Who is going to deal with this mess?

The Congress-mandated bi-annual Pentagon report on Afghanistan titled, “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” is out. Its significance is, of course, owing to the fact that this is expected to give a close, hard look at the war from a military perspective.

By Faryal Leghari

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Published: Thu 25 Nov 2010, 8:20 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:29 AM

More importantly this particular report’s findings will be included in the White House assessment, President Obama is likely to present before the Congress. This incidentally is also the first assessment after General David H. Petraeus took over command of the operations in the country.

First the good news, or something on that line. There have been modest gains. The Taleban-led insurgency is believed to have been put under considerable pressure by strong-arm tactics, special military operations and additional forces. Thus, this has edged the insurgents out to peripheral areas—even in their strongholds, Helmand and Kandahar. This is far from being a negative development according to US officials, who are in an unnatural haste to alleviate any misgivings about the spread of Taleban to other areas. What is being considered an achievement is the fact that other areas these insurgents are spreading to are not key or central.

At the same time, the multifold rise in violence has stepped up by 65 per cent from the first quarter. This is hardly comforting. Military experts however are not too concerned about this, since an intensification of operations would naturally generate such an outcome. However, this has created bigger problems as witnessed recently. President Karzai’s widely-publicised outburst against US special night operations and strikes is not entirely unjustified, considering the political backlash as civilian casualties keep mounting. However, this public criticism of the US military strategy did not go down well in Washington. Not only did it reveal the widening gulf between Afghan national interests and the US strategy, it has also exposed the complexities that have enmeshed the whole Afghan Doctrine in a stifling grip.

The fact that development and governance in the country is still lagging far behind the projected aims is disheartening. Kabul’s continuing inability and/or unwillingness to tackle corruption is believed to be a major contributor. It has now become a defining aspect of the Afghan government as per public opinion. Such a state of affairs if continued is likely to negate security gains.

A big drawback was the July 2011 dateline for withdrawal of US troops. Though Obama meant this as a date for the start of withdrawal this was exploited by the insurgents to secure support from people who are increasingly fearful of the post-withdrawal scenario. The fact that now the transfer of security to Afghan National Forces is scheduled for 2014 may give the Coalition and Kabul tactical advantage to dispel the damage done. Besides, the alliance’s commitment at the NATO Summit in Lisbon to not abandon Afghanistan altogether even past 2014 may help.

The question is how does the Coalition hope to reverse the situation? The country is now bristling with at least 150,000 foreign forces, armed to the teeth. Recruitment and training efforts of a yet disjointed and seriously lacking national security force are underway. Political dialogue and incentives to lure insurgents are on full throttle. Kabul is being pressured to improve governance and speed up work in the development sector. All these are circumscribed efforts. What about external factors?

For instance, the report’s findings on the role played by Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours are noteworthy. Interestingly, Iran is also cited along with Pakistan as an influence wielder by providing weapons and training to insurgents. While its involvement in the economic development of Afghanistan is also noted, it is viewed as one aimed to gain political leverage.

Pakistan, of course has once again been held as the principal cause for impeding coalition progress—albeit questionable—to reverse gains by the Taleban. According to the report, the insurgents’ logistical support and safe havens originating in Pakistan and Iran continue to frustrate war efforts. This is despite the dramatic rise in drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal belt in recent months that have literally crossed past records. More alarming was a recent Washington Post report that revealed how US was pressuring Islamabad to ‘allow’ drone strikes in Balochistan. The target: the Quetta Shoura, the Mullah Omar-led Taleban commanders that are believed to be safely ensconced in the capital city of Balochistan and controlling the insurgency from there. Not surprisingly, Pakistan’s Foreign Office ruled out the possibility of ever ‘allowing’ these and then hastily added a sheepish rejoinder that drone strikes must be stopped altogether, even in the by-now-well-hammered tribal areas. Even as one struggles to comprehend the reasoning behind the continued hoodwinking of the Pakistani public, this does come across as a tacit admission of having given the US the nod to pelt hell fire missiles elsewhere. Woe betide if Quetta is next on the radar.

What the GHQ has done is to allow the setting up of an ‘office’ in Quetta where US intelligence, NATO and the Afghan government representatives will work with their Pakistani counterparts to hunt down and counter insurgent activity from there. As an integral counter-terrorism ally, this is what Pakistan could offer. While this has sparked criticism against the Pakistan Army, it is a prudent move. By doing so, it would put allies’ allegations against the Army and the Inter Services Intelligence to rest. It is high time the respective intelligence agencies of all partner states deepen cooperation and actually work together for regional stability. More importantly they should refrain from hurling allegations.

Faryal Leghari is Assistant Editor of Khaleej Times and can be reached at faryal@khaleejtimes.com

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