By Dr Subhash Kapila
The Lisbon Summit of NATO Countries held last week was significant in more ways than one. Russia’s attendance at the Summit and that of the Afghan President were noteworthy events The Lisbon Summit was intended to chart out new directions in NATO’s overall strategies to cater for the changed global and regional security environments and more substantive discussions on the European Missile Defense plans.
What outshined in the Lisbon Summit deliberations was the solid affirmation by the United States & NATO that they intend to stand embedded in Afghanistan beyond 2011 and upto 2014. In the period 2011-2014, the Afghan National Army would be made to progressively take over security responsibilities in selected areas thereby facilitating gradual withdrawal of United States & NATO Forces. After 2014 too the United States & NATO Countries stand committed for the security and stability of Afghanistan. Implicit in this would be a military intervention against those attempting to destabilize Afghanistan.
More importantly it was emphasized that the year 2014 was not a deadline etched in stone for exit of foreign forces from Afghanistan and this would depend on the evolving security situation and security threats to Afghanistan. The implications here are a reinforcement of what stand stated above.
Notable was the fact that unlike the London Conference, the Istanbul Conference and the Kabul Conference which focused on Afghanistan and where Pakistan was given a center-stage in charting directions on Afghanistan, in the Lisbon Summit, Pakistan was not even invited to be present for consultations.
The United States & NATO affirmation to continue to stay embedded in Afghanistan would be globally and regionally welcomed by all countries with the exception of China, Pakistan and terrorist militia affiliates of the Pakistan Army like the Afghan Taliban, the North Waziristan warlords and the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Against such a contextual background, it becomes pertinent to examine some related issues of strategic significance arising from the United States& NATO affirmation on Afghanistan, and these are as follows:
- United States Denouement with Pakistan Army: Changes Perceptible in United States Strategy on Afghanistan.
- Pakistan Army’s Responses to United States Continued Embedment in Afghanistan: Greater Leaning towards China
- Russia’s Convergence with the United States on Afghanistan
- India: Time for an Upfront Strategy and Postures on Afghanistan.
United States Denouement with Pakistan Army: Changes Perceptible in United States Strategy on Afghanistan
In Washington there has been an increasing denouement with the role of the Pakistan Army in Afghanistan in terms of forcefully pursuing military operations which were required to bring the Af-Pak Strategy to a conclusive end. This has become more apparent after 2007 when the present Pakistan Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani assumed command.
Pakistan Army’s duplicitious roles in Afghanistan, double-timing the United States in Afghanistan and undercutting American war aims in Pakistan became more pronounced under General Kayani. It appears that he is bent on creating a domestic political constituency within Pakistan of “standing-up to the United States” and which would have resonance in the “Pakistan Army-Mullah nexus” and on the Pakistani streets.
The more profuse the praiseworthy rhetoric on General Kayani emanating from Washington the more alert should have been the strategic analysts’ community that something was amiss in this ego-massaging of the Pakistan Army Chief.
Contemporary media reports all indicate, including quotes from the highest policy circles that the United States policy establishment is totally disillusioned with the Pakistan Army and its likelihood of assisting the United States in successful prosecution of its war aims in Afghanistan.
Faced with such a strategic reality one can find perceptible changes in United States strategy on Afghanistan. There is a stiffening of US resolve that despite the Pakistan Army, the United States is determined to stay embedded in Afghanistan and bring about the liquidation of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban besides to ensure stability in Afghanistan.
To this end, the following steps need to be noted (1) Increase in drone strikes by US Forces against Pakistan Army sponsored affiliates creating turbulence in Afghanistan. (2) Intensification and escalating military operations in Southern Afghanistan by induction of M1 Abrams heavy tanks. (3) Likelihood of the United States enlarging the area of US drone strikes within Pakistani territory with or without Pakistan Army’s permission. (4) United States military and intelligence personnel to be inducted increasingly in urban areas of Pakistan where the terrorists’ militia leaders and cadres take refuge in winter.
On the last named fact, an Asia Times report from its Islamabad Correspondent indicates that despite the opposition of the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies, Pakistani diplomatic missions have been instructed to issue visa Pakistani visas to US military personnel within 24 hours without referring back to the Pakistan Army authorities who would impose months of delay.
With such a pattern emerging one could expect the United States to stiffen up its Afghanistan strategies with two aims: (1) To give substantive shape to its intentions to stay embedded in Afghanistan. (2) To offset Pakistan Army’s impediments by a greater use of its leverages with the Pakistani civilian establishment and diluting the image that the United States is a powerful supporter of the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan Army’s Responses to United States Continued Embedment in Afghanistan: Greater Leaning towards China
The United States affirmation to continue with its substantive embedment in Afghanistan beyond the over-publicized exit by mid-June 2010 creates profound implications for the Pakistan Army both in terms of its imperial strategic pretensions in Afghanistan and its centrality in Pakistan’s governing structure. Pakistan Army’s responses to what it would perceive as grave threats to its strategic aims and its centrality in Pakistan’s political governance needs to be viewed from these perspectives.
The Pakistan Army has all along been intent on inducing a political and military fatigue within the United States and weaken the American resolve to stay embedded in Afghanistan. It thus hoped to prompt a speedy US exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan Army affiliates of terrorist militias were extensively used to destabilize US military operations in Afghanistan.
Logically, faced with the eventuality of continued United States military embedment in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army can be expected to go in for a major intensification of the asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan by its affiliates.
Faced with an eventuality of the United States tightening the noose of US military and economic assistance to Pakistan, the Pakistan Army, as if reading the straws in the wind, has already started leaning towards China for off-setting the ensuing military and economic losses.
Politically, the Pakistan Army exploiting the lower spectrum civilian masses under the control of “mullahs” can be expected to generate political discontent to undermine the Pakistani civilian establishment’s proclivity to lean towards the United States.
China would be a willing accomplice in Pakistan Army devious strategies against the United States as it would ensure a stronger and more lasting Chinese intrusive presence in Pakistan’s affairs.
As a regional spin-off to offset United States pressures on the Pakistan Army, it can be expected to escalate military tensions with India and force the United States to distract from its focus on Afghanistan.
Russia’s Convergence with the United States on Afghanistan
The United States resolve to stay embedded in Afghanistan can be expected to stay the course with the growing Russian strategic convergence with the United States & NATO on the end-aims in Afghanistan. All three entities strongly feel that Afghanistan cannot be allowed to revert to subjugation by a Taliban regime foisted by the Pakistan Army and tacitly seconded by China.
Russia has already opened its territories and those of its former Republics for logistics supply routes to Afghanistan for US& NATO Forces as an alternative to Pakistan. Russia has already participated in joint operations with US & NATO Forces in anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan and expressed its willingness to intensify this cooperation.
In terms of strategic effect, the growing US-Russia strategic convergence on Afghanistan would have a corresponding and direct effect on China’s propensity to fish in troubled waters in the Af-Pak Region.
The Russian convergence can be construed as a shot in the arm for the United States intention to affirm its continued embedment in Afghanistan.
India: Time for an Upfront Strategy and Postures on Afghanistan
India as an “emerged power” on the global strategic scene can ill-afford to continue with a strategically and military hands-off policy and postures on Afghanistan. India has to begin shouldering regional and global responsibilities wherever regional and global peace is threatened. And, what better place than Afghanistan to begin this process where India has legitimate strategic and national security interests.
Equally incumbent on the United States is the responsibility not to impede India’s tentative steps for strategic and military involvement in Afghanistan by overplaying the factor of Pakistan Army’s sensitivities on the issue.
While lack of territorial contiguity with Afghanistan inhibits or limits direct Indian military involvement in Afghanistan with a hostile Pakistan interposed in between, there are many options available to India in terms of enlarging training commitments of the Afghan National Army, granting refueling facilities to US air-supply effort in Afghanistan and supply of military hardware as aid for Afghan National Army.
Afghanistan holds the key for effective strategic presence of the United States in the Greater South West Asia region and so also vital US national security interests. Continued strategic and military embedment in Afghanistan is an overriding strategic imperative for the United States towards that end.
In the last decade the Pakistan Army had been continuously engaged in undermining United States resolve to stay committed to Afghanistan. It is not in the strategic interests of the Pakistan Army for a continued US military presence in Afghanistan.
Faced with a an affirmation by the United States &NATO Countries of a continued embedment in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army can be expected to intensify its disruptive strategies on both its flanks in Afghanistan and India to distract US strategic attention from Afghanistan.
Highly incumbent therefore it becomes on the United States to stop viewing its Afghanistan strategies through the prism of Pakistan Army priorities and start viewing Afghanistan from the imperatives of its global strategies and regional imperatives.
The latter would suggest that the United States accord greater space to Russia and India in the strategic management of Afghanistan as a supplement to its own efforts, as both these nations perceive that a stable and secure Afghanistan, free of Pakistan Army subjugation, is an essential pre-requisite for stability of this vital region.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email: [email protected])