Afghanistan’s untenable stalemate
Khalid Iqbal


In a strong message to international community through his speech to the UN General Assembly’s ministerial session on September 21, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated that “Pakistan has a vital stake in ending conflicts, fostering peace, fighting terrorism, strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, generating global growth…” On Afghanistan, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan has long proposed intra-Afghan dialogue as the most viable course to end decades of conflict and suffering in Afghanistan. “We have been facilitating the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan…There have been setbacks. That, however, is not a sufficient reason to abandon the path of peace and rely on the military option, which has failed, for the past decade and a half, to stabilize Afghanistan”, the PM added. “Progress will be assured only when the Afghan parties themselves conclude that there is no military solution to the Afghan war, and work assiduously, through a meaningful dialogue process, for achieving reconciliation and peace at home.”

Simultaneously, in Islamabad, the United States recognised Pakistan’s progress in disrupting militant networks in its tribal areas; acknowledgement came during the meeting of US-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group (DCG). The joint statement said “US reiterates its support for the armed forces of Pakistan in their ongoing operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including North Waziristan, and recognizes the progress made in disrupting militant networks that had helped enhance security on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”
Meanwhile, US congressmen Ted Poe and Dana Rohrabacher have moved the “Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act in Congress” on September 21. In a statement posted on his website, Poe demanded US President Barack Obama issue a report “within 90 days of passage detailing whether or not Pakistan has provided support for international terrorism…Thirty days after that, the secretary of state must issue a follow-up report containing either a determination that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism or a detailed justification as to why Pakistan does not meet the legal criteria for designation.
At this juncture the editorial board of International New York Time did well on bringing Afghanistan back to focus though recent editorial on Sept 17, titled: The Afghan War quagmire. The piece has analysed the Afghan situation in the context of President Barrack Obama’s two terms of presidency.
“Eight years ago, President Obama pledged to wind down the war in Iraq and redouble efforts to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. ‘As president, I will make the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be,’ he said during a campaign speech. Now, at the twilight of his presidency, these goals are receding further into the distance as America’s longest war deteriorates into a slow, messy slog.”
Yet there are non-serious persons like Bruce Riedel who keep propping up silly comments. A former CIA analyst, Bruce was Advisor on Afghanistan to Obama administration during the first term. Amongst others he too is responsible for making Afghanistan what it is today. He was rightly dropped by Obama from his Afghanistan team. Now, in an effort to secure a niche in the next administration, Riedel has made his presence felt though his nonsensical piece “Pakistani Army today is a patron of terrorism”. As expected, the piece has been carried by Indian websites.
Still living in the 2008 to 2012 time frame, Bruce Riedel has called for an offensive strategy against terrorist networks and this includes “hitting out at terrorist groups inside Pakistan”. He is of the view that “dismantling and disrupting terror networks and their safe havens inside Pakistan should be on the agenda of the next American President”. And that Obama’s decision to use drones to kill Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor “deep inside Pakistan” should be a pointer in this regard.
Bruce seems to be suffering from memory loss pertaining to his dormancy years. Under international pressures from Human Rights entities, including UN Council on Human Rights, drone warfare would soon become a distant memory as outlined by Barrack Obama during his “Commencement Address at West Point” on May 28, 2015. We seldom hear of drone attacks these days; yet Riedel wants to turn the wheel backward.
Riedel opined that Pakistan today was a unique country. It was a victim of terrorism and its Army was a patron of terrorism in other parts of the world “in particular in its immediate neighbourhood of Afghanistan.” Maybe Riedel needs to have his head examined for ignoring wide ranging acknowledgements from political and military leadership from all over the world, of course excluding Bruce’s special friends, Afghanistan and India, about the effectiveness of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the dividends accrued from it. He also did not mention the obstructions being thrown-up by Afghanistan in the way of Pakistan’s efforts to manage its border.
Compare this with the reality that most of the hideouts of terrorist in Pakistan’s tribal belt have been destroyed. A large number of terrorist have been killed, rest are on the run, and some are in the cozy company of President Ashraf Ghani. A lot of Afghan fighters have since long shifted to Afghanistan, where they control sufficient territories. Afghan National security forces do not have the will to challenge their writ in rural areas and US-NATO guys confine their actions in urban centres which the Taliban often occupy. Taliban have proved to be extraordinarily resilient and resourceful. While whole world is making earnest effort to bring Taliban on negotiation table, likes of Bruce want a return of Bush era—by suggesting that solution to Afghan crisis lies in the use of brutal military force.
General (R) John Allen, former US mission commander in Afghanistan (2011-13) has recently acknowledged that: “Situation on the ground in Afghanistan has become more challenging and perhaps worsening”. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute is of the opinion that the Afghan government today is cut out from the large parts of the country. “We are at a moment of interesting and challenging situation in Afghanistan,” Falbab said.
The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt and roiled by internal rivalries. The casualty rate for Afghan troops is unsustainable. The economy is in shambles. Resurgent Taliban forces are gaining ground in rural areas and are carrying out meaningful attacks in urban centres, including the heart of Kabul. Opium trade remains a pillar of the economy and a key source of revenue for the insurgency. It is unlikely that the Afghan forces in the near future will be able to defeat the Taliban. Nor is it clear that the Taliban will make any significant strategic gains or be able to take and hold on to strategic terrain. It’s an ugly and costly stalemate.
One tends to agree with NYT’s analysis that “At the very least, the next administration needs to carry out a top-to-bottom review of the war. American taxpayers and Afghans, who have endured decades of war, need a plan better than the current policy, which offers good intentions, wishful thinking and ever-worsening results.” However, one wonders why NYT stopped just short of telling the next president: Don’t be Stupid! Mainstream the Taliban politically; the likes of Karzai and Ghani will lead you nowhere.