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After Mike Mullen’s diatribe against Pakistan describing HN as the veritable arm of ISI, Leon Panetta became the leading basher of Pakistan duly supported by Hillary Clinton. His attitude became abrasive after the arrest of Raymond Davis in January 2011 and he became more rasping after 2 May raid but after closure of NATO supply routes in protest against 26 November callous attack on Salala killing 24 Pakistani soldiers and injuring 16, he lost his sense of balance. He went to extent of declaring that the USZ was losing patience and was at war with Pakistan in FATA. Pakistan’s arm was repeatedly twisted to force it to reopen the supply lines without asking for an apology or to stop drone attacks and after seven months coercion, the USZ succeeded in its mission. The only concession it has promised is to release the held up $1.2 billion against CSF.
In Afghanistan, the USZ tried all possible overt and covert means to defeat the Taliban but 11 years of its sustained efforts have run into a stalemate which favors the Taliban and not the occupiers. In the ongoing stalemate, both sides are getting bled. However, the Taliban least bothered about the casualties and hardships, consider the stalemated position their victory since they are not pressed for time. The war has become highly unpopular in USZ where nearly 70% are against it, but the hawkish military and civil leaders in Washington are not much concerned with the sentiments of the general public. For them, the military goals set in Afghanistan and around it are more important.
The USZ military and NATO viewed as unbeatable and indispensable, refuse to concede defeat and are still hopeful that by dragging feet, some miracle might happen and endgame ends in their favor. Irrespective of their outward manifestation of bravado, inwardly they know that for all practical purposes they have lost the war and safe exit at the earliest is the only viable option. Transition phase which commenced in July 2011 is halfway and several provinces and districts/cities including Kabul have already been handed over to Afghan national security forces (ANSF). Ambitious expansionism of ANA has been cut down from 350,000 to 250,000 due to severe economic crunch. This cut was announced in Chicago summit held on 20-21 May. Efforts are in hand to generate $4.1 billion per year to train and maintain ANSF beyond 2014 for next ten years and to continue development works. Italy and Germany have pledged $100 million each, UK 100 million pounds and Pakistan $2 million. The USZ will bear 25-50% of total expenditure. Financial commitments will be finalized in the NATO summit scheduled in May 2014 in Tokyo.
In the Chicago summit, in which President Zardari was invited at the 11th hour, the hosts were thoroughly disappointed when Zardari didn’t live up to their expectations by announcing reopening of NATO supply lines vital for sustenance of ISAF. Pakistan was seen as a bad boy deserving to be punished. All its sacrifices were ignored and none bothered to contemplate as to why Pakistan had blocked the supply routes. For all practical purposes, like Lisbon summit or Bonn conference, Chicago summit was also a non-starter, since Pakistan was marginalized and the principal stakeholder Taliban were not part of it. It would have had some substance if a breakthrough had been achieved on Qatar initiative.
Spurred by the support promised by USZ and NATO members during the Chicago Summit and also by the strategic partnership agreements inked by USZ and several European countries as well as India, Karzai assured the audience that his government and security apparatus will be able to take on Taliban challenge squarely. Those were bold words but devoid of reality. The ground situation is that the current force level of 130,000 plus 350,000 ANSF has not been able to checkmate resurgence of Taliban. Apart from their strongholds of eastern and southern Afghanistan where they enjoy complete sway, their fighters can strike any part of the country including Kabul. Majority of NATO members have lost heart and are eager to return home much earlier than the cut out date of December 2014.
While Australia and Germany have announced withdrawal of their contingents by end 2013, UK would withdraw 500 troops of its 9500 contingent by end of this year. Newly elected French President Francois Hollande has shocked USZ and NATO Secretary General by announcing that French contingent of 3400 would exit by December 2012. Home pressure from USZ and Europe has swelled and the war has become highly unpopular. Those favoring continuation of war are getting marginalized. The trend of rising antipathy for the so-called Global War On Terror and calls for bringing home the soldiers at the earliest as was evident from the protest marches in Chicago and return of medals by war veterans during the Summit is likely to accelerate in 2013 and will have repercussions. Karzai, who is unpopular among the Pashtuns as well as non-Pashtuns, will be completing his tenure as President by the close of 2014. Knowing that he had won the last elections by the skin of his teeth, there is no likelihood of his re-election in 2015. Therefore, to sign strategic agreements with USZ and other countries covering the period post 2014 is illegal and of no consequence.
The draw down plan envisages handing over full responsibility to ANSF by mid 2013, after which the ISAF gets into non-combative role till December 2014. After complete withdrawal of combat troops, a small but well equipped force of about 15-20,000 troops, mostly from the USZ comprising trainers, technical advisers, security contractors, intelligence operators and Special Forces will be left behind to continue providing backup support to ANSF and to prevent Taliban from taking over. The backup force would have requisite number of jet fighters, gunship helicopters, drones and long range artillery. This force will essentially be there to assist re-induction of NATO force if the situation so demands. Given the plummeting political, financial and military misfortunes of Europe, it is to be seen whether NATO will retain its punch and whether it will recommit the folly of re-entering the graveyard of empires.
Five military bases in Afghanistan are being retained by USZ till 2024 to keep the Taliban out of power, further strengthen India’s presence in Afghanistan, continue covert war against Pakistan, China and Iran, extract oil and gas from Central Asia, and to have a readily available base of operation in case war is declared against Iran. For the achievement of these objectives, it is absolutely essential for the USZ to have stable government in Kabul, a cooperative Pakistan, unhindered supply routes through Pakistan and continued deployment of Pakistan’s security forces in FATA but all this would only be possible if USZ's own economy itself survives by that time which leading economists see as least likely.
Written by Brig(r) Asif Haroon Raja
(The writer is a retired Brig, a freelance columnist and a defence analyst.)
Mildly edited by Pakistan Cyber Force Web Desk
Pakistan Cyber Force