US role in our Afghan imbroglio



M. Ziauddin

It is so convenient to blame India for most of our security problems. But then India has never been found wanting in creating such problems for Pakistan. And Modi’s India has crossed all limits since its advent in 2014. That is perhaps why we blame India for our current Afghanistan woes. And lately Kabul has not been too unwilling to re-enforce the impression.
The unholy haste Afghanistan displayed in boycotting the SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan in November 2016 immediately following the announcement to the effect by New Delhi indicated that Kabul was in complete cohorts with India for making life difficult for Pakistan. This was a blatant but failed attempt by India to isolate Pakistan. And Afghanistan joined the Indian effort as if commanded by New Delhi.
We in Pakistan, therefore, seem convinced that even Afghanistan’s National Security Department (NSD) took orders directly from the Indian spy agency the Research& Analysis Wing (RAW). And that both President Ashraf Ghani and his country’s Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah appear to us too smitten by Modi. Or perhaps they are too scared of Pakistan.
Or could it be that another more powerful player—more powerful than India and more influential with the Kabul regime than New Delhi could ever be— is behind these problems?
A close study of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that the US and Afghanistan signed on September 30, 2014 reveals a lot in this regard. The BSA went into force on January 1, 2015 and remains in force “until the end of 2024 and beyond” unless it is terminated by either side with two years’ notice.
The document itself does not establish how many U.S. troops can be in Afghanistan during that time, but former U.S. President Barack Obama had announced that there would be only 9,800 soldiers after December 3, 2014.
Kabul signed a similar agreement with NATO on September 30, 2014 to allow 4,000 to 5,000 additional troops — mostly from Britain, Germany, Italy, and Turkey — to stay in Afghanistan in a noncombat role after 2014.That means the total number of foreign soldiers immediately remaining in the county could be up to 14,800.
The U.S. forces’ mission under the BSA is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty. “This clause of the BSA needs to be studied assiduously by Islamabad and Rawalpindi in order to put the entire Afghan related problem in its proper context.
The clause includes “advising, training, equipping and sustaining” Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces, which are those under the ministries of defense and the interior, and “as appropriate,” those of the National Security Directorate, which is a special counterterrorism office.”
The BSA is not a defense pact which would commit the United States to defending Afghanistan if it were attacked by another state. But the text does say Washington “shall regard with grave concern any external aggression or threat of external aggression.”
It also says that in the case of external aggression, Washington and Kabul would work together to develop “an appropriate response,” including considering political, military, and economic measures. We need to take serious note of this clause as well for our own good.
The BSA authorizes U.S. forces to maintain existing facilities and undertake new constructions so long as they are agreed upon by both sides.
This clause in the BSA needs to be read by regional countries including Pakistan as permitting Washington to seek to create a permanent presence in the region under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Indeed Germany and Japan provide excellent examples of how the number of American bases mushroomed in these countries under the pretext of fighting the Cold War.
The United States already has nine bases in Afghanistan. So, it would indeed be too naïve, on our part, to believe that the US would ever leave the region. This has never happened since the World War II. Wherever it had gone with its boots since, it had stayed on permanently. The last time it came to this region was in the shape of CIA. There were no US boots in the region during the first Afghan war. That was why it could leave in a hurry. Now that it is here with its boots why would it even think of leaving the region which is in such close proximity of China, Iran and nuclear armed Pakistan and India?
Now comes a new plan prepared by the new US administration’s Defence Secretary James Mattis for combating the militant Islamic State group (IS). The plan calls for using both military and non-military means for defeating the extremist organization. The plan is said to have gone beyond Iraq and Syria, as the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan warned that the IS had a significant presence in the Pak-Afghan region as well. The plan also suggests various options for tightening the screws on the terrorist group’s funding.
Gen John Nicholson, Commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, told a military publication that “alliances of convenience” among terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a big concern for the United States.
Talking to a publication of the Combating Terrorism Centre, an academic institution at the US Military Academy in West Point, Gen Nicholson outlined how Al Qaeda, the IS and other militant groups worked together in the Pak-Afghan region.
“Al Qaeda is linked to the Taliban, who are not a designated terrorist organization but a violent extremist organization, and the Taliban provide a medium for designated terrorist organizations like the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Qaeda and IS. These five form a loose sort of confederation that complement one another and work together,” he said.
The general pointed out that the IS, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had also formed a loose configuration. “So, we see these alliances of convenience or where they have complementary goals come together. This is one of our big concerns,” he said.
At the Pentagon, officials told various media outlets that these ground realities were part of the comprehensive plan they had submitted to the White House.
“Diplomacy is a key part of the plan” that was focused on the IS but was also shaped to include other “trans-regional” terrorist groups, the spokesman said. “This is really a framework for broader discussion.”
Although the Obama administration was strongly against inducting more troops into battles against the IS, President Trump’s officials have indicated that the new plan would involve US soldiers moving closer to the front lines while still avoiding ground combat.
So, our strategists need to rethink their policy which since the second Afghan war was based on the assumption that the US troops would withdraw from Afghanistan once again as they did following the culmination of the first Afghan war passing the burden of the aftermath on Pakistan.
It now seems very clear that the US has no intention of leaving the region. So, we need to adjust our Afghan policy accordingly. With US troops permanently based in Afghanistan we need not worry about India, Afghanistan and Iran encircling Pakistan and therefore need not try to protect and preserve the Afghan Taliban as an insurance against such an encirclement. And, therefore, complete delinking with the AT would surely reassure the US about our Afghan intentions which in turn would hopefully encourage US to help establish normal relationship between Kabul and Islamabad despite Modi’s India.

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