PAX AMERICANA AT ITS FORCEFUL BEST
The US may now follow through hard, drawing on the massive psychological impact of Osama's killing
Shrinivasrao S Sohoni Kabul
The Abbottabad strike which resulted in the killing of Osama Bin Laden was also an emphatic vindication of unilateral action by the US, in circumstances arising from the failure of Pakistan's agencies against the dangerous masterminds of the Al Qaeda, Taliban, Haqqani group, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) et al who found safe haven in that country.
The domestic unpopularity of US engagement in Afghanistan is undoubtedly a factor in US national politics, at a time when the next presidential election is not far. In the November 2012 election, whether decisive progress is secured in the matter of combating Al Qaeda and the Taliban - the declared purpose of US military engagement in Afghanistan - will weigh with the electorate.
Deploying air power as well as land forces in Afghanistan is understandably an important prerequisite of US aims and interests. Of vital value are the hydrocarbon resources of Turkmenistan. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project - a major US objective - generates its own special security needs.
Indeed, the mineral and hydrocarbon resources of the Central and South Asia region from the Caspian Sea to the Arabian Sea - encompassing also the mineral and hydrocarbon wealth of Afghanistan and Baluchistan - are important to the US, not only for fuelling its economy, but also to keep them out of its fast-emerging rival China's reach.
Juxtaposed against the Russian confederation, and intervening between Europe and China, this region is also of primary strategic value in military terms. It is crucial for the US to position itself in this space in order to retain and protect the option of controlling and drawing on its resources. The other equally important objective is to block China's push into Central Asia and its southwestward initiatives from the Karakoram, through Afghanistan and Baluchistan, to the naval and sea port terminal being developed by it at Gwadar (Pakistan), and beyond to the Gulf and the east coast of Africa.
The location of significant military assets in Afghanistan, especially in the northern, southern and south-eastern parts, is consequently an immediate as well as long-term US objective. The present configuration of US forces here, however, is not in sync with this wider strategic role, as it is designed mainly to deal with the ongoing Pakistan-based-and-supplied insurgency. Attaining the long-term strategic goal calls for certain essential adjustments in force profile, placement and security infrastructure.
The US is engaged in extensive military base-building activity in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan - to support location of diversified military assets, with an accent on communications, air power and Special Forces. However, its present manpower intensive military commitment in Afghanistan, although it generates jobs, costs about $2 billion per week and entails US casualties that cause distress - the sharper with a difficult employment situation, rising cost of living and other irksome strains on the US economy.
Meanwhile, the US took serious note of an overture by Pakistan's leadership on April 16, when a delegation led by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani was in Kabul, including the defence and interior ministers, state minister for foreign affairs, and more importantly, the all-powerful army chief, General Pervez Ashraf Kiyani, and Director General, ISI, Shuja Pasha.
Gilani invited Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to ponder over the following proposition: the US is now a power in steep and rapid decline, unable to fulfil its financial or security commitments, and will prove unreliable; Afghanistan is better advised to align with China, the rising power of the 21st century; and with unstinted support from Saudi Arabia and its 'all-weather friendship' with China, Pakistan will facilitate a new grouping alongwith of China, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. (Gilani also conveyed some rather exacting expectations of Afghanistan, including that it should be guided by Pakistan in the matter of its relations and agreements with the US.)
Particularly in the atmosphere of acrimony following the Raymond Davis case (Pakistan had held Davis in custody under interrogation for an extended period despite a request by President Obama for his release, and was complicit in the blockade and destruction of US supply convoys heading to Afghanistan), the US found this latest move all the more objectionable.
An irritant, albeit of lesser scale, was the April 29 declaration by the self-styled 'Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan' that its 'Spring Offensive' would commence on May 1, 2011, with US forces and installations among the principal targets. The US knows that GHQ-Rawalpindi controls the Taliban leadership, which it also accommodates and sustains.
It is noteworthy that the US had been monitoring the Abbottabad compound and its infamous ex-resident at least since August 2010, and had the option all along to inflict a strike. The momentous action, when it finally came, must rank as history's most significant and electrifying commando operation - a masterful step as behoves a global superpower, Pax Americana at its forceful best.
The Abbottabad action also imparted a stunning message to the Pakistan government and GHQ-Rawalpindi, as well as power brokers operating in the Af-Pak region. What may be its apt sequel?
The US may now follow through - hard - drawing on the massive psychological impact gained.
Accomplishing a fuller decapitation of the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, and keeping GHQ, Rawalpindi overawed and inhibited, is the surest route to securing victory in the Af-Pak theatre. It would also create the political basis for a future reconciliation and reintegration in Afghanistan, and enable the desired reconfiguration and relocation of US force levels in Af-Pak to better serve long-term US goals.
A national consultative Jirga in Afghanistan could only then become a productive process that provides the space to discuss crucial issues like strategic partnership with the US, and the ongoing long-term military base construction programme - with bright chances of reaching an outcome advantageous to both countries, and without hurting Afghanistan's national sentiment.
However, have the gains of the astoundingly daring and complex Abbottabad strike been now put at risk, after winning spontaneous worldwide admiration and seeming to herald a new and effective policy?
The action has established, more particularly in the wake of the Davis case, the justification of planting US anti-terrorism specialists in Pakistan - regardless of the Pakistani authorities concerned - to investigate and report against terrorists and their support systems. This bold and proactive approach yielded immediate results, and the US can pursue it further with great effect. Imagine what can be achieved if the US takes the following steps:
President Obama declares to the world that any entity colluding with Al Qaeda/Taliban/terrorist organisations will be treated as an enemy that the US is determined to destroy, and made a target of punitive action;
Full answers are demanded from Pakistan to all the questions put to it after Abbottabad, with the burden of proof on Pakistan;
Full cooperation by Pakistan is insisted upon, to uncover, apprehend and destroy Al Qaeda, Taliban, LeT and other terrorist organisations and their leaderships inhabiting Pakistan;
Flow of US funds and weaponry to hands that support the enemies of the US, including institutions inimical to its interests, is choked and not allowed to empower radical Islamists;
The Northern Distribution Network is strengthened to meet the military needs of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan;
Intelligence-based follow-up attacks are executed to get Ayman-al-Zawahiri, the Haqqanis, Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar;
Democratic aspirations of the people of Baluchistan are supported;
Pakistan is firmly told that if it does not curb its nuclear weapons programme, it will have to face the consequences;China is warned that it is not in its best interest to support Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme.
For this, the gullibility and inertia preventing essential changes of policy need to be shed, and the superpower awakened to realities even as it strives to secure a safer and better future for all humanity.
A grateful world may then witness the gradual ushering in of peace in Af-Pak - and with its later dividend of prosperity - instead of the present tragic conditions of strife, suffering and despair.
The writer is advisor to the president of Afghanistan