Afghanistan and the United States should not put all their eggs in Rawalpindi’s basket of peace-talks.
2012 was a year of success on the battlefield for the US/ NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), with significant militant retreat. There was decrease in Taliban activities in the hotbed of insurgency in the south — Helmand, Zabul and Kandahar provinces. We saw calm in the region as a result of the surge of the US troops.
ISAF casualties fell by 38 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, with ANSF taking control in many provinces during the transition process covering almost 75 percent of the Afghan population now. Resultantly, there was a hike in casualties of Afghan forces. There was some genuine anti-Taliban local resistance while others were propped up by the Afghan intelligence. It did force Taliban out of some districts. Facing significant defeat on battleground, Taliban increasingly focused on change of tactic by infiltrating the ANSF to attack NATO troops and causing a crisis of trust between them, which eventually led to suspension of some training programs.
However, the Obama Administration’s AfPak policy has been a total failure on the political front. Washington failed to pressurise or persuade Pakistan in playing the role of an ally in the war on terror. Actually it has not been a war, but a counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. The remaining Al Qaeda leadership cadre is probably hiding in FATA and other tribal areas. Haqqani Network based in North Waziristan launches major attacks on US troops in Afghanistan periodically. Taliban’s jihadi recruitment and logistic supply come from the safe havens in Quetta and other bordering towns. The central leadership of all major insurgent factions is based in Pakistan, be it the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network in Waziristan, or the Hizb-e-Islami of Hekmatyar. Though Osama bin Laden has been eliminated, but Al-Qaeda-allied groups like Tehreek-Taliban-Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi foster anti-Americanism and jihad in South Asia more than ever.
Pakistani military establishment continues to play the good and bad Taliban of strategic depth, and refuses to launch operation in North Waziristan, or stop harbouring insurgent leaders. All this while, billions of dollars in the US military aid continues flowing to Rawalpindi.
About 85 percent of attacks on ANSF in 2012 were caused by roadside bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that come from Pakistan. Similarly, according to US officials, 70 percent of roadside bombs against ISAF used Pakistan made fertiliser. In February, testifying before the Senate Arms Committee, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said IEDs was the major reason for American military casualties. He said, “We have made very clear to them (Pakistan) that, where these threats emanate from, we have identified locations. We’ve directed them to specific sites. We have urged them to take steps.” But even by the end of the year, in December, Director of the US Department of Defense Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) Lieutenant General Barbero lamented that there has been less progress and Pakistan needs to do more on IEDs.
The last quarter of the year marked some apparent progress in the efforts of talks with the Taliban. Some call it a shift in Pakistani security establishment’s policy to facilitate talks between the Afghan Government and insurgents by releasing some imprisoned Taliban leaders. The move reflects complexity of the quagmire of militancy that Pakistan had created for others and now finds itself trapped in. After the bulk of US and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan, Rawalpindi knows it cannot continue playing double game with Washington.
The Roadmap to 2015, an outline of the negotiation process by the Afghan Peace Council seems to accommodate most of what Pakistan has called for in the past. But the question is: will Taliban succumb to a peace plan on terms of Kabul and Rawalpindi? There are reports of rifts among the top leadership of Taliban. After Mullah Omar’s second-in-command, Baradar was arrested by ISI for meeting Afghan and American officials, there has been rivalry for his replacement, particularly between Abdul Qayoom Zakir and Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor. Reportedly, Taliban envoy for their Qatar office, Tayed Agha has also resigned and replaced by Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, who recently attended the intra-Afghan meeting in Chantilly, France. The internal fight among top leaders and difference on talks could split the Taliban in 2013. In contrary to the buzz about the release of many Taliban leaders, Pakistan has refused to release Mullah Ghani Baradar.
The Afghan Government and the US should not put all their eggs in Rawalpindi’s basket of peace-talks facilitation. It would be an ideological suicide for the Taliban to agree on terms of settlement with presence of US troops after 2014, which all of them are not going to commit. Even if a major split does happen with an eventual political settlement, there will still be groups through whom Rawalpindi can keep its leverage to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and the “strategic depth” of their military-jihadi complex. Unless Pakistan stops harbouring Quetta Shura and Haqqani Network and launches a decisive war not only against TTP and other Al-Qaeda affiliated groups in North Waziristan but also a clean-up operation against the urban Al-Qaeda allied terrorists groups such as LeJ and LeT, the current overtures will backfire.
The Obama Administration is unwilling to keep the number of US troops proposed by US military commanders in Afghanistan post-2014 . According to reports, the number will be reduced to 6000. If true, this will certainly be good news for Taliban and Rawalpindi to look forward to in 2013.
The US and NATO military expenses will drop by billions in Afghanistan after 2014. If the current negotiation efforts fail to produce a breakthrough, Washington needs to change its counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan and focus on the roots of terrorism. The US and NATO military expenses will drop by billions in Afghanistan after 2014. Given the fact that most of the IEDs, other weapon supply and Taliban recruitments come from across the Durand Line, they could task a special border force from the Afghan National Army to stop infiltration and supplies from Pakistan.
Washington needs to keep at least 15000 to 20000 troops post-2014 for effective counterterrorism. What the Obama Administration could not achieve from Rawalpindi through a carrot-and-stick policy during the last decade, how it can do so with further appeasement just before the withdrawal is beyond understanding. It’s time they get tough with a so-called ally who has acted more as an enemy in the war on terror — to ensure a responsible end-game in Afghanistan with long-term stability, and an end to Pakistan’s four-decades of interference
Photo: Peretz Partensky
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