COMMENTARY
 
Prospects of the New Afghan War Strategy
Weekly Pulse
December 11-17, 2009
The Taliban have responded to President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy additional 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan with renewed terrorist resolve. The same day he announced the revised battleplan for Afghanistan in a major speech at the US Military Academy in New York on December 1, Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi responded: “Such moves would provoke stronger resistance…This is a colonizing strategy which is securing the colonizing interests of American investors, and it shows that America has dirty plans not only for Afghanistan but for the region.”

Then, on December 4, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan orchestrated a brutal terrorist attack at Parade Lane mosque in Rawalpindi Cant, killing some 40 worshippers, including military officers and 17 children. TTP has continued its deadly spree in the country since then, as cities of Lahore, Multan and Peshawar have seen more deadly terrorist attacks, killing over a hundred innocent civilians.

The revised US strategy for the war in Afghanistan which President Obama announced has three important components, including the deployment of 30,000 additional US troops to reverse Taliban insurgency, expand Afghan capacity and pave the way for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan within 18 months; an accelerated program to boost the notoriously weak and corrupt Afghan government; and a strategic partnership with Pakistan to end al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in its tribal areas by reinforcing the country’s counter-insurgency capacity and developing its civilian sector.

Resolve to Fight

The success of the new US strategy to turn the tide of Afghan war against al-Qaeda and Taliban hinges largely on the latter’s terrorist resolve, which does not appear to go away despite the declared surge of international troops in Afghanistan and intensification in Pakistan’s military offensive. For now, TTP in Pakistan, and Taliban and their insurgent allies in Afghanistan seem committed to promote al-Qaeda’s terrorist agenda in the region. This leaves the respective security forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan with no other choice but to show the same resolve to combat these terrorist-insurgent groups as is manifested in Obama Administration’s decision to deploy thousands of troops in the Afghan war theatre.

For its part, Pakistan is already undertaking a resolute military offensive in South Waziristan. The country’s resolve to combat terrorism was expressed clearly by Army Chief Gen.Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in his remarks following the December 4 mosque attack: “Such acts (terrorism) of cowardice would not dent the resolve of the armed forces and the nation to fight terrorism,” he said.

Since then, the country’s civilian leadership has worked overtime to secure a consensual religious verdict against terrorism—with Interior Minister Rehman Malik traveling to Karachi and meeting Mufti Rafi Usmani and Mufti Taqi Usmani at Dar-ul-Uloom Korangi. Consequently, Allama Tahirul Qadri, the founder of the Tehreek-e-Minhajul-Quran and Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman have declared suicide attacks and bomb blasts that kill innocent civilians as “against the teachings of Islam.”

In October 2008, a gathering of the Muttehadda Ulema Council at Jamia Naeemia, presided over by Maulana Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, a renowned Alim of the country’s majority Sunni-Barelvi sect, had also issued a unanimous fatwa declaring suicide attacks in Pakistan as haram (unlawful) and najaez (unjustified) under Islam. However, the issuing of the said fatwa cost Dr Naeemi his life, as he was killed by TTP in a suicide bombing in June this year. The current government’s drive to secure the support for the country’s religious scholars for its “just” fight against terrorism is important, especially when public opinion has already significantly turned against Taliban and their terrorist cause.

As for Afghanistan, at least Taliban’s pronouncements make it clear that the religious militia wants to give fighting the international forces another try, even if their numbers will be increasing by thousands in the coming months. Contrary to Taliban’s designs, President Hamid Karzai has started to offer peace overtures to Mullah Umar soon after President Obama’s announcement of the new battleplan for Afghanistan.

In an interview with Associated Press on December 3, Mr Karzai resolved to do “whatever it takes,” to bring peace, including talking to Taliban leader Mullah Umar, provided there are “guarantees that the US and its international partners are backing any peace bid.” Then, on December 5, in another interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN, he said: "As an Afghan, I would very much want to negotiate with him (Taliban leader), provided he renounces violence, provided all the connections to the Al-Qaeda and to terrorist networks are cut off and denounced and renounced."

Pakistani Worries

The new war strategy for Afghanistan has received largely positive response from US allies in the Afghan war. Pakistan’s response to it, however, has been a bit cautious, with the country’s Foreign Office saying the government would offer its full response once the specifics of the new US strategy were clear. This is despite the fact that a day after President Obama announced the new war strategy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in their respective testimonies before the Congress, have talked about the specifics of the new strategy.

Pakistan is concerned that US/NATO troops’ reinforcement in Afghanistan may worsen its security challenge from Taliban, as Afghan Taliban under pressure from intensified military campaign in Afghanistan will infiltrate the Durand Line and open additional fronts for its security forces in the tribal area. Still combating with the left-over of TNSM insurgents in Swat and fully engaged in the fight against TTP and its allies in South Waziristan, Pakistani security forces could hardly afford to simultaneously tackle other fronts that the said insurgent infiltration threatened. The “fastest possible pace” of US troops’ deployment that President Obama indicated meant that all of the major hotspots of insurgency in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern regions bordering Pakistan, including the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Paktia and Paktika, were to experience heightened security campaign, especially in the spring of 2010. The total number of international troops, including both US and NATO, was to increase from 110,000 at resent to 150,000 next year.

The ripple effect of the intensified military campaign in Afghanistan’s border regions with Pakistan in the shape of insurgent infiltration and refugee influx from Afghanistan is, indeed, a justified concern of the country’s civilian rulers and security establishment. However, since the US and NATO cannot manage Afghan insurgency without increasing the number of their fighting force in Afghanistan, Pakistan is left with no choice but to expand its counter-insurgency campaign to other areas of the tribal belt, particularly North Waziristan, and border regions of Balochistan, if and when the terrorist-insurgent danger surfaced there. Since the country’s security forces are already engaged in a resolute military offensive against Taliban in tribal areas, including Kurram and Khyber Agencies as well, the runaway insurgents from Afghanistan may not find the tribal belt as hospitable in the coming months as was the case before.

Means to an End

Even otherwise, heightened security campaigns across the Durand Line by Pakistan and US-NATO, respectively, would have a shared objective: to weaken the resolve of the terrorist-insurgent forces and, consequently, create moderate constituencies among them, who are willing to renounce violence, dissociate from al-Qaeda and its hardcore allies and participate in the political process largely on the terms of respective state parties and international forces.

The troops’ surge announced by President Obama as part of the revised US battleplan for Afghanistan seems to be a short-term military means to facilitate a qualitatively different counter-insurgency campaign that places greater emphasis on expanding Afghan security capacity, reinforcing civilian development campaign and reconciling with moderate insurgent forces in Afghanistan. It appears to be a military escalation meant to prepare the ground for the eventual withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan and a political resolution of the Afghan conflict.

The level of compatibility between Pakistan’s counter-terrorism interests and those of the United States and its allies in the region has significantly increased over time. The only area of friction in terms of the priorities of the two sides in tacking terrorism pertains to Pakistan’s traditional policy of showing no leniency towards those insurgents groups which commit terrorism inside the country and have soft corner for those who do not commit domestic terrorism but undertake or facilitate insurgency in Afghanistan.

Area of Friction

Pakistan, for instance, has cut deals with two Taliban groups, one led by Mullah Nazir Ahmad in South Waziristan and another led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, both of which allegedly provide safe haven to the Afghan insurgent group of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former Afghan Mujahideen leader, and participate in Afghan insurgency. These deals have helped to isolate the TTP in South Waziristan, thereby facilitating the army’s counter-insurgency campaign there.

However, for its part, the United States expects Pakistan to go after these groups as well as Afghan Taliban hiding in tribal areas and Balochistan with as much interest as it has displayed in fighting against TNSM, TTP and al-Qaeda-linked Uzbek warriors. The American concerns about al-Qaeda leaders and other terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the country’s failure to bring them to task are aside.

All of these concerns were expressed by President Obama in a letter delivered by his National Security Advisor James Jones to President Zardari during his visit to Islamabad in November 2009.

In the letter, the US President warned Pakistan that its use of insurgent groups to pursue policy goals “cannot continue,” while calling for “closer collaboration against all extremist groups,” including al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and TTP.” However, simultaneously, to encourage the country for action against these groups, President Obama in the same communication guaranteed Pakistan “an expanded strategic partnership,” including “an effort to help reduce tensions between Pakistan and India.”

As part of this expanded strategic partnership, proffered US carrots for Pakistan, outlined during Secretary of State Clinton's October visit to Islamabad, center on a far more comprehensive and long-term bilateral relationship. It would feature enhanced development and trade assistance; improved intelligence collaboration and a more secure and upgraded military equipment pipeline; more public praise and less public criticism of Pakistan; and an initiative to build greater regional cooperation among Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

Perceived Fears

One of the main reasons for Pakistani security establishment’s relative leniency towards Afghanistan or Kashmir-specific insurgent groups is the perceived fear about the United States once again doing what it did in the aftermath of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan: simply leave the region after the fulfillment of its strategic interest, and letting Pakistan alone to deal with the messy consequences of the Afghan jihad. Pakistan may have contributed to the current terrorist quagmire by sponsoring or overlooking the forces of insurgency in the disputed region of Kashmir and backing the Taliban in Afghanistan prior to the events of 9/11, but its grievances regarding the US abandonment of strategic relationship with the country, are, nonetheless, justified.

However, the fact that US-Pakistan relations in future may have a radically different, positivist context is amply clear from repeated assurances by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that United States’ relationship with the country is long-term and strategic in orientation as well as from concrete pledges of billions of dollars of US civilian and security assistance to the country, especially under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act.

In the context of US-Pakistan relations pertaining to tackling terrorism, perhaps the most important development is the grand transformation that is under way in this relationship, from the traditionally state-to-state towards people-to-people. If such a guarantee is there, then Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership can also be expected to start making no distinction between who conducts terrorism inside the country and who is involved in insurgency beyond the country’s frontiers.

Visible Change

Already, as clear from how terrorism has evolved in recent years in Pakistan, some of the most spectacular acts of terrorism, including the October 2009 attack on the army’s General Headquarters, have been orchestrated by south Punjabi jihadi groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, traditionally identified with sectarian terrorism. If the Obama Administration is willing to help India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue amicably, then Pakistani security establishment can be expected to change its course against Kashmir-specific banned militant outfits like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

And if Washington is guaranteeing Pakistan a strategic partnership and is willing to co-opt moderate insurgents in Afghanistan’s political and security structure, then this will surely encourage Pakistani security establishment to re-think its strategic depth strategy. Co-opting moderate insurgent, meaning Pashtun majority, amid an intensified security campaign, will be an option that cannot be exercised successfully without Pakistan’s cooperation, because of the most crucial ground reality of the Durand Line: the Pashtun ethnicity straddling across this frontier, which is a major source of current insurgent trouble in the region, but can be a potential factor in overcoming the terrorist quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Being Afghanistan’s principal neighbour, Pakistan seeks an Afghan solution that credibly incorporates the security, political and economic grievances of its majority Pashtun population, simply because, without that, its own Pashtun population inhabiting tribal areas east of the Durand Line remains aggrieved. A military campaign that cruses terrorist-insurgents to the extent that moderate constituencies are created among the forces of insurgency—be they in Afghanistan or Pakistan—which are willing to renounce violence, dissociate their links from al-Qaeda and participate in the political process largely on the basis of the interests of the state parties does have scope of success. However uncertain its outcome, it must be given a chance.

If as a result of the troops' surge, Afghan security capacity building activity gains momentum, the Afghans living in major cities feel more secure, the casualty rate of Afghan civilians and foreign troops is significantly decreased, and a credible process of reconciling with moderate insurgents gets underway, then President Obama’s wish to “finish the job” in Afghanistan has a realistic chance of success.

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