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Afghanistan Revisited 2012: Perspectives

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Paper No. 5274                                      Dated 31-Oct-2012

By Dr. Subash Kapila

“Irrespective of how the current security transition in Afghanistan pans out, one country is on a surprising course to a major defeat: Pakistan. Every foreseeable ending to the Afghan war today portends nothing but serious perils for Islamabad -----but judging from Pakistan’s behaviour, it appears as if this fact has eluded the generals in Islamabad.”---Ashley Tellis, US reputed Strategic Analyst, June 2012

“Well, the most important point is that we’re not going any place. We’re gonna, we’ll have an enduring presence that will be in Afghanistan.”  --------Leon Panetta, US Secretary of Defense, June 012

“The logic is clear. India enjoys a degree of “soft power” in Afghanistan and a natural affinity among the Afghan people that the United States can only dream of. For years to come, the United States will retain a “hard power” military capability in Afghanistan that’s denied to India by geography and Pakistan’s sensitivities. If they hope to secure their vital interests in Afghanistan and that country’s uphill task to survive as a modern nation-state, India and the United States will have to harness their respective strengths for a new kind of strategic collaboration.”---------Jeff m. Smith, American Foreign Policy Council. Washington

Strategic logic and strategic perspectives on Afghanistan persistently projected in my Papers on Afghanistan of the last ten years or so advocated that for the United States to succeed it had to surgically disconnect the Pakistan Army from its Afghanistan strategic formulations; destroy Taliban assets nurtured by the Pakistan Army on the Afghan border and build the Afghan National Army to a strength of 500,000. In the follow-up of the preceding one recommended that the United States should consider a permanent military embedment in Afghanistan both for checkmating Pakistan and China and to ensure US security interests in Central Asia.

More recently it was argued that the United States should enter into a Mutual Security Treaty with Afghanistan on the lines that it has with Japan and South Korea, indicating its firm and enduring commitment to security and stability of Afghanistan.

After a decade of living in a ‘state of denial ‘ on Pakistan Army’s double-timing the United States and constantly undermining its interests in Afghanistan, the wheel has now turned a full circle with the United States recognising Pakistan Army’s perfidy.

The United States in 2012 stands finally liberated from its Pakistan-centric strategic formulations on Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden stands liquidated within Pakistan Army major garrison cantonment by US Special Forces; United States has planned to maintain a sizeable US military presence in Afghanistan beyond its major drawback of forces in end-2014 and a Strategic Partnership framework stands signed

Encouraging also are the United States decisions not to enter into negotiations with the Pakistani-sponsored Afghan Taliban and that contingency plans exist for US Special Forces operations to prevent the resurgence of Al Qaeda elements within Afghanistan.

Strategic perspectives in end-2012 suggest that the United States has a fair measure of control over the evolving situation in Afghanistan generally conforming to the revised strategic blueprint on Afghanistan.

Against such a backdrop, it becomes pertinent to survey the emerging perspectives on Afghanistan for the three major actors involved in Afghanistan, namely Pakistan, the United States and India. Russia and China collaterally also come into the picture and need to be touched upon.

Pakistan has been the villain for far too long in this game by kind courtesy of the United States.  Ashley Tellis correctly puts it that Pakistan stares at a major strategic defeat in Afghanistan. On current indications it appears that in the run-up to 2014 and thereafter too the United States would no longer be permissive to any Pakistan Army military adventurism in Afghanistan via its proxies like the Taliban or the Haqqanis.

Pakistan’s political and strategic space to manoeuvre events in Afghanistan stands severely restricted. The choice for Pakistan is either to gracefully accept the new strategic realities or risk US military coercion or even intervention to desist from any military adventurism in Afghanistan’s future post-2014.

In terms of perspectivespost-2014, let us now survey United States commitments towards Afghanistan. In the next two years the United States can be expected to further expand the Afghan National Army and upgrade its combat capabilities to safeguard its Eastern borders both against Pakistan Army destabilisation attempts through its proxy militias

The United States has developed extensive military infrastructure in Afghanistan for its planned military embedment in Afghanistan for its Air Force and Special Forces assets.

It can be safely asserted that the United States overcame successfully the Pakistan Army strategic blueprint to prompt a hasty US military exit from Afghanistan by inducing combat fatigue through asymmetric attacks by the Taliban and other proxy militias.

The US Defense Secretary has given a clear declaration of intent that the United States will maintain an enduring military presence in Afghanistan.

In end-2012, India has offered no indications that it is ready to play a major role post-2014 in terms of military contributions to assist the United States in terms of security and stability of Afghanistan. That is a big pity as it disregards India’s strong and legitimate strategic interests in Afghanistan and reinforces the perception that India has an enduring strategic timidity to safeguard India’s national security interests as a ‘regional power’.

Indian policy establishment’s obsessive mind-sets that India’s national security interests can be solely secured by use of ‘soft power’ only are pitiable and self-defeating. China after using this ploy for years as a tactical subterfuge has now shifted stances. India seems to be years away from assertive use of muscular policies to safeguard its national security interests.

This mind-set is not only a deadweight drag on India’s regional and global stature but in terms of Afghanistan could lead the United States to look for China’s enhanced military involvement in Afghanistan through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation mechanism. Can India afford such a development?

Lastly, Russia and China have a considerable stake in a stable and secure Afghanistan on their periphery. This would prove a strong determinant in preventing them for fishing in troubled waters to discomfit the United States. In this vein one could add that China despite its strategic nexus with Pakistan may stand away from any Pakistan machinations to restore its strategic blueprint on Afghanistan.

Concluding, the major observations that one would like to offer after this analysis are as under:

  • Rear-guard destabilisation moves against Afghanistan cannot be ruled out by the Pakistan Army in the run-up to 2014 and post-2014. The United States would be well advised to handle Pakistan Army military adventurism even more firmly than now.
  • The United States commitment to Afghanistan’s security and stability is going to be one that is enduring and calls for lots of US resilience and resolve. The Strategic Partnership between the two should speedily culminate in a Mutual Security Treaty on the lines that the US has with Japan and South Korea.
  • Pakistan for its own survival as a nation-state should rein in its military impulses to box militarily much above its weight.
  • Lastly, India for its own strategic good needs to break-out from its obsessive mind-sets of non-alignment and use of ‘soft power’ to truly re-claim its ‘regional power’ status. Afghanistan could be a good beginning in this direction, even if it implies an active military collaboration as opposed to collusion with the United States.
  • The United States is ready to concede a greater role to India in Afghanistan. It is India’s call now!!

The wri9ter is a consultant on strategic issues in South Asia Analysis Group