Archive for the 'Afghanistan' Category


Afghanistan prepares for 2016

5184Lt-Gen John Nicholson, President Obama’s nominee for commander of American forces in Afghanistan spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee about Pakistan’s role in the peace and stability of the Pakistan/Afghanistan region. His words amounted to nothing more than the usual “Pakistan needs to do more”. Repeating these words for more than a decade doesn’t change the facts, then again the US doesn’t let facts get in the way of their will to wage foreign conflicts. US commanders know very well that if operations are conducted on one side of the border with Afghanistan, then supplementary operations must be carried out on the other side for any lasting success to be had. We may never be told the honest reason why this didn’t occur.

Pakistan conducted operations in Bajaur, Dir, Mohmand, Swat, Buner, Aurakzai, Khyber, Kurram, and South Waziristan. Each agency was cleared but nothing improved in the tactical or operational posture across in the the coalition. Instead, Fazlullah, Faqir Muhammed, Latif Ullah Mehsud etc found a warm welcome in the Kunar province of Afghanistan. For the first time, the US military even admitted, through a statement by Lt Gen Nicholson last week, that they are not targeting the Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

Among other problems are the reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan1800213_607731872686248_6136073308889134881_n Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighting the incompetence and corruption which have plagued training and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Almost a trillion dollars have been wasted and needless to say that these issues have been written about numerous times.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of failure in Afghanistan comes from the SIGAR office, which reported that the Taliban now controls more territory than it did in 2001. Their territorial gains include the Helmand province, a region that shares a 250 km-long border with Pakistan. Large quantities of opium is grown in Helmand, which is then used to produce most of the world’s heroin. The harvest earns up to $3 billion a year. You could say that the insurgency’s funding is “blooming”. To make matters worse, ISIS is also establishing roots in the country.

Per Lt-Gen Nicholson, the Afghan forces are getting “rebuilt” for their fiercest fighting season yet. The reasons for the rebuilding “are a combination of incompetence, corruption and ineffectiveness,” said Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the head of public affairs for the U.S.-NATO mission. However, for most of the US troops on the ground, the Afghan forces have been a distraction or the butt of a horrific joke known as “man love Thursday” due to their reputation for raping young boys in the lead up to holy Friday as reported in detail by the New York Times.

Not wanting a repeat of what happened in Iraq after a complete withdrawal, there is an increasing likelihood that thousands of US troops could remain in Afghanistan, despite Obama’s plan to completely withdraw by 2017. An unnamed senior Pentagon official told imagethe Washington Post that “What we’ve learned is that you can’t really leave”. However, instead of following the same inconsistent approach of the past and relying on a break through with the peace talks, the US government would be wise to heed the outgoing US forces-Afghanistan commander General, John Campbell’s advice of needing to do more to beat the Taliban. More, in this case, must include coordinated efforts on both sides of the border with Afghanistan.


North Waziristan: the ground realities

I was part of the Pakistan panel at the Syracuse University’s annual conference on security held on March 31st, 2012. I presented on the security situation in North Waziristan and the ground realities in the agency. My slides from the presentation are available here.

General Michael Hayden (former director CIA/NSA) also spoke at the event. He implemented the Patriot Act after 9/11 which gave the government powers to track and intercept communications. It also authorized wiretapping and surveillance amongst other things. I questioned him about the probability of my phone conversations with family and friends in Pakistan being listened into and taped. He assured me that my rights are protected under the 4th amendment!

My research paper on the current situation in North Waziristan published in Syracuse University’s Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis:



Aid could mend broken ties

Published at the San Francisco Chronicle



NATO attack

Published at Dawn

Last month’s mindless Nato attack on Pakistani posts confirmed the perception that the US always shoots first and asks questions later. It is hardly surprising that Pakistan refused to be a part of the investigation, whose results were announced by the media yesterday, considering that probes conducted after two attacks in 2008 and 2010 in the tribal agencies of Mohmand and Kurram yielded nothing.

According to Pakistan, the US disregarded standard operating procedures for operations close to the border and provided the wrong coordinates. The Afghan intelligence should also be taken to task for apparently misleading the coalition troops.

It is a pity that the coalition’s operational intelligence seems to be influenced by those who are still stuck in the past. Any attack in Afghanistan is immediately followed by a knee jerk reaction of blaming Pakistan.

The leadership role of the US unfortunately comes with the burden of responsibility. One cannot blame tactical failures and lack of operational progress on an ally that is more or less dependent on the US. For its part Pakistan does need to stop providing relief to the Haqqani network within its borders. Even if North Waziristan is cleared coalition difficulties in Afghanistan will not come to an end. The US has withdrawn forces from Helmand and Kandahar and shifted its presence to the eastern provinces bordering North Waziristan.

This manoeuvre should have been done earlier in response to the US ‘mantra’ to do more when Pakistan stated that the US was not prepared to conduct reciprocal operations across the North Waziristan border in Afghanistan. (One often hears statements regarding terrorist safe havens in Pakistan though it is never mentioned that these areas have not been under the writ of the government.)

Meanwhile the insurgent groups in Nuristan and Kunar are thriving since there is no presence of coalition troops in those provinces. These groups continue to conduct insurgency in Pakistan.

Ultimately no one benefits from the Nato crisis. Pakistan is reviewing its relationship with the Americans. With three years left in the region, the time has come for the US to make some fundamental choices in South Asia.

Will the ragtag Afghan National Army with its share of deserters and addicts be able to take control? Pakistan has already paid a gruesome price for taking in three million Afghan refugees during the Soviet invasion, accompanied by the spread of heroin, guns and smuggling in the country. It can hardly host another influx.

In the US, political support of military efforts in Afghanistan is waning and every branch of the US government is facing the threat of sharp budget cuts. For the people of Pakistan, the billions of dollars lavished in American aid on their country does not translate into a free pass to disregard sovereignty, conduct drone strikes and have CIA agents roaming around in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s response to the latest Nato incursion was swift and effective, making it obvious that it can only be pushed so far. So what options are available to move forward?

The US can cut aid to Pakistan in which case it might not be able to use Pakistani airspace for drone strikes in North Waziristan nor will it be able to move supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan. This is not likely as the US still needs Pakistan to deliver the endgame in Afghanistan.

On the other hand Pakistanis are saying that enough is enough. Thus, for this relationship to continue the US will have to appease the Pakistani population. Also a revised set of rules will set the tone between the two countries till 2014. Perhaps recognition of the sacrifices borne by Pakistan is too much to ask for. Nevertheless, the US needs to understand that American troops will return to their homes, but the Pakistani nation has been shaken and transformed forever with death and destruction becoming a daily reality.

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