Saturday, April 25, 2009

US war of attrition

The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers. The popular mind, unaware of the fine distinctions of the statesman’s thinking, reasons more often than not in the simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil.

(Hans Joachim Morgenthau)

It is past seven years since US War against terrorism in Afghanistan. Rather than assume the nature of large scale counter insurgency operations supported by intelligence networks, it has degenerated into a military intervention with force levels insufficient even for peace enforcement. The composition of US and allied troops and the manner in which they operate raise questions. Just like the 90s when there was no desire to curtail Osama or his brand of Islam, there appear no visible political engagements in tandem with such selective operations to suggest that a negotiated end is in sight. As the focus shifts from Afghanistan to Pakistan, attrition through time delay is the nature of this war. Pakistan’s establishment was neither prepared nor contemplated such a contingency when it gave un-stinted support to USA.

Across the Durand line, the conflict has gripped the entire NWFP and now threatens Punjab. Some may argue that this ‘Burnout Policy’ has served well to precipitate resistance in Pakistan; to identify pockets of militancy; and its support amongst people and the establishment. To that extent, one may partially agree but add that in doing so, USA has willfully chosen to draw Pakistan into a chaos akin to Afghanistan in the 90s. These hardliners also elect to ignore that these seven years have served to create and increase anti-US sentiments in Pakistan. This dynamic itself has the potential to provide the water in which the fish need to swim. Pakistan is in the midst of difficult choices.

The coinage AF-Pak means that Pakistan is now relegated to a strife ridden ungovernable state and therefore a legitimate war zone; Durand Line means nothing; and USA will exercise its right of direct and indirect military intervention in Pakistan. It also reflects that Pakistan’s policy of appeasement of USA has failed to cater to Pakistan’s legitimate concerns, leaving no choice but to hedge its interests. The vanguard of this new policy will be the symbolic drone attacks widened into new areas, increased pressure on the political and military establishment and more violence, particularly in Punjab. In such state of affairs, Pakistan’s leadership, economics and national integration are equally vulnerable. In the background and away from the eyes of observers, the dirty game of intelligence and counter intelligence operations will continue with ferocity and mutual betrayal. Politicians ready to sell their mothers will be engaged and mutual erosion of the state of Pakistan will continue.

Even an ordinary Pakistani has allied with the growing perception that this so called war for democracy, human values and popular enfranchisement is in fact a frontal assault on Pakistan’s political, defence and intelligence establishments. There is also a growing perception that USA in cahoots with political minimalists of Pakistan is on a dangerous road to curtail the over arching role of Punjab in the politic body. If agendas such as these are accomplished, Pakistan’s geography and the nuclear story will become a tale of the past. Pakistanis will be their own Brutus.

Rather than react to every bit of news, Pakistanis need to understand that it is the backstage activity that affects us most. For long, US state and non state actors have run in overdrive to send mixed signals to Pakistan. Pakistan’s fragile political system, political immoralities and quest by some to put self before the state provide a happy hunting ground for such notions to breed. Amazingly, this activity peaks just before exchanges of high profile visits. Dramatisation follows a familiar pattern. The most recent to cite are President Obama’s desire while in Czech Republic for a nuclear free world; report of a US research organisation suggesting recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear capability; sharp shooters in State Department, Pentagon and CENTCOM focusing on criticism of Pakistan Army and ISI, interspersed with drone strikes. The recent hall mark was the visit to Pakistan by US special envoy Richard Halbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen wielding sticks and carrots and select academicians doing round of universities least to mention media mouth pieces. The epitome was the press conference by Halbrooke and Mullen in India with an implied threat to Pakistan.

In this context, much written by me on the nature of Pakistan’s present and future war and attrition is validated. I would now expand my assessment to two very important issues that I mentioned for record but did not deliberate earlier.

If eradication of militancy is indeed the goal of USA and its allies in Afghanistan, then why are they not contemplating a full fledged counter insurgency operation in the areas they control? Despite all the advantages of technology and precision, Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan is increasing. NATO and US forces are confined to well guarded urban centres and venture out on selective basis in which more civilians than militants are killed. All open spaces are dominated by militants. Present military composition in the area suggests that USA will remain in the region for a long duration. This in turn complicates Pakistan’s security and concerns need to be addressed.

USA is here to stay for a long time. Their need for pivots against a rising China and resurgent Russia demand that they control strategic spaces that threaten these rising centres of power as well as deny them strategic access to the Indian Ocean. Pakistan at cross roads of geography is also in the midst of conflicts that geography creates. Just like Islam was used to threaten the godless communism, the radical Islam is now being used in the generic names of Al Qaeda and Taliban to further long term geo-strategic objectives. As the notion of AF-Pakistan assumes currency we shall see the addition of LET and others to this coinage. India will be used to downgrade Pakistan’s military, agrarian and economic potential. Space for political maneuvering and bargaining will be gradually denied. Rise of militancy in Pakistan serves this game plan and policy makers in Pakistan ought to realise this.

Pakistan is also vulnerable economically. Surging oil prices followed by an international economic meltdown have added to Pakistan’s fragility. Home grown speculators and liberal economic managers have played a treacherous game with Pakistan’s sovereignty. A fiercely competitive domestic economy that withstood thirteen years of nuclear sanctions has been reduced to consumerism. Trillions of free floating rupees have been lost out to economic liberalism. Pakistan’s most competitive export sectors have since been edged out. Devaluation of rupee, rising electricity and energy in-puts have made production non competitive. Industrial led growth is now a fairy tale. Given the situation, these difficulties are most likely to worsen. Industrial layoffs are endemic and chances of complementary alliances for economic gains dwindling. In due course these could lead to discontentment, labour unrests and breed radicalisation. The most affected are the industrial centres of Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Karachi. Though Pakistan ultimately suffers, the worst hit is Punjab, the bread basket of Pakistan.

Insofar as Punjab, there appears commonality of interests between the political minimalist of Pakistan and USA. It is Pakistan’s biggest province in terms of population, economic growth and representation in the national fabric. It is argued that even in vulnerable times such as these the federation needs to be strengthens albeit more powers to the smaller federating units. In backdoors, devolution of Punjab is seen most expedient. In the post 2008 dispensation, Punjab was singled out for manipulation and political instability. Had it not been for a national movement spearheaded by lawyers, it would have deteriorated to chaos. Federalism aside, Punjab must be seen as the heart of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s sectarian militants known for their ferocity inside Pakistan and as far away as Eastern Europe, sit in Punjab, like a time bomb ticking away. Over the course of thirty years, these hardliners have learnt the art to manipulate many masters and to be controlled by none. Rise of militancy in Punjab’s urban centres is no coincidence and a tell tale sign of events to come. The murder of Daniel Pearl is a testimony to where their support and ideology comes from. The intelligence agencies and the government need to keep a vigil on these militant groups, their off shore lines of funding, local businesses and foreign handlers from all across the world. Intelligence establishments world over have used them when needed; yet the axe must fall only on those who align with the ideology of Pakistan.

The damage to Pakistan’s interests runs much deeper than can be imagined. Succinctly, India that had no role in the anti Soviet war of the 80s has emerged as a preferred ally of USA. Indian security and intelligence establishments benefit from a substantial presence in Afghanistan and create unrest in Pakistan through diverse armed groups. The irony is that though USA is quick to level allegations against Pakistan over links with militants, they appear least responsive to complaints against what India does.

Obama, during the election campaign won the hearts of the Muslims in USA by raising the Kashmir issue. However, after assuming office and under pressure from India, he has given no indications of addressing the issue.

On the question of cooperation with India in Afghanistan, USA chooses to completely ignore the historical perspectives and the fact that all Indo-Pakistan issues are linked to Kashmir. While India continues to stage manage a battle on Pakistan’s reverse front as a tit for tat on Kashmir, USA remains adamant that India and Pakistan have a common enemy and must cooperate. The message is clear. Succumb or we make a lesson out of you.

For Pakistan, a national reconciliation could begin through consensus on immediate security issues including militancy, Pakistan’s role as an ally of USA and economic hedging. Restoration of the post 2 November Judiciary is a good omen and other positive developments must lead on from here. The government of Pakistan must draw its strength from the people. After all,

“National Power rises from a relatively stable foundation of geography, through different gradations of instability to its peak in the fleeting elements of national character and morale”.

(Hans Joachim Morgenthau)

Pakistanis from all across the spectrum need to rise to the challenge. It is indeed the time to eat grass.

Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.

E mail:
Posted by Brigadier (retired) Samson Simon Sharaf


Much geopolitical water has flown under the bridge since this article was published on April 10 on the blog INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT by Brig Simon. Two weeks is a long time these days.

The Baluchistan insurgency gained momentum due to the mysterious abduction and killing of three separatist Baluch Nationalist leaders after release of UN's John Solecki on payment of ransom, apparently a dispute over division of the same, and the evidence pointing to Afghanistan and India's support to the separatist Baluchistan Liberation Army's Brahamdagh Bugti and Harbiyar Mari made public by Adviser Interior, Rehman Malik, in the Parliament followed by an in-camera Senate hearing on the issue.

Then, Ambassador Holbrooke's interview with Dr. Shahid Masood broadcast on 24 April who claimed there were only 8-10 personnel in the Indian Consulate in Kandhar and which need not be a concern for Pakistan, even though India neither shares a border with Afghanistan nor has a domestic Pushtun population in it's own country, and that in fact India was participating in the Afghan reconstruction out of some altruistic reasons with $ 1 billion in aid by building roads and infrastructure - particularly a road from South Afghanistan to the Iranian border.

What Holbrooke forgot to mention of-course was that this particular road leads to the Iranian port of Chah Behar, and is not intended for promotion of tourism or trade between the two countries, if any exists in the first place, but for access to an alternate supply route for US forces in case of a total breakdown of supplies from the currently threatened and often attacked routes through Pakistan.

All these geopolitical games are quite visible from the Pakistani Intelligence eyes, or even the ordinary public, and appropriate countering measures continue to be taken - in whatever cloak and dagger manner fits the best to the situation.


majumdar said...

Zee sahib,

Of course there is no "altruistic motive" for India in building the road.

But is the explanation that you are giving- that the Chah Bahar road will be used for giving USA access to A'stan shud the Karachi-Khyber route be destablised any more valid? Given the state of relationship between Iran and USA. I do not see Iran and USA coming closer unless Taliboon actually end up getting control of Kabul and threaten Iranian interests in A'stan (incl Farsi speaking and Shiite citizens of A'stan) and elsewhere. And once of course US has actually been driven out of A'stan I dont see it returning.

A simpler explanation is an India-Iran-A'stan trade alliance which does not involve Pakistan as all the three countries have suspicions about Pak's motives.


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