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The End Game – Ensuring a Smooth Exit?

June 22, 2013

John Kerry has been in the sub-continent quiet a few times but it is the first time he is coming to India after taking office as the Secretary of State. With the deadline of 2014 for the exit of American forces looming large he has little time to sew things up. After war and acrimony the US has decided to talk to the Taliban including the Haqqani group. This has raised the hackles of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has also objected to Taliban claiming to represent the people of Afghanistan and calling his nation  Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in effect making his office inconsequential. Karzai sees his nation as secular  and any such overt expression of religious moorings does not go down well with the present setup. Besides this is what the Taliban want Afghanistan to be and if such nomenclature is accepted then it will in effect be an acceptance of the radical Taliban point of view which is anathema to duly elected Karzai.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State

For the Americans, they couldn’t care less. Their priority is to get their troops back home safely. To John Kerry and President Obama, the safety of their troops is of utmost importance. The Doha office of the Taliban was set up precisely for this purpose. Some 20 warlords with their families live in the palatial Doha office of the Taliban. They claim that the Qataris are paying for the Taliban office. I would not be surprised if the Americans are found to be footing the bill for the Taliban office and the upkeep of the leaders living there.  Americans have come around to the fact that this is a war they cannot win. They cannot annihilate the Taliban or overpower them. So the best bet is to make a deal with them. But this is nothing new. Such backdoor dialogue with the Taliban has been going on for some years now. The difference though is that the Taliban have been given an official sanction and are being courted openly. Their amazing chutzpah in offering a swap of Afghans in Guantanamo for an American Sergent they captured in 2009 is an indicator of how far back the American are ready to bend to accommodate them.

The incredible part is that while the Taliban are enjoying American hospitality their fighters are putting the pressure on the American forces and the Afghan security-men trained by the Americans. Americans are returning the favors by unleashing drone attacks. A recent attack in Kabul where suicide bombers attacked Baghram Airbase was thwarted by the Afghan forces while the Americans remained in the background. This was seen as a great achievement – the way they repulse d the attack. But the crucial factor was that the Americans remained in the background. How would have the same attack panned out had the American forces not been there is what experts are asking

Hamid Karzaai made his displeasure clear when he found that the Americans had included the Haqqanis in talks. The al-Qaeda link with the Haqqanis is well known. Americans had vowed not to talk to the Haqqanis. But now they have made a U turn and invited them as well. Clearly, it is a desperate situation. The mess in Afghanistan is as bad as it can get. The question for Kerry is – how to ensure that the American forces make a quiet exit and his president’s words are honored. John Kerry knows that if Karzai will listen to anyone it is the Indians. His trip to India is to make sure India uses its leverage to ensure Karzai is a willing participant in the talks. Already Karzai has toned down his rhetoric. Karzai is looking at a post 2014 American withdrawal scenario. In public he postures that the Taliban can never return. But clearly, the man is on the edge. He is suspicious of all and sundry and has few friends. For him an American end game is as much an end game for him too. His posturing therefore has to be seen in a context. The fate of Najibullah is still fresh in the minds of many Afghans.

There are two lacunae in the Johan Kerry and Obama administration’s game plan. The first is that they have not made it clear as to what kind of commitment they plan to have in Afghanistan post 2014. What they have said is that American forces will be in non-combat role post 2014. They are increasingly giving charge to Afghan forces. It is the number of forces that will remain in Afghanistan post 2014 that is the critical question. If there are enough forces to ward off any insurgent attack then there is a credible deterrence against the Taliban. It is the numbers that matter. And lets be clear – any force worth its salt  should be ready to fight if they have to. This American posturing that their forces will remain in Afghanistan as non-combatants is pure baloney. Afghanistan is not an American base as in Okinawa or in Germany. This is an outpost in a volatile region that will see combat from time to time. America may have called for an end to war in Afghanistan but the critical question is whether Taliban have called for an end too. And therein lies the reason for a frantic urge for negotiations with the Taliban. The question is – can the Americans buy peace.  Anyone who knows South Asia will say that Americans are being naive. But what other choice do they have?  The answer is – none.

The other gap in this equation is the absence of Pakistani Taliban – the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. It is true that the ISI and the army hold the key to TTP and it is also true that the US has influence with the ISI and the Pakistan Army. But what they are under-estimating is the will of the Pakistan army to have sway in Afghanistan. If we are to look at the history of Pakistan-US relations we find that invariably US has been able to get its way. Yes they have had to pay a price but they have always managed to arm-twist Pakistan into submission. They understand that they may have to negotiate with Pakistan separately but they also know that the Pakistan conundrum is comparatively a predictable one. It is the Afghan Taliban that they need to work on. I am sure they are aware that the one non-negotiable from Pakistan point of view is that once Americans withdraw Pakistan will be free to do as they wish in Afghanistan – which in effect means they will unleash TTP and Afghan Taliban and try and over-run the country. Americans may let Pakistan have a free hand post their withdrawal, which is exactly what India would not like. I will not be surprised if Americans ignore India’s pleas and let Pakistan do as they wish.

For John Kerry and his team a trip to India maybe to make sure Karzai comes around. India will negotiate. They may want David Coleman Headley for a couple of years to sew some terror related cases that are pending in our courts. India understands Obama’s sense of urgency as far as the closure to the Afghan operations is concerned. India will try and make sure Afghanistan does not fall into the hands of Pakistan sponsored Taliban. Karzai and India are keen to get some kind of commitment from Kerry as far as post 2014 troop deployment by the Americans is concerned. The US and their European allies in NATO have indicated to a security cover for Afghanistan till the year 2021. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen had clearly stated NATO’s resolve to have adequate forces in Afghanistan so that the developmental work done in this critical nation does not come apart. Besides, NATO would hate to leave a vacuum in Afghanistan. The law of nature is such that vacuums are generally filled in no time. This mineral rich nation must not be abandoned just quiet so quickly. John Kerry has a handful on his plate. We might see a lot more of John Kerry in the run-up to the 2014 withdrawal.

Note: The insistence of the Taliban to call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan with the Afghan flag during the talks has not gone well with the Americans either. They have told the Taliban that they shall be called just the Office of the Taliban and if they insist on representing the people of Afghanistan then the talks shall be suspended and their Doha office closed. Its an intractable situation.

In his article (link below) The Doha Initiative,  Brig Samson Sharaf of  Pakistan army has argued for handing over the power to the Taliban by the Americans as they are the most credible representatives of the people of Afghanistan. That will be a bloodless coup. Elections in Afghanistan are due in 2014. Will NATO go ahead with elections as they withdraw – that is something that the world will be watching. India will hate to see the Taliban back in power by design or by force. As I said earlier Secretary of State John Kerry’s job is unenviable. This is far from being a simple operation of withdrawing troops.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. sharafs permalink
    June 23, 2013 10:41 am

    Since you tagged my OPED too, this is the summary I could not post in the paper due to editorial policy and could be the endgame to this violence. The Sunni Jihadist in the past few days have struck all over Pakistan including the latest massacre of 10 Russian, Chinese and Ukrainian Tourists in Fairy Meadows Diamer Pakistan.

    Due to editorial policy I avoided naming countries. Doha and not Riyadh are the facilitators and the former feels irked and vulnerable sandwiched between Iraq, Syria and Iran, all Shiite. Strategically Doha also provides the bridge to Iran and regional NATO HQs. PMLN through some measures managed to keep Sunni Sectarian outfits in check, but this may change due to NRO II in place. If you note, sectarian mayhem in the other three provinces has suddenly surged. These Saudi inspired groups including TTP will hit back with ferocity.

    The mistake that most have been making is that they link TTP and others with Afghan Taliban (a lump of anti occupation resistance). Doha if successful will isolate and bifurcate the two.

    That done, Pakistan will need to segregate various groups under TTP including sectarian outfits. More than half of them in support of Afghan Taliban will automatically cease after Afghan Taliban join the power sharing in Afghanistan. That would leave Hakim Ullah Mehsud’s TTP, Swat Taliban, Laskar e Jhangvi, SSP, Jaish and an odd spoiler like Laskar e Islam to contend and these are the ones that will need, hammer, anvil and a carrot. This is the road map I perceive for ultimate negotiations with the worst.

  2. June 23, 2013 12:54 pm

    I can understand your reticence at naming organizations. Do you mean the Saudi inspired TTP, Jaish and LeT etc. will react ferociously in response to the Syrian conflict? Sectarian violence will increase in Pakistan.
    Pakistan would want the US to take on board TTP and other radical outfits while deciding on Afghanistan. LeT was given a largesse of millions of dollars by the newly elected Nawaz Sharief government through its proxy – the Jamaat ud Dawa. All these militant outfits will grow in power in the years to come, as the NATO continues to withdraw. I foresee more volatility in the region. Pakistan will be the epicenter of such instability. But then does it really matter?
    PS: There were reports that Hakimullah Mehsud had died in a drone attack. But it seems the reports were untrue from your assertion.

  3. sharafs permalink
    June 23, 2013 3:06 pm

    There is too much bias that clouds your judgements.
    Afghan Taliban is a leftover of the Afghan Govt USA removed and coalesced with many other anti occupation groups.

    TTP is a terrorist organisation that does nor recognise Pakistan, its constitution and sovereignty. It is not an extension of Afghan Taliban, though they share part of the name. Their other allies are banned Sunni outfits that kill Shias like SSP, Laskar e Jhangvi, Jaish etc. These are mostly outside funded including India,.

    LeT or JUD are connected to neither of the above. They had linkages to Kashmir and now operate as an NGO running hospitals, charities, calamity management. They accept the Ideology and constitution of Pakistan.

    There are other militant groups only allied with the Afghan Taliban like Maulvi Nazir Group, Haji Bahadur etc. They are opposed to US occupation but not the writ of Pakistan Govt.

    • June 23, 2013 3:48 pm

      You are trying to sell me that LeT and JUD are NGO’s who are into social work? These were the guys with active support from Pakistani establishment who were behind the 26/11 attacks. The UN has named them both as terrorist organizations.
      TTP is also called Punjabi Taliban to separate it from the Afghan Taliban who, as you rightly pointed out are remnants of Taliban of yore. But Pathans make a good percentage of TTP.
      All these radical terrorist organizations that you mention are not in water tight compartments – they inter-operate. The important point is that they serve the strategic aims of Islamabad.
      The only thing that friends of Pakistan like yours truly fear is that these radicals might become so monstrous that they might gobble up Pakistan as we know it now. You may find my article Ajmal Amir Kasab – The Story of Pakistan interesting.

  4. rehmat1 permalink
    June 23, 2013 11:47 pm

    William Kristol, the Jewish Zionist, a dual citizen of the US and Israel and co-founder of PNAC, told Chris Wallace (Jewish) on FoxNews on June 20, that the US and Taliban cannot reach a political settlement unless first the US defeat them. I wonder what the Zionist moron think the US-NATO have been doing for the last 12 years? Obama is offering Taliban an olive branch because he has realized that US-NATO has failed to defeat Taliban who are in control of over 80% of the land. Obama is seeking an honorable exit strategy which only Taliban can provide.

    • June 24, 2013 8:57 am

      There are many Pakistanis who are in the seat of power and hold dual citizenship Ideally the West would have liked to vanquish the Taliban before embarking on a dialogue but the terrain and the porous Af-Pak border makes it impossible for NATO troops to claim a decisive victory. Besides, the number of troops on the ground deployed by the NATO is way too small to win a war of such magnitude. Its a no-win situation. Americans are tired of war. Obama senses that and therefore decided on a complete withdrawal from Iraq and substantial withdrawal from Afghanistan. This does not auger well for American global interests. Afghanistan is not a Vietnam but neither is it post World War II American euphoria.

  5. June 27, 2013 10:06 am

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