Tipping point in the Afghan war

The contours of a confused end to the war in Afghanistan are discernable now. After the failure of the operation at Marjah in Helmand, the much hyped operation in Kandahar may not be much more than a military exercise undertaken for benefit of voters in the US to show that something far reaching was being accomplished, though in reality it is far from that.

President Karzai has lost faith in his Western supporters and has accused the West of instigating the attack on the recent Loi Jirga that he had summoned in Kabul to reach the Taliban. He also accused two important officials of his government for being agents of the US and NATO. Both Amrullah Saleh, the Director of the Afghan Intelligence Service and the Interior Minister Hanif Atmar resigned from their jobs recently.

If there was ever any doubt about Karzai’s intentions, these actions clearly show that he has decided to worry about his posterity rather than fight the Taliban at the behest of the allies. He is a most astute man. He has realized the futility of investing more good-will into an enterprise that is failing.  It is thus unlikely that Karzai will permit the Afghan National Army or the Afghan Police to operate jointly with US or NATO forces except for unimportant operations. As a matter of fact, Karzai would have already opened a channel with the Talibans by now to ensure that there is no mishap before he has succeeded in reaching a settlement with them. Will he succeed? Lessons from Afghan history and the nature of the present Afghan war tell that he will face great difficulty in his enterprise. Under these circumstances one can sympathies with Gen McCrystal and other commanders because their projections and commitments made to the US Senate are now going up in smoke. The US is severely handicapped and cannot do much without support from Afghan national forces!

What are the implications of this change for Pakistan? Evidently it has released pressure on Pakistan to begin operations in North Waziristan. Secondly, Karzai’s reliance on Pakistan has increased because he needs help for finding a solution in Afghanistan. This also temporarly improves Pakistan’s strategic position. If Karzai wants Pakistani assistance he has to distance himself from the Indians. As a matter of fact the resignation of Saleh suits the ISI very well as it considered him to be pro Indian and one of her supporters in the ongoing proxy war in FATA and parts of Pukhtunkhwa and Baluchistan.

Secondly it is clear that Mr. Karzai needs political capital to influence the hostile forces in Afghanistan, with the US power compromised, his only insurance from now till 2011 when US forces are likely to be reduced will be Pakistan!   

This new scenario creates an opportunity for Pakistan. For one there is going to be no North Waziristan Operation as there is no longer any point in confronting the Haqqani net-work when the conditions in Kandahar and Southern Afghanistan are calm.

In Pakistan the military will have more freedom to operate against our home grown insurgency. However, this will be a wild goose chase since we have not instituted reforms to benefit from such operations once the terrorists have been removed. Secondly, we have been woefully myopic about our strategy. Even after eight years of hard fighting we are none the wiser about our approach. Our governance remains terrible. Although we blame the terrorists for our misfortune yet we overlook the destruction caused to our people by collateral death and destruction of property. As our political and bureaucratic elite retires behind bomb proof walls the field has been left open to criminals and the illegal activities of police including staged executions that are increasing daily. Docs it really matter to a poor, impoverished and a disempowered Pakistani whether he loses his life to a terrorist strike or to state terrorism? Not really. The result is a rising hate and a prayer to punish those who fail to protect the poor and the weak.

A recent report by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation finds that 48% of Pakistanis are suffering from food insecurity. According to yet another report just published there has been a 10% decline in wheat consumption as compared with a year ago. It means that personal incomes for a substantial numbers of Pakistanis are declining since plentiful wheat is available in the market. This is a harrowing snapshot and should jerk our leaders to action. The situation is worse in Fata and Pakhtunkhwa because of the high poverty levels. Obviously, these outcomes are not the result of terrorists but our own inability to govern effectively. This analysis poses a question. Who in the eyes of the public is a greater threat to their lives – the terrorist or the State?

In order to win the initiative, urgent reforms are needed. In many ways we continue to be entangled in the Mantra of the post colonial model of development that sought to transform societies into modern states by channelizing investments into education, health and other basic need sectors. In a state like ours, that has lost the trust of its citizenry the priority must shift for at least the next two years, towards social protection governance and strategic communication.

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