by Larbi Sadiki
Much of the reporting and commentary on Afghanistan over the past few weeks has been awash in Orientalism. Many of us are guilty of this practice in the process of opinion- and knowledge-making. It is, therefore, legitimate to ask whether when writing, commenting, reporting or analysing Afghanistan, those doing so are depicting aspects of its history, culture and people, or whether they are just producing reductive representations and stereotypes.
By Ramzy Baroud
Suddenly, the idea put forth by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, late last year no longer seems so far-fetched or untenable after all. Following the hurried and chaotic US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, European countries now find themselves forced to consider the once-unthinkable: a gradual disengagement from US dominance.
By Ranjan Solomon
On 14 February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel on the Jammu Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir. The attack resulted in the deaths of the attacker and over forty Central Reserve Police Force personnel. The Indian government claimed the perpetrator was a member of Jaish-e-Mohammed,a Pakistan-based Deobandi jihadi group active in Kashmir. The group’s primary objective is the separation of Kashmir from India and its merger into Pakistan. Since its inception in 2000, the group has carried out several attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, eyed enhanced electoral prospects at a time when its popularity was drastically shrinking across the country. By resorting to jingoistic rhetoric, it was relatively successful in whipping up fury and rage by creating the illusion of a massive military vulnerability unless India was to strike first and gain ascendancy. The frenzy that followed gave the Indian government an edge, and a virtual mandate to bomb hard and deep in Pakistan – to teach ‘them’ a ‘lesson’ for their grave indiscretion! In three days, India arrested a number of suspects without so much as having completed an investigation. In the meantime, the government roundly condemned the Pulwama attack and refused to own any part of the tragedy. Meanwhile, Pakistan offered to join a transparent and comprehensive joint investigation of the attack. India, as expected, rejected the offer and, instead, launched invasive attacks into Pakistani territory, leading to claims and counterclaims from both sides.
After a short period of silence when the Indian nation as a whole played ‘patriot’ – irrespective of political affiliation or loyalty/disloyalty to the BJP, voices of disbelief began to surface. Questions were asked of the government and the army. Why was such a sensitive spot no covered by any serious security measures? Some went so far as to call it a ‘deliberate gaffe’ suggesting a hint of a false flag attack. Meanwhile, India’s foray into Pakistani territory was regarded as having failed to achieve its military goals. The euphoria, via the Indian media’s high-pitched xenophobic and pseudo-patriotism, allowed the gullible Indian patriot to celebrate a victory that was being interrogated. All that Indians could be sure of was that one Indian Air Force jetfighter had been shot. The pilot had evacuated and landed in Pakistani territory, only to be released in a goodwill gesture by Pakistan. India, needless to say, denied it was a goodwill gesture, but that it was a response to the massive diplomatic capital accumulated by Modi during his numerous jaunts to an abundant array of countries.
With many difficult questions from the political opposition and social media, the government went into damage control mode. It underplayed the issue, and probably ordered the hitherto pliant media to go hush. This happened too because the government’s track record on containing strikes across the border, its mishandling of Kashmir as a policy (an obvious failure) were being exposed, and government spokespersons were fumbling with unconvincing explanations.
The government was also embarrassed after it had allowed a political climate in which ordinary Kashmiris working and studying in different parts of India were subjected to brutal mob attacks. This would not have happened without the triumphalism accompanying India’s ‘war against terrorism’. Kashmiris are victims, and their aspirations and voices are silenced in a thousand ways. The freshly induced dose of triumphalism added fuel to hate crimes being conducted under tolerant eyes, and quickly became unmanageable. Once more, the government had to beat a hasty retreat. It closed all democratic space for discussion and debate and prepared a ground ripe for recruitment by militant groups. At some point the government must have been alerted that the continuation of street brutalities by illegal police-like forces would only serve to worsen the underlying political causes of the Kashmir conflict. It was bad enough that spaces for political dialogue had been shut down and Kashmir was hurtling down the path of disaster. What is visible is that the clumsy and arrogant handling of the Pulwama crisis by the Indian government and the media that sought to hold up the path of triumphalism being tread by the government have served only to seriously heighten the discontent of the Kashmiri people.
Plain facts suggest that the Indian government stands accused of grave human rights’ violations in the region. The United Nations has condemned the routine clashes and use of force by the Indian military towards Kashmiris on multiple occasions. Despite the outcry from the international community and human rights groups, the Indian military continues its regime of brutality against innocent Kashmiris.
Today, with India’s economy in shambles and unemployment rising, the BJP finds itself in a bind. It ran the ‘Pulwama show’ a bit too early to capitalise on its decline as a political force. The strategy backfired. Pulwama has been forgotten – except in the minds of the rabid Hindu communalists who are brought up to hate Pakistan. A quick glance at social media shows a well-informed, rational polity wanting to make valid choices and refuting the politics and rhetoric og hate. The masses, especially the critical masses, refuse to swallow the Pakistan bait.
In desperation, the BJP has resorted to heightening Hindu-Muslim divisions and has relegated issues of policy and development to the background. It has nothing else to clutch on to. India claimed to have won global support and sympathy. Not quite. Too many nations and an alert, agile global media saw through the propaganda.
For the time being, Kashmir is the last thing on the political agenda in India – except for the people of Kashmir. They know that Kashmir cannot be an issue that has a solution in and through war between two nuclear powers. India’s reckless talk of war risked the lives of millions of innocent Indians and Pakistanis. It even threatened the rest of the world with the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. The conflict between India and Pakistan needs diplomatic dialogue for comprehensive and creative solutions based on new formulas. More militarism will not eliminate years of oppression and instability. India has rejected dialogue, instead demanding that terrorism must end for dialogue to begin. Many previous attempts at dialogue had failed at the ultimate step for want of trust or because one factor of irrationality breached the options of peace.
There is a border military build-up on either side of the Line of Control (LOC). Ceasefire violations are frequent and are something of a norm. People living in the border areas suffer the uncertainty of army conflagrations punctuated by cross border firings and casualties, which severely impacts their lives and causes panic and distress to many others. Reports suggest that thousands of people living alongside borders have been involuntarily or voluntarily evacuated to other locations; schools have been shut down; farmers have lost their crops.
The political classes on both sides indulge in frequent bouts of belligerent rhetoric. Muscle flexing by past and current generals further muddies the waters, when even they know how absurd they sound. On the Indian side, the borders are manned by ‘jawans’ (ordinary soldiers) mostly from lower economic classes and castes. Those who propagate war are the upper classes who sit behind their laptops in the absolute safety of their living rooms far removed from the battlefront. Meanwhile, spouses of armed fighters on the war front appeal for calm and common sense. They know that war can only create the peace of the graveyard, and that the avenues for peace exist outside the thinking of politicians who manipulate politics to keep the India-Pakistan border permanently on the boil.
In times of relative peace, trade between the two countries has flourished, defined always by vibrancy and benefit to both sides. When there have been sport and cultural exchanges, deep and lasting friendships have thrived. People who have practised co-existence through meaningful cooperation see little reason to harbour ill-will and antagonism. Indians and Pakistanis are the same people – a common heritage and a common destiny torn apart by one of colonial history’s most colossal errors.
This may be the time when the political leadership of both countries should take serious and sensitive initiatives and de-escalate the violence in border areas. It is also a time when top army officials should keep away from making provocative and political statements. The Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) should reiterate its position that, in a democracy, the armed forces avoid making statements and should allow civilian governments to do their constitutionally-mandated duties. The army or its top-ranking officers making press statements and evoking jingoism is a direct threat to the democratic fabric of the country.
Commenting on the crisis, PIPFPD issued a call for peace, arguing that 'all civilized societies must prevent bloodshed and condemn, mourn killings.' It has also claimed that there s an important reason to go into the genesis of the attack and shun the notion that violence and war can somehow bring solutions. To avenge blood is to be short-sighted.
It is of paramount importance to unpack the inherently-flawed current Kashmir-centric policies of the Indian government. To believe that militancy can be uprooted by sheer military power and interventions is reckless because experience attests to the fact such an approach is untenable. India has not done anything to reach out to the Kashmiris in terms of real political solutions. In contrast, its military formulas are recipes for more militancy. Experience shows that militarism is accompanied by unwarranted tyranny in the Kashmir valley. Reports suggest that in the last four years, young men, women and children have been killed and maimed with bullets and pellets. The PIPFPD reports vast numbers of crackdowns which result in arrests and increasing human rights’ violations. These end up being provocations that anger young people who then see violence as their only resort because they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If Kashmir remains unresolved, so does the political fact that prompts conflict. The Indian state perceives (and interprets) dissent as a daring bid to minimise its authority and, consequently, reorders its political strategy in ways that subvert democracy and human rights.
How does one disallow dissent when the Indian state indulges in the most bizarre political steps? It is a move that could plunge the Kashmir Valley into a perpetual state of crisis. Jammu and Kashmir are not coping with the contentious decision to ban movement of civilian traffic for two days a week. This two-month long ban will be sorely counterproductive because the people must bear the brunt of an already fragile economy. It is an ‘Israelization’ of Kashmir. Shah Faesal, the chair of Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), asked: ‘How can any democratic society enforce a ban on the movement of people, and how would it justify the diktat?’ This further aggravates the Pulwama-related harassment of the general population through more abuse, harassment, and beating of Kashmiris on the highways by the security forces, particularly by the army.
Warmongering can only serve to counter measures for peace and democracy. It does not allow the people of Kashmir to feel included and keeps them painted as traitors who feel no respect for the nation. The truth is radically different. For as long as India and Pakistan refuse to take courageous steps for peace, they will endanger the sub-continent, and, indeed, the entire region, with the huge risks of war between two emotionally-charged nuclear powers.
It is now that India must abandon its preoccupation with putting down militancy. Instead, it must unlock ways of conciliation with the people of Kashmir. Immediate confidence-building measures will reduce tensions and open channels for a comprehensive dialogue. It would make even more sense to include the people of Jammu and Kashmir – those who are the subject of the conflict – in such a negotiated outcome.
According to SIPRI, India spends 63.9 billion dollars on military expenditure. That amounts to 2.5% of its GDP. If one juxtaposes that with the poverty figure of at least 700 million people, one would wonder how defence spending and development spending square off. OXFAM reports that India’s top 10 per cent of the population controls 77.4 per cent of the total national wealth. Further, the top one per cent owns a whopping 51.53 per cent of the national wealth. The bottom 60 per cent, the majority of the population, own merely 4.8 per cent of the national wealth.
In the name of Kashmir, would India fight a senseless war in and around Kashmir and ask the poor to eat bombs, tanks, and machine guns for breakfast with a sprinkling of nuclear weapons for added effect?
* Ranjan Solomon is a social activist who also works as a consultant fororganisations and movements working on issues of peace, human rights and social justice.
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.