Af-Pak, an Illusory Assessment of Terrorism and  the Mistrust between USA and Pakistan

22 May

 

(Syed Saqib Ali Shah)

A military professor at the United States Naval War College has urged US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to cast off the illusion of Pakistan being a most important ally in the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and rather see that country essentially as one of its worst enemies. Colonel Robert Cassidy in an article published in the realcleardefense.com website maintained that Islamabad is and acts as an incubator for Islamist insurgents, and suggested eight steps for changing this politico-military equation between Washington, the Coalition and Islamabad, which are: Stop paying for malice; stop major non-NATO ally status for Pakistan; state intention to make the Line of Control in Kashmir permanent; shut down ground lines of communications via Pakistan; declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism; issue one last ultimatum to help end the sanctuary; invite the Indian armed forces into Afghanistan for security operations. He said that for the last fifteen-plus years, Pakistan has employed irregular warfare to promote its chimerical notion of strategic depth by supporting the Taliban and more lethal proxies in Afghanistan. The sanctuary in Pakistan is the most significant obstacle to strategic success. This war will not end, or it will end badly if Pakistan does not stop its perfidy.

The entire article is based on unrealistic assumptions and false notions. It lacks research and objectivity that rightly pointed out an anti-Pakistan bias. These prejudiced ideas and opinion of Col Cassidy reverberate till the end. The fact of the matter is that he deliberately missed the historical facts when, where and how the US had deceived Pakistan in the last six decades of its bilateral relationship. We wish if Cassidy might have mentioned all the facts before lambasting Islamabad for being an incubator of Islamic insurgents. A recent example may open the eyes of critiques against Pakistan as a senior Al-Qaeda commander Qari Yasin linked to major attacks in Pakistan including the 2008 Marriott hotel bombing in Islamabad and the deadly attack on a bus carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team in 2009 has been killed by a US air strike on 19 March 2017 in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s counter-terrorism department had offered a bounty of 2 million rupees ($19,000) for Yasin. The death of Yasin once again reminded of Pakistan, the victim of terrorism being the front line ally against war on terrorism. This is the right time for the US to stop unnecessarily pressurizing Pakistan and if it failed to do so, the distrust and doubts will only widen in the coming days.

It is ironic when a country which supported extremely questionable groups in Syria accuses another country of supporting proxies. It is generally acknowledged that US made big mistake of Iraq invasion in 2003 which created the conditions leading regional imbalance and increased radicalization. If Pakistan is source of problem in Afghanistan what happened to US in Iraq where Pakistan did not have any stake. The desperation is evident as US failure in Iraq looms over Afghanistan where it faces similar future once it withdraws. The threat of DAISH, emerged from US war torn Iraq now have recruiters present in 25 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, the United Nations reported in September 2016. This new DAISH dynamic is quite troubling with their eyes toward Central and South Asia and if US premature behavior prevails what happened in Iraq will happen in Afghanistan. DAISH has similarly getting hold in Afghanistan. Afghanistan looks an unwinnable war for US who spent near a trillion dollars, lost many personnel but the country is still dysfunctional. All those who have been operational commanders or policy makers, when they are held accountable, obviously the defamation characters like Cassidy come up to rescue them with just surfacing blame on Pakistan to incubate Islamic insurgents.

The stalemate in Afghanistan is a sequel to the wrong policies of the US and the lack of clarity in its vision about how to resolve the Afghan conundrum. It has failed to make a realistic appraisal of the prevailing ground realities. US is trying to make Islamabad a “scapegoat to cover up its own failures” in Afghanistan. To add to its woes, the Afghan security forces raised by the US are simply not capable of defending the Afghan cities. Therefore, the US in a bid to cover up its own failures and inadequacies find it convenient to blame Pakistan for the prevailing Afghan situation.

Col Cassidy said that Pakistan has been an epicenter of terrorists and its establishment has maintained links between Al-Qaeda and Taliban. He has sidestepped from the facts as since 2009, 31 military installations, including airbases and intelligence headquarters, have been attacked by the militants affiliated with the Al-Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The attacks on Pakistan’s naval and air bases have led to the destruction of expensive equipment and loss of military personnel. If these terrorist networks and terrorism is sponsored singularly by Pakistan’s intelligence networks, then it would be irrational to believe that the military attacks its own installations. There seem to be few takers of Pakistan’s position as a “victim of terrorism”. The facts, however, cannot be brushed aside. More than 55,000 civilians and 6,000 or more Pakistani security personnel, have been killed during the past decade.

Pakistan is making “all endeavors” against terrorists of all hues and colour. It initiated indiscriminate action against all the militant outfits based in North Waziristan, including the Haqqani Network through Operation Zarb-e-Azb now extending it with Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. Their entire infrastructure has been dismantled. However, the leadership of these terrorist groups managed to escape in Afghanistan due to non-cooperation from the Afghan government. Pakistan has taken unilateral action to manage and monitor the border to prevent across-the-border movement of the terrorists. Pakistan has deployed more than 200,000 troops to clear areas near the Afghan border of all insurgents and established government control over most of the treacherous terrain. The counterterrorism campaign has cost Pakistan tens of thousands of lives with economic losses estimated at $107 billion. Pakistan has long said that while it has established hundreds of border outposts in recent years, Afghan and coalition forces have not matched the action.

Pakistan has paid a staggering human and financial cost of the conflict in Afghanistan. Yet, the remarkable success of its military and law enforcement measures has successfully broken the back of terrorist outfits. It was only possible due to indiscriminate targeting of all terrorist groups. But instead of appreciation and applying a similar squeeze on its side of the border, it heard complaints that our strong action was “pushing” terrorists into Afghanistan. The fact is that terrorists found safe haven in Afghanistan because of US failed policies, conducive conditions and weak border controls. The US needs face saving when it has been trying to do something for years and constantly failing at it. However, it’ll be damned if Pakistan is solely blamed for its own failures in Afghanistan.

It is time for the US to realize that it cannot achieve its objective just by applying shear force to dominate its opponent and relying on blame game. Pakistan firmly believes that peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. The solution to the fighting in Afghanistan lies in dialogue between the two local stakeholders facilitated and supported by neighbors. Pakistan, in any case has a pivotal role in this regard. The US attempt to revive the trilateral dialogue with Afghanistan and India while keeping Pakistan out of the loop further complicate the issue. The US administration and regime in Afghanistan therefore need to develop a realistic view about the ground realities. Pakistan remains committed to all the ideals and hopes its partners will share them with the same zeal. The blame game emanating from there should come to a stop. A particularly good sign from this country’s perspective is General Joseph Votel’s assertion that his side is working closely with Pakistan’s new Army chief and his commanders to eliminate various terrorist groups hiding on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. That should mean the US will do all that is necessary to wipe out TTP terrorists’ sanctuaries from Afghanistan’s south-eastern provinces which they have been using to launch cross-border attacks on the security forces as well as civilians all over Pakistan.

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