By Imran Malik
The Chicago Summit sealed the withdrawal plan of the US/NATO/ISAF from Afghanistan. Although all present there tried to put up a very brave face yet it was obvious to all and sundry that the US/NATO/ISAF combine was leaving the Afghan Theater of War but hardly as victors! Victors in war have a different body language and a certain spring in their gait. None was apparent in Chicago and least of all in the Americans.
They appeared to be embittered, frustrated, irritated, agitated, angry, fuming, writhing in some sort of an internal agony. It came across as the pain of defeat, of failure. They seemed to be in too big a hurry to bring this colossal misadventure to a close, ASAP. And anyone, (read Pakistan) who was not playing ball or helping an orderly retreat from the region was unceremoniously and summarily snubbed and sidelined!
The Afghan campaign has been a resounding failure for the US and its coterie of submissive allies. Its failure has been epitomized by not only the whittling down of the Afghan campaign's strategic aims and objectives but also by an unseemly desire to egress from the region.
The failures of this sorry Afghan campaign are multifaceted.
Geopolitical Failure: By occupying the Central position (Afghanistan) in the region the US had intended to contain China, sit at the under belly of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and by implication Russia's and deny them all an approach to oil rich Iran, the ME, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. By its departure by 2014 these grand objectives will go even further beyond reach. The US has also failed to install India as its regional plenipotentiary in Afghanistan! The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - SCO, will thus get enough breathing time and space to organize and exert itself as a viable and competing pole to the US in the region. This will reduce the US footprint and effectiveness in the region too with very far reaching geopolitical implications.
Geostrategic Failure: This has been by far the most pronounced failure of all. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have not been sufficiently decimated or neutralized to make them ineffective militant entities at the regional and international levels. Sure OBL has "ostensibly" been neutralized but that is yet subject to internationally and universally acceptable verification. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have not been successfully engaged in any sort of a political dialogue either to neutralize them. The terrorist threat though decimated is still a very potent reality (some elements may have re-located to the Arabian Peninsula) and the US/NATO/ISAF Combine will leave it as such as they abandon the region - once again! Elements like the Haqqani Network (HN) and the Tehrik -e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will never allow a US backed political dispensation to settle down and rule Afghanistan from a central location like Kabul and will keep the region on the boil. Pakistan's and Iran's nuclear programmes will continue as active vibrant entities and may go beyond the reach of immediate and proactive US oversight. So what has the US actually achieved here in real terms!
Geo-economic Failure: With its departure from Afghanistan the US dominance of the fossil and mineral riches of the South Central Asian Region (SCAR) and the Greater Middle East Region (GMER) fades away effectively. The known mineral riches of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the CARs, Iran et al will all move out of hawkish US control and oversight. The US will not be able to exercise the desired final say on the mining, refinement, export, trade and price of all these mineral resources. The western multinationals will not be able to exploit these riches as they probably would have had the US shown more staying power and resolve in the region. The New Silk Road Project (NSRP) that would connect Europe-the SCAR right upto India may yet be inordinately delayed.
Diplomatic failure: The US has failed to deal with a "red-hot" Pakistan. It should have co-opted both Pakistan and Iran, the two major countries in the region and the only two with unmatchable influences inside Afghanistan, in order to achieve her strategic objectives. Instead she managed to antagonise both. Thus she has been unable to find willing regional allies to help her win the war. She has classically failed to co-opt Pakistan's experienced and highly professional military, use her unmatchable geographical location, or exploit Pakistan's influence inside Afghanistan on a long term basis and to her advantage. Neither has she been able to "befriend or engage" or "divide and eliminate" the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It has also failed to engage the Taliban in meaning-ful result oriented negotiations to bring this disastrous military faux pas to an early and acceptable closure. As of now of all the regional and near-regional players that matter only a "peripheral India" could be considered to be somewhat close to the US. Failed regional diplomacy, indeed!
Military failure: The heartless and cruel drone campaign had just too much "collateral damage" for the Pakistanis to absorb. More than 90% of the casualties were civilians. The US to this day remains adamant, unmoved and unrepentant. This in turn caused thousands to join the ranks of the militants thus proving to be a counter-productive strategy. The "Massacre at Salala" and its arrogant treatment by the US and its President alienated the US' most important and vital partner in Pakistan - the military. The lack of an apology ensured a breakdown in the military to military relations severely circumscribing overall US-Pak relations. The nadir in relations was reached by the blockade of NATO supply routes by Pakistan. Thus the US managed to antagonize one of the most potent and efficient fighting machines in the region- an erstwhile willing ally!
Intelligence failure: The US has claimed the death of OBL - but has not given any solid verifiable proof as in the cases of Saddam Hussain and Moamer Qadaffi. Why not? Even if we assume that OBL has been eliminated as the US claims but then does this mean that Al Qaeda as a viable militant organization too has ended? What about Al Zawahiri and Mullah Umar? If the US "knows" that they are in Pakistan then why does it not carry out another couple of Abbotabads to get them? Or why don't they give the information to the Pakistanis and challenge them to go get them. Or embarrass the ISI into action by giving out their locations? Most of the earlier intelligence successes against Al Qaeda were achieved through superb collaborative work between the CIA and the ISI. Unfortunately, US arrogance, haughtiness and self-righteousness caused the breakdown in what could have been an historical intelligence collaboration between the two. Raymond Davis has and Dr Shakil Afridi will severely test US-Pak relations.
The Obama Administrations Failure: This was epitomized by the "infighting" between the State Department on one side and the CIA and Pentagon on the other. This "war within" the Obama Administration caused a series of confused policy decisions which led to the alienation of Pakistan. Further the members of the US Congress put a series of unacceptable conditions on aid to Pakistan which led to a literal breakdown of communication between the two. The ruthless and arrogant manner in which President Obama snubbed President Zardari at Chicago has added to the anti-americanism sentiment in Pakistan. And now the pressure to "let free" Dr Shakil Afridi is going to test the relationship even further. This may yet tear the US-Pak relationship to bits and may even cause the downfall of President Zardari's Government!
Afghanistan is thus set to become the graveyard of yet another Empire - the US this time! The US seems to have been ill-served by its diplomats, soldiers and spies. The overall Afghan Campaign has failed to meet most of its geo-political/strategic/economic objectives. The US/NATO/ISAF Combine is now apparently marking time to get home. Their minds are made up, the schedules of departure need only to be made public. Pakistan needs to unblock the NATO supply routes to make the egress as easy as possible! She is likely to do so very soon.
Bon Voyage, America!!
The author is a retired Brigadier and a former Defence Attache to Australia and New Zealand.