Pakistan Must Prepare for Afghan Civil War (The Frontier Post, Pakistan)
“Even perceptive Western
observers smell what the Chicago summiteers have not. It is the whiff of civil
war that is so frighteningly disturbing their nostrils. The trouble this would
bring Pakistan will be manifold and horrendous.”
Dr. Shakil Afridi, a surgeon who helped the CIA identify Osama bin Laden: His conviction on treason charges Wednesday, and his sentence of 33 years behind bars, is sending yet another shock wave through U.S.-Pakistan relations.
What should one make of the lofty vows made by NATO summiteers
about long-term engagement with post-2014 Afghanistan? And what about pledges
not to run for the exit before that, when words and facts are in such conflict?
France’s new president, Francois Hollande,
has flatly refused to renege on his election pledge to withdraw all 3,600
French troops by year's end. At best, he might leave a few for training Afghan
security forces – but none for combat. The Canadians left months ago, and so
have the Dutch.
Indeed, war-weary publics in every NATO country are exerting
tremendous pressure on them to pull out quickly. Even in America, the unpopularity
of the Afghanistan War has been accelerating. And given their recession-hit
economies, even if they wanted to, NATO governments may not be able to sustain the
military occupation much longer. Their commitment to continue in the coming
years to finance the Afghan security forces must remain in the realm of
uncertainty. Whatever rosy scenarios are being woven by incorrigible optimists,
the roadmap for engagement with Afghanistan is anything but written in stone.
Arguably, another spectacle like the one that occurred when NATO
was sucked into the Afghanistan War back in 2006 is now in the making. Up to
then, the U.S.-led invaders slept blissfully in their Kabul and Bagram redoubts, leaving the Taliban free to regroup, reorganize
and rearm in their southern and eastern strongholds. And when the invaders woke
up, not only had the Taliban strongly entrenched themselves in their preserves,
but they were fast extending their sway into the country's west and north. NATO
was roped in so as to stem this Taliban tide. And given its huge war machine, there
were high hopes that it would.
Indeed, so confident was the transatlantic military
community that an excited British defense secretary crowed giddily that his
army would capture its assigned theater in Helmand Province without firing a
shot. But NATO armies soon discovered that the resurgent Taliban were a hard
nut to crack. And ironically, instead of taking on the Taliban and the other
insurgent groups that had sprung up to carve out their own domains, NATO
members fell to quarreling among themselves over the number of boots and
quantities of weapons to be deployed, with most reluctant to act in the actual theaters
of the war.
All U.S. entreaties to its NATO peers to chip in more troops
and equipment, push into the active war theaters and to fight, failed to work.
That led a frustrated U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to fume that NATO
members were neither prepared to provide more troops and equipment, nor willing
to share in the costs of the war. In all probability, something similar is happening
this time around. Evidently, NATO armies have lost all stomach for remaining
for even a few more years. Their political bosses back home are under great
public heat to get out of a war deemed no longer affordable.
Even the idea of remaining engaged with training the Afghan
army and police is fraught with uncertainty. With Afghan security personnel
turning increasingly on their foreign trainers - often fatally - there is a
perceptible unease among NATO armies about this aspect of the mission. In fact,
after a number of deadly assaults on foreign advisors, all such personnel have
been removed from official Afghan agencies, performing their advisory duties
from the safety of their military bases. Foreign trainers even sleep with their
weapons besides them at their exclusive billets.
The Taliban may be exaggerating, but it isn’t inconceivable that
they have infiltrated the Afghan security forces. They just may have, even if
on a small scale. Indeed, in their quest to quickly raise some 320,000 Afghan
security forces, the occupiers have followed very lax verification procedures,
giving plenty of space not only to Taliban, but to other shadowy figures. In
any case, deadly assaults on foreign trainers by their Afghan charges will in
all likelihood increase in the days ahead, sapping the spirit of the trainers
and their peoples back home, and ultimately leading to the scuttling of the
entire training mission.
Even perceptive Western observers smell what the Chicago
summiteers have not. It is the whiff of civil war that is so frighteningly disturbing
their nostrils. Given the rabid multi-ethnic reality of Afghan tribal society,
inclusiveness should have been the invaders’ watchword from day one. Instead,
it has been exclusiveness, and the Pashtun majority
has been shunted to promote Afghan minorities. Sooner than later, it is this
exclusiveness that has laid the minefield for Afghanistan to explode into civil
Most of all, this should greatly concern the Islamabad
establishment. In such an eventuality, there will be none other than Pakistan
at the eye of storm. The trouble this would
bring Pakistan will be manifold and horrendous. Make no mistake about it.