By Afro-Middle East Centre
By Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn
Recent events in Afghanistan have fuelled speculation over the ability of international forces to continue their presence in the country until 2014. In January 2012, four American Marines in Helmand were shown in a video urinating on Afghan corpses. In February, in a case that appears to have been no more than exceedingly poor judgement, copies of the Qur'an were burnt, damaged and treated disrespectfully manner. In March, a US army staff sergeant in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province is believed to have killed seventeen individuals (many of them women and children) in a single night.
With relations between Pakistan's civilian government and military incredibly tense, speculation is rife in the Pakistani and international media of a looming military takeover. The military is allegedly buoyed by support of the Supreme Court and the country's business and political elite. However, the nature of events is changing at such a fast pace that it is difficult to predict the future.
The tenuous relationship between the government and the military appears to have finally eased somewhat since the government markedly toned down its anti-military rhetoric. Indeed, Prime Minster Yousuf Raza Gilani has extended an olive branch of sorts to the military. He had previously accused Army Chief of Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the head of Pakistan's principal intelligence agency, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, of acting unconstitutionally when they expressed their alleged disapproval of the government. Just before Gilani left for the World Economic Forum in Davos in the middle of February, he attempted to smooth over the difficulties with his comment that he wanted to 'dispel the impression that the military leadership acted unconstitutionally or violated rules... The current situation cannot afford conflict among the institutions.'
By Junaid S. Ahmad
The assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US Special Forces was supposed to have been a landmark triumph that would bring peace and stability to the region. A Navy Seal unit executed an unarmed Bin Laden and killed at least four others, including a woman, in an early morning raid on Monday, 2 May 2011. However, instead of bringing peace and stability to the region, the assassination of the Al-Qaeda leader has aggravated the country's volatile political predicament. The hullabaloo over Bin Laden's presence in Pakistan is being used by the US government and military to coerce Pakistan into greater
By Mohammad Abdullah Gul
Obama's recent jive with school children in Delhi symbolises the nature of the new relationship that is emerging between India and the United States of America: the US, it seems, dances to the tune of India. While it is true that Obama did not pointedly accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism as was India's desire, some trends within this emerging US-India relationship have become more evident through his refraining from referring to Kashmir in any of his several speeches over three days. Such avoidance reflects a dangerous and unjust trend in US policy for the region in general, and, more particularly, for India and Pakistan. Deliberately not discussing the main cause of bitterness between Pakistan and India shows not only poor understanding of the nature of the conflict but also does not augur well for a harmonious and peaceful coexistence for the countries of the region; the fallout of the India-Pakistani conflict is noticeable in other countries of the region as well. Such ignoring of the Kashmir issue comes at a time when that territory is gripped by conflict like never before, and Kashmiri politics is being determined by an unprecedented political movement led by a young generation of Kashmiris. The US refusal to discuss Kashmir, then, is nothing but a callous disregard of the much trumpeted democratic values which the west vociferously espouses.
Pakistan's recent floods have left eight million people dependent on aid for their survival, and washed away huge swathes of the rich farmland on which the country's struggling economy depends. The Pakistani government has confirmed 1,600 people dead and 2,366 injured, but its officials warn that millions are at risk from disease and food shortages. The country's disaster agency fears that there will be a "significant rise" in the death toll as waters recede and the number of missing persons is tallied.
By Mohammed Abdullah Gul
On 25 July 2010, the New York Timescarried an explosive story by Mark Mazzetti, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Andrew W. Lehren about some 92,000 classified Pentagon documents which had passed into the hands of Wikileaks, a Sweden-based whistle-blower website headed by Julian Assange. Ostensibly, the leak sent shock waves through the US Administration - not just for the sheer volume of the leaked material but also because the revelations could significantly affect the course of the war in Afghanistan. The documents comprised a host of field intelligence reports initiated by covert sources, combat units and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Much of theplethora of documents is a compilation of assorted reports known as "collation" in the intelligence craft. Such stuff is not deemed to be intelligence until it is sifted, corroborated and analysed for its value, the authenticity of the source and the plausibility of the information. The documents cover the period from 2004 to 2009. The fact that that such a large array of reports remained unprocessed for this long is a poor reflection on the Pentagon's efficiency.
Wikileaks has, thus far, released 77,000 of the documents, of which 180 reports - mostly originating from Afghan intelligence - pertain to the dubious role of Pakistan, its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and, especially, of retired General Hamid Gul who headed the ISI in the crucial years of the Afghan jihad during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Gul earned a reputation as the architect of the Soviet defeat and the ignominious withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.
Once a darling of US strategists and intelligence big-wigs, Gul later became a bitter critic of the post-Reagan policies of the US. He routinely charges America of betraying the Afghan nation and causing an airplane crash in which then-president of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, and dozens of Pakistan's top military brass died. Gul also claimed that the 9/11 events were an inside job and openly supported the Afghan resistance against what he described as the US-led occupation of Afghanistan which was not dissimilar to that of the Soviet Union.
He has repeatedly refuted the charges against him on various international media channels such as Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC (for example, on the 25, 26, 27 and 28 July 2010), and labelled the reports as "preposterous", "fictional" and deliberate "disinformation" to demonise him and the ISI in an attempt to find a scapegoat for the US military's failures in Afghanistan. In these interviews, Gul also offered to travel to the US to face charges in court or be heard by the US Senate or Congress. In 2008, the US proposed a motion at the United Nations 1267 Committee to have him placed on the UN's international terrorist list. He was saved by China, which blocked the move by applying a technical hold for lack of evidence.
The Pakistani government also strongly rebutted the Wikileaks reports regarding the alleged double role of the ISI in the Afghan war. Interestingly, a Pakistani official revealed that days before the New York Times story, US defence officials had advised their Pakistani counterparts to disregard the Wikileaks documents release.
Human rights and military discipline
Apart from documents relating to Pakistan, the rest of the 77,000 documents cover a vast spectrum of excesses and human rights abuses committed by US and NATO forces, and narrate a harrowing tale of atrocities against innocent civilians. No less than 20,000 fatalities have been documented, painting a heart-rending picture of a callous disregard of Geneva Conventions and US laws. Task Force 373, a secret force, stands out as the most trigger-happy, ruthless bunch of soldiers who seem to have exceeded every limit. It is not clear whether this force was ever authorised by the US Congress. If not, it would cast a negative light on the Pentagon, raising questions as to whether the Pentagon (or a certain element within it) had turned into a "rogue" institution.
Wikileaks is still holding back some 15,000 documents. There are tremendous efforts by the US administration to block the release of these documents or, at least, to expunge the identities of sources and other named figures lest their security be jeopardised.
The whole sordid affair begs many a thorny question, and points to yawning cavities in the US systems of defence and intelligence. The more glaring of these questions, each of which warrants a separate query, are:
a. Is the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) overly dependent on security contractors and largely amateurish Afghan intelligence operatives?
b. Is there an attitudinal conflict among American policy makers on Afghanistan? That is, is there a conflict between those advocating winning the hearts and minds of Afghan people and those operators on the ground who are bent on the systematic and wilful alienation of the Afghan people?
c. Does a dichotomy really exist between the stated US position of Pakistan as a front-line ally without whose support victory cannot be perceived, and the real perception of its role as a double crosser playing both sides? Or is this dichotomy inspired by extraneous influences which wish to drive a wedge into US-Pakistan relations?
d. How will the leaks impact on US-Pakistan and Pakistan-Karzai government relations?
e. How will they affect the war in Afghanistan and determine its outcome?
f. Were the leaks deliberate and purposeful a la My Lai in Vietnam, which set in motion the public demand for withdrawal?
US intelligence methodology
Over the years, the mammoth US intelligence establishment has shown deficiencies, fissures and failures. If glaring ones such as 9/11, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to capture the world's most wanted terrorists are not enough evidence of its inherent flaws, Wikileaks has exposed it to the core. The human intelligence (humint) aspect of the US is well-known to have suffered from protracted neglect, poor funding, and the absence of a cogent cause to inspire enthusiasm.
As a consequence, the US substituted security contractors for regular and disciplined operatives. Most of these security contractors were former employees of the CIA, FBI and other agencies which thrived on old-buddy cronyism. Their only motivation was money. They are a tired and lacklustre group of people who rely mostly on "paper milling" - intelligence parlance for the production of make-believe reports. The bulk of the reports on Pakistan is the handiwork of Afghan intelligence agencies which are infested by communist die-hards looking to avenge their humiliation at the hands of Pakistan and the ISI. To top it off, the Indian external intelligence agency - the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - has established a strong field intelligence network in Afghanistan. Its insidious influence on Afghan intelligence agencies in an effort to malign Pakistan is an open secret.
Task Force 373 uses tactics and methods which run counter to the explicit purpose of the military high command. About 100,000 US security contractors have proven to be loose cannons. They disregard operational instructions, and are only in pursuit of quick results to earn more dollars. It was a disaster ab initio to mix mercenaries and burnt-out intelligence veterans with regular troops. The architects of this harebrained idea will realise the consequences of their folly.
Between policy and posture
The US and NATO official position on Pakistan as a front-line state in the war against terrorism is a euphemism. In reality, Pakistan has always been suspected either of doing less than it could, or, worse, of complicity with some Taliban factions fighting US and NATO troops. No wonder, then, that each category and tier of the US leadership - from the Bush to the Obama administrations - continued to press Pakistan to do more.
While analysing the nature and extent of Pakistan's cooperation, one must bear in mind the circumstances under which Pakistan was recruited into this war. It was literally forced on board the American warship. The Pakistan leadership wrongly assumed that the war would be a short, swift retribution which would end in a few months. They failed to fathom the latent and long-term intentions of the Bush administration's war hawks. It was only after the Karzai government was foisted on Afghanistan, as a result of the Bonn dispensation and the induction of India, Pakistan's arch-rival, into the Afghan game that Pakistani authorities realised their mistake in unconditionally giving in to US demands. They felt cheated but could do little to redress the situation. Then-President Pervez Musharraf's quick surrender to US diktat had left the Pakistani nation and its institutions dazed and bewildered. They were torn between the demands of the US agenda and their national interests. The military and the ISI were hard put to maintain equilibrium. Drone attacks by the CIA in Pakistan's tribal regions, and clandestine deployment of US Special Forces and security contractors inside Pakistan further exacerbated frayed sentiments. To the Pakistani masses, from where most of the soldiers are drawn, it was somebody else's dirty war which Pakistan had to fight under duress. It reflects positively on the army and the ISI that there was no serious breach of discipline. But to expect an enthusiastic and wholesome participation under these conditions would be asking for too much.
Impact on US-Pakistan relations
That the invaders would fail in Afghanistan was axiomatic for even elementary students of Afghan affairs; and no one is better educated on this subject than the ISI. Should the ISI not have maintained liaison with the real soul of the Afghan people, which is manifested in the national resistance symbolised by the Taliban? Let no one be duped into believing otherwise! But material support to the resistance is quite another matter. With US spies all over Pakistan, having logged deep into its systems, such an audacity cannot even be imagined, save by Pentagon stalwarts.
The US policy towards Pakistan was described aptly - though insultingly - by Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton as a "carrot and stick" doctrine that would keep Pakistan on the leash and aligned to US objectives. This policy seems to have worked reasonably well for America. Pakistan has been held to the course by the US promoting a dictator, and then imposing a truncated democracy through an externally-brokered deal called the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). America's whip hand, however, began to test the limits of national tolerance after the Mumbai attacks, when the US started openly to promote India's brow-beating tactics against Pakistan on unsubstantiated charges. Following Obama's 1 December 2009 policy speech, the US attitude began to change. It is now less belligerent, and often placatory, towards Pakistan. There is also a perceptible shift in the policy from dealing with government to addressing the people of Pakistan. This is a healthy change indicative of a possible focus on an exit strategy.
The recent floods in Pakistan have enhanced the need for a fresh approach. Currently, there seem to be two overriding American concerns. Firstly, to create an environment for the graceful exit of the US from Afghanistan, while safeguarding its core interests and making room for India in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Secondly, to thwart a populist - inevitably anti-American ground-swell - in the wake of the catastrophic deluge in Pakistan. How these can objectives be achieved with the help of a tottering and largely dysfunctional democracy in Pakistan will be a daunting challenge for American policy makers.
Pakistan and the US need each other for their own good reasons, but India is the obstacle, and it will remain so until the Kashmir issue is dealt with.
Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai began to lean towards Pakistan after Obama's 1 December 2009 speech. To show his altered preferences, he fired his Pakistan-hating intelligence czar, Amrullah Saleh. After the Wikileaks affair, however, Karzai revealed his true intentions when he demanded that the US bomb Pakistan. But that simmered down rather quickly. Perhaps the Americans whispered the same gospel in his ears as they did for Pakistan: "Don't take it too seriously."
Outcomes and purposes
It is too early to pass judgement, but there are unerring similarities between My Lai and the Wikileaks affair. Lieutenant William Calley and Captain Ernest L. Medina's misconduct then, and the TF-373's misdemeanour now reflect the same propensity for frustration spawned by failures. How close are the parallels of General Westmoreland's demand for more troops and General Stanley McChrystal's urge for the surge, intelligence failures, and search for scapegoats - Cambodia then and Pakistan now? It's an uncanny match of the scenarios, a rebirth of the tragedy that was Vietnam. Afghanistan is a wrong war at a wrong place against a wrong enemy. Not a single Afghan has been found involved in terrorism outside the war zone. "Reversing Taliban's momentum" was not the original aim of the NATO war. At this stage, it would be like defeating the Afghan nation; it would be mission impossible. The initial goal was to disperse Al-Qaeda and capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. All western intelligence sources believe Osama Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, or, at least, not in the southern part of Afghanistan where much of the US and NATO forces are committed. Leon E. Panetta said there were no more than 60 to 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in that part of the world. That many may be present in any European country. The reality is that Al-Qaeda has long since migrated to the Red Sea area to be in closer proximity to its strategic "centre of gravity" - the Middle East.
The hard truth is that the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause for America. The problem is how to convince the Pentagon and the self-indulgent, bigoted neo-cons who would not let reason get the better of their unrealistic ambitions. Obama's heart is in the right place. He knows he came into the Oval Office on the promise of change, and he was aware of the stumbling blocks on his way to change. As a master chess player, he let the Pentagon have its say (two surges since his inauguration) but asked for results. The Pentagon merely reinforced failure and could not deliver.
Operation Moshtarak, in February 2010, was an unmitigated disaster, and the Kandahar operation is a non-starter. One obstacle in Obama's march towards his objective has been removed. If allowed to operate with freedom, Wikileaks will remove the other. Its publication of the remaining 15,000 documents is bound to whip up a public debate reminiscent of the Nixon years. Already, the antiwar opinion has climbed to 62 percent. A "moratorium" - as in the case of Vietnam - may well be in the offing, thanks to Wikileaks. Is Obama playing Nixon? If yes, Wikileaks is a gift to him. Or, did he manage the gift? Whatever the case, the draw-down from Afghanistan is likely to begin as per schedule, if not earlier. Conventional wisdom commands that losses be cut.
* Mohammad Abdullah Gul is a researcher whose work focuses on the Indo-Pak subcontinent
** This article is published in terms of a partnership agreement between the Afro-Middle East Centre and the AlJazeera Centre for Studies.
By Ramananda Sengupta
'We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret. On the other hand, what is a secret is what is the defence relationship. And with all due respect, the secret part of it will remain secret.' - Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India, in a recent interview given to OutlookIndia.com.
India and Israel were born within months of each other. While the former became an independent state on the 15 August 1947, the latter was born on the 14 May 1948, following the decision of the United Nations to partition British Mandate Palestine.
India, which had opposed this partition, remained officially cold to the Jewish state. In May 1949, it voted (in vain) against the admission of Israel into the UN. In early 1950, after recognising the State of Israel, a visibly reluctant New Delhi allowed it to set up an "immigration office" in the port city of Mumbai. This eventually morphed into a "trade office" and then into a consulate. But New Delhi dithered over according full diplomatic recognition to Israel until early 1992, when the two nations formally opened their respective embassies in Tel Aviv and New Delhi.
By Ramananda Sengupta
The savage attack on Kabul hotels housing Indian workers on 26th February 2010 - the fourth major attack on Indian interests in Afghanistan since July 2008 - is part of the proxy war between India and Pakistan fought on Afghan soil. Both South Asian nations see Afghanistan as a critical element of their strategic sphere of influence.
A day before the hotel attacks, though neither side admitted it officially, Afghanistan had brought the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan together in Delhi. The 25th February meeting was the first between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 2008.
By AlJazeera Centre for Studies
Early in December 2009, and after lengthy consultations, United States president Barack Obama announced his strategy in Afghanistan. At first glance, it seemed as if the approach chosen by the U.S. president aimed at the Afghanisation of the conflict; pitting Afghans against Afghans. It also seemed that his plan was based on a specific target date by which he wanted to get American troops out of the battlefield which was inaugurated by his predecessor.
Indeed, Obama's announcement makes the war in Afghanistan an American war more than in any other period since October 2001, the date that the invasion of Afghanistan began.