Time to Draw Trumps
Shrinivasrao S. Sohoni Delhi
Carnage, utter carnage, was perpetrated by terrorists in the Sardar Mohammad Daud Military Hospital within the ‘security Iron Ring’ in the elite Wazir Akbar Khan locality of Kabul, on Wednesday (March 8). After an initial explosion at the entrance, armed terrorists disguised in medical assistants’ dress had entered the eight-floor 400-bed hospital chockfull of military patients, medical and paramedical staff, and visitors; and opened fire, mowing people down mercilessly, floor after floor. Casualty figures (49 killed, 78 injured) updated by the Ministry of Defense, are much lower than actual, per standard policy.
Ask any Afghan and the answer is that the attack was masterminded by Pakistan’s ISI and carried out by hit men from its stable; and the story about ISIS having done so was exactly that, a story. That a “Taliban spokesman” had quickly disowned responsibility is also attributed to coordinated publicity by Pakistan’s Army GHQ Rawalpindi, upon which the Taliban subsists. So what is going on, and if Pakistan is the culprit, what is its game plan?
The fact is, that, by November 2016, GHQs Rawalpindi were sitting pretty, their plans under advanced execution to dominate Afghanistan’s politics, economy, and national security management. With Mrs Hillary Clinton’s election as President of the US being taken for granted, ‘Pindi was upbeat that by Naw Roz (March 22, 2017) Pakistan would have accomplished its cherished foreign policy goals so far as Afghanistan was concerned.
What goals? 1. Force Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the Afghanistan-Pakistan international boundary; something that all Afghan regimes since Pakistan’s inception in 1947 had refused to do, even Pakistan’s cat’s paw, the Taliban regime of the ‘90s. 2. Establish predominance over all the poppy-growing, heroin-producing provinces of Afghanistan and connected infrastructure for trucking and transportation to destinations in Europe, Central Asian Republics, Russia, and China. 3. Acquire a wider and tighter grip on extraction of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth including rare earths, high value minerals, precious metals and gems, hydrocarbon-yielding zones, slave-trade, and other human trafficking. 4. Purge Afghanistan’s security-related agencies of any personnel not submitting to Pakistani overlordship. 5. Take control of all airports and arterial land routes in Afghanistan, and all the border crossing facilities connecting Afghanistan with its neighbors (Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China, and Pakistan). 6. Install in Kabul a range of its nominees in the Afghan National and Provincial governments, key State agencies, Media outlets, Universities and Colleges. 7. Compel India to evacuate its staff from its Embassy in Kabul and Consulates in Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharief, and Jalalabad, and get all Indians in Afghanistan to leave. 8. Implant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan to garner support to become a Presidential candidate in 2019; meanwhile coordinate terrorist indoctrination and training camps to produce fighters for the conflict in West Asia, and train Kashmiri youth as in the ‘90s.
To accomplish these goals, Pakistan had underway in full flow via Taliban insurgency, penetrative actions in the Provinces of Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Paktia, Paktika, Kunar, (to marshal Narcotics trade logistics) Farah, Faryab, Takhar, Balkh (to interdict to-and-fro traffic to Iran and Central Asian States) Badakhshan, Kunduz, (to control area adjacent to and routes leading to Kashmir) Lowgar, Parwan, and Kabul (to infiltrate into and launch attacks in Kabul).
Control, at key places on the inner garland highway connecting Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharief, and Kabul: Afghanistan’s principal cities, and the strategic Salang Tunnel and Pass vital for North-South movement, was also a crucial operational aim.
All was going smoothly Pakistan’s way till the declaration of the US Presidential Election results. Mrs. Clinton’s defeat shocked Rawalpindi, more so in view of the declarations her victorious rival had made. The Corps Commanders’ Committee in GHQs ‘Pindi, viz. the real government of Pakistan, had thereupon gone into a huddle and decided drastically to reduce and keep in abeyance, sine die, the plans under execution for ‘Operation Khorasan’.
On January 10, 2017, ten days before Inauguration Day in Washington, however, following further Corps Commanders’ deliberations, an attack of stunning effect was executed at office closing time amidst Parliamentary employees in the vicinity of the Afghan National Assembly, killing 46 and injuring 70; the intention being to gauge what reaction, if any, would emanate from Washington. This was the sort of audacious experimentation ‘Pindi, like Beijing, and possibly in concert with Beijing, is wont to undertake.
A punishing attack also took place that day in Kandahar in the compound of the Governor of Kandahar, in which the UAE Ambassador was targeted (he subsequently succumbed to injuries sustained), eight UAE diplomats were killed, so was the Deputy Governor of Kandahar, and the Governor of Kandahar, Humayun Azizi and Hashim Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai were wounded. (Hashim Karzai succumbed recently in Delhi from injuries sustained then.)
On that day, January 10, Pakistan had in effect penalized the UAE Government which had weeks earlier seized assets of the notorious international terrorist and crime syndicate boss, Dawood Ibrahim – a protégé and guest of the Pakistan State; and UAE’s ruler who had accepted New Delhi’s invitation to attend India’s Republic Day
There was no adverse reaction from Washington. Instead, a rather effusively friendly conversation had taken place between President Trump and the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Emissaries sent to Washington also had confirmed its being benignly disposed towards Pakistan.
When Washington announced travel bans and restrictions against six Islamic countries, its having spared Pakistan (and Saudi Arabia) was noted duly in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Thereafter, followed a crushing terrorist strike in the crowded compound of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan at office-closure time, when busloads of employees were preparing to leave. At least 53 were killed, dozens injured.
Six employees of the International Red Cross were ambushed and killed.
Still there was no adverse reaction towards Pakistan from Washington, where the new Administration appeared absorbed in other issues.
With the attack on the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, a reassured ‘Pindi had announced as it were, that its plans, kept in abeyance since November 8, were now again under priority execution.
Spates of terrorist strikes in different provinces of Afghanistan have occurred since. Afghanistan National Army and Security forces’ casualties have been heavy, so has attrition on account of desertions. Gloom, sense of haplessness, and despondency, pervade Afghanistan.
Pakistan simultaneously took another very crucial step as part of its wider diplomacy, and that was to hone what it had commenced in 2015-16, viz. suggest in its propaganda that ISIS had a presence in Afghanistan, and clothe personnel from Taliban gangs in the field and in safe havens in Quetta, Peshawar, and Mingora, to simulate ISIS squads – complete with the black on white ISIS flag, ISIS battle tunics, vehicles, ISIS-issue weaponry, and Salafi facial hairstyle; also, ISIS brand of brutality. Sites for cyberspace propaganda, and wireless communications to simulate ISIS systems and procedures, were further activated.
The UN’s lifting of travel restrictions imposed on Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, notorious as the ‘Butcher of Kabul’, secretly accommodated by the ISI in a safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, further emboldened GHQ, ‘Pindi. Without the new regime in Washington’s approval this could not have happened.
Days before Wednesday’s devastating terror-strike on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Military Hospital, in Kabul, Pakistan went on record gratuitously beseeching the US to be alive to the presence and operations of ISIS in Afghanistan. Wednesday’s action will now duly be crowed over by ‘Pindi for Washington’s ears with much I-told-you-so glee.
To be deemed by Washington to be a vital ‘frontline State and ally’ has been a central plank of Pakistan’s foreign policy, to avail of massive attendant gains including heavy tranches of Coalition Support Funds from the US Government, military aid, training, political leverage and weight in international fora, whether in the UN and other multilateral engagements or in bilateral discussions with the US and its various NATO allies.
Pakistan may be expected now to accelerate its de facto conquest of Afghanistan, designed to be more durable than its proxy Taliban regime in the 90’s. Pakistan will aim at being able to present itself to the international community as the appropriate power officially to intervene in Afghanistan to save the country from the ISIS, chaos, and collapse of the Afghan State. Pakistan will have the US to thank for its unflinching support and obtuse policies vis-à-vis Terrorism and Islamist Extremism and of course its mentor, the Saudi regime.
It is noteworthy that despite all the information and battleground experience of its military and intelligence services, the US does not classify the Taliban as terrorist agency. Specious reasons are cited for public consumption, including that doing so would interfere with making progress through talks with the Taliban – as if such talks have made an inch of progress ever.
The actual reason for the US sparing the Taliban, is that it is not seen by the US as posing a threat to the US or US interests. The fact that there have been in excess of 3500 American military and civilian fatalities in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of Americans wounded, does not appear to have counted. Nor the numerous studies and reports by American experts and think tanks in addition to the US Government’s own agencies, military, diplomatic, and intelligence.
President Barak Obama’s tenure indeed was a Godsend for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in terms of tacit as well as proactive support to their policies in Afghanistan.
The Bilateral Security Agreement and the Status of Forces Agreement that Secretary John Kerry assiduously contrived to get signed in September 2014 by the New Unity Government in Kabul, made no commitment whatsoever on the part of the US or NATO to Afghanistan’s security in face of external threat, destabilization, or internal disorder.
Pakistan’s sensibilities were also respected by the US and NATO avoidance of building up an air force for Afghanistan, thus keeping Afghan National Security Forces dependant on what air power support Coalition Forces lend even it times of crisis.
The US is of course making a cardinal error in allowing Pakistan ascendancy over Afghanistan. The forces of Islamist Terrorism and Extremism that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia nurtures in Afghanistan will not confine themselves to Afghanistan. As in 2001, their attention will inevitably turn to skylines and population centres in the West.
If the Trump Administration is serious in its commitment to fight Islamism and Islamist Terrorism, a direct, frontal assault on the mainsprings of these evils, i.e. their mentors and bases in Pakistan is essential. The new incumbent of the White House has the opportunity and the wherewithal to accomplish this result.
The solution is not to send in more troops to Afghanistan. The right course is, as it has always been through the past fifteen years, for the US to turn to Pakistan and draw the opposition’s trumps suit ensconced there.