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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

December 5, 2009

The recent spate of bombings and attacks in Pakistan has left the people in a state of shock. Yesterday there was an attack on a mosque after the Friday prayers in Rawalpindi. This is the mosque frequented by most army top brass as Rawalpindi is the main military base of Pakistan army. There were three attackers who first fired on the unsuspecting faithful and then lobbed hand grenades killing more than 45 and injuring around 80 people. The Rawalpindi cantonment was in a state of disbelief.

Today there was a bomb blast in a restaurant on University Road in Peshawar. This is also a very busy market place and the people there took the brunt of the attack. Many shops have been destroyed and people are trapped in the rubble. Initial reports claim that three people have died and seven injured in this suicide bomb attack. The toll of the dead and the injured could increase.

There was a very brutal attack in Srinagar, where a senior Hurriyat leader Fazal Haq Qureshi was shot from point blank range. He is from the moderate faction of the Hurriyat and ostensibly was involved in talks with the Centre in what was being termed as back channel efforts towards peace in Kashmir. The man is fighting for his life and might still survive but the damage has been done and the peace talks have been derailed.

There was another suicide bomb attack near the Naval Academy in Rawalpindi a few days ago in which a couple of people died and half a dozen were injured. This sudden spurt in violence has taken many people by surprise. It is clear that there are forces that want to assert their presence and would hate to see a peaceful South Asia. But the basic question that begs to be answered is – why now and what was it that triggered this violence.

The answer lies in the prevarication of the Obama administration’s decision on whether more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan. It took Obama and his men more than three months from the time when Gen Stanley McChrystal first informed of the need for bolstering troop levels in Afghanistan in order to meet the strategic objectives of the ISAF. When the decision did come it was very near the revised 40,000 men that the general had asked for after his initial demand for close to a hundred thousand was set aside. The speech by the president came after his trip to China and later Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the White House. President Barack Obama’s speech was seen as quite ‘positive’ by most analysts and some even found it ‘inspiring’. While there is no denying that Obama has shown commitment by deciding to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, it is also true that he has sent conflicting signals that have been read by the people in South Asia, and especially those in Afghanistan and Pakistan as West’s lack of faith in being able to defeat the al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The source of this doubt comes from the fact that Obama also declared in his speech that the US will start withdrawing by 2011. This is being seen in the region as a huge disincentive to the allied troops to go all out and vanquish the Taliban and try and capture the leaders of the dreaded al-Qaeda. Most radical organizations have read Obama’s announcement as an acceptance of the fact that the west lacks the stomach to go out and fight the Taliban.

This announcement of withdrawal along with the declaration of sending additional troops has also halted Pakistan army’s efforts at trying to corner the Taliban and the radicals in South and North Waziristan. The Taliban has upped the ante and are trying to send the message that it will be a mistake for the west to send extra troops to Af-Pak region. They now know that it is matter of just 18 months before the west starts withdrawing. The Canadians have already said that they shall start withdrawing their troops in 2010. There are other countries that have also shown keenness to start planning their exit strategy. If anything was de-motivating for the troops it was this. Now everyone, the allied troops and the Taliban on both sides of the border will try and kill time and wait for the moment when the western troops withdraw. The Taliban now is more dangerous than ever because they can smell ‘victory’. For them victory is if they are still around when the western troops withdraw. For the west, a ‘defeat’ is if they leave without finishing the Taliban and capturing the top leadership of the al-Qaeda. Obama has ensured defeat for his troops even before many of them have landed in Afghanistan. This has emboldened the Taliban like nothing has and they have therefore gone on the offensive. These vicious bomb blasts and attacks can directly be attributed to the thoughtless and perhaps ‘smart’ speech by the US president. He was trying to have his cake and eat it too. He understands that this is a war that has lost meaning for the people in his country. He therefore thought he needed to show Americans that he does not plan to stay put in Afghanistan and that the troops will be back home soon. This assurance to the people of America has meant that he has conceded defeat even before the boys have started their campaign. The Taliban have their tails up and are snarling – one of their leaders told a BBC correspondent that the west should move aside so that they can ‘talk’ to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. This is as clear a threat as any to the president who has been propped up by the west. They would love to do an encore a la Dr Najibullah on Karzai, so that their writ runs large in this unforgiving land.

Much has been said about the raising of troops by the allied forces so as to keep the Taliban at bay. It is being reported that almost a hundred thousand Afghan troops have been raised for the purpose. While this is a positive development, it is also true that these troops need to be armed. The fact is that the Afghan troops raised do not have the best arms and they are handicapped by this. They lament that the Taliban are better armed than them and therefore they cannot fight effectively. The west has its own problems – they cannot arm these troops as they are not sure of their loyalty. One such Afghan while on training fired on the British army-men training him and shot four of them dead. He then managed to escape. There is a lack of faith among the western forces and the local Afghans and that is one thing if not rectified may be the difference between success and failure in Afghanistan.

Is the war in Afghanistan unwinnable? Is this a hopeless situation? I think not. It is true that Afghans hate to be subjugated. The west needs to convey to the common Afghan that this war is not to subjugate them but to emancipate them from the rabid orthodoxy of the Taliban. To say that this is one war the west cannot win will be looking at the situation in a very negative way. There is no war that is unwinnable. It is a matter of how hungry one is for victory and how much resolve there is among the men who are out there in the war zone. There will be sacrifices to be made and there will be times when things will look bleak, but it is the resolve of the leadership that will be the difference between winning and losing. It took a Winston Churchill and a Roosevelt to win the Second World War. They were fighting for their survival – they were ready to fight to the finish. In Afghanistan, the west is fighting the war as an afterthought. This is not how wars are won. These are half hearted attempts at something that needs complete commitment. It is true that Obama may not withdraw all his forces from Afghanistan for a long time to come. But as soon as he starts to talk about withdrawal, it becomes clear to the men on ground that this is but a transitory phase and men on both sides then take things differently. The Taliban will bide their time and wait for the western forces to withdraw. To ensure that their withdrawal is swift and quick they will send some suicide bombers to give the western forces something to think about. The press in the west will work overtime and highlight the loss of life and that will result in further dip in morale of the men there. The west will snatch a sure defeat from a situation where they could have been victorious. The blasts and attacks in Pakistan are meant to show the displeasure of the Taliban over the increase in troop levels. They are saying in no uncertain terms that they are still the ones that count in this region and that the west and their allies dare not do anything that displeases them. The Pakistan leadership will be as lackluster as are the allied troops in their quest to make the Taliban bend on their knees. And, pray, why should they? For it is the Taliban that will come to their aid once the west is gone. This is no way to fight a war. Not even such an unconventional one where the enemy is a ragtag conglomeration of various Pashtun tribes that calls itself the Taliban. The west can also rest assured that the resources supplied to Pakistan will ultimately end up in the hands of the Taliban. And then there is this ‘smart’ move by some very smart thinkers in Pentagon who plan to buy out the loyalty of some of the ‘moderate’ Taliban. This more than anything else shows that the west is shying away from taking the enemy head on. Another cardinal rule has been broken when such a move was made – know thy enemy, especially his mind. It is clear that those in Washington do not have any idea of the ground realities and they have not invested enough time and resources in trying to understand the people they are fighting.

The west should have withdrawn from Afghanistan if it was such a ham handed way in which they plan to go about their task there. What is required is a sustained effort at marginalizing the Taliban on the Afghan side while making sure they win the confidence of the common Afghan. They should have made it clear that they do not plan to move out of Afghanistan till their mission is complete. They should have also made sure that Pakistan pushes the Taliban from their side. The western forces should not have hesitated in crossing over to Pakistan in hot pursuit – for are they not hitting targets well inside Pakistan using the drones? The west should have shown resolve and fortitude to take this war to its logical end. Soviets lost because they did not want to fight in Afghanistan. They were plagued by corruption and Soviet arms and materials including their uniforms were freely available in the bazaars of Peshawar. It was graft that cost them the war and ultimately saw the demise of the Union. Western forces have no such problem. The only problem is that of resolve at the highest level to take this war to its logical conclusion. If they showed resolve, Pakistan would have behaved differently. Now they are playing a waiting game. Barack Obama may be the commander- in-chief of the American armed forces, but his leadership is far from inspiring. This is not a leader of a nation at war that spoke the other day. This was a man looking at the Gallup polls, making sure he made the right noises. Leaders must have conviction – Obama lacks that very perceptibly.

Update 07.12.2009:

Another Bomb Blast: Ten people were killed — including two police officers — when a suicide bomber detonated outside a district courthouse in Peshawar on Monday, officials said. At least 36 were injured, six of them seriously, said Dr. Hameed Afridi, CEO of the Lady Reading Hospital. The bomber got out of a rickshaw and detonated himself, according to witnesses.

The attacker was wearing a suicide jacket with about 6 kilograms of explosives, said Shafqat Malik, head of the North West Frontier Province bomb disposal unit. Source: CNN

The Obama announcement of a troop increase and July, 2011 withdrawal has started a spate of bombings that refuse to die down. The situation is precarious.

Update 9.52 PM, 07.12.2009: Twin bomb blasts have been reported in a busy market in Lahore, Pakistan. Initial reports say that at least 15 people have been injured. The situation in Pakistan is precarious. This needs serious consideration and Pakistan should be helped in all possible ways. Source: NDTV, India

It has been reported that at least 35 people have died and 50 injured in the twin Lahore blasts. Pakistan needs to seriously rethink its priorities.

Update 09.12.2009: A blast hit near a building housing Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, in the eastern city of Multan on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 20 others, police said. The explosion took place at a security checkpoint, said Jamshed Akram of the city police.

Four soldiers and four children were among the dead, said Dr. Kaleem Ullah of Multan’s emergency services. Source: CNN

Update 13.12.2009: Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has declared that their operations in South Waziristan have ended. They claim to have killed some 600 Taliban militants. Such a move should have been expected. Pakistan is doing a countdown to the time when the west starts withdrawing.

Manmohan Singh and Vladimir Putin while discussing agreed that there are no ‘moderate’ Taliban, there is only Taliban – obviously referring to American propensity at bifurcating between two seemingly different Taliban’s.

Update 07.01.2010: An innocuous comment by the Indian Army Chief Deepak Kapoor that India can take on both China and Pakistan has seen a spate of reactions from Pakistan. They have gone on and portrayed this as India’s hostile intention towards Pakistan. Indian media has failed to read the reason behind this Pakistani brouhaha. The fact is that Pakistan does not want to unleash any more military operations in Waziristan and other parts of western Afghanistan. They are therefore trying to find excuses so that they do not have to reduce troops on their eastern front. They are telling the west that India’s hostile intentions do not warrant a troop reduction on the eastern front, and therefore they cannot start operations against the Taliban on the western front.  India has decided to reduce troops in Kashmir by 30,000 but Pakistan will always find some excuse to avoid action against the radical Taliban. This time it was a comment by General Kapoor, next time it will be something else. Pakistan is taking the west and the world for a ride when they say that they are fighting terrorism. The way they are going about it, they will be consumed by the monster of terrorism.

There is an increasing rift between the Pakistani establishment and their American counterparts. The US alleges that their diplomatic and military personnel are being harassed by the Pakistan authorities and have been subjected to searches repeatedly. Pakistan needs American aid desperately. Yet, they have become increasingly belligerent with the US. Perhaps they understand that the American forces will be in the region for only some more time and therefore have become arrogant. The demarcation lines between the west and their foes is becoming clear with each passing day. Contrast this with India signing a $2.2 billion military deal for C-17 Globemaster III military transport planes with the US. Indians are getting the C-17 planes at the same price as was paid by the American government, apart from some service charges etc. Europeans and other competitors are fuming that there have been no tenders floated. But with Saint Antony (the squeaky clean Indian defence minister) at the helm, the government is clear that they can do without elaborate procurement procedures. Besides, this is also an affirmation of the close Indo-US ties. As for Pakistan, President Zardari has declared that Pakistan is ready for a thousand year war with India over Kashmir, perhaps another of his bloopers, trying to pander to Pakistani chauvinism. I am not sure if Pakistan as we know it today will remain intact for long, let alone a thousand years!!!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. nikolaykotev permalink
    December 5, 2009 1:35 pm

    Dear Mrs (Mr)!
    I want to show you my Blog “The wars. Afghan…” with Url address . In the blog you can see photos from the contemporary war in Afghanistan, after 2003 and my scientific aricles about the history of Afghanistan in the end of XX century .
    Best wishes
    Nikolay Kotev

    Dear Mrs (Mr)!
    I want to show you my new Blog “Military Diplomacy” with Url address . The blog is for the diplomatic history and foreign policy during the Second World War. You can see also the Zhukov`s Berlin`s Strategic operation in photos.
    Best wishes
    Nikolay Kotev

    • sharma24 permalink
      December 7, 2009 4:31 pm

      Thanks. I have seen your informative site. Some of the photographs of the Soviets in Afghanistan are really good and perhaps rare. Thanks again!! Ullas

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