Brig. Vijai K Nair (Retd). Dr. Nair an M Sc. in Defence Studies and a Ph. D. in Political Science. He specializes in Nuclear Strategy formulation and nuclear arms control negotiations. He has considerable experience on issues related to NPT, CTBT and FMCT. Dr. Nair is currently revising the nuclear strategy for India [in keeping with nuclear transience] suggested in his book “Nuclear India.” Besides two tenures of combat duty, in service experience includes being a Member Army Experts Committee - 1989-90; Core staff officer to the Committee on Defence Expenditure 1990.
He is the Life Trustee of the Forum for Strategic & Security Studies; and, Managing Director, Magoo Strategic Infotech Pvt Ltd. An information service providing daily news updates and analyses on “Nuclear Agenda’s”.
Perception is all too often reality. Add to the Afghan debacle syndrome that 31 out of 50 U.S. states are seen as insolvent. Some local governments are readying bankruptcy proceedings. State governments can only default; California is on the verge of taking up the option. State and local governments have unfunded retirement obligations of at least $2 trillion. But the United States still spends more on defence (Iraq and Afghanistan included) than the rest of the world put together. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, writes, “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost - to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs - will nonetheless be immense.”1
Policies concerning Afghanistan cannot be viewed in a geostrategic vacuum but must be analysed within the framework of the prevailing global geopolitical mosaic, wherein the interactive ripple effect of actions and reactions induced by distinct policy decisions have direct bearing on the outcome of other unrelated geopolitical issues. More so in the case of the United States, whose interactions in the global sphere are much greater than other states. International and domestic policies are intricately meshed.
The writing on the wall is clear. Washington’s Afghanistan strategy is in a nearly irretrievable mess while there are many ongoing global and domestic policies that are in delicate circumstances and have a bearing on whatever decision President Obama may take.
The Afghanistan Development
To start with, it is pertinent to note that in the 8 years and 10 months that the American coalition forces have been fighting the so-called war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the chief executive in Washington, be it George W. Bush (Republican) or Barrack Obama (Democrat), has failed to enunciate a precise political or military objective,3 resulting in the launch of massive military forces into a political and strategic void. The result is best epitomised by an Indian phrase hawa maen lath marna. Military commanders with massive air and ground forces are waging a directionless war with no specific mission to achieve—consequently depleting human, material and monetary resources meaninglessly and weakening perceptions of American infallibility in the eyes of the world. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has violated the first principle of war, “Selection and maintenance of aim,” thereby axing any possibility of bringing the Afghan War to a successful conclusion.
This flaw was further compounded in March 2009, when President Obama attempted to spell out the objective for the ongoing war in Afghanistan through a white paper, “Affirming that the core goal of the US must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.”4 Of note is the shift of the focus away from Afghanistan, further south, to Pakistan, thus introducing new, and hitherto unplanned for, mission objectives in the prevailing military operations.
The cause of this debilitating situation is the inability of the U.S. administration, which has many axes to grind, to fit the Afghanistan policy homogeneously into the larger national strategic matrix,5 which included occupying Iraq for access to its oil resources6 and military-basing facilities to stabilise the Middle East,7 creating a launch pad to restrain perceived Iranian aspirations to develop a nuclear weapons capability, gaining unfettered access to central Asian oil and gas resources8 by exercising influence/control over the central Asian states, extending the centre of gravity of the U.S. security matrix into Asia by subverting the southern states of the Russian federation by extending the NATO footprint eastward9, containing the extension of Chinese influence westward10, and so on.
Actually, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was the first step required to propel this larger strategic template. However, the belief, amongst the Bush administration in general, and the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon in particular, of the absoluteness of the American military power led to discordant initiatives that ate into the resources required to coherently apply all political, military and economic might into completing the very first phase of its strategic programme, i.e. total subjugation of Afghanistan.
In its tenth year, the American war against terrorism in Afghanistan is a grievously threatened operation, with dwindling military resources, domestic political pressures demanding termination and troop withdrawal, and increasing human and fiscal costs of supporting logistics to sustain the military operation bordering on the unaffordable.
The recent collapse of the Dutch government was brought about by a dispute over demands to withdraw the country’s troops in Afghanistan11. Consequently the 2,000 Dutch soldiers fighting in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan look certain to be pulled out this year after the prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, a Christian Democrat, failed to persuade his coalition partners in the Labour Party to extend the mission beyond August, when it is due to end. This has reinforced fears that NATO’s front is crumbling and that other Western nations may bow to mounting domestic public pressure to withdraw their forces. Current indicators are that Canada intends to commence withdrawing its forces with effect from 1 July 201112 and Germany is to begin its pullout from Afghanistan in 2011, gradually, which is expected to last through 2013.13 Even the British prime minister indicates that he wants all British soldiers to return home before the next general election, in 2015.14 The rats appear to be leaving the sinking ship. A simple addition shows that this will result in the larger portion of NATO troops being withdrawn, leaving the United States holding the baby it had conceived.
Added to this, domestic resistance to Washington’s war is also mounting to the point that it is no longer a tenable policy. According to an Agence France-Presse report, a group of U.S. lawmakers, led by representative John Conyers, allied with the White House, has joined the “Out of Afghanistan Caucus” opposing continued combat and called for an end to the Afghan War, labelling it an unwinnable drain on U.S. “blood and treasure” and comparing it to Vietnam.15
“On 01 December 2009, President Obama laid out his Afghanistan war strategy in an address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The President, while giving out his policy for a surge in US troops also gave out a time line of 18 months for withdrawal of US forces. A few days later, in their testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hillary Clinton, Admiral Mullen and Robert Gates stated that they would execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground and that a review of the Afghanistan strategy would be carried out at the end of 2010. When contacted to resolve this apparent contradiction, the White House spokesperson reiterated that the US would withdraw in 18 months. The contradiction remains, for while the intent to withdraw is clear, it may perhaps be contingent on the situation existing at that time.”16
So, the situation as it is on the ground in July 2010 is as follows:
The U.S. is:
In the unenviable position of trying to extricate its military from Iraq, which in time would erode its strategy to establish its foothold in the Middle East
- Under pressure to open a front against Iran in response to its non-proliferation strategy and the need to demonstrate its will to support its closest ally, Israel, thereby having to contain Iran by deploying military forces in Azerbaijan, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan
- Struggling to maintain a meaningful military and political presence in the Caucasus and the Black Sea and on the threshold of being deserted by its NATO allies in Afghanistan and shouldering the military, economic and political costs of sustaining its war to occupy Afghanistan
- Taking incremental military and economic initiatives to suppress Pakistani-based militancy and stifling any possibility of that country’s nuclear capabilities falling into the hands of terrorist organisations
- Coping with piracy in the Arabian Sea off the Coast of Somalia
- In the process of establishing a military footprint in Africa with the recently created United States African Command (USAFRICOM)
- Struggling with the political dynamics of military basing in Japan to secure its East Asian assets and add to the credibility to guarantee a nuclear umbrella
- Trying to contain growing Chinese maritime potential, which threatens to neutralise America’s hitherto unchallenged capabilities to go to the defence of its allies in the Asia Pacific region
In view of the above, it is safe to assume that President Obama will be taking some major decisions about the U.S. war in Afghanistan before the year is out that would have serious implications for the south, west and central Asian countries as also the foreign policies of the major powers. The process will entail clearly enunciating American objectives and prioritising the missions that need to be accomplished.
The possible options are to hunker down and continue the war till the U.S. suppresses the adversarial forces into submission, which may take 10 to 15 years, provided the U.S. has the economic, political and military staying power.18 In the prevailing situation, one can safely rule out this option.
The alternate is to cut losses and withdraw from Afghanistan, leaving the region to its devices. “The war, as every Afghan watcher knows, is going badly for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces. June was the worst month for foreign troops in that country with 102 combat deaths, which is the highest level of monthly casualties since the beginning of the war. Also, the Afghan war by end June had officially become America’s longest war in history, longer than even Vietnam”.19
But stepping away from the imbroglio the United States has produced in Afghanistan is easier said than done. If Washington were to abandon Kabul as it did Vietnam, without putting into place an Afghan entity, regional states will scramble to pick up the spoils. Washington’s credibility as a superpower will be irretrievably damaged, leaving it vulnerable to the vicissitudes of international community, sucking in other major powers to fill the vacuum so created. Therefore, Washington has to create a modicum of stability, thereby securing some, if not all, of United States’ interests in the region, enumerated earlier. Therefore, Washington needs to, before the end of the year, establish appropriate political and military structures and systems whereby its interests can best be salvaged through complete or partial withdrawal of its presence in Afghanistan.
As the U.S.–NATO-led war in Afghanistan to cleanse that country of anti-West Islamic forces has come to a standstill, it is evident that those apparent objectives earlier stated by Washington, London and Brussels will not be met. The war in Afghanistan may end next year, or 10 years later, but the fact remains that the U.S.–NATO troops have no other option but to bring about an end to this war by putting in the seat of power Afghans who may or may not be hard core Taliban. But the process will be a complicated one, with various geopolitical, and regional, forces making their input.
One such geopolitical option is to set in motion a process that will lead to the combining of the Pashtuns of the region and the formation of a Pashtunistan.20 “De facto partition is clearly not the best outcome one can imagine for the United States in Afghanistan. But it is now the best outcome that Washington can achieve consistent with vital national interests and U.S. domestic politics.”21
As it is, Afghanistan has never accepted the Durand Line23 as its international boundary with Pakistan.
Some “observers have contemplated, if the AfPak policy ends in failure, instead establishing a de facto, if not de jure, independent ‘Pashtunistan’, or Pakhtunkhwa as it is known in Pashto? This is a concept with a long history. There are claims that nationalist sentiment is still bubbling just beneath the surface in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that whatever popular support there is for the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban among Pashtuns is based more on this sentiment than on a deep and abiding attraction to jihadi militancy.”24
Such a nation will not be born through negotiations across the table but would require a long-drawn-out uprising and bloodletting, which the Pakistani army, more than the Afghan National Army (ANA), will militarily oppose vigorously. That would then pitch the Islamic moderate-dominated powerful Punjabi faction of the Pakistani army against the less moderate and more fundamentalist Pashtuns living in Pakistan’s tribal areas and North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Islamabad has already begun to take steps to appease the Pashtuns by announcing that NWFP will henceforth be named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.26 This is to impress upon the Pashtuns who live in NWFP outside of the tribal areas that like Punjab and Sindh, the province will be identified as the stronghold of ethnic Pashtuns living there. At best, this will have a cosmetic effect. However, the forces that would bring about the formation of Pashtunistan, if and when that takes place, will sweep away this secondary identity of the Pashtuns.
There is no doubt in the minds of those who interact with the Pakistani army personnel occupying high positions that the greatest concern among the top brass today is the Pashtun question once U.S.–NATO troops begin packing their bags. The decade-long presence of the foreign troops in Afghanistan, and their categorisation of all Pashtuns as the Taliban, and hence the enemy of the Western powers, has brought about a sea change in the cooperation between Afghan Pashtuns and the Pashtuns of Pakistan. Islamabad’s efforts to quell the Pakistani Pashtuns so that they do not actively get involved in helping the Afghan Pashtuns fighting the foreign troops have embittered the Pakistani Pashtuns. They consider the foreign forces in Afghanistan their principal enemy. Furthermore, they also perceive the Pakistani army as a collaborator of the foreign forces. They cite Pakistani army’s operation in the Swat Valley and in the tribal agencies of North Waziristan, Bajaur and Orakzai in particular, as playing second fiddle to the foreign “occupiers” and committing atrocities against its own people.
This is exactly the process that in the past led to Balochistan’s virtual separation from Pakistan. In addition, Pashtuns in Pakistan believe, and rightly so, that endless drone attacks launched by the American unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to eliminate Taliban and innocent citizens in North Waziristan almost on a regular basis were allowed by Islamabad at the behest of not only the Western forces27 but also the Pakistani army and ISI, who are involved as well in providing the necessary intelligence for the drone pilots to execute the attacks. This has further lowered the trust level between the Pakistani Pashtuns and Islamabad.
Besides the ongoing war, which is steadily moving in favour of the Pashtuns fighting the foreign troops, two other forces have begun to emerge to give shape to the post-war Afghanistan. One such force is represented by Britain and Saudi Arabia. The second force, represented by Afghan president Karzai and Pakistan, is a counter to the other force.
The Clamour for Pashtunistan
The British–Saudi authorities are in the process of negotiating with what they portray as the “moderate” Taliban, who can be induced to share power with Afghan president Hamid Karzai in the post-U.S.–NATO Afghanistan. By categorising some Taliban as “moderate,” what Britain and the Saudis are presenting to Washington in particular are those Taliban who have been indoctrinated with the Wahabi version of orthodox Islam, propagated solely by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These Taliban are all Pashtuns who would be induced to demand a “Pashtunistan” over a period of time with the objective of combining the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and Pakistan using the ethno-religious identity of the Pashtuns of two different countries separated by the nonfunctional Durand Line.
Eventually, the formation of such a Pashtun nation will result in the Balkanisation of Afghanistan, since the ethnic groups that represent the Northern Alliance will find no reason to remain within Pashtunistan as second-class citizens and would be agreeable to a state of their own. This would be possible only if there is an assured economic patronage that would guarantee to kick-start the new states economic infrastructure and growth.
None of these developments will happen overnight, but the seeds of these have been laid and watered well during the ongoing 10-year-old Afghan War. The geopolitical ramifications have a greater spill off on the being of Pakistan when viewed in the light of the map of Pashtunistan projected on the Afghanistan government’s website (see Map 1). The fragmentation of Afghanistan could result in Pakistan being reduced to two of its existing provinces, Punjab and Sindh.
President Karzai and the Pakistani army are not seeking to counter the so-called “moderate” Taliban concept. As a result, they are presenting a group of powerful Pashtun insurgent commanders, such as Mullah Mohammad Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to share power in Kabul with President Karzai—a Popalzai Pashtun from Kandahar. It seems this group will not be interested in demanding a Pashtunistan but they would seek control of Afghanistan in its present state. That is why Islamabad is promoting them and President Karzai, who does not want the partition of Afghanistan since he also has a support base within the Tajik-Hazara-Uzbek communities that helped him to stay in power for the last eight years, is negotiating to accommodate them. Again, this is a complicated process. What the actual outcome will be is difficult to assess at this nascent stage.
In tune with the old British colonial concept, billboards demanding Greater Pashtunistan have appeared in Swat Valley, Dera Ismail Khan and other areas of the NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in recent days. The map of Greater Pashtunistan that has been circulated includes Balochistan, NWFP and Afghanistan (see Map 1). The Swat Valley, located in the northeastern part of the NWFP, has already become autonomous and has imposed Wahabi-style Islamic Sharia law, in violation of Pakistan’s constitution. For all practical purposes, Islamabad has handed the Swat Valley over to the Saudi-funded Wahabis. Since all these developments have occurred within a short span of eight years, one wonders what caused such rapid deterioration.
On 19 September 2007, a British historian who uses the pseudo name “Rumbold”28 said: “However much we try and dress it up, both Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the midst of civil wars. In Afghanistan, the situation is serious enough to warrant thousands of foreign troops assisting the Afghan army to hunt down the remnants of the Taliban and their allies. In Pakistan, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops, demoralized and under constant attack, are attempting to fight Al-Qaeda, local tribes and fugitive Taliban.”
“Both countries’ governments are fighting against the same people: the Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns live in Afghanistan and in the part of Pakistan known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). My proposal (albeit not a novel one), is to create a Pashtun homeland based in the NWFP and a sizeable section of Afghanistan,” Rumbold added.
He went on to say: “Partition in South Asia has had a chequered history, but it should be pointed out that the reason why the Pashtuns do not have their own country is because the British and Russians carved it up during the Great Game so that a buffer state could be created between British and Russian territory.”
Rumbold also made clear that “Pashtunistan would allow the British and the Americans to help consolidate the rest of Afghanistan. More importantly it would substantially reduce the chances of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of disgruntled Islamists. This should be the clincher for Britain and America. Pashtuns would be happy because they would have their own homeland, while those who chose to stay in other countries would have made a conscious effort to renew their loyalty to said country. Civil war is the most debilitating of any type of war, as it divides people of the same nation. Pashtunistan could put a stop to it.”
Echo in America
In the July–Sept 2008 issue of the US Military Intelligence Journal, an article titled “Secessionist Jihad: the Taliban’s struggle for Pashtunistan,” by Michael D. Holmes, pointed out29 “. . . One of the reasons for our failure to subdue the Taliban insurgency may be that we have not identified the proper causes behind it. We have labelled the Taliban a jihadist movement and ascribed motives to them based on religious traditionalist goals, in part because that is what the Taliban itself has stated. But had we looked deeper, we might have found that the root causes behind the enduring and resilient nature of the Taliban have very little to do with religion, and much to do with an ancient ethnic struggle between the Pashtun people, and virtually everyone else in the region. And much like the enduring struggles of the former Yugoslavia, religion has become a blanket for what, in reality, is an ethnic and cultural struggle between tribes in a zero-sum game to control territory.
“. . . By mentally segregating the Taliban as an ‘Afghan’ problem, by not addressing their roots of support inside the border with Pakistan, and by ignoring the obvious truth of their largely homogeneous ethnic composition, I believe that we have misdiagnosed not only the nature of their insurgency, but also the best way to deal with that insurgency. This approach has put us on the path of treating the symptom, but not the disease.
“As a result of this imprecision, we have applied a series of remedies designed to combat religious extremism (but not ethnic separatism) with lackluster results. However, had we correctly identified the ethnic nature of this conflict early on, and applied remedies designed to counter and combat an ethnic secessionist insurgency, and in so doing faced that transnational nature of ‘Pashtunistan,’ we would very likely have been more effective in combating them.
“Up to this point, we have viewed the Taliban as a Jihadist Muslim insurgency, composed largely of Pashtun tribesmen. I argue that what we should be doing is viewing and, more importantly, treating the Taliban as a Pashtun ethnic insurgency, composed largely of Jihadist Muslims.”
Holmes said, “Secessionist insurgencies seek to separate from their current state and establish new states based upon their political, ethnic, religious or whatever other feature they feel sets them apart from their current political peers. Some of the more notable insurgencies in history have been secessionist, to include our own American Revolution, the 1999 war in Kosovo, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.
“Given this definition, one might say that the Taliban could not possibly be secessionist. Everything it advocates speaks to a traditionalist mindset. It has actively advocated the unity of the Islamic umma; it does not wish to separate from Afghanistan, but to unite it under its banner, and nowhere in its creed does it advocate power for one group over another, but rather passionately it struggles for the greater Jihad and the unity of all under the banner of Mohammed. All of this is true, but it ignores the greater and deeper sources of discontent that fuel the Pashtun people’s support for this jihad; the transnational make up of the Taliban, and the dimension of their exclusion from the Pakistani elite. To understand this, one must view central Asia from a tribal, ethnic and historical perspective, without the artificiality of political boundaries.”
What is to be noted in this context is that the Pashtuns define themselves not by language but by adherence to an ancient code of conduct dating back to the pre-Islamic era. To anyone having dealt with Albanians and familiar with their Kanun of Lek Dukagjin, this Pashtunwali, or “Way of the Pashtuns,” is strikingly familiar. Like the Albanian Kanun, it might be described as the glue that binds these disparate people together as an ethnic group and the beginnings of an insight into the ethnic dimension of our war in Afghanistan.
This high point of Afghan–Pashtun power was short-lived as it ran headlong into the birth of the British Empire in India. For the next 190 years, the Afghans, and virtually everyone else in South Asia, began losing ground to first the British East India Company and then the British Empire proper. As the British expanded north and west, following the western rim of the Himalayan Mountains, they began having difficulties with the Muslim tribes of the “Northwest Frontier.” The people they called the “Pathans” and often subcategorised as Afridis, Yousafzai or a host of other names (most, by the way, Pashtun clan names) proved a constant source of instability.
In an effort to stabilise the frontier and prevent Russia from expanding and threatening India, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times. None of these expeditions ended well. By 1893, Britain gave up hope of controlling these tribal people. General Roberts (the hero of Kipling’s cynical poem on Bobs Bahadur) himself called the region “ungovernable” and commissioned a survey of that land which they could control and that which they could not. The resultant Durand Line more or less describes the southern boundary of Afghanistan today.
The Durand Line was drawn by Westerners to the demands of Western governments with no regard to the facts or rights of the indigenous peoples. It cut across the heart of Pashtun tribal areas and while it allowed for a majority Pashtun ethnicity in Afghanistan, it created a minority Pashtun area in that part of India which would later become Pakistan (see Map 2). This gave rise to the problem of secession.
While the Pashtuns in Afghanistan have long been a major political power if not a clear majority, their kin in Pakistan have been excluded from power by the largely Urdu- and Punjabi-speaking city dwellers in Karachi and Islamabad. Although given a large degree of autonomy within the boundaries of the NWFP, some Pakistani Pashtuns have reacted to their minority status by demanding their own state—Pashtunistan.30
So, there is an indigenous urge for independence and for a state that is strong within the tribal culture of the Pashtuns. This urge drove them to found Afghanistan in 1747 and is now drives some to seek a new country to be carved out of Pakistan. But how did this become translated into an Islamic jihadist call for religious reform? There seems too large a gap between the impulse for secession and the call for jihad. But, not really.
Viewed from the context of tribal culture and a strong desire to be seen as a separate people, the turn to religion was an almost natural response. Tribal societies do not have strong leadership models, they exist in a “headless” state, and the Pashtuns are no exception to this.
As a tool to unite the Pashtun people, religion worked well.31 But it also had perhaps the unintended (there is no evidence to the contrary) consequence of covering the real reason behind the discontent—the urge for separatism—and spilling over into the larger non-Pashtun but religiously observant Muslim population in the region. This was further confused and muddled by historical events in Afghanistan which allowed the discontent of the Pakistani Pashtuns to spill over the border and helped unite the greater Pashtun tribe even further.
While the Pakistani Pashtuns struggled with their minority status following partition in 1947, their cousins in Afghanistan had grown accustomed to being the ruling elite. Since the founding of the kingdom in 1747, Pashtuns had filled virtually all Afghan leadership positions. But in 1973, Shah Mohammed Zahir, a Pashtun, was overthrown and Afghanistan began its spiral downward to its current failed status, with a series of increasingly leftist and socialist governments. On the way downward, the Pashtuns were replaced as the power elite by Tajiks and other northern tribes eager for their turn at the helm. This climaxed with the 1979 Soviet invasion and the imposition of the Communist regime.
These events had the effect of pushing the Afghan Pashtuns in much the same way as their cousins across the border. Dispossessed of the power they once held and dominated by people they viewed as godless heathens, the Afghan Pashtuns turned inward to find their identity and unity in religion. Whether this came as a result of, or in parallel with, the natural retreat to Pakistan and their cousins to the south is immaterial to this discussion.
What is important is that the war with the Soviets united the Pashtuns as few things had since the British left and gave a physical outlet to their secessionist urges.
As long as there was the common Soviet enemy, there was cooperation. But after the Soviets left, cracks began to appear in the coalition of tribes and ethnic groups as they began to struggle for power. And it was in this maelstrom that the natural advantages of size and the unity that language, culture and the appeal to the common religion began to once again favour the Afghan Pashtuns.
Given their secure bases in Pashtun areas across the border and their large ethnic population within Afghanistan, the Taliban (as the Pashtun religious reformers now came to be known), with its agenda of a government inspired and led by the Koran also had great appeal for the non-Pashtun Muslims who, like everyone else, took the religious face of the movement as the truth and ignored the heavily Pashtun composition of the leadership. But as the Taliban swept into power, often hailed as liberators by the non-Pashtuns, cracks began to appear in the heretofore wholly religious façade.
By the end of the Taliban’s reign, Afghanistan had once again separated along ethnic lines, with the Northern Alliance composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks and other northern ethnic groups opposing the Pashtun Taliban for political control. Taliban activity is now largely restricted to the Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan, and particularly the border region with Pakistan’s NWFP, from which it can stage and train for missions and operations inside Afghanistan. The Taliban is a transnational Pashtun ethnic group, which uses its bases in safe areas within Pakistan as a sanctuary to continue its fight for a homeland encompassing Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and essentially to re-establish the empire created by Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1747.
Where Are Its Roots?
The answers to that question can be found in the almost 60-plus years of British rule in that part of the subcontinent, prior to the formation of Pakistan in 1947, and in the continuance of British colonial policy towards that area, by Pakistani leaders.
By pursuing the old colonial policy towards the tribal areas, Pakistani leaders have opened a floodgate to various forces in Britain who would like the area separated from Pakistan to form a buffer between oil- and gas-rich central Asia and to the Saudi-funded Wahabis who were on a rampage recruiting terrorists and setting up Islamic schools (madrassas) to convert moderate Muslims to hard-core Salafism in Pakistan and central Asia, with the plan to set up an Islamic umma (nation) under a caliphate. The Taliban, by hosting bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, became an integral part of Sunni fundamentalist mythology and its international networks, and Afghanistan became a place where extremists from around the world could meet safely, share ideas, develop strategies and receive training—a physical base of terror. Moreover, Pakistani extremist groups have functioned as umbrella organisations for other international terror groups that sought shelter in Afghanistan.
Ehsan Ahrari, a U.S.-based analyst, called this phenomenon the “Taliban syndrome”—the movement to create an Islamic order in Afghanistan based on a blend of strict observance of Islam from Saudi Arabia’s salafiyya (puritanical) tradition. Islamic forces of Pakistan have created and nurtured this syndrome in the madrassas where the Taliban (“students” in Farsi) from Afghanistan received their education. Since the chief thrust of this education is on Islam and the need for jihad (holy war) to establish an Islamic government, the Taliban members became firm believers and fervent practitioners of this training.32
Britain and the Muslims
The fallout of the Anglo-Muslim relationship during the British imperial era and its linkages to the Whitehall’s grand strategy the “Great Game” continue to linger and shape London’s strategic objectives and policies to date. Nostalgia at the loss of its Empire is replaced by its influencing its Western allies to continue to play the Muslim card, secure the Pamir Knot and secure energy resources for its continued well-being. There has been a distinct continuity of London’s policies during and after the loss of the Empire to date.
The British, after 1842, launched glorified punitive raids against Afghanistan rather than colonising expeditions. In the other two Anglo-Afghan wars, in 1878–1880 and 1919, the British destroyed Afghan armies and terrorised the hapless region, particularly with air power in the latter. They suffered few military setbacks and scored remarkable victories, such as the Battle of Kandahar in 1880 and the brilliant siege of Sherpur. The kill ratio was typically colonial. It is, therefore, something of a perversity that the British should have come to regard Afghanistan as their “graveyard” when the graves they left there were mostly Afghan.33
An Indian viceroy like Lord Curzon was arguably a more sophisticated orientalist than anyone in the Bush or Obama administrations by a vast margin. The British knew how to manipulate societies they did not control militarily, setting up devious alliances and systems of bribery that held their foes in check without overbearing force. They were able to play the “great game” against the Russians and keep India theirs without waging ruinous wars. Yet, they were also prey to the strange delusions that seem to dog Western powers when they get involved in Asia.34
The partition of India and the formation of Pakistan, a Muslim nation, by the British Raj were not done because the British liked Muslims. The British had slaughtered the Muslims in the thousands in 1857, when the Hindus and Muslims joined hands under the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, to drive out the feringhee (white-skinned foreigners). Those who remember that untold part of history of the Indian independence movement talk of piles of bodies lying in the streets of Delhi, slaughtered by British soldiers. Most of them were Muslims. The Muslims were “traitors” aspiring to reinstate the “despicable” and “corrupt” Mughal dynasty, London screamed.
The key to the British Empire’s financial success was its ability to manipulate Islam. The British Empire builders eliminated the Islamic caliphate, created nations by drawing lines on the sands of Arabia, eliminated some nations and partitioned others to create Islamic nations. Britain was aware that the oil fields of Arabia would be a source of great power in the post–World War II decades. The western part of British India bordered Muslim central Asia, another major source of oil and gas, bordering Russia and Muslim Afghanistan. British India also bordered Islamic Iran and the Persian Gulf—the doorway to the oil fields of Arabia. In order to keep its future options open, Balochistan, bordering northeastern Iran, and the tribal Pashtun–dominated areas bordering Afghanistan remained as British protectorates.
So, when the break-up of British India was planned by Churchill and others, Balochistan was not a problem. The problem was the Pashtun-dominated NWFP35, which was led by a pro-Congress Party leadership, and had wanted to join a Hindu-majority India.
What London wanted was to deny the large Hindu-dominated India from having common borders with Russia, or central Asia. That could make it too powerful and, worst of all, energy independent. Pakistan was created by the gamesmen in London because they wanted a weak Muslim state sandwiched between the oil-rich central Asia and the Middle East that would depend heavily on the mighty British military. The Cold War period held this arrangement in place, to the satisfaction of the British. The Kashmir dispute, triggered from London to cut off Indian access to Afghanistan, served the British policymakers well.
But the post–Cold War days are different. China is rising in the north and seeking entry into the Persian Gulf and central Asia through the western part of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. China has a long-term plan to build infrastructure in this area to bring resources into its vast, but thinly populated, western region that extends from the Eastern borders of Kazakhstan to Shaanxi province deep inside China.36
Britain wants another partition of Pakistan. Whether Washington wants it, or not, it is playing second fiddle to this absurd policy. This time, a new nation is supposed to emerge—a weak and disoriented nation born out of violence, just the way the partition of British India occurred. This nation will consist of Pashtun-dominated NWFP and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)—both situated west of Indus River and bordering the British-drawn disputed Durand Line, which allegedly separates Afghanistan from Pakistan. This area would merge with the Pashtun-dominated eastern, central and southern Afghanistan to form Pashtunistan. Historians point out that the British, during their Raj days in the subcontinent, had cut up the same Pashtunistan to create a buffer in the form of Afghanistan between Czarist Russia and British India.
British Intelligence’s Modus Operandi Vis-À-Vis Afghanistan
“The terrorist threat to Britain is partly a ‘blowback’, resulting from a web of British covert operations with militant Islamist groups stretching back decades. And while terrorism is held up as the country’s biggest security challenge, Whitehall’s collusion with radical Islam is continuing. . . . Two of the four London bombers were trained in Pakistani camps run by the Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HUM) terrorist group, which has long been sponsored by Pakistan to fight Indian forces in Kashmir. Britain not only arms and trains Pakistan but in the past provided covert aid benefiting the HUM. . . . Many HUM militants were instructed by an insurgent faction that Britain was covertly training and arming with anti-aircraft missiles.”37
Broadly speaking, the objective of London in setting up a Pashtunistan is to secure a firm grip over a country sandwiched between central Asia and the Middle East—two oil- and natural-gas-rich regions. In addition, such a nation will be bordering Iran, considered by London as an avowed civilisational enemy. London’s reading is that if it brings about the existence of Pashtunistan, yet another weak nation born in a hostile region, it will depend heavily on Britain. Britain, in return, will make way for the United States to set up bases and pick up the expenses to be incurred by this new and weak nation.
However, in achieving such an objective in that area, Britain uses three of its weapons: First, the proliferation of opium in southern Afghanistan—the area expected to provide muscle for the Pashtunistan demand. Afghan president Karzai pointed out on a number of occasions that the proliferation of opium in Helmand province of Afghanistan began in earnest in 2005, when the British troops moved into Helmand province for maintenance of its security. Helmand’s major opium trading centres are Sangin, Musa Qala, Garmsir, Baghran, Kajaki and Nad Ali. In 2005, British troops captured five of these six trading centres, and subsequently the opium production skyrocketed in Helmand.
The opium economy serves Britain well. During the eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century British Raj, more than 50 per cent of the now-defunct British Empire’s income was generated from Bengal, Bihar and Malwa opium. Opium is unaccounted for cash of large sums and is used to enhance liquidity in the bankrupt banks, as well as to finance various terrorist and secessionist groups working on behalf of London. According to the United Nations Office of Drug and Crimes (UNODC) chief, Antonio Mario Costa, the Afghan drugs, after it is retailed in the streets of western European cities, generate $400 billion annually.38 This entire amount is off the book, and Mario Costa said that this amount becomes the bread and butter of many reputed banks after the money gets laundered through offshore banks.
In December 2007, senior Afghan government officials told reporters that two MI6 agents were expelled from the country, at the behest of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), after they were caught funding Taliban units. The two alleged MI6 agents, Mervyn Patterson and Michael Semple, left Afghanistan on 27 December on charges that they posed a threat to the country’s national security. Patterson worked for the United Nations, and Semple worked for the European Union. Both men were Afghan specialists, who had been operating in the country for over 20 years. An unnamed Afghan government official told the London Sunday Telegraph that “this warning” that the men were financing the Taliban for at least 10 months, “came from the Americans.” The London Times, on 30 December 2007, added that when Patterson and Semple were arrested, they had $150,000 with them, which was to be given to Taliban commanders in the Musa Qala region, which was under British troops at the time.39
On 20 April 2010, an Afghan member of Parliament, Nasimeh Niazi, told the Fars News Agency (FNA) that the foreign forces deployed in Afghanistan were involved in the production and trafficking of illicit drugs in the country, adding that the British troops have even trained opium experts. Britain deployed 7,000 troops in Helmand province beginning in 2006. Helmand province, where almost 50 per cent of Afghanistan’s opium is produced, began to register huge growth in opium production that year. In 2007, it reached a level of 4,400 tons, which is almost the amount entire the world consumes annually. Productivity of opium per hectare, aided by British research, has grown enormously. Ms. Niazi also pointed out that Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan has been transformed into a profitable centre for foreign states to earn an expense fund for their deployment in the country. Heroine-production labs in Helmand, which did not exist before the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, are now plentiful and work overtly, Niazi added.40
In addition, London makes clear to the Pashtuns aspiring for Pashtunistan that their opium income will remain intact only if Britain is allowed in remain on the saddle of affairs in Pashtunistan.
The second weapon Britain is using in Afghanistan is its huge reserves of educated Muslims residing in Britain. Over the years, many reports have emerged indicating a growing number British Muslims operating in Afghanistan41 and in the border areas of Pakistan. British military sources said (Foreign Policy, 15 June 2009) a terrorist found in Afghanistan was with a tattoo of a British soccer club, indicating the individual is from West Midlands of England. The British military source said: “We’ve known for a long time that foreign fighters, many with thick Birmingham accents, have been recruited to fight against us for the Taliban. Some of the linguistics specialists have picked up West Midland and Manchester accents too.”
These British Muslims, located by British military authorities in Afghanistan, were part of the MI6-trained operators. Some Pakistani-based militant groups are reported to still scout for recruits at mosques among Muslim communities in Britain.42 Smaller British mosques have their own links with madrassas in the Punjab and other regions of Pakistan though they insist these are genuine schools of Koranic study, not terror training camps.
Well-known militant groups, such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and Harkat ul Mujahideen, have operated openly in the past and in some cases with the military’s support and boasted of their British recruits (Times of London, 14 July 2005).
In early 1980s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s ISI, Britain’s MI6 and America’s CIA joined hands to recruit Arabs to help the Afghan mujahideen fight the Red Army. It is at this time a tacit agreement developed between ISI and MI6 allowing the ISI to recruit from British mosques. One such mosque was London’s notorious Finsbury Mosque under Abu Hamza al-Masri. Subsequently, it was revealed that al-Masri had been working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service.
The relationships continued for several years, and there were at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000.43 Based on records of the meetings, British authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory described the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
A group of recruits at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, were groomed as suicide bombers.
British authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory later commented: “It was in north London that the suicide bombers were provided with money, documents, and the names of the contacts who would steer them to the intended targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the cities of Europe.”44 In addition to being an informer for the British, Abu Hamza was under surveillance by numerous intelligence services, including the same British ones he worked for. What the British authorities knew of this squad, and whether they attempted to do anything about it, is not known.
Take the case of Omar Saeed Sheikh.45 In the years 1987–1989, Omar Saeed Sheikh attended school in Pakistan, where his family had relocated, before returning to the United Kingdom to continue his studies. After graduating Forest School, Omar Saeed Sheikh enrolled at London School of Economics (LSE), in October 1992, where he studied applied mathematics and economics. Omar Saeed Sheikh was originally recruited by British intelligence agency, MI6, while studying at the LSE. He was seen with Islamic fundamentalists and was instrumental in recruiting students around London to the cause. It is unclear whether he was recruited to MI6 because of his Islamic connections or mingled in Islamic circle as an MI6 agent. Omar Saeed Sheikh was reportedly sent to Bosnia as an aid worker by MI6 to engage in jihadi operations.
He returned to Pakistan in 1993 and began to operate as an ISI agent. By 1994, he was running training camps in Afghanistan. He was arrested and served time in prison for the 1994 abduction of three British nationals in India. In prison, he got acquainted with Aftab Ansari. Omar Saeed Sheikh was released from jail on 31 December 1999 as part of the Flight 814 hostage deal and provided safe passage to Pakistan. Omar Saeed Sheikh associated himself to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and operated hand in glove with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the abduction and assassination on 1 February 2002 of the American journalist Daniel Pearl.46
Britain’s other weapon is the fundamentalist Islamic groups that it harbours. Two of these groups, Tablighi Jamaat47 and Hizb ut-Tahrir, are active within Pakistan, promoting Islamic caliphate. These groups are funded mostly by Saudis and Kuwaitis. Times Online (UK), on 4 July 2009, came out with a revealing article “British Islamists plot against Pakistan.” In that article, it states:
“British militants are pushing for the overthrow of the Pakistani state. Followers of the fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir have called for a ‘bloodless military coup’ in Islamabad and the creation of the caliphate in which strict Islamic laws would be rigorously enforced. . . .
“At Lahore’s Superior College, where Muqeem has set up a Hizb ut-Tahrir student group, he said the organisation’s aim was to subject Muslim and western countries to Islamic rule under sharia law, ‘by force’ if necessary. . . .
“He added that Islamic rule would be spread through ‘indoctrination’ and by ‘military means’ if non-Muslim countries refused to bow to it. ‘Waging war’ would be part of the caliphate’s foreign policy.
“One of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s strategies in Pakistan is to influence military officers, he revealed.
“Shahzad Sheikh, a Pakistani recruit and the group’s official spokesman in Karachi, talked openly about persuading the army to instigate a ‘bloodless coup’ against the present government who, he said, were ‘worse than the Taliban.’
“‘It is the military who hold the power (in Pakistan) and we are asking them to give their allegiance to Hizb ut-Tahrir,’ he said. ‘I can’t explain to you in detail how we are trying to influence the military . . . We never disclose our methodology of change. You may say it’s a coup.’
“In 2003 four army officers were arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of being linked to extremist groups, although the groups and men have not been named. A Hizb ut-Tahrir insider at the time claims they were recruited by the organization’s ‘Pakistan team’ while training at Sandhurst in England.”48
Tablighi Jamaat, which originated in the Indian subcontinent during the days of the British Raj days, promotes Deobandi variety of Sunni Islam. Reports indicate that the Tabligh has at least 10,000 of its members in Kyrgyzstan alone. The New York Times once quoted an FBI official claiming the Jamaat a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. The police in the UK also carried out interrogations based on information that Mohammad Sidique Khan, leader of the London bombers of 7/7, had frequented the Tablighi headquarters in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai had long been battling the British design in Afghanistan. Back in 2007, some of Karzai’s closest advisers had accused Britain of conspiring with Pakistan to hand over southern Afghanistan. The deputy head of mission at the British embassy was in such a heated argument with the president that it was feared he would be expelled. Karzai’s chief of staff, Jawed Ludin, was forced to resign after his attempts to defend Britain led to accusations that he was a British spy.
The row centred on the continued violence in Helmand province, where British troops were based, and London’s refusal to acknowledge publicly Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban. Karzai accused Britain of “compromising” with Islamabad because of its need for cooperation from Pakistan’s security services to infiltrate terrorist groups involving British Muslims.49
The Saudi–British Nexus
“Saudi Arabia has always relied heavily on Pakistan in shaping its policy towards Afghanistan. During the jihad of the 1980s, Saudi funds and expertise were channelled to the mujahidin almost exclusively through the ISI. During the Taliban regime, Saudi Arabia was one of only three states (with Pakistan and the UAE) to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban government of Mullah Omar.”50
In 2007, Saudi Arabia began to adjust its orientation once the Taliban began to threaten the internal security of Pakistan. It is also notable that Saudi Arabia paid greater respect to President Karzai during his last visit and Saudi Arabia made an unprecedented pledge at the Paris Conference in 2008. The Saudi royal family remains highly ambiguous in its posture towards Afghanistan today. The Taliban are still held in high esteem and are regarded as legitimate successors to the mujahidin of the 1980s: their Deobandi views are closer to those of Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis. This is particularly so in relation to the more conventional Sufi-influenced approach to Islam historically prevalent in Afghanistan.51
The Saudi interest in backing the British plan in Afghanistan lies in pushing Wahabism throughout the Islamic countries and to become the leader of the Sunni world. On 6 June 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a sensational story, revealing that the British arms manufacturer BAE Systems had paid more than $2 billion in bribes to Saudi Arabia’s national security chief and long-time ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan. The al-Yamamah arms contract was a nearly $80 billion 22-year-long deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi government, in which British-made fighter jets and support services were provided to the Saudi kingdom beginning in 1985.
The al-Yamamah deal was structured as a barter arrangement in which Saudi Arabia agreed to provide Britain with one tanker of oil per day for the entire life of the al-Yamamah contracts. An oil tanker holds approximately 600,000 barrels of oil. BAE Systems began “official” delivery of the Tornado and Hawk planes to Saudi Arabia in 1989. BAE Systems now has approximately 5,000 employees inside Saudi Arabia servicing the contract.
According to sources familiar with the inner workings of al-Yamamah, much of the Saudi oil was sold on the international spot market at market value through British Petroleum (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell.
Using BP’s average annual cost of a barrel of Saudi crude oil, an economist concluded that the total value of the oil sales, based on the value of the dollar at the time of delivery, was $125 billion. In current U.S. dollar terms, that total soars to $160 billion. The extra cash of more than $100 billion, a slush fund, thus generated over 23 years was used to fund various movements, many of which were targeted against sovereign nation states.
Anthony Loyd of the Times of London in an article, “Terror link alleged as Saudi millions flow into Afghanistan war zone,” reported on 31 May 2010, pointed out that according to members of the Afghan financial intelligence unit, FinTraca, the funds, totalling more than £920 million, enter from Pakistan, where they are converted into rupees or dollars, the favoured currency for terrorist operations. The £920 million, or 5 billion Saudi riyals, monitored by FinTraca since 2006, has accelerated, peaking this year. Most of it entered Afghanistan through the Pakistani tribal area, in particular North Waziristan, which is infamous as al-Qaeda’s heartland.52
Mohammed Mustafa Massoudi, the director general of FinTraca in Kabul, said that the Saudi riyals were moved from Waziristan to Peshawar, capital of the NWFP, where Pakistani nationals were used to exchange the cash for local currency or dollars.
Exactly what happens to this cash is unclear, given the murky nature of the transactions and the absence of controls on money leaving or entering Afghanistan. The riyals, in the hands of Pakistani money changers, are recycled back into regular cash channels, also through Afghanistan, Loyd wrote.
Britain’s Diplomatic Offensive
Once London came to the conclusion that Washington, both in Afghanistan and inside the United States, is losing the war and its staying power is subsiding by the hour, it called for an international conference at London. That took place on 28 January 2010 and became the cornerstone of London and Riyadh’s diplomatic policy for the post-war Afghanistan. The purpose of the London conference was to set in motion, and make Washington accept, a London–Riyadh designed policy whereby the British and Saudi interests in Afghanistan remain intact and allow them to gain basic control of that country.
The stated aim of the London conference, however, was to agree upon a comprehensive agenda designed to put Afghanistan on a sustainable path to peace, stability and development. The peace and reintegration strategy deemed that peace can be achieved only when fighters and commanders in the armed opposition are successfully reintegrated into their communities. This strategy assumed two levels—a tactical and an operational level. The tactical approach was already underway in Helmand with NATO’s Operation Marjah. The concept behind the tactical approach is that only when the scale of insurgency is reduced sufficiently will the Afghan government be able to reintegrate the Taliban foot soldiers and local commanders in to the national mainstream. The operational level envisages a process of dialogue between the Afghan leadership and senior members of the Taliban movement. This will entail provisions of amnesty for those who disarm and disengage from international terror groups.53
The real objective of this “comprehensive agenda” was to handpick Taliban leaders who had always been close to London and Riyadh. These leaders would bring in their groups to be disarmed and take oath that they have disengaged from international groups. These Taliban leaders in essence would be “small fries.”54
An important facilitating component of the overall strategy is the delisting of some Taliban members from the UN blacklist. Negotiating terms for a peaceful resolution of a conflict is seldom easy when those with whom you are negotiating have international sanctions and bounties on them, London argued. Confidence building measures must be in place in order to facilitate the reintegration process although that by itself is not enough. The UN’s al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee drew up the blacklist under resolution 1267 a decade ago, when the Taliban regime was isolated for harbouring Osama bin Laden. It included former ministers, diplomats, governors and officials, as also their al-Qaeda guests. Several have been subsequently killed, but others are still at large and thought to remain influential in the insurgency. Those on the list, including Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, have their assets frozen and are banned from international travel. Removal would require a request from the Afghan government followed by a vote from the five permanent members of the Security Council. Kai Eide, former UN envoy to Afghanistan, reiterated this perception back in January, contending that while he was not calling for the removal of Mullah Omar or his most senior lieutenants from the blacklist, “if you want relevant results you have to talk to relevant people with authority.”55
Another important element of this “comprehensive agenda” is to handout a sum of US$140 million over the next five years to facilitate the reintegration process. The sum was agreed upon although many have described this as a “buyout” of London–Riyadh’s Taliban leaders as a fallout of the “unwinnable” war. The logic behind the “buyout” is the belief that a majority of the Taliban, or the so-called $10 fighters, are more moderate than the top strata of the insurgency and thus open to negotiations. In other words, London and Riyadh will oversee the buying out of their Taliban leaders, identifying them as “moderates,” and use the international money to achieve that end.
Ramifications Of Balkanisation Of The Afghan Theatre Of War And Withdrawal/Consolidation Of The U.S. Military
- The situation on the ground in spring 2011, which has a bearing on the future of the U.S. Af-Pak strategy, is as follows.
- The U.S.–Pak equation has deteriorated to the point where the U.S. military has decided to tackle the insurgents holed up in Northern Waziristan exclusive of Pakistan, which will constrain the latter to commence military operations against U.S.–NATO forces that invade its territory.
- Tajikistan has ceded 408 sq. km of crucial territory, giving China a viable access route into the Wakhan border, which lies directly north of Baltistan (Pakistan), where it has approximately 11,000 military troops deployed.
- Sino-Pak sensitivities to their military and nuclear weapon assets in Baltistan, which includes the construction of Barracks and digging of tunnels to cater for missile launch sites, are high.
- Beijing has invested heavily in the lucrative mineral ore deposits in Afghanistan, giving it a stake in the future of that country.
- Saudi investments in the Sunni Pashtun tribes also make it an important stakeholder in the region.
- Baloch aspirations and the contiguous nature of its location in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are factors to be considered.
- India’s alleged involvement with the Balochis and the sensitivities of Iran’s intelligence arm—Sewak—must be considered.
- The free passage given by the U.S. military to elements of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) from FATA/NWFP to Tajikistan has destabilised the security situation in the latter state. The IMU was created by a former colonel of the Soviet Spetznatz (Special Forces).
- According to recent reports, Pakistan has rapidly increased its inventory of nuclear warheads to approximately 100, far in access of the need to credibly deter India.
- Moscow continues to be concerned with anti-Russian terrorist activities in the southern states of the federation and the central Asian republics. This is aggravated by the increasing movement of drugs to the north from Afghanistan.
- Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in J&K is as rampant as always and is the root of current Indo-Pak antipathy, adding to the security dilemma in South Asia.
What is certain is that the political will, economic capabilities and insufficiency of military resources make it unlikely that the U.S. and its allies can, or will, opt for a long-drawn war to subdue the Afghans fighting against occupation by a foreign force.
Therefore, this contingency can be safely ruled out.
That leaves two possible contingencies:
- Contingency I: Up sticks and pullout from Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel a la Vietnam.
- Contingency II: Balkanise Afghanistan into politically manageable ethnic divisions and effect a less demanding fighting withdrawal.
A number of scenarios will unfold, not the least of which would be the demolition of the superpower status and aura of the United States and the military-politico denigration of NATO, that will seriously imbalance the prevailing world order and, therefore, destabilise the global strategic environment. Besides this:
- Civil war will break out in Afghanistan. This would manifest in the form of internecine tribal wars to establish their primacy in their traditionally accepted regions, fighting between the Pashtuns and the Northern Alliance to ensure their independence of each other to establish control over the whole country, and last but not the least the spill over into Pakistan, unleashing a deeply ingrained Pashtun animosity for the atrocities inflicted on the Pashtuns of FATA and the NWFP and the smouldering desire to avenge the still-existing concentration camps in Balochistan established by Pakistan.
- Pakistan’s military will mobilise its strategy to regain control over Afghanistan through its Talibanised Pashtun allies, if any. This will fuel the North–South civil war and is likely to draw Russia, the central Asian republics and China to take sides.
- A major portion of the Pakistani ISI’s terrorist assets currently being directed to J&K would be drawn into the Afghan imbroglio, temporarily reducing the pressure on J&K. Many of the militants of the central Asian republics and Southern Russian states would redeploy to their homelands, further reducing resources to continue the proxy war in J&K.
- China would be constrained to protect its economic interests in Afghanistan by whatever means it finds suitable. The question is, would Beijing deploy the military to Afghanistan?
- Indian assets in Afghanistan would be dangerously compromised. These include units of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the five consulates currently operating in Afghanistan, approximately five battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) on security assignments, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) assets assisting in maintaining communications, two military medical missions (MAPs/MHs) and, of course, the Indian embassy in Kabul.
- Pakistani and Chinese nuclear assets, that had been withdrawn to Baltitistan in Northern Chitral when the U.S. coerced Musharraf to join the “war on terror,” would be compromised. This would include a rather large Chinese military contingent (regiment size equivalent of a brigade as we understand it) and technicians that maintain and secure the nuclear assets of Chinese origin. This would draw a military response from both countries that would further complicate the Afghanistan situation.
- In the event the Pashtuns ally with their brethren in Balochistan, the IPL project will be compromised, thereby further degrading Pakistan’s economy and energy strategy.
- The repercussions on the Chinese-funded port of Gwadar (also a critical component of China’s “string of pearls” strategy) in the Pashtun-dominated Balochistan need to be analysed as this could generate a reaction from Beijing.
- Finally, the wrath of the Pashtuns against their persecutors in Karachi would automatically integrate into the larger Afghan civil war and its spillover into Pakistan.
This contingency is predicated on setting into motion a process that will lead to the integration of the Pashtuns of Afghanistan and, by default, Pakistan as one ethnic entity, and the formation of a Pashtunistan. This would be separated from the more advanced Northern areas inhabited by the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Nuris and Krygzes that comprised the Northern Alliance, thus creating a second independent state. As Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, now working with the USAF-funded RAND Corporation, says, “De facto partition is clearly not the best outcome one can imagine for the United States in Afghanistan. But it is now the best outcome that Washington can achieve consistent with vital national interests and U.S. domestic politics.”
While the objective may be to fragment Afghanistan into two ethnically manageable states—as was done with Kosovo being carved out of Serbia—the consequences cannot be contained within the borders of Afghanistan. It would per se spill over into Pakistan, where the British had carved out a segment of the Pashtuns that had traditionally been part of Afghanistan. This would result in further fragmentation of Pakistan (see Maps 3 below).
In the run-up to the Lisbon talks, November 2010, Britain gained sufficient leverage in Washington to sell the idea of Balkinisation in a mirror image of its experience and strategy evolved by Lord Curzon. This strategy is based on the acceptance of the intractability of Pashtun tribes, deeply influenced by Wahabism, and support from Saudi Arabia and the rejection by the northern tribes to be ruled by the Pashtuns. The concept revolves around Mackinder’s theory of the “heartland” that would reward the U.S. with the capacity to retain a military presence in the central Asian states in compensation for the “blood and treasure” invested in the region over the last decade.
In this eventuality, most of the consequences enumerated earlier under Contingency I would manifest themselves in Contingency II also.
However, to negotiate and set up this strategy, a considerable amount of time would be required and the redeployment of troops and logistics would be necessitated.
- Negotiations with the parties of the Northern Alliance and the different elements of the Pashtuns, which appear to be underway, would have to be completed.
- Simultaneously, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Army (ANA) would have to be redeployed to meet the new imperatives. Specific bases to meet the entire gamut of military contingencies would have to be earmarked and provided appropriate staying power and the wherewithal to carry out punitive action when deemed necessary.
- Pakistan will react violently. Though Pakistan is not a failed state, it is a “failed economy.” The economic straits it’s in makes it highly dependent on Western beneficence to avoid a total economic collapse. Nevertheless, it will fight to maintain its territorial integrity.
- Therefore, the U.S. will have to launch an immediate counter-proliferation operation and defang the limited nuclear strategic capabilities in Pakistan even before launching its Balkanisation strategy. The problem will be to neutralise the nuclear warheads and allied strategic support systems located in Baltitistan and protected by the Chinese military.
- Air bases in the central Asian republics, and even India, would have to be acquired to replace the primary and secondary airbases in Pakistan.
- Similarly, a Naval base on the west coast of India would become an imperative to replace the assets of Karachi port. Depending on how the Washington–Tehran equation plays out, the ideal alternative would be the Indian-built Iranian port of Chahbhar, which also links to Afghanistan by an Indian-built land route.
- The negotiated arrangements with Russia and the central Asian republics will have to be bolstered to ensure that the additional logistics load created compensates for the loss of a secure landline of communications through Pakistan.
- The U.S. and its coalition allies must simultaneously start negotiating with other regional and global powers for the political recognition of Pashtunistan and the northern areas. For the success of this strategy, the U.S. and NATO will necessarily have to make some compromises with at least Russia to grant recognition to the newly created states. While possible doable options are discernible, it would not be right to try and second-guess the concerned powers.
- For India, the problems are less complex. The Northern Alliance is a traditional ally, whereas there is a requirement to assess the ways and means of securing India’s assets in Pashtunistan. Special attention will have to be paid to the inroads India has made with the Taliban in Afghanistan to ensure continued or even enhanced presence in the newly delineated Pashtunistan. This will require some quick-footed diplomacy to grant recognition to that state. The same would be applicable to the state created for the Northern Alliance.
- For this strategy to succeed, the U.S. coalition will need to guarantee the territorial integrity of both states it creates. That will require advance military planning, and deployment largely dependent on massive air support would be a prerequisite.
- The primary focus of the U.S. coalition would have to shift from military operations to creating a meaningful economy and infrastructure in both the northern and southern portions of Afghanistan.
A Hypothetical Methodology to Operationalise Contingency
- Design the ongoing negotiations with the various Taliban-predominated Pashtun tribes to give warlords control of their traditional fiefdom and offer material assistance to each for local development in preparation to withdrawing combat troops.
- Set up a two-tier network of garrisons capable of withstanding attacks and launching punitive action if required, along the line dividing northern Afghanistan from the Pashtun-dominated south.
- Discontinue ground combat operations in southern Afghanistan and dominate by air a la September–December 2001.
- Redeploy units of the ANA comprising non-Pashtun tribesmen to the north.
- Establish autonomous diplomatic structures and systems in Kabul and Kandhar for northern and southern Afghanistan, respectively. Centralise Pashtun political headquarters in Kandhar.
- Launch counter-proliferation operations into Pakistan to coincide with ground and air operations in FATA and NWFP.
- Offer Pashtuns an autonomous homeland along the line dividing the northern part of Afghanistan from the southwestern part, in keeping with traditional post-partition claims.
- Under the aegis of Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, provide socio-economic and infrastructural support once the situation stabilises.
- Simultaneously, boost military, political, socio-economic and infrastructure reconstruction to the northern areas.
- Use air power and armed drones extensively in punitive mode where elements of Pashtunistan ingress into the north.
The U.S. is on the cusp of the run-up to the presidential elections due in 2012. That generates unusual political pressures that constrain the decision-making process of the incumbent in Washington. The rough edges affecting domestic and economic policies gain precedence over ongoing foreign policy schemes.
The United States’ “War against Terror” is at precarious crossroads. The exit strategy in Iraq is wavering; the war in Afghanistan has reached a no-win situation, and public opinion at home is steadily growing in favour of disengagement of military forces; instead, Obama, against the advice of the Pentagon, has committed his overstretched military to yet another war in Libya; the U.S. economy is faltering, and unemployment is at an all-time high, at near 12 per cent; the “reset” button with Russia is under fire; the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has taken an unprecedented toll, threatening a debilitating economy and environment even further; Somalian terrorists have expanded their war to Uganda, drawing the U.S. with it; Israel is nixing U.S. attempts to broker a Middle East peace plan and is dragging Washington into exercising the military option to eliminate Iran’s nuclear programme; North Korea has successfully frustrated the Obama administration’s nonproliferation initiatives; the U.S.–Japan military pact for basing facilities is under strain; the enormity of the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, has given rise to unforeseen consequences for the U.S. security strategy in support of its allies along the Pacific Rim; and China is a major economic and strategic headache. Something has to give to reduce the pressure on Washington’s capability to manage its strategic policies.
The flailing war in Afghanistan is unpopular at home; the outlay is disproportionately excessive, imposing a prohibitive penalty on the economy; and last but not the least, the loss of American lives carries unsustainable political consequences, more so with Obama’s unfulfilled election promise to bring the troops home.
The Afghan War could be the much-needed pressure-release valve, provided Washington can come up with a face-saving “exit strategy,” for the besieged administration.
An abrupt end to the unfinished war can only be brought about by a major change in course. The only option is to design the ongoing negotiations with the disparate Pashtun entities to recognise a separate homeland for them in the form of Pashtunistan, an independent state for the Northern Alliance, and meaningful corrections to the distortions in the overall U.S. strategy to shift the centre of gravity of its strategic imperatives and focus of its military policies from Europe to Asia. The sanctity and viability of these two states would have to be guaranteed, for which both would have to guarantee base facilities for U.S. and residual NATO military forces.
In doing so, Washington would be forced to downsize its arrangements with Pakistan, which is hosting the American nemesis—al-Qaeda—and using massive air power to secure the southern parts of the negotiated Pashtunistan. To insulate a disgruntled Pakistan from Iran, the coalition would perforce have to recognise the aspirations of Balochistan.
The tricky part would be managing the fallout of truncated Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons. This may have to be dealt with by putting into action the U.S. counterproliferation strategy.
All this is not a new gambit. The U.S. administration has already spelt out the objective of the ongoing war in Afghanistan through a white paper, affirming that the “core goal of the US must be to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan, and to prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan,” mentioned earlier in this paper. Obviously, the Pentagon has been working at formulating a strategy to achieve this end in conjunction with the UK, as is manifest in the research paper put out by the House of Commons Library, “The ‘AfPak policy’ and the Pashtuns” (Research Paper 10/45, 22 June 2010).56
In the event of such a policy shift by the U.S., South Asia will undergo major upheavals with serious ramifications for India. New Delhi will have to make major alterations to its strategic thinking and policies to cope with the new strategic environment—in keeping with its objective to be a major player in the region, the U.S. and its coalition notwithstanding.
Notes and References
1. Irfan Husain. “Endgame in Afghanistan.” Dawn (Pakistan), 19 June 2010, <http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/21-irfan-husain-endgame-in-afghanistan-960-sk-07>.
2. Nancy Youssef. “What’s US Objective in Afghanistan?” The Real News, 3 November 2009. Pentagon officials are going public with plan to set up indefinitely in the region objective. <http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=4407>.
3. House of Commons Library. “The ‘AfPak Policy’ and the Pashtuns.” Research Paper 10/45. 22 June 2010. p. 50. <http://www.parliament.uk/briefingpapers/commons/lib/research/rp2010/RP10-045.pdf>.
4. Vijai K. Nair. Report on findings during a visit to the U.S. 25 March 2001–14 April 2002. Based on interviews with strategic analysts in and out of the administration; Rebecca Pearsey. “Center of Power Shifting World to Asia.” United Press International, 13 February 2007.
6. Jim Holt. “It’s the Oil.” London Review of Books 29, no. 20, October 2007. pp. 3–4.
7. Global Security.org. “Iraq Facilities.” <http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/iraq-intro.htm>.
8. Julio Godoy. “US Policy on Taliban Influenced by Oil – Authors.” Asia Times, 20 November 2001.
9. George Friedman. “The Caucasus Cauldron.” Stratfor, 7 July 2010.
10. Richard Weitz. “Afghanistan in China’s Emerging Eurasian Transport Corridor.” China Brief X, no. 14, July 2010.
11. David Batty. “Dutch Government Collapses After Labour Withdrawal from Coalition.” Guardian (UK), 20 February 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/20/dutch-coalition-collapse-afghanistan>.
12. Peter Cassata. “Harper Stresses Commitment to 2011 Canadian Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan.” Atlantic Council. 8 October 2008.
13. The Frontier Post (Pakistan). “Germany to Start Withdrawal Next Year.” Reported by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. 10 July 2010. <http://www.thefrontierpost.com/News.aspx?ncat=an&nid=1883&ad=10-07-2010>.
14. Patrick Wintour. “Afghanistan Withdrawal Before 2015, Says David Cameron.” Guardian (UK), 26 June 2010.
15. Agence France-Presse. “Obama Allies Demand End to Afghan War.” 2 July 2010. <http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2010\07\02\story_2-7-2010_pg1_5>.
16. Walter Anderson, former points man for the U.S. State Department’s Intelligence Wing and now a senior adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins, Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Presentation at a seminar hosted by the Centre of Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, on “Afghanistan: Post-exit Strategies and India’s Role.”
17. Arnaud de Borchbrave. “DEBORCHGRAVE: Wearying Walk in the Quagmire.” Washington Times, 30 June 2010. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/jun/30/wearying-walk-in-the-quagmire/>
18. General Casey. “America May Be in Iraq and Afghanistan for Another Decade.” CNN, 10 July 2010. <http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/07/10/gen-casey-america-may-be-in-iraq-and-afghanistan-for-another-decade/?fbid=T5BIX_6XBDD>.
19. Indranil Banerji, a defence and security analyst. “End Game in Kabul.” Asian Age, 10 July 2010. <http://www.asianage.com/opinion/endgame-kabul-256>.
20. Pepe Escobar. “Slouching Towards Balkanisation.” Asia Times Online, 14 November 2001. <http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KE22Df02.html>.
21. Robert D. Blackwill. “A De Facto Partition for Afghanistan.” Politico.com, 7 July 2010. <http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=AACEE164-18FE-70B2-A8E30566E50DFB3A>.
22. Afghanistan’s Web Site. “Durand Line.” <http://www.afghanistans.com/information/history/durandline.htm>.
23. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. “Durand Line.” <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/174128/Durand-Line>.
24. Op cit, n. 3, p. 77.
25. Ibid., p. 11.
26. The Dawn Media Group (Pakistan). “NWFP Officially Renamed as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.”15 April 2010. <http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/07-senate-begins-voting-on-18th-amendment-ha-02>.
27. Imtiaz Gul. “Pakistan’s Dueling Drones Debate.” Foreign Policy AFPAK Channel, 2 July 1010. <http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/07/02/pakistans_dueling_drones_debate>.
28. Rumbold. “Pashtunistan: The Way to Save Both Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Pickled Politics, 19 September 2007. <http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/1384>.
29. Michael D. Holmes. “Secessionist Jihad: the Taliban’s Struggle for Pashtunistan.” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, Jul–Sep 2008. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0IBS/is_3_34/ai_n45026127/>.
31. Chadwick F. Alger, Ohio State University. “Religion as Peace Tool.” The Global Review of Ethnopolitics 1, no. 4, June 2002. pp. 94–109.
32. M. Ehsan Ahrari. “China, Pakistan, and the ‘Taliban Syndrome.’” Asian Survey 40, no. 4, Jul–Aug 2000. University of California Press. pp. 658–671. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3021187>.
33. Lawrence Osborne. “Ministry of Silly Wars: Britain in Central Asia. Source.” World Affairs Journal. <http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/articles/2010-MayJune/full-Osborne-MJ-2010.html>.
35. Trip Atlas.com. “Pashtunistan.” <http://tripatlas.com/Pashtunistan>.
36. Ian Mills. “China’s Patience Paying Off in Central Asia.” World Politics Review. 14 July 2010. <http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/6035/chinas-patience-paying-off-in-central-asia>.
37. Mark Curtis. “Bin Laden, the Taliban, Zawahiri: Britain’s Done Business with Them All.” Guardian (UK), 5 July 2010. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/05/bin-laden-radical-islam-collusion>.
38. Remarks by Antonio Maria Costa, executive director, UNODC, to the Diplomatic Academy, Warsaw, Poland. “Drugs: Cash Flow for Organized Crime.” 1 February 2005. <http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/about-unodc/speeches/speech_2005-02-1.html>.
39. Executive Intelligence Review News Service. “Why Did U.S. Intelligence Expel MI-6 Agents from Afghanistan?” 30 December 2007. <http://intellibriefs.blogspot.com/2007/12/why-did-us-intelligence-expel-mi-6.html>.
40. Nasimeh Niazi. “Afghan MP Unveils Western Forces’ Involvement in Drug Trafficking.” FARS News Agency, 19 April 2010. <http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8901301473>.
41. James Kirkup. “British Muslims Fighting Alongside Taliban, Commanders Claim.” Telegraph (UK), 2 January 2009. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/4076591/British-Muslims-fighting-alongside-Taliban-commanders-claim.html>.
42. History Commons.org. “Early 1997: Leading Radical Imam Abu Hamza Begins Working with British Security Services.” <http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=aearly97damsonberry#aearly97damsonberry>.
43. See O’Neill and Daniel McGrory. The Suicide Factory: Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park Mosque. HarperCollins, 2006. pp. 89–93. Also see “Early 1997: Leading Radical Imam Abu Hamza Begins Working with British Security Services.” History Commons.org. <http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=aearly97damsonberry#aearly97damsonberry>.
45. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. “Global Jihad: The 21st Century’s Global Phenomenon.” <http://www.globaljihad.net/view_page.asp?id=410>.
46. PBS Online News Hour. “Pakistan Convicts Four Men in Pearl Murder.” 15 July 2002. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/pearl_07-15-02.html>.
47. Paul Lewis. “Inside the Islamic Group Accused by MI5 and FBI.” Guardian (UK), 19 August 2006. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/aug/19/religion.terrorism>.
48. Nicola Smith. “British Islamists Plot Against Pakistan.” Sunday Times (UK), 4 July 2006. <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6638483.ece>.
49. Christina Lamb, reporting from Kabul. “Karzai Bids for Peace in Furore with London.” Sunday Times (UK), 11 February 2007. <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1364771.ece>
50. Talatbek Masadykov (UNAMA), Antonio Giustozzi (Crisis States Research Centre) and James Michael Page (UNAMA). “Negotiating with the Taliban: Toward a Solution for the Afghan Conflict.” Crisis States Working Papers Series No. 2. January 2010. p. 16. <http://www.crisisstates.com/download/wp/wpSeries2/WP66.2.pdf>.
52. Anthony Lyod, reporting from Kabul. “Terror Link Alleged as Saudi Millions Flow into Afghanistan War Zone.” Sunday Times (UK). 31 May 2010.
53. Paul Reynolds. “Aims of the London Conference on Afghanistan.” BBC News, 28 January 2010. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8480368.stm>.
54. History Commons. “April 26, 2009: Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal and Brent Scowcroft Advise Obama Administration to Ally with Jalaluddin Haqqani, Negotiate with Taliban.”
And History Commons. “Between 24 and 27 September 2008: Afghan Government Officials Reportedly Meet with Hekmatyar and Taliban Representatives Under Saudi Auspices in Mecca.” <http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=TurkiUSshouldAllyWithHaqqani09#TurkiUSshouldAllyWithHaqqani09>.
55. Mariam Safi. “Reconcilition & Reintigration [sic] in Afghanistan.” South Asia Defence & Strategic Review, 6 June 2010. <http://www.defstrat.com/exec/frmArticleDetails.aspx?DID=247>.
56. House of Commons Library, Op cit.