the United States: (1) United States long term strategic interests in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Gulf Region (2) United States imperatives to “insulate” its recasted Afghanistan strategic blueprint from the next Presidential Election political expediencies. (3) Pakistan’s future role in the United States strategic calculus in the region ( 4 ) China-Pakistan Army military nexus and its impact on vital US strategic interests in the region.

United States long term strategic interests in Afghanistan need to be determined by US national security interests in Central Asia and the Gulf Region. A stable and secure Afghanistan in which US Forces stay embedded in Afghanistan under a Mutual Security Treaty like the ones with Japan and South Korea would ensure that the United States is not displaced strategically from the heartland of Asia. United States future strategic blueprints on Afghanistan cannot be premised on transactional relationships or spasmodic engagements.

Afghanistan requires a long term strategic commitment by the United States and any such long term strategic commitment cannot be politicized in Presidential Election year political expediencies to make political gains. The United States never allowed this in the case of Japan and South Korea, though at times the nuances may have changed. Yet the value of the strategic relationship and mutual security benefits were never devalued. The same approach needs to be adopted by the United States in relation to Afghanistan.

The United States policy establishment has a propensity born out of Cold War mindsets to accord over-exaggerated strategic importance to Pakistan in the US strategic calculus. The results have always been disastrous for the United States strategically. Thepost-2001 United States-Pakistan relationship and its sordid outcome should prompt the US policy establishment ad its strategic planners to take their blinkers off and have a renewed appraisal of Pakistan’s strategic utility in the overall US strategic calculus for the future.

It dents the power-image of the United States globally when the perception is gaining ground that Pakistan as a failing state and a rogue state has been able to “blackmail” a Superpower like the United States on the strength of its nuclear arsenal and its nuclear waywardness.

The United States has yet not become strategically aware of the intensified strategic and military nexus of China with the Pakistan Army and its impact on vital US strategic interests in the region. The public articulation of playing the ‘China Card” by the Pakistani Prime Minister in the National Assembly implicitly against the United States should be an eye-opener for the United States policy establishment and strategic planners.

The United States needs to recognize that a possible outcome of the intensified China-Pakistan strategic nexus could be in the long run prompting the displacement or exit of the United States from Central Asia and the Gulf. It would also focus on filling the strategic void in Afghanistan in the event of a US exit by a joint China-Pakistan condominium in Kabul.

Both are ominous for the United States and any future US strategic blueprint on Afghanistan has to incorporate the above named factors as “Term of Reference”. Without these, the United States is condemned to repeat history in Afghanistan and especially so if the US still persists in keeping Pakistan connected to its Afghanistan strategic blueprint.

Concluding Observations

Many in the United States strategic community today baulk from a long-term and enduring commitment by the United States in Afghanistan. They cite that hundreds of billions of dollars would be required for such a commitment. The same set however argue concurrently to give over-riding priority to retrieval of Pakistan from state failure in which the United States has sunk hundreds of billions dollars without any tangible strategic gains.

The strategic community in the United States always conveniently forgets that it were the Afghan people who spearheaded the US strategy for exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and it were the Afghan people again and especially the Northern Alliance who spearheaded the US military drive to reclaim Kabul from the clutches of the Pakistan Army Occupation via its proxy Taliban regime and their Al Qaeda affiliates.

On both occasions the much US-vaunted Pakistan Army played duplicitous roles against the United States in Afghanistan. Surely in terms of relative and comparative strategic analysis, Afghanistan deserves an over-riding priority in the US strategic calculus.

The United States therefore needs to incorporate in its recasted strategic blueprint on Afghanistan the imperatives of “Enduring Freedom” for Afghanistan and ensuring that deterrence is built-in to insulate Afghanistan from Pakistan’s aggressive meddling.

As for Pakistan, would the United States have the conviction and courage to ensure that “Infinite Justice” is made to prevail and that the Pakistan Army is called to task and account for its military adventurism on both its flanks and against the United States?

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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