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December 2009 - January 2010
Pakistanís Unconsummated Territorial Ambitions
Pakistan’s uncosummated territorial ambitions in Afghanistan and Kashmir backed by its WMDs are the two regional roots of global terrorism.
The war in Afghanistan continues without an end. It is about to enter its 9th year making it the longest-running war, longer than any including WW1 and WW2 that the US has fought in the whole of the 20th century. Given the state of play as is now unfolding, nobody can say with certainty how many more years will it take for the on-going war to end.
Given what political play one is witnessing in the Western capitals, it looks almost certain that like what happened in the past in 2003 when the Taliban Government was overthrown and its fighters were driven out of Afghanistan across the Durand Line into Pakistan, this time too, presuming, mind you I am only nervously just presuming, that al Qaeda and the Taliban, now degraded into clusters of inter-linked non-state actors from their bases in Quetta and South Waziristan are defeated in the near future, there is once again the likelihood that there will be no formal surrender ceremonies to record the historic military event or events. The phenomenon of such strategic gaps leave the doors open for the terror groups to come back another day and resume the fight, this time perhaps in another unforeseen format. In the eventuality they actually return to the battlefield they are likely to come better prepared than before, better financed, better trained, better equipped with more lethal weaponry including perhaps WMDs and possibly propped up by new alliance partners. The enhanced enemy firepower will create a havoc of higher death toll and widespread destruction of property and equipment.
For the West therefore, catching Osama bin Laden, Ayaman al Zawahiri and Mullah Mohammad Omar, Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar all together or by turn, not dead but alive and forcing them into formally signing on the dotted line on an Instrument of Surrender is absolutely essential, if it wants seriously to prevent a future war breaking out again. The psychological impact of a surrender ceremony will be soul destroying to the defeated military command and soldiery. .
Learning from the lessons of the never-ending Israel-Palestine conflict over “occupied territories” and the India-Pakistan conflict over “Kashmir”, one is tempted to take the view, however unkind it may look, that unless overwhelming force is used to defeat the Jihadis who are driven by uncompromising political agendas - of course the protection of the general populations is of paramount importance - the ideological conflict may transform itself in time from a relatively localised to a global geo-political conflict. The West cannot afford to allow its war against religious extremism extending at some future date to some of the far-flung corners of the globe. It will have the potential of spanning the conflict to several generations and causing enormous damage to flourishing civilisations.
Everybody knows that increasingly the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is going wrong for America, which leaves Washington with a very limited range of choices. Either the superpower decides to leave the battlefield suffering fatigue and frustration, thus strategically opening the doors to Pakistan to take over Afghanistan or it regroups and goes for the jugular employing “overwhelming force” in the entire Af-Pak region aimed at comprehensively defeating the enemy once and for all. Half-hearted measures will be suicidal with grave consequences for the civilisational values that we all cherish. In the dynamics of war, a Dresden was needed to defeat Nazi Germany and a Hiroshima and a Nagasaki to subdue Imperial Japan and bring the WW2 to a swift conclusion.
A matter of grave concern is that from what we are witnessing today, for the Western Alliance to take such a resolute stand seems somewhat doubtful. The endless debates taking place racked by uncompromising divisions among the politicians in the Western democracies are a public exposure of the woeful lack of political will to win the war.
It seems what we know as “enlightened liberalism” has gone out of control in the West. Security concerns have taken a back seat with the potential for catastrophic consequences. If this is not “strategic deficit” then what is it? As the so-called intellectual debates keep raging, precious lives are being lost in ambushes in unfamiliar terrain and under RPG fire and roadside IEDs.
General Stanley McChrystal of the US Army and the alliance commander in Afghanistan wanted 40,000 additional troops to be in place urgently, warning the political leadership in Washington that without the required boots on the ground the war may not be won. It is nearly two months past and is still awaiting a final decision to be made by the President. In the democratic debate while the general believes that there is an urgent need for force reinforcement, others think that more troops may mean they would be exposed to suffer more casualties, which will make the war unpopular at home. Another view is that the local populations in the war zone may interpret the surge as the return of Western colonialism in Afghanistan. Cutting across these arguments it is imperative that a critical military decision has to be made here and now to avoid sending out wrong signals to the enemy.
As the debate on troop surge rages on endlessly, the other far more urgently needed decision ordering a massive escalation of the Air War is also being delayed? Induction of meaningful additions of squadrons of the highly effective helicopter gun ships, jet fighters and bombers depending on battlefield requirements, deployment of larger numbers of predator drones and so on is an urgent need to engage the elusive, highly mobile, heavily armed mix of mountain and desert guerrilla fighters. Escalating the Air War has the potential of causing a high rate of attrition in the enemy ranks. It will also reduce the casualty rate among the alliance troops. There is no justification of a misplaced pause in the on-going war. It is allowing the enemy to regroup, retrain and re-equip. It will only prolong the war.
The West was solidly united in its 20th century global ideological wars. Far from being unified in its current conflict, the Alliance is in fact a divided house. France and Germany had opposed the US-UK invasion of Iraq although they have altered their stance somewhat recently but they still refuse to contribute troops meaningfully into the Afghanistan conflict. A consequence of the schism is that the coalition of the willing has remained smaller than the optimal requirement of the war and therefore has remained an ineffectual force unequal to the challenges of a long haul conflict against a determined and ever expanding enemy. That is why the coalition forces have remained short supplied both in “troops to task” ratio, in other words the management of manpower requirements and in “teeth to tail” ratio, meaning the management of firepower requirements. The Islamists see in such divisions and shortages of men and material as show casing West’s vulnerability and look upon them as windows of opportunity to intensify the ferocity of their attacks. Iran’s defiance of the West on the nuclear issue should be interpreted in the light of this line of thinking. This strategic deficit calls for a radical restructuring of the tired old NATO - an out of date cold war military alliance – redefining its strategic vision and giving it a unified central command to suit the strategic challenges of the 21st century. To give a strong thrust to its firepower, instead of quibbling with Russia, Moscow may have to be invited to join a newly formatted European Security Alliance.
In America’s War on Terror the unaccounted source of strategic threat to Washington’s vital global interests is Pakistan - the proverbial “Elephant in the Drawing Room”. Its “behind the scene” ruling clique the Pakistan Army and the all powerful “a state within a state” spy agency the ISI have together incubated since 1989 and continues to mentor to this day a whole lot of heavily armed and murderous terror groups like the Lashakar e Tayyaba, Lashkar e Jaghvi, Jaish e Mohammad, Harkat ul Jihad e Islami, Al Badr and others. There is a common feature running through them all. They are all Punjabi Jihadi groups and are run as asymmetrical counterweights to India’s overwhelming conventional military might. Nurturing them and using them in a cross border proxy war across the Line of Control in Kashmir are aimed at destabilising India and destroying its secular democratic structure. The ultimate aim is to snatch Kashmir by force from India’s control. There is a mouthful name given to it: it is a war of a thousand cuts.
The Taliban on the other hand is a Pashtun terror group which too has been created by the ISI with the aim of securing Afghanistan – a Pashtun majority country - and absorb it into Pakistan. Its purpose is to help serve as Pakistan’s “strategic depth” to be used in a future war with India. Despite the increasing complexities in the ongoing US led war in the Af-Pak region, Islamabad has not given up harbouring its unconsummated territorial ambitions on India and Afghanistan and has therefore a heavy stake in seeing the Taliban defeating the US, forcing the superpower to withdraw from Afghanistan leaving Pakistan to step in and take over. Given this line of thinking, it is an incorrect audit of Washington to believe that Pakistan is America’s most trusted ally in its war on terror.
On 10 July 2007 under pressure from China and approved by the US, the Pakistan Army in an attempt to rescue some Chinese personnel taken hostage by the Taliban launched a military assault on Lal Masjid – the Red Mosque – located at the heart of in Islamabad the nation’s capital killing 300 young members of the Taliban. It changed everything for Pakistan. The incubator of terrorism became its victim in one go. It split the Taliban into two groups namely the Tehrik e Taliban e Pakistan (TTP) based in South Wazirstan led by the Baitullah Mehsud - killed recently in a drone attack fired by the US and was replaced by Hakimullah Mehsud – and the other the Afghanistan Taliban based in Quetta, Balochistan run by such stalwarts of terrorism like Osama bin Laden, Aiyaman al Zawahiri, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the father and son due Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and others. Responding to the massacre in Lal Masjid, the Pakistan Taliban a terror organisation of ethnic Pashtuns declared war on the Pakistan Army launching a fire storm of attacks by the suicide bombers creating mayhem at the gates of the Pakistan Army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi, the ISI and the secret premises of the Nuclear Establishment. The other targets of attack were the city centres like Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and elsewhere. Pakistan Taliban has laid siege on Pakistan. The objectives are three-fold: destabilise the State of Pakistan, create a homeland of the Pashtuns carved out of Pakistan and the most ominous one grab the country’s nuclear arsenal or parts of it. 1500 Pakistanis have died in terror attacks in the last 12 months. The Pakistan Taliban has therefore emerged as a force that poses an existential threat to the idea of Pakistan. The decision of the GHQ to take its war right into the heart of the Swat Valley and later into South Waziristan – the strongholds of the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan - is evidence of this fear.
The Afghanistan Taliban, which continues to engage the US and British Armies and the forces of NATO in a relentless guerrilla war is another chapter of the story. Hundreds of American and British soldiers have died fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The trusted ally of the US and the beneficiary of $15 billion since 9/11 still maintains its deep contacts with such “intelligence assets” as the two Haqqanis, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mullah Mohammad Omar, Osama bin Laden and other terror leaders fighting the Americans. They are all members of the so-called Quetta Shura and are well protected in the Balochistan capital. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said in Islamabad that she could not believe that the Pakistan Government was unaware of the whereabouts of these terror leaders hiding in Pakistan.
Is there any solution at hand that has the potential to bring about an end to this murderous ideological conflict raging in Central and South Asia? Firstly what is sustaining the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in this long drawn out war? For starters let there be no doubt that it is MONEY POWER that is sustaining them. At one level the militants fighting in Afghanistan and Kashmir are fed by contributions from the drug cartels, proceeds from bank robberies, ransoms collected from kidnappings, extortions, tax collections from populations under their control etc. Pakistan, the mentor of the terror groups on either side of its frontiers, is being funded by the US and supported by China and Saudi Arabia. A resource crunched, industrially backward economy with a large illiterate population with an on-going civil war, Pakistan on its own has absolutely no chance of running its costly wars on two fronts concurrently. The cause of worry is how this money being used. The New York Times had revealed in a despatch that USD 5.6 billion were siphoned off from the USD 12 billion it received from President George W Bush as “thank you money” for joining the war on terror diverting the funds to strengthening Pakistan Army’s offensive capabilities both in conventional and nuclear arms for use against India. This did not prevent the passing of the Kerry-Lugar Bill in the US Senate tripling fresh aid to Pakistan under the Obama Administration. These funding flows have only helped exacerbate the tensions between Pakistan and India – the greatest source of instability in South Asia. If the US has any seriousness of purpose in ending the war in Central and the tensions in South Asia it may have to consider switching the tap off its military assistance programmes to Pakistan Army. .
Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons stockpile of 80 to 100 bombs is used exclusively as an insurance cover to its endless terror attacks on India from going out of hand. Its purpose is the prevention of the escalation of such random violence into full-fledged conventional wars. The audacious terror attacks planned and launched from the soil of Pakistan on Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 and again in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 were possible because of the much vaunted “minimum nuclear deterrent” which prevented India from opting for a military response to these outrages.
The worst-case scenario however flows from the possibility or indeed the probability of the nuclear arsenal or parts of it falling into the hands of the terrorists. In today’s frightening security scenario as the Pakistan Army pushes deeper into South Waziristan followed by Pakistan Taliban’s violent reprisals, a messy transfer of ownership of the nuclear arsenal out of the control of Pakistan Army into the hands of the Taliban and then on to al Qaeda is a real danger. America’s assurances that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is in safe hands have no credibility whatsoever. As the security situation worsens, the Pakistan Government with all its men and with all its arms will be hard put to keep the suicide bombers from breaking through security cordon and getting hold of the nuclear facilities. A security slip up in a massive terror attack will have catastrophic consequences for the peace and stability of the region and indeed of the wider world. The world will be a safer place without them. They are therefore better neutralised than protected.
There are ways to bring the present conflict to a satisfactory conclusion but it needs objectivity of thinking and a resolute political will which Washington’s political leadership needs to muster in the interest of broader global security and stability. One thing that the world leaders in their deliberations will have to keep in mind is that Central and South Asia will never see the return of peace till such time that Pakistan gives up its dogged and unrelenting territorial ambitions in Afghanistan and the Indian administered territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Its proxy wars are spreading the poison far and wide. It is like a carbuncle waiting to be lanced. For this the world powers will have to stop supporting Pakistan Army with arms and money and get ready to neutralise its WMDs – its insurance cover for terrorism - for the sake of world peace. .
The writer is the author of a 500 page book A LONG JOURNEY TOGETHER – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, published by Book Surge, North Carolina, USA.