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Afghanistan: America's options
Subhash Kapila
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August 18, 2006
The United States has been finally forced to recognize that its laudable political and strategic objective of building Afghanistan into a moderate, democratic Muslim state is seriously endangered by Pakistan, its Major Non-NATO ally in the region. 

This was very much in evidence when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] was forced to make a long detour in the last week of June, en route to the G-8 Foreign Ministers meeting in Moscow [Images]. She spent a day each in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The President of Afghanistan, American military commanders and the NATO Force Commanders in Afghanistan have all agreed that the resurgence of the Taliban, the incidents of terrorism in Kabul and the violence in South and East Afghanistan all originate from Pakistan. These Pakistan-based insurgents are targeting US and British soldiers and the fledgeling Afghan National Army.

The big question is: why this selective targeting of these forces? The answer is that all of them are engaged in the security of Afghanistan's reconstruction and its emergence as a model democratic state with moderate Muslim credentials.

The next big question is, who is interested in preventing Afghanistan's emergence as a model democratic state in the Muslim world? The answer is obvious.

But while Condoleezza Rice made all the correct noises in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the major impression that one gets is that the US Administration continues to be in a "state of denial" over Pakistan's continued involvement in the de-stabilisation of Afghanistan through its proxy organisation, the Taliban.

Years ago, I had predicted that Afghanistan was of greater strategic importance to United States national security interests than Iraq, and suggested that the US should desist from military intervention in Iraq till it stabilizes Afghanistan. This holds more true today.

The United States at no cost should give up or abandon Afghanistan. It is far too important for US strategy in relation to the Gulf Region, the Central Asia region and its "Grand Strategy" on China.

The present ground realities in Afghanistan endanger US end-objectives, and it is high time Washington wakes up to this fact.

However much the US Administration protests that Pakistan's military dictator is a "moderate force" in the Muslim world and that Pakistan is a "staunch ally" of the US in the global war on terrorism, Pakistan's record in terms of the continuing turbulence in Afghanistan is condemnable. Pakistan is guilty of endangering US national security interests in Afghanistan. 

The US military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 did not end Pakistan's involvement with the Al-Qaeda [Images] and the Taliban. Pakistan ever since has been involved in the resuscitation of the Taliban in Afghanistan to revive its strategic aims and hold on Afghanistan.

As a consequence, and despite American pressures, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and the Al Qaeda [Images] and the Taliban hierarchy flourish in Pakistani sanctuaries. From these Pakistani sanctuaries, they continue to generate terrorism, insurgency and violence in Afghanistan so as to coerce the United States and NATO forces to exit Afghanistan.

The Pakistan-Afghan border, despite Pakistani claims of deploying 70,000 troops to seal it, facilitates easy ingress and exit of Taliban cadres engaged in operations in Afghanistan. This arises due to complicity of Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies.

It is no strange coincidence that the regions in Afghanistan which abound in insurgency and terrorism are the ones which border Pakistan directly.

Is it not strange that the US Administration should be giving clean chits to Pakistan and its military dictator, when the ground realities indicate otherwise? And this is not a new phenomenon; it has been in the making ever since US displaced the Pakistan-prot�g� regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In July 2005, The Washington Post stated that 'In all, the danger is growing that Afghanistan could begin to look like Iraq, with an entrenched insurgency that severely disrupts (US) reconstruction and becomes a magnet for Islamic extremists.'

The situation today is far worse, and calls for decisive action to stem the destabilisation of Afghanistan. The turbulent situation in Afghanistan today arises from the original sins in US policies on Afghanistan. The main mistake was in assuming that Pakistan would be a dependable ally in the implementation of its Afghanistan policies.

At the height of military operation in Afghanistan the United States facilitated the air evacuation of over 12,000 Pakistani Army, ISI and Taliban cadres from Konduz in Northern Afghanistan. Safe air corridors were provided by the US Air Force [Images]. This was done to shore up General Musharraf's position in Pakistan.

Subsequent reports now indicate that but for a couple of thousands of Pakistan Army regulars, the remaining thousands evacuated from Konduz were hardcore Taliban cadres who are now re-operating in Afghanistan under Pakistani directons. If this was not enough, the US continued to falter in its misplaced trust of the Pakistani military dictator.

Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar along with their hierarchies were facilitated by the Pakistan Army to withdraw into safe sanctuaries in Pakistan following the Torah Bora operations offensive by US forces. The United States military strategy thereafter was to deploy NATO forces for reconstruction in Northern Afghanistan.

The correct military decision by US would have been to deploy all NATO Forces in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban. The Northern Provinces of Afghanistan were not a Pakistani preserve and did not require NATO Forces.

It was the Southern and Eastern provinces of Afghanistan which bordered Pakistan, which were the Pakistani preserve. The major deployment of NATO Forces initially should have gone into these provinces.

Even after recognizing Pakistan's perfidy, no major pacification military measures were taken in these provinces. Only in a belated recognition of the above reality, NATO Forces have now been moved to these Afghan provinces, with appreciable military results against the Taliban.

Analytically, the three major deductions that emerge from the analysis above are as follows:

The misplaced US notion that Pakistan is an asset in the prosecution of its national security interests in Afghanistan needs to be dispelled forthwith.

The US must coerce/presurrise Pakistan into severing Taliban's ingress into Afghanistan and dismantling its support structure in Pakistan. Within the US Administration, if not publicly, in-house directives must be initiated that United States national security objectives in Afghanistan override and supersede its interests in Pakistan.

Afghanistan's President Karzai has already publicly declared that the roots of insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan lie outside it, and that the United States needs to ensure that these are cut. The United States has to ensure that it strikes at these roots in Pakistan. If Pakistan is unable to do so, or expresses helplessness to do so, then the United States should reserve the right to do it unilaterally. 

Only if the US follows these options can it live up to Condoleezza  Rice's asertion during her visit to Kabul on June 28 that Washington has a strong and enduring commitment to Afghanistan. That the US is committed to fight against the Taliban and other violent extremists threatening the country "until it is victoriously concluded."

"We will not repeat the mistake of leaving Afghanistan once again and of not sustaining out commitment to our relationship," she said.

These are noble words and laudable objectives of the United States, but the fly in the American ointment is Pakistan.

If US national security interests in Afghanistan are to be secured, then the evil spell cast by Pakistan has to be removed.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is an international relations and strategic affairs analyst, and a consultant, Strategic Affairs, with the South Asia Analysis Group. He can be contacted at

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