Strategic Analysis of Pakistan’s Perspective on the Afghan End-Game!!
There is an old proverb, “Never let the bear in a trap fall on you”. We shall discuss the background and relevance of this quote a little later. First, lets go through some aspects of this war that has now disturbed the balance of power around the globe.
The Pre-Salala Scenario
Since the invasion and start of “Operation Enduring Freedom Afghanistan” in which Pakistan became a front line coalition partner; Pakistan has faced constant and sustained pressure, in the face of allegations and perception building against its army and security agencies. Many think-tanks, experts and military strategists seem to have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker.
The role of Pakistan in the Afghan-Soviet War, its support for the Taliban, its goal of strategic depth, the Khalistan fiasco, the Kashmir freedom movement, and Kargil are just some of the events that has earned Pakistan’s forces the title of a ‘rogue’ army, as well as a state-sponsor of terror.
Hence any expectation of a relationship built on mutual trust was poorly thought-out and unrealistic from the start. The allied forces came with the task of invading Afghanistan, toppling Taliban’s government, hunting down top Al-Qaeda leadership and flying back home under a ‘mission accomplished’ banner to live happily ever after. Staying in the Afghan battle field for over 10 years was never part of their strategy. None of the experts realized that the old ‘bear trap’ which drained out the Russians will also be effective in draining out the white elephant and its clan.
In the first Afghan war, the might of Russia was confronted by many countries around the globe leaving India and some other small countries which were under the influence of Communism. Pakistan enjoyed not only America’s stingers stocks, but also oil money of the Middle Eastern countries.
This time, the war is much more complicated and confusing. A country which was believed to be standing in the ranks of coalition forces actually is being blamed for orchestrating a deceptive warfare against its own coalition, hence becoming the prime responsible for the defeat of the coalition in Afghanistan. They are now forced to label her either ““Secret Pakistan” or “An Ally from Hell“!!!
Post-Salala Scenario, Blockade and the Strategic edge:
At the end of the first Afghan war, there was a term coined in diplomatic circles known as ”Negative restraints”.According to this, many congressmen initially agreed on a proposal to cut all aid to the Mujahideen once the Soviet pull-out began, allowing the US to wash its hands off the conflict and leaving the Mujahideen in conflict with Najeebullah Government. On the other hand it was also obvious that Najeebullah’s government would continue to receive aid from the Soviets, resulting in further bloodshed and eventually ending in a disaster for the Mujahideen and for Afghanistan.
It was only much later and after some diplomatic pressure by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a few favorable officials in the US government, that the Americans agreed to add a clause to the Geneva accords that allowed Washington to continue to aid the Mujahideen for as long as the Soviets continued to aid the Kabul government. This was termed at the time as ‘Positive symmetry’.
However, this ‘Positive Symmetry’ never occurred. The US lawmakers, under influence from the CIA and other powerful congressmen taking Geneva accord as its refuge, cut the aid of Mujahideen at the very first day of the Soviet pull-out. The Junejo government also submitted to the Geneva accords and ignored Zia’s recommendation about keeping the Soviets ‘tied down’ so that they could not become a problem again.
The CIA however, never left Afghanistan.
In the guise of ‘Positive Symmetry’, it continued to fund the groups and warlords specially figures like Ahmed Shah Masoud who then created a chaos and civil war within Afghanistan which diverted the attention of this brilliant war machine from the Russians towards its own self-destruction. Soviets, with all their leftover troops and equipment left Afghanistan safely.
Naturally, these events not only created divisions between some Mujahideen groups and Pakistan but also ensured that Pakistan wasn’t able to achieve all its strategic objectives at the end of this conflict. Atleast not until the Taliban eventually took over and toppled Najeebullah’s government.
Fast forward to today, and we see that Pakistan doesn’t appear to be in a mood to repeat the same mistakes. At the same time the geopolitical scenario is far more complicated than the Soviet-Afghan war.
During the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan enjoyed many benefits, from financial rewards to the backing, material and moral support of international power players. However in the current conflict, Pakistan stands alone in trying to defend its strategic objectives and territorial integrity, while pushing back against a mighty force which seems hell-bent on destroying Pakistan by all means.
In the Soviet-Afghan war, Soviet jets regularly crossed into Pakistan airspace and fired missiles into FATA and the border areas, resulting in civilian deaths. At least one attempt to attack Peshawar was thwarted. The first time thatany terror-group in Balochistan took up arms against the state demanding separation was also when Afghanistan was under foreign occupation (Soviet) with India as its ally. India was allowed the space in Afghanistan by the Soviets to achieve the second objective of separating Balochistan from Pakistan and cutting through the province to provide access to the warm waters for the Soviets. This was the price of war that Pakistan had to pay.
This time around, Pakistan is up against a military might, which spends more than 75% of all of the world’s armed forces put together, who is trying to punish Pakistan just as the Soviets did, but in a far more organized manner. This includes supporting and arming rebels attacking Pakistani state, supporting separatists in Balochistan just as the Soviets had done, again with India’s help, and promoting sectarianism and corruption by backing failed political terrorists into power in Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan once again pays a high price in terms of civilian and military casualties, and loss to the economy and infrastructure.
Under the current military leadership, Pakistan’s strategy appears to be one of gaining a strategic edge in a post-US Afghanistan. Before the Salala massacre, the allied forces planned to leave in 2014, hoping to leave behind a potent force in the form of the Afghan National Army which the Americans and NATO hoped would take over combat duties and be able to defend the puppet regime in Kabul. The pull-out was planned to be done gradually, as there are reportedly over 100,000 containers, 70,000 vehicles, and around 100,000 armed forces personnel in Afghanistan belonging to the US and NATO. The goods and equipment alone are valued at around $ 30 billion.
The massacre at Salala however, has put those plans in jeopardy.
What has been achieved by blockade?
Let’s remember that the US military machine is stronger than the rest of the world’s armed forces put together, in terms of resources. This is what Pakistan is up against. Due to careful strategic maneuvering, Pakistan has given itself an edge as the war draws to a close. Pakistan holds all the cards. Let’s have a look at what has been achieved by the blockade.
US Exit Plan and NATO disturbed: As far as The Exit strategy of US is concerned, its point of gravity is badly disturbed in the post-Salala scenario due to supply routes blockade. The exit plan has to be rewritten now. Out of the two years remaining until the pullout deadline, the blockade has so far gone on for 1/4th of that duration, over 6 months. Due to shortage of time, the US and NATO forces will have to leave not only scrap but also a lot of their equipment behind.
Secondly there is a disturbance in the ranks and alliance itself. Australia has already declared pulling out its soldiers from Afghanistan. France’s new leader emphasized that its troops will leave Afghanistan this year and they are already talking with Pakistan for its re-treat routes and have declared that they will not discuss these issues with NATO. Canada, Germany and others are also declaring their exit plans. America’s greatest ally and partner in all crimes Britain itself is planning to pull out their troops in 2012. The disturbance is clear and there is no common voice of NATO. The outcome of the recently concluded trilateral meeting said it all. And let’s not forget, there’s still a year and a half to go before the scheduled deadline.
Another problem: The Rise of Green on Blue
“In a major milestone toward ending a decade of war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said on Wednesday that American forces would step back from a combat role there as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops are scheduled to come home”.
The disarray that the US plans are in can be gauged from the quote above. Let’s now have a look at some of the original objectives of the occupation of Afghanistan.
Winning hearts and minds – Failed on all counts. Ordinary Afghans as well as those in the puppet government and US-run Afghan national army have picked up arms and attacked Americans, aside from the mass protests at US actions including burning of Qur’ans, killing of unarmed women and children and aerial attacks on civilians in the last few years.
Bringing Democracy – The ‘democracy’ Americans brought with them in ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ couldn’t rule the Afghans outside the Green Zones. The Talibans in effect are ruling over as much territory in Afghanistan as they did before the US occupation.
Creating and strengthening Afghan Army- The Rise of Green on Blue – US planned to train a force that will take care of American interests even after it is gone. They started training a force which according to them will not only look after Afghan people after US leaves but also play its part in counter insurgency. Thus planned to leave a force that could serve the very same purpose as the force they left in Iraq and thus leave Afghanistan in the hands of Anti-Pakistan elements with a chaos and civil war at its peak. But that plan has also gone pear shaped. Not only have entire batches of newly trained recruits gone back and joined the Taliban, taking with them the advanced weapons provided by the US, there’s also a very serious problem facing the coalition forces – the phenomena of ‘Green on Blue’ attacks. According to official figures, in last 18 months, 77 allied troops have been killed by Afghans in army uniforms. What went wrong is clearly understandable from the following passage of a report on ‘Green on Blue’ phenomenon:
“Green on Blue” killings is not a new phenomenon . And as I reported in my January 25, 2011 blog posting, General Allen’s staff earlier this year tried to suppress a 2011 report by a U.S. Army behavioural scientist named Dr. Jeffrey Bordin, who was trying to figure out why Afghan soldiers and police killed 58 U.S. and NATO soldiers between May 2007 and May 2011. Dr. Bordin’s team interviewed 613 Afghan military and police personnel in three provinces in the US operation zone in south eastern Afghanistan. Instead of finding widespread cordial and collegial relations, Dr. Bordin found that our Afghan allies harboured deep-seated anger and resentment because of the way they felt they were treated by the American troops”
The ‘weapon’ that the US crafted to save its back after US forces pulled out has turned against them. The killing machine that America manufactured to counter not only pro-Pashtun (and therefore pro-Pakistan) elements in Afghanistan but also across the border inside Pakistan are now hunting down US and NATO troops even inside the Green Zone – once the safe haven for allied forces.
The US and NATO are now left with very few options. They have to submit to Pakistan’s terms that are designed to end the war with minimum loss of life. The terms call for a speedy end to the war, limiting Indian proxy role in post-US Afghanistan, working out the retreat routes and related agreements, and bringing representatives of Afghan’s Pashtuns into a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan. With these submissions the war will end on the terms of the ‘ally from hell’.
Keeping in view the above scenario, we can definitely derive the outcomes of the trilateral meeting held at Rawalpindi which now defines the outcomes of Chicago Summit. Failure for the US to have Pakistan commit to a date for reopening the supply lines without agreeing to Pakistan’s terms first, has casted Obama in a negative light in front of his NATO counterparts and made the US look weaker than ever before. Even without Pakistan’s active participation (no military leader attended the Chicago summit or the Bonn conference from Pakistan) Pakistan’s interests seem to have been covered as the US and NATO chalk out their exit strategy in line with Pakistan’s demands.
Reopening the supply routes and Pakistan’s interests.
Why open the supply routes if Pakistan can achieve such strategic edge just by the blockade? The answer to this question can only be given in military terms, putting aside all sentiments and emotions.
Sun Tzu, a Chinese general defined some strategies in his book ‘The Art of War’ almost 3,000 years ago. The book is considered an important part of the syllabus at many of the leading military schools worldwide to this day.
In his book, he writes: “Do not the thwart an enemy retreating home. If you surround the enemy, leave an outlet; do not press an enemy that is cornered. These are the principles of warfare.”
The idea here is to avoid a head on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness elsewhere. In the current situation, this translates to the supply routes, which is the weakness of the ISAF alliance.
SunTzu further explains:
Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard”
Continuing to pushing the US and NATO in a corner in Afghanistan, as Pakistan has been doing by its refusal to act against Haqqanis and by cutting off the allied forces’ supply routes, runs the risk of forcing them to hit back, resulting in civilian casualties and economic / diplomatic damage. The massacre in Kandahar recently is one such example. Veiled American threats to Pakistanis another.
‘Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across. To win 100 battles is not the height of skill – To subdue the enemy without fighting is’. (the height of skill).
US and NATO forces are desperate and cornered in Afghanistan. They are looking for an exit, which falls in nicely with Pakistan’s own objectives. Therefore, now that significant gains have been extracted by the blockade, if Pakistan does decide to reopen its roads for non-lethal supplies and providing a safe exit to the US/NATO forces, it may actually serve Pakistan’s interests more than a continuing blockade would. The point has been made; Pakistan army has rightly linked the reopening of the supply lines to an American apology over the Salala massacre, Pakistan’s position has been strengthened while US plans are in further disarray which would enable Pakistan to further dictate the end-game in Afghanistan. At the same time it will help ease the fears of an unnecessary and mutually destructive open conflict between Pakistan and the allied nations – allowing Pakistan to, in Sun Tzu’s words, ‘subdue the enemy without fighting it’.
Pakistan has paid a monumental price over the last decade, in this war, with losses more than any other nation. If we cannot make gains at the end of this war and reap the profits by securing our geopolitical interests, it would be catastrophic. Luckily, Pakistan’s military planners seem to have got it right this time.