The writer is a former ambassador.
The Greeks believed that when men tire of goodness and common sense they resort to war. Powerful nations do that too: witness the American attack on Iraq. They find war useful as a testing ground for evaluating war strategies, theories and, in particular, weaponry, in “live” battlefield conditions. So much so, said a wit, that if sunbeams were weapons of war we would have probably had solar energy long ago.
Since the emergence of the United States as the world’s only superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union, war, or “unilateral armed intervention,” seems to have become America’s favourite weapon in asserting global dominance and establishing American hegemony. Successive American presidents have resorted to war to emphasise American supremacy, and that America means to have its way.
That war will achieve nothing that cannot be achieved without it, and that the very destructiveness of war renders it useless as a method of resolving the Afghan imbroglio does not seem to bother American presidents. They continue to believe they can shoot their way out of problems.
Hence, Obama hiked the number of US forces in Afghanistan from 38,000 to nearly 120,000; quadrupled drone attacks and increased the activities of the Special Forces several-fold; and although he had the option not listen to his generals, and pursue a more modest and sustainable path in bringing a close to the Afghan war, he declined. In other words, he chose not to stand up to his troop-hungry generals and, rather, to settle the Afghan war on the battlefield, and of course he failed.
Some blame Obama’s foibles on inexperience; others feel his muscular approach is meant to show that he is made of the right stuff; and yet others that he is simply foolish and out of his depth. But that’s not being wise, because nobody at that level does anything foolish except for some very strong reasons.
And Obama seems to have concluded that peace in Afghanistan at this juncture does not suit America’s long-term strategic interests. Why else did he not accept the advice of sensible and patriotic Americans, like the late Holbrooke, that “surging” US forces could be counterproductive because the presence of more foreign troops in the Pakhtun heartland would be a potent recruiting tool for the Taliban?
Or tarry for as long as he did before talking to the Taliban, and then impose silly and unacceptable preconditions which Hillary Clinton subsequently had to retract?
Why else does he brand his Taliban interlocutors as “international terrorists,” considering that that is a self-defeating exercise, and also untrue? (The only prominent case of an Afghan involved in an international act of terror is the case of Najibullah Zazi, in Denver in 2004, who had lived in the United States since the age of 14.)
Why else does he expect the Haqqani Taliban to down arms and reconcile, considering that when in 2002 Jalaluddin Haqqani’s brother, Ibrahim, came to Kabul to meet American officials to enquire about this very possibility, he was detained and harshly tortured by the Karzai regime?
And why else, at this late stage of the war when negotiations are clearly the only way out, is Congress formally declaring the Haqqanis a terror group, and thereby complicating negotiations?
And, finally, why else is Obama humiliating Pakistan in countless ways and words and indulging in knavery by keeping Pakistan in the dark about US- Taliban parleys, when all that does is to thwart prospects for an inclusive peace in Afghanistan, and add to the government’s problems in obtaining public support?
Small wonder, then, that few believe Obama is not really serious about ending the war. Instead he is using the continuing turmoil to serve as a convenient pretext, both to the American public and the international community at large, that a continued US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and even 2025, is essential for international security.
Obama’s fears of Afghanistan sliding back to Taliban rule if US forces depart, or into the hands of Al-Qaeda, are unwarranted. The Taliban were never hand-in-glove with Al-Qaeda. There is a whole book entitled, The Enemy We Created, by two German scholars spelling out how Bush and his henchmen nourished that myth till it almost became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Besides, the Taliban have privately conceded that Al-Qaeda has no place in the Afghan domestic firmament; that their domestic/ethnic enemies are no longer the military walkovers they were in 1996; and that without some kind of reconciliation with other Afghan ethnic groups, peace, for which they also yearn, is not possible.
Besides, if Washington’s aversion to terrorism and extremism is as strong as America professes, Obama should have moved against TTP elements sheltering in Afghanistan, considering that the Fazlullah-led TTP is destabilising Pakistan, poisoning relations with Kabul, which America claims it wants to see improve, and has a human rights record that is far more barbarous than that of the Afghan Taliban.
The real explanation for America remaining in Afghanistan beyond 2025 is contained in David Sanger’s book, Confront and Conceal, in which he says, “it has everything to do with Pakistan” and, in particular, “...the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.” The forces the US will retain, Sanger explains, are “intended to serve as a ‘break the glass’ emergency force, if Pakistan and its (nuclear) arsenal appeared to be coming apart at the seams.”
Nevertheless, some feel US concerns are “understandable” because the “prospect of a loose nuke headed for New York,” however farfetched, understandably horrifies America.
We can only “understand” this explanation if we accept that we are at risk in “coming apart at the seams” at the hands of the Taliban, which is about as absurd a proposition as the one the world was treated to by the American media in 2007, when the TTP were reported being “60 miles and closing in” on Islamabad, the fall of which, it was given out breathlessly, was imminent.
Amusing talk? Actually no, because it is meant to serve the sinister purpose of preparing the Western mind to accept American intervention in Pakistan to seize our nuclear weapons whenever America determines that such a danger exists. And it is mostly for this purpose that Washington proposes to stock Afghanistan with 10,000 to 20,000 US forces, with Special Forces making up the largest component, in readiness to undertake the task of seizing our nuclear assets if the need arises.
For the sake of keeping up appearances we are reluctant to tear away the phony tinsel that hides public suspicions about US intentions; and also because our entire economic fabric is so dependent on the West for trade, aid and handouts that it cannot withstand any further diminution of American goodwill.
Another reason is that the military, which calls the shots on US policy, is reluctant to discard old opinions and attitudes towards America (and India), although public perceptions have undergone a sea change. It prefers, instead, to retain old myths and marry them to new facts, because that way it ensures a minimum of jolt and a maximum of continuity. Hence, patchwork repairs to Pakistani-US relations are being undertaken, and the impression created that all will be well soon.
Given our abject dependence on America and the international financial institutions which America mostly controls, our foremost priority should have been to wean ourselves off the American “drip.” Instead, we are lumbered with a regime and a military that is desperately trying to reinsert the needle.