Ramtanu Maitra is a regular columnist with the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR), a news weekly published from Washington DC. He writes columns for Asia Times of Hong Kong, Frontier Post of Peshawar and some other newspapers in Asia on South Asian political economy and Asian security. He has written on terrorism in a number of publications in the United States and India.
1.To defeat and eliminate the al-Qaeda, based in the border areas Afghanistan inside Pakistan, and
2. To secure Afghanistan in the long term so that the country can move forward with a real economy, so that its economy does not remain based on drugs as it is now.
As a preamble to justify why he has adopted these policies, he says: “…So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.
“To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy. To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq. To enhance the military, governance and economic capacity of Afghanistan and Pakistan, we have to marshal international support. ..”
He went on to say:” But this is not simply an American problem -- far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. .. The terrorists within Pakistan's borders are not simply enemies of America or Afghanistan -- they are a grave and urgent danger to the people of Pakistan. Al Qaeda and other violent extremists have killed several thousand Pakistanis since 9/11. They've killed many Pakistani soldiers and police. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto. They've blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. So make no mistake: al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within. It's important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, they are rugged, and they are often ungoverned. And that's why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results, we will not, and cannot, provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken -- one way or another -- when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.
“The government's ability to destroy these safe havens is tied to its own strength and security. To help Pakistan weather the economic crisis, we must continue to work with the IMF, the World Bank and other international partners. To lessen tensions between two nuclear-armed nations that too often teeter on the edge of escalation and confrontation, we must pursue constructive diplomacy with both India and Pakistan. To avoid the mistakes of the past, we must make clear that our relationship with Pakistan is grounded in support for Pakistan's democratic institutions and the Pakistani people. And to demonstrate through deeds as well as words a commitment that is enduring, we must stand for lasting opportunity…”
Then, he described how he plans to help Pakistan to achieve his first objective. He said: “A campaign against extremism will not succeed with bullets or bombs alone. Al Qaeda's offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different. So today, I am calling upon Congress to pass a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Richard Lugar that authorizes $1.5 billion in direct support to the Pakistani people every year over the next five years -- resources that will build schools and roads and hospitals, and strengthen Pakistan's democracy… Pakistan's government must be a stronger partner in destroying these safe havens, and we must isolate al Qaeda from the Pakistani people. And these steps in Pakistan are also indispensable to our efforts in Afghanistan, which will see no end to violence if insurgents move freely back and forth across the border…”
In order to achieve his second objective, which is to secure Afghanistan so that it becomes safer and possesses an economy which is not based upon illicit drugs, President says: “…I've already ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops that had been requested by General McKiernan for many months. These soldiers and Marines will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border. This push will also help provide security in advance of the important presidential elections in Afghanistan in August.
“At the same time, we will shift the emphasis of our mission to training and increasing the size of Afghan security forces, so that they can eventually take the lead in securing their country. That's how we will prepare Afghans to take responsibility for their security, and how we will ultimately be able to bring our own troops home.
“For three years, our commanders have been clear about the resources they need for training. And those resources have been denied because of the war in Iraq. Now, that will change. The additional troops that we deployed have already increased our training capacity. And later this spring we will deploy approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to train Afghan security forces. For the first time, this will truly resource our effort to train and support the Afghan army and police. “ Then, Obama went on to say that push for training the Afghan Army and Afghan Police forces “must be joined by a dramatic increase in our civilian effort. Afghanistan has an elected government, but it is undermined by corruption and has difficulty delivering basic services to its people. The economy is undercut by a booming narcotics trade that encourages criminality and funds the insurgency. The people of Afghanistan seek the promise of a better future. Yet once again, we've seen the hope of a new day darkened by violence and uncertainty… And I want to be clear: We cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders. Instead, we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people…”
Addressing his measures to eradicate corruption in the long term, he said: “…So to advance security, opportunity and justice -- not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces -- we need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers. That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs. And that's why I'm ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground. That's also why we must seek civilian support from our partners and allies, from the United Nations and international aid organizations -- an effort that Secretary Clinton will carry forward next week in The Hague.”
A corollary to establishing security, and a representative government in Kabul , President touched upon the necessity to talk to the Taliban. He said: “There is an uncompromising core of the Taliban. They must be met with force, and they must be defeated. But there are also those who've taken up arms because of coercion, or simply for a price. These Afghans must have the option to choose a different course. And that's why we will work with local leaders, the Afghan government, and international partners to have a reconciliation process in every province. As their ranks dwindle, an enemy that has nothing to offer the Afghan people but terror and repression must be further isolated …”
Finally, striking a positive note, to help Afghanistan once more stand on its feet, he said; “And finally, together with the United Nations, we will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region -- our NATO allies and other partners, but also the Central Asian states, the Gulf nations and Iran; Russia, India and China. None of these nations benefit from a base for al Qaeda terrorists, and a region that descends into chaos. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development…”
My observation of the shortcomings in this policy approach are the following:
1.Gen. Barry McCaffrey, appearing as an advisor at the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams on March 26 evening, said the introduction of 4,000 more troops means ,“We’re going in for the long term. We’re not coming out.” He is absolutely right. There does not exist a short-term exit strategy in this policy speech. President himself said at the conclusion of his presentation, when he pointed out : ” So understand, the road ahead will be long and there will be difficult days ahead…”
2. There is no recognition of the fact that Pakistan is not only the present shelter of the al-Qaeda, but is also the "home base" of a large number of Afghan Taliban. The undefined Durand Line is not recognized by the Afghans and therefore, they move in and out of Afghanistan into Pakistan whenever they find that necessary. The border areas of Pakistan, therefore, are recognized as "home away from home" by the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban, under Mullah Mohammad Omar, and the Pakistani Taliban, now under the leadership of a troika, Baitullah Mehsud, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulavi Nazir -- based in North and South Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA,) have joined hands, and it is likely that they will work jointly against the Americans in the coming days.
3. The policy document does not deal with the exigency that faces the foreign troops in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Army. Taliban and other insurgent groups are well on their way to launch a major offensive this spring, ground-based experts have claimed. Nothing in President Obama’s policy document suggests what we should do under these circumstances. Secondly, situation in Pakistan has deteriorated rapidly in recent days, endangering the supply routes through which about 75 percent of NATO supplies come in to Afghanistan.
4. While President Obama did not assure the American people ( the way President Bush used to do) that Pakistan would cooperate fully with the U.S./NATO in the Washington-declared War on Terror, he, nonetheless, presumed that Pakistan is willing, and able, to eliminate al-Qaeda. Recent handing over of the Swat Valley to the Wahhabi-led insurgents to impose their own laws in violation to Pakistan’s Constitution indicates Islamabad is in no position to assert its authority in the border areas. President’s words: "Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken -- one way or another -- when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets” seems to me were mere rhetoric at this point in time.
5. The insurgency which involves Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Hizbe islami (Hekmatyar),Jaish-e-Muhammad, Ahle Hadith, Jamaat ud Dawa, and a number of other militant/terrorist groups, are receiving funds from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, among other Gulf nations. In addition, they, along with the international drug cartel and offshore banks, are benefiting from huge opium explosion that has not only made Afghanistan insecure, but has also made available bundles of cash for various illegal activities in the region, and beyond. This larger aspect of illicit economy that affects the region (from Russia to Iran to India and Bangladesh) was not touched upon in President Obama’s policy presentation.