Afghanistan yesterday, today, tomorrow Pakistan-US role
By Asif Haroon Raja
“While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle, on justice” Corazon C. Aquino
asif-haroon.3Pakistan and Afghanistan never enjoyed friendly relations since the latter didn’t accept the Durand Line as an international border and laid claims over Pashtun inhabited areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. Afghanistan has traditionally remained close to India and hostile towards Pakistan. Relations dipped during the rule of President Daud after he seized power in 1973 from King Zahir Shah. Insurgents in Baluchistan were provided safe havens and Pakhtunistan movement was fueled.
When Afghanistan was occupied by Soviet forces in December 1979, and 4 million Afghans became refugees in Pakistan, Pakistan under Gen Ziaul Haq condemned the invasion and decided to support the Afghan resistance forces. The US and Saudi Arabia came in support of Pakistan led covert war in June 1981. The two provided funds and weapons only. The Soviet forces accepted defeat and pulled out by February 1989 but in the ten-year gruesome war, the country was devastated and two million Afghan civilians lost their lives. Pakistan had to face KGB-KHAD-RAW-Al-Zulfiqar sabotage and subversion.
No sooner the US achieved all its objectives, the US not only ditched Pakistan in 1990 and put it under harsh sanctions, but to rub salt on wounds of Pakistan, it made India its strategic partner which was the camp follower of USSR. The Mujahideen eulogized as holy warriors were abandoned as a result of which civil war broke out between the warring groups.
The Taliban under Mulla Omar started their Islamic movement from Kandahar in 1994 and after capturing Kabul in 1996, they established Islamic Emirate. Taliban were in control of 93% territory till 07 Oct 2001, and only 7% in the north was controlled by the Northern Alliance (NA) comprising Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. The military wing of NA was trained by the Indian and Iranian military trainers in Iran.
From 1997 onwards, the Taliban regime came in bad books of Washington because of cancellation of oil & gas pipelines project of UNICOL and was put under sanctions. Al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden that had been created by CIA to fight the Soviets turned hostile and started hitting American targets in Gulf of Aden and African countries.
During the 5-year rule of Taliban, Afghanistan was made free of warlords, crimes and social vices including rapes and drug business. People could leave their houses and shops unlocked since none dared to commit theft. Justice was cheap and quick. For the first time since 1947, Pakistan enjoyed very cordial relations with Afghanistan and its western border became safe and Indian presence in Afghanistan faded. The closeness promoted the concept of strategic depth. After the forcible removal of Taliban regime by the US-NATO forces in November 2001, Pak-Afghanistan relations have strained and Indian influence has bounced back in a big way. It was owing to their social and judicial achievements that Talibanization crept into FATA and Malakand Division in Pakistan and later give birth to TTP and TNSM.
Pakistan-US relations 1954-2000
Pakistan-USA relations have all along been transactional in nature and never developed into deep-rooted strategic relationship based on mutual trust and friendship. The 74 years history has seen many ups and downs; the US behaving like an overbearing mother-in-law and Pakistan put on a roller coaster ride behaving like a submissive daughter-in-law, taking her barbs without a whimper. Such an unfair treatment was meted out in spite of Pakistan having put its national security at stake three times and each time suffering a great deal.
The US embraced Pakistan for the accomplishment of its objectives in this region and no sooner the objectives were achieved, it was unceremoniously dumped. Each time the US ventured into this part of the world, it found Pakistan to be most suitable and most pliable to serve its ends. Pak-US relations were at their best during Eisenhower-Dulles era after which the US started wooing India and forced Pakistan to lean on China.
During the Cold War, Pakistan was reluctantly taken on board by the US in 1953/4 to help in containing communism in South Asia after India which was the camp follower of the Soviet Union refused to become part of the US defensive arc. Pakistan joined the western pacts due to its extreme security concerns from India and Afghanistan, both backed by former Soviet Union.
Although Pakistan earned the title of ‘most allied ally of the US’ and became totally dependent upon the US arms and technology, but the US disappointed Pakistan when its support was needed the most in the 1965 and 1971 wars with India. Pakistan was denied the crucially needed war munitions from the US as well as diplomatic support during the two wars, while India continued to receive arms from the USSR and kept the resolution of Kashmir dispute at bay due to Soviet vetoes.
The US ignored India’s nuclear explosion in 1974 but promptly imposed sanctions on Pakistan in 1979 on mere suspicion that it was working on a nuclear program. However, soon after, when Pakistan’s services were needed to fight the occupying Soviet forces in Afghanistan, it once again hugged it in 1981 and doled out monetary and military assistance.
Throughout the 1990s, Pakistan was kept under the leash under the charges of developing an Islamic bomb, nuclear proliferation and cross border terrorism in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). Holy warriors were dubbed as terrorists and hounded. Indo-US relations blossomed into strategic relationship during Bill Clinton rule and thereon it kept flourishing leaps and bounds.
Post 9/11 events
Pakistan was once again taken on board by the US after 9/11 for the achievement of its short-term regional objectives in Afghanistan. From the very outset, the US intoxicated with power ignored the geography, history, culture, sociology and ideology of Afghanistan. It didn’t bother that it had been a graveyard of empires where it was easy to enter but near impossible to exit safely. Not only Alexander the great fell, but the British also failed and the USSR disintegrated.
Blinded by rage to avenge the 9/11 attacks and immersed in the pool of arrogance and egotism, the US and its western allies jumped into the inferno of Afghanistan with full zeal and enthusiasm, and vaulted from one plan to another in pursuit of a hollow strategy, which was never changed to correct its course.
Gen Musharraf accepted all 7 demands of the US since he was denied the option of staying neutral. To save Pakistan from destruction, he ditched the Taliban and provided airbases, seaport, land routes and intelligence cooperation to the invaders. The US could not have so easily toppled the Taliban regime and occupied Afghanistan in a month if Pakistan had not provided full support.
Completely isolated and encircled from all directions, and the traditional fallback position of FATA denied, the Taliban could fight the ground forces of NA, but couldn’t have resisted the massive air bombing for long. Hence they wisely undertook a tactical withdrawal to regain strength and start bleeding the occupiers through prolonged insurrectional war. The euphoric George W. Bush sounded the victory bugles too prematurely and took it for granted that the Taliban were down and out.
Mistakes made by Bush administration
Much against Pakistan’s advice, the US installed NA heavy regime in Kabul which was pro-India and anti-Pakistan. The puppet regime ignored the Afghan Pashtuns and started giving more space to India to make it the preeminent player in Afghanistan as was desired by the US.
Ignoring the heavy majority Pashtuns and relying solely on the minority NA regime was the first mistake made by Bush administration. This blunder was followed by another when it imposed the US tailored constitution upon the tribal based society.
Opening of the second front by USA in Iraq in 2003 without consolidating the gains in Afghanistan was another slip-up, since engagement on two fronts diluted the war effort of the US-NATO and allowed breathing space to the Taliban to regroup in FATA.
Yet another error was raising non-Pashtun heavy Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) which turned into a liability.
CIA and NATO as well as Afghan warlords indulged in drug business which had almost been eliminated by the Taliban. These distractions loosened the grip of ISAF led by weak military commanders over Afghanistan and enabled the Taliban to recover lost space in southern and eastern Afghanistan and also earn money from drug business for their war effort.
Since the two land routes from Pakistan used by NATO containers passed through the Taliban dominated rural belt, the US security contractors and Afghan officials had to pay toll tax to the Taliban for passage of every container which also became a source of income for them.
The US dual standards
Misled by misconceived victory, over confident Bush instead of fulfilling the promises made to the Afghans by promoting democracy, education and development works, he gave preference to covert operations against Pakistan and forced Pakistan to fight the Al-Qaeda in South Waziristan (SW). That way, Pakistan earned the hostility of Al-Qaeda and own tribesmen.
Ironically, while Washington waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring democracy, it stoutly upheld Pakistan’s military dictatorship.
While Pak security forces fought the Pakistani Taliban and Baloch rebel groups in FATA and in Baluchistan that were funded, trained, equipped and guided by RAW-NDS combine to destabilize Pakistan, they didn’t confront the Afghan Taliban whose struggle was entirely confined to Afghanistan and they never fired a bullet against Pak forces.
Pakistan started taking measures to protect its national security in 2008 once it learnt that CIA-FBI had gained complete sway over FATA with the help of TTP formed in Dec 2006. Blackwater was inducted in 2008 to bolster CIA-FBI in urban areas of Pakistan. Nexus of CIA-RAW-NDS-MI-6-Mossad-BND in Kabul supported anti-Pakistan proxies in FATA and Baluchistan.
In order to keep the supply routes to the TTP open so that it could indulge in terrorism in FATA and KP, the US rejected Pakistan’s proposal to fence the western border, or to increase number of border posts on Afghan side to prevent infiltration.
A coordinated Indo-Afghan propaganda campaign backed by the west was launched to defame Pakistan and its premier institutions.
Based on Obama’s Af-Pak strategy of anvil and hammer, managed by Richard Holbrook, ISAF failed to provide the anvil when Pak forces delivered the hammer in SW in 2009, thus letting the TTP militants under Hakimullah Mehsud to flee to Afghanistan. Pak forces managed to retrieve 17 out of 19 administrative units under the influen1ce of TTP and confined its presence to the last bastions of North Waziristan (NW) and Khyber Agency.
But for Pakistan which nabbed over 600 Al-Qaeda senior leaders and operators and handed them over to CIA, the ISAF couldn’t have dismantled and defeated them in Afghanistan as claimed by Obama. Bulk of Al-Qaeda fighters had otherwise shifted to Iraq in 2004 and formed Al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula after the US-NATO forces occupied Iraq in May 2003.
Two troop surges in 2009 raised the strength of ISAF (an amalgam of 48 military contingents) to near 1,50,000, but it proved futile since it resulted in heavy casualties of the occupiers. Adoption of rearward posture and abandonment of boots on ground strategy by ISAF after suffering setbacks in battles of Helmand and Nuristan and putting ANSF in the forefront, and thereafter putting heavy reliance on airpower, was a wrong decision made by Gen McChrystal. It enabled the Taliban to snatch the initiative and build momentum of offensive, which couldn’t be reversed by the occupying force.
Tensions between the US and Pakistan kept increasing when the US adopted a highly discriminatory policy of blaming Pakistan for the failures of ISAF-ANSF, and instability in Afghanistan; subjecting it to drone war; insulting and penalizing it and constantly pressing it to do more against Haqqani Network (HN) and Quetta Shura, and at the same time covering up the sins of India and Kabul regime and going out of the way to reward them. Extreme pressure was mounted to flush out HN from NW. Discriminatory policy brought in element of distrust.
2011 was the worst year for Pakistan in which Raymond Davis, Abbottabad attack, Memogate and Salala attack took place which forced Pakistan to cut off military cooperation with the US and stop the two NATO supply routes for six months.
The reason behind the discriminatory behavior was that while Indo-US-Afghan-West-Israel are strategic partners and work in collusion to achieve their common objectives, Pakistan doesn’t fit into the US security paradigm or the Indo-Pacific strategy, and as such was accepted as a tactical partner to fight terrorism both inside Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
The points of friction which kept the Pak-US relations dysfunctional are Pakistan’s nuclear program, the CPEC, its closeness with China, hostility against India mainly due to unresolved Kashmir dispute, its refusal to recognize Israel, and its refusal to fight Afghan Taliban.
Initiation of peace talks by Obama in 2011 which led to opening of Taliban’s political office at Doha in mid-June 2013 lacked sincerity since whichever Taliban leader came forward for a peace deal, whether from TTP or the Taliban, was droned. Wali, Baituallah Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, Akhtar Mansour, were all killed by drones. Fight and talk strategy was aimed at dividing Taliban movement.
After withdrawal of bulk of ISAF forces by Dec 2014, the Taliban rapidly captured more territory and gained a military ascendency over occupying forces and the ANSF. Demoralization set in among the occupiers and collaborators; green-over-blue attacks as well as suicide cases increased; rate of desertions in ANSF accelerated.
Installation of a unity regime in Kabul in 2016 by Obama regime was a bad decision. Due to poor governance, corruption and power tussle between Ghani and Abdullah, writ of the government got confined to Kabul.
The Taliban gained dominance over 56% rural territory through which major supply routes pass; its influence stretched to well over 80% area where they installed shadow governments; could strike any part of the country; developed war economy; had sound command, control & communication infrastructure; fair judicial system and dedicated fighters.
The Taliban succeeded in breaking their isolation and were wooed by China, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, UAE, KSA, and Germany. China signed a $ 3 billion development project with the Taliban. It reduced the clout of Pakistan over them.
Writ of the ANSF backed by the US led Resolute Support Group got restricted to capital cities which are often attacked by the Taliban.
Landmark peace agreement
After maximizing force against the Taliban and pressure against Pakistan, Donald Trump reopened the stalled peace talks in July 2018 and finally inked the historic peace agreement with the Taliban on February 29, 2020, in which the Kabul regime was excluded. The UN, Russia, China and Pakistan endorsed the agreement.
The Taliban agreed not to allow Afghan soil for terrorism against the US/allies, reduce violence, desist from attacking western targets in Afghanistan, sever ties with al-Qaeda, and to open inter-Afghan dialogue for a comprehensive political settlement. The US agreed to pull out all troops by May 1, 2021 and to refrain from attacking the Taliban. 5000 Taliban prisoners and 1000 ANSF prisoners were to be released within 3 months after start of intra-Afghan talks on March 10, 2020, and Taliban leaders removed from the UN blacklist.
Intra-Afghan dialogue got delayed due to Ashraf Ghani’s reservations and foot dragging over prisoner exchange. Firefight between the Taliban and ANSF supported by the US continued in which former had an upper hand.
Trump was keen to end the longest war and make a clean break from Afghanistan and he reduced the US troop level to 2500 only.
The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, 6th book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows. Email: email@example.com