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By Mohammad Aslam


The Montréal Review, June 2011




Despite the elimination of Osama Bin Laden; Afghanistan's rulers are proving inept at governing, the Taliban and its fanatical breed of syndicates are proving resilient, and Pakistan's security forces seem to be taking an "a la carte" approach in the fight against them.

So where does all this leave Americas plans for gradually rapping up all major combat operations in Afghanistan "come hell or high water"?


The American President is a man who knows the precariousness of thinking through the consequences of his actions - to get things right.  The AfPak stratagem, coined by the late Richard Holbrooke to designate Afghanistan and Pakistan into a single unified theatre of operations in the war on terror, seemed straightforward. The two neighbouring countries have a long shared history, where conflict is forever associated, and when it comes to confronting Al Qaeda- they should resonate each other.

In the post-911 era, dismantling the Al Qaeda/Taliban bastion in Afghanistan would not have been hard to gauge. When you have military projection like no other on earth, a resounding military success was a foregone conclusion.

This was followed by the installation of an interim government who set the way for parliamentary elections. International aid to develop the infrastructure of this war-torn country became a huge multilateral endeavour. Even better, the Taliban's long patrons in Pakistan next door--left them within a week of 911.

If ever American omnipotence was to have its day; this was it.

But by the time Obama took office, this sweeping military victory had turned into an indefinite, arduous campaign filled with both military and political blunders. The government of Hamid Karzai remains secure only in so far as Kabul is concerned. His rule has become synonymous with corruption not least due to a suspicious last election result, even his nearest rival and once trusted foreign minister, has conceded there's no hope.

Suicide bombings against Afghan civilian and military targets, corrupt allies, switching alliances and the rise of opium exports, is now the norm.

The other subject of the stratagem, nuclear Pakistan, was one of even more concern. A population of 180 million, institutionally corrupt, ruled by a fragile governing coalition and with Afghanistan no longer a safe haven for Al Qaeda--the new hotbed for worldwide terrorist conspiracy and nurture.  To shore up the institutions and vital military in this country, billions of dollars in American taxpayer money was poured in. It seemed logical, such a country, strategic to the peace of the region, being rendered to the brink of terrorist-inspired destabilization, would present a direct security threat to the world peace.

But with friends like these, we were reciprocated with half-hearted measures of dismantling and disrupting terrorist infrastructures. Its Intelligence services are long associated with groups that are active in insurgency campaigns in Afghanistan.  Although South Wazirstan was cleansed by the Pakistani army after years of international pressure, the North of this volatile border region remains firmly in Taliban/Al Qaeda hands--with no similar operations in sight.  Our Pakistani allies even have the audacity to complain about drone attacks that we carry out in this region, successfully killing top terrorist leaders.

To twist the knife even deeper; the world number one terrorist was living a kilometer away from the countries main military academy. We killed him without Pakistani acknowledgement.

The Taliban are convinced they can wait us out. Pakistan's seemingly double-game playing is no more evident than in the rumours of secret links to our Taliban foes. In naval-gazing beyond a U.S. exit strategy, both the AfPak subjects are attempting to incorporate the Taliban into political participation. Treachery seems afloat.

The U.S. like its ISAF allies, are calculating that the longer it stays put in the Afghan quagmire, the likelier the Taliban may prove to be resilient and increase support for its insurgency. If we continue to resist them, not only might we be bled dry, but eleven years of successful multilateralism in Afghanistan might grind to a halt, with each player looking at their own personal interests upon an inevitable US-led withdrawal.

In the long run, the shambles of an Afghan government is unlikely to continue keeping its own house in order. The Pakistanis are proving to be the masters of dissimulation. Our brave soldiers are no doubt becoming jaded with time.  We've clearly entered into alliances without being acquainted with the designs of Afghanistan's neighbors, leaving our strategists bedraggled.

The conclusion on every policy makers mind should be very simple. It's not worth sacrificing more soldiers' lives for a never-ending cause. In fact, the alternative scenario of letting Afghans and Pakistanis control their own backyard, maybe more conducive to strengthening popular resolve in the fight against the terrorists.

If we stay put, both AfPak governments will definitely benefit from the dollars rolling in, but with our soldiers bleeding, both countries armed forces whom we heavily payroll - are sure to hesitate away from the frontline. The killing and capture of top terror leaders coupled with the lack of insurgent safe havens, needs to utilized by our allies from this position of strength.

The U.S. has now come full circle. Although some may argue that its policy has become too exorbitant, one thing should be clear: The unsolicited observations of our AfPak counterparts - are going to get us nowhere.


Mohammad Aslam is a PhD candidate in Political Violence at the Department of Middle-East & Mediterranean Studies, King's College London.


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