Dr. Sohail Mahmood
Recently, President Obama announced a troop surge to Afghanistan which will bring the total of American troops in Afghanistan to 100,000. Meanwhile, NATO has decided to send some 7,000 troops more to Afghanistan. President Obama gave no exit date and stated that troops will start a pull-out in mid 2011. The pull-out completion date was not known. President Obama did not listen to wise counsel from within his circle of close advisers who had cautioned him on such a dangerous course of action. The conservatives and the military establishment prevailed in the corridors of power in Washington, DC. The war strategy was long in the making and came as no surprise. The troop surge was expected. Nonetheless, it was a grave mistake.
The United States should have given an exit strategy and should have announced a pull-out at the most by the end of 2010. An OIC and UN joint peacekeeping force could have been sent to replace Western militaries. The Global War on Terror is now a war without any ends, nor any achievable goals. How can the US defeat the radical Islamic militants who are feeding on its tragic wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq? What is the justification of the war in Afghanistan? The al Qaeda and the Taliban had been defeated in the end of 2001, soon after 9/11. The threat from the Taliban has increased by all calculations. The question is why?
How can a rag tag militia which was defeated in late 2001 stage such an impressive comeback? Why was the al Qaeda not defeated as yet? At best it has only a few hundred men lined to it. The answer is that the Western military forces in Afghanistan have galvanized and mobilized a Muslim reaction to their continued presence. It was hoped that President Obama will announce a pull-out of American troops from Afghanistan. That did not happen. Pakistan is now under pressure to deliver as an American ally in the Global War on Terror. Although Pakistan is faced with a horrendous fight against terrorism inside the country, the Americans want more action against the al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan’s army is stretched to the breaking point as it guards the eastern border with India and simultaneously fights terrorism within the country.
The recent spate of bombings in Pakistani cities is unprecedented in the country’s troubled history. Terrorists have repeatedly struck at the military establishment which has created public anxiety. More drone attacks by the American CIA is over the horizon. The fight will now be taken against the so-called Quetta Shura of the Taliban in Baluchistan. There was already a simmering insurgency going on in that restive province. American intrusion will complicate the situation even further then what there is already. What the Obama administration failed too understand is that the United States is now being considered as the problem in the region and could not therefore be part of any solution.
The very presence of the US and NATO troops was attracting a new jihad in Afghanistan. Support from neighboring Pakistan could not be easily ended. The public opinion in the entire Muslim world had turned against the United States interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. People in Pakistan are now very apprehensive of what Obama has in store for Pakistan. The only good thing is the mention of a time table for the exit to start. The general public wants the United Sates and NATO forces to leave Afghanistan. Since this is not going to happen, the ant-American sentiments are high. So much for friendship and alliance talks in official circles. There is greater animosity in Pakistan now after Obama’s speech. Pakistanis are convinced that the United States wishes to remain in Afghanistan permanently. Many are convinced that the United States is assisting the Pakistani Taliban at the same time when it is fighting the Afghan Taliban. The United States is not even trying to stop Indian interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The Indian intelligence agencies are supporting the terrorist networks in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan has made it quite clear that India is involved in the terrorist acts taking place inside Pakistan. Why are the leaderships of the United States and NATO not stopping Indian support of terrorism in Pakistan? Notwithstanding the claims of the Indian political leadership, the evidence of Indian assistance to terrorism is available with the Government of Pakistan.
The Zardari government had made this quite clear for all to see. Why have friends of Pakistan in Western capitals not helped Pakistan on this score? Pakistan is a very reluctant ally in the American-led Global war on Terror, to say the least. It was expected that the United States, and other Western powers like Great Britain, would do their part to resolve the Kashmir dispute now that they had great leverage in New Delhi. But this did not happen. There simply cannot be peace in South Asia without a solution to the Kashmir dispute. The nature of the dispute was territorial. Therefore, it was very difficult for both Indian and Pakistani governments to resolve it bilaterally. Such is the problem with all territorial disputes. Only American and other Western intervention can resolve the matter. India is not ready to talk to Pakistan because of the last November Mumbai terrorism incident. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s military remains pegged down at the eastern border with India. Now it is tied down in South Waziristan after clearing Swat. What is the solution to the complex situation in South and West Asia?
The United States and NATO must give a clear exit timetable only because they do not command the support of both the Afghan and Pakistani populace. The Western troops can be replaced by the OIC-UN peacekeeping forces comprising of neutral small or medium nations in Africa, Asia and South America. Preferably, no great power troops are involved in the peacekeeping operation. China, India, and other regional powers will not participate in the new peacekeeping venture. This new peacekeeping operation is given a mandate to remain in Afghanistan for at least five years to bring stability and security to the country. Remember narcotics and arms smuggling and serious problems in Afghanistan which need time to be tackled successfully. The country has suffered from chaos, anarchy and bad governance for too long and needs to be stabilized by outside help. The key is to get neutral countries, preferably Muslim, to bring stability, economic development and good governance to the country. Countries like Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, and Malaysia can be persuaded to send troops to secure Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan needs to be assisted to secure the border regions also. This is a reasonable plan that can be put in place with some effort.
The key to stability in West Asia is the removal of undesirable Western militaries. The longer the American and NATO troops remain in Afghanistan, the more will the insurgency grow. Does the United States desire to get in another Vietnam-like quagmire situation? Does it want to fight an endless war against Muslim radicals? Why does the United States want to thrust itself in a region where it is widely despised because of its past wrongdoings? How can it seal the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? How can it continue attacking Pakistani territory through its drones? How can it claim that al Qaeda is in Pakistan? What evidence does the Obama administration have to support its claims? Why is it that not a single man has been punished by a court of law for the 9/11 incidents? How can hundreds of thousands of Muslims be killed for only one 9/11 incident? Why does not the United States, and NATO partners, not support Palestinian independence? What are they doing to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims globally? Most importantly, why the United States is so much despised in the Muslim world? The time for some introspection has not ended. It is hoped that the Obama administration is going to ponder on these hard questions. Unpleasant issues cannot be ignored any more.
Given the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a serious dialogue must be immediately undertaken to comprehend the perceptions now engulfing the Muslim world. Remember Muslim perceptions do matter. Otherwise, more conflict and bloodshed can easily be seen across the horizon. Everyone will be looser if that happens. The world will then bear the consequences of a wider conflict. It is hoped that the looming conflict is averted by wiser counsel. Is the Obama administration listening?
(Dr. Sohail Mahmood is a Professor and Chairman, Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages – NUML, Pakistan)
(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of POLITACT.)