VIEW: US war strategy and the Taliban —Musa Khan Jalalzai - Friday, December 31, 2010

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There is no legitimate government and a legal functioning state in Afghanistan. People in all provinces do not trust either the US-led forces or the President Karzai regime. The non-Pashtuns are deeply suspicious that any deal between Karzai and the Taliban would strengthen the Pashtun hegemony

Many intellectuals in the UK are of the opinion that the US should have adopted a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional war strategy to counter the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The Obama strategy announced last year badly failed. President Obama faced opposition both from Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and US South Asia representative, late Richard Holbrooke. They were critical of the way the Taliban insurgency is tackled. General McChrystal was fired, Holbrooke died, and the Pakistan Army no more wants the killings of its own people. This is ultimately a nonsensical and immaterial war and may lead to the dismemberment of Pakistan.

To revive Pakistan’s zeal, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of General Staff Admiral Mike Mullen visited Islamabad to press General Kayani to do more. Newspapers reported Admiral Mullen’s visit to Pakistan with a strong sense of strategic impatience. He complained about the inability of the government in clearing insurgents from border safe havens where they prepare lethal attacks against American and allied forces in neighbouring Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen told General Kayani: “We all have a sense of urgency about this. We are losing people.”

Many Pakistani journalists and men of letters believe that if the US wants to counter the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it will have to appreciate the cooperation of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), not criticise the agency for its military or political role across the border. In one instance, the ISI is requested to bring the Haqqani network and other Afghan Taliban to the table for talks, in the other it is criticised and humiliated. Intellectual circles understand that this policy of the US government is based on hypocrisy and deception.

US President Barack Obama is looking for another flock of horses for this difficult race to defeat the professional horses of the ISI. For this purpose, Britain’s well-trained horses are being moved to Kandahar to support and reinforce the tired and frustrated American horses effectively. Mr Holbrooke was tired of the performance of the Afghan riders. He was critical of the Obama strategy and told a Pakistani surgeon: “You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

Keeping in view all these internal criticisms and political troubles, on December 16, 2010, the US president declared the revision of his previous failed strategy. Obama said for disrupting al Qaeda and combating the Taliban, Pakistan needs to do more. He complained about Pakistan’s intelligence performance but he knows that Pakistan lost thousands of its troops in this war. Obama noted that Pakistan not only deployed 140,000 troops in that region, but was also coordinating its military operations with the US and Afghan forces.

The revision of US military strategy time and again means that the US government has failed. The Taliban have already informed world media that the US offensives in Helmand have failed. Fresh warnings by the al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have come at a time when the US and NATO forces are facing a tough time in Afghanistan. In 2010, 700 foreign soldiers, including American servicemen, were killed in Taliban attacks. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office facts and figures show that more than 20,000 officers from the Afghan National Police have left over the past year.

Similarly, the cost of the Afghan war is unpalatable. At present, the US spends about $ 120 billion a year while the internal deficit is one trillion dollars. The government in Afghanistan is widely seen as corrupt. There is no legitimate government and a legal functioning state in Afghanistan. People in all provinces do not trust either the US-led forces or the President Karzai regime. The non-Pashtuns are deeply suspicious that any deal between Karzai and the Taliban would strengthen the Pashtun hegemony. Warlords in the north have become so rich that they are running the black market economy and criminal trade across the country. They have established their own private armies. They provide security to the coalition forces.

The debate on the failure of the Afghan state and its institutions had intensified in the NATO summit. All member states emphasised that a well functioning state in Afghanistan is a must. The present hardly existent Afghan state has never been able to effectively control its territory and deliver good governance. International forces (US, UK, NATO, ISAF) neither gave any importance to the Afghan National Army in maintaining stability, nor used it in tackling insurgency across the country. Local warlords have long been used to fight insurgency. Warlords and their irregular armies neither understand insurgency nor conventional war. The Afghan National Army has no specific counterinsurgency training. The Afghan state has been bypassed and ignored in the war against terrorism. Nation building has barely materialised.

There is a constant need for nation building in the country. More regrettably, Afghanistan has neither a strong educated class nor basic infrastructure that can help in strengthening national unity. The country has been poor and weak throughout the course of its history. Ethnic, sectarian and geographical differences have long been the basis for suspicion and resentment. The state is not able even to collect revenue and manage public resources.

Peace among warlords, criminal trade, black market economy, organised crime, corruption and insurgency are impossible to reconcile. The people of this poor country have been alienated by corruption, mismanagement, brutalities of war and unemployment. They join the insurgency in retaliation. Moreover, poor eradication management of narcotic drugs is another factor that supports the insurgency and national alienation. The whole process is financed by al Qaeda within Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bad governance is going to cost both NATO and the Afghans. The lives of Americans, Europeans, Pakistanis, Indians and Afghans are in constant danger. Nobody can travel by road alone and people are even being kidnapped from the middle of major cities, including Kabul. To tackle this issue, the Bush and Obama regimes never established a clear military strategy for Afghanistan.

Afghan intellectuals say the problem of the dysfunctional western-backed democracy in Afghanistan is much deeper as it is neither a democracy nor a well functioning government. Not only the Afghan state, the corruption of international forces and firms is too significant to be ignored. All this is because the institutions of a hardly functioning Afghan state have been on the decline. Insurgency is slowly developing within the Afghan National Army and hundreds of soldiers are joining the Taliban movement every day. Military experts complain that a major portion of the Afghan Army and the police are still controlled by former jihadist leaders.

General McChrystal cried again and again for help in improving the security situation in Afghanistan. The main reason behind the general’s cry was the need for a unified strategy because there are two war strategies — US strategy and ISAF strategy. These strategies conduct the war on terror in different directions. They have lost confidence and know nothing about what they want to do, how they want peace and who they want to involve in the stabilisation process.

The writer is author of Britain’s National Security Challenges and can be reached at

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