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Twists in geopolitics: Was the Afghan war lost in Pakistan?
Publication Date : 21-03-2013
The book, "Restructuring Pakistan", came out in January 2002. Had 9/11 not intervened it was originally scheduled for launch around November 2001.
The epilogue of the book with the heading, “Dealing with the Afghanistan-Pak Cauldron: the Global Perspective”, relates to a talk delivered at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi to an international audience almost exactly a year (Aug 9, 2000) before the September 2001 attack on the United States. The trajectory for Pakistan for the ensuing decade has by and large turned out to be true.
The reason for recalling the August 2000 talk is that it predicted--some people called it presciently--the unfolding of events a year later. What is more, the book also suggested as to what the US should do if it were to be impelled to directly retaliate in Afghanistan. Karl F. Inderfurth, then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, had the talk circulated in the State Department. Many other details of relevance to what follows are contained in the book, "Restructuring Pakistan".
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, such was the shock the event created that its ripples were felt around the world, because the US was the unquestioned superpower of the day. At that point in time nobody in the world had any doubt about it--the US was simply too mighty to buck. Hence, when President George W Bush stated that America would pursue its attackers wherever they might be, practically every country in the world decided to give way in the face of the anger that had welled up in the United States of America. Nato straightaway put out that an attack on America was an attack on the Alliance.
Even China and Russia decided that it was prudent to conform. India was no exception. Besides deployments in Central Asia, where bases were readily made available, the US decided to tackle Pakistan head on.
General Pervez Musharraf, who had become the military dictator of Pakistan barely two years earlier, found himself facing the Americans with a gun to his head. It is said that had there been a civilian government they would have prevaricated for some time, as is usually the case with civilian governments anywhere. However, the ex-commando who was the single point authority in Pakistan wilted almost immediately. He capitulated to almost every demand that was made on him. He would take his revenge on the Americans later.
After the Indian Army had been mobilised consequent to the terrorist attack on Parliament, General Musharraf was forced, both on account of the extremely dangerous situation that had developed on the Indo-Pak border, as well as due to the insistence from Washington that he give way, to eat humble pie. In his famous speech in January 2004, where ostensibly he agreed to change course, he stated that he would ensure that Pakistan territory thenceforth would no longer be a base for terrorism against India. He also realised that radical departure from a cherished policy of long-standing required that the nation, particularly the Army-ISI combine and the tanzeems sending terrorists across the border, had to be assuaged. In his speech, that was perfectly understood by the elements that needed to be mollified he gave an example from the life of the Prophet, when the latter retreated from Mecca to Medina in order to recoup and re-emerge stronger, i.e., live to fight another day.
While some American analysts understood the reference to context, the establishment in Washington did not grasp its full import.
Musharraf in the portion of his speech that referred to the Prophet practically gave away the strategy that he would be following thereafter with the Americans as well as with the Indians.
In the ensuing six years till almost the very end of the presidency of George W Bush, General Musharraf honed, perfected and implemented his strategy. He ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds. It was masterly deception perpetrated on the Americans with consummate skill. He continued to protect and give a free hand to the elements that would get back into Afghanistan when the opportunity arose.
The opportunity presented itself when the US president took his eye off the ball and decided to invade Iraq, in the process considerably weakening the US presence in Afghanistan. Not only did Musharraf inveigle the Americans to make Pakistan a major non-Nato ally, he persuaded them to pump in military hardware for the Pakistani Armed Forces, and make generous grant of funds. Other concessions followed from the US, Japan and its allies in Europe. The Americans shut their eyes to the fact that the military hardware transferred could only be used against India and was not much good for fighting in the tribal areas from where the Taliban operations in Afghanistan were being launched.
Of course, there were ups and downs, and on several occasions Musharraf had to make al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders high on the US list available for rendition or elimination. Musharraf’s duplicity worked superbly to gradually strengthen Pakistan’s position and weaken that of the US--both militarily and financially; while US casualties in the field kept mounting. Towards the end of his tenure the outgoing US president perceived his folly, but it was too late. America and its allies were well on their way to losing the war in Afghanistan.
The situation changed with the advent of Obama as the successor to George W Bush. Although fresh impetus was given to the Afghan theatre in men, material and nomination of high powered military generals to head the effort in Afghanistan, the situation had already deteriorated to a point where winning had become problematic.
No doubt there were short interludes when signs of a turnaround appeared on the ground. These were invariably followed by setbacks elsewhere. Had a realistic analysis of the strategies being followed by the highly decorated, highly admired US force commanders in Afghanistan been carried out, a different outcome might have become possible, seeing the enormous outlays that had been made for the war in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately this was not done. Musharraf’s hand-picked successor as the army chief, Gen. Kayani, continued to follow Musharraf’s well-honed strategy and even brought in greater sophistication to lead the Americans up the garden path. The rest as they say is history; this time around still in the making.
The writer has authored "Third Millennium Equipoise", "Restructuring South Asian Security", "Restructuring Pakistan", "Dealing with Global Terrorism: The Way Forward, and Global Security Paradoxes: 2000-2020".