VARIOUS options are afloat with regard to future course of Afghan war at the decision making levels of the US. Of these, most dangerous one is outsourcing or privatisation of war. If the non-sense prevails, chances of which are bright, keeping in view Trump Administration’s functional-dysfunctional syndrome, then the war would get out of every one’s control. It will be an all-out anarchic display of violence, outside the jurisdiction of Geneva Conventions and International Criminal Court.
In anticipation to the announcement of new strategy, Pakistan’s foreign secretary visited Afghanistan for consultations on August 15. Two sides agreed that lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan was critical for regional stability and there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict; therefore, the focus should be on evolving a credible political settlement.
The US Defense Secretary James Mattis stated on August 14 that President Donald Trump’s administration was “very, very close” to finalizing its new strategy for Afghanistan and that “all options” remained on the table, including a full withdrawal as well as a proposal for the use of more private security contractors…You can see the pluses and minuses of each one so that there’s no longer any new data you are going to get”. Special representative of the Russian President in Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, has said that “as the US army cannot do anything, let them leave Afghanistan. The American campaign in Afghanistan has failed”.
A day later, Afghan Taliban published an open letter to US President warning him against sending more American forces to Afghanistan. It called for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces: “it would be wise if you adopt the strategy of a complete withdrawal”. The letter described foreign occupation as the “main driver of war” in Afghanistan. “If you failed to win the Afghan war with disciplined US and NATO troops… you shall never be able to win it with mercenaries, notorious contractor firms and immoral stooges,” document added.
Military Times has recently reported that Erik Prince, the former Chief Executive Officer of erstwhile notorious private military company, Blackwater, is back to business, and he has offered to step up the Afghan air war with a private air force capable of intelligence collection and close air support. Luckily, at military professional level, there is realization of the likely outfalls of such an eventuality.
Hamid Karzai has expressed his opposition to the evolving possibility that US private companies will be responsible for the Afghan war. “I vehemently oppose the proposal to the US government to outsource its war in Afghanistan to private security firms. This would be prolonging and intensifying the bloodshed in Afghanistan and a blatant violation of our national sovereignty and constitution,” Karzai recently twitted. He has also called on National Unity Government to oppose it. On the lighter side, Karzai is rather foolhardy to think that a country under military occupation retains sovereignty.
In the meanwhile, frustrated with Trump Administration’s inordinate delay in coming up with Afghan strategy, the US Senator John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has unveiled his long-promised strategy for Afghanistan, which threatens “imposing graduated diplomatic, military, and economic costs on Pakistan” if it continues to provide the alleged support and sanctuary to terrorist and insurgent groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. His strategy includes providing additional US troops for counter-terrorism missions. It also allows US advisers to work closer to the front lines with Afghan officers and giving US commanders a broader authority to target Taliban insurgents, Islamic State militants and other militias.
McCain’s integrated plan for Afghanistan suggests the following strategic objectives: Improve the capability and capacity of the Afghan government; establish security conditions in Afghanistan necessary to encourage and facilitate a negotiated peace process; forge a regional diplomatic consensus in support of the long-term stabilisation of Afghanistan; bolster US counterterrorism efforts; providing the US military with status-based targeting authority against the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups; pursuing a joint agreement to secure a long-term, open-ended counterterrorism partnership between the US and the Afghan government; establishing US military training and advisory teams and significantly increasing US air power and other critical combat enablers to support Afghan operations; providing sustained support to Afghan forces by providing key enabling capabilities, including intelligence, logistics, special forces, air lift, and close air support; strictly conditioning further US military, economic, and governance assistance programmes to the Afghan government upon measurable progress in achieving benchmarks for institutional reforms, especially those related to anti-corruption, financial transparency, and rule of law. Earlier in July, the US Department of Defence had also issued a report, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. Document acknowledged Pakistan as “the most influential external actor affecting Afghan stability and the outcome of both the US and Nato missions” and suggested application of carrot and stick to achieve its cooperation.
The US National Security Adviser McMaster has also indicated on August 12 that a new US strategy for Afghanistan may include this “carrot and stick” approach. He said, “The president has also made clear that we need to see a change in behaviour of those in the region, which includes those who are providing safe haven and support bases for the Taliban, Haqqani Network and others…This is Pakistan in particular that we want to really see a change in and a reduction of their support for these groups. I mean, this is of course, you know, a very paradoxical situation where Pakistan is taking great losses. They have fought very hard against these groups, but they’ve done so really only selectively.” McMaster added: The president has said that, “He does not want to place restrictions on the military that undermine our ability to win battles in combat.” “He has lifted those restrictions, and you’re beginning to see the payoff of that — as well.”
Pakistan has done more than in its part in smothering the flames of insurgency in Afghanistan. The silver lining is that all policy making echelons in Washington recognise the importance of Pakistan with respect to resolution of Afghan conflict. This gives Pakistan adequate strategic space to contribute towards peace in Afghanistan.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.