Anil Athale.

In any war, and this war is no exception, the first casualty is the Truth. Winston Churchill, in his inimitable style had once remarked that during war time truth is the most precious commodity and she needs to be guarded by a " Bodyguard of Lies". Out of this pithy observation was born the overall deception plan of the Allies during the Second World War, appropriately named "Operation Bodyguard".

A Chinese proverb says that even a thousand mile journey must begin with one step, in that sense the War Against Terrorism is barely one month old and one must be cautious before jumping to conclusions. Yet , one month is a sufficient period of time to see the direction it is moving and also see the chances of success. It is also, hopefully, time to introspect and apply mid-course corrections that may be necessary. For let there be no mistake, while it is currently an all American show, the consequences of this war will affect the future of the entire mankind. It is as much ‘our’ war as theirs!

Collapse of the Taliban

From all available indicators, the Taliban morale seemed high despite the relentless pounding received by them from air. There also appeared to be plentiful supply of ammunition, food and fuel. This seems surprising given the fact that Afghanistan has no ammunition factory, no oil refinery and the country is suffering from its worst ever drought. The borders to Iran in south and west, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the North are closed. That leaves only the Eastern and Southern approaches that open to Pakistan. Obviously the so called ‘Frontline state’ in war against terrorism seems to be supplying the Taliban. Supplies that kept the morale high and in reality enable Taliban to resist.

The Taliban regime is a product of a joint venture between the US and Pakistan. The US acquiesced in the take over of Afghanistan by Taliban in order to open a route to Central Asian oil and gas resources through their territory into Pakistan and sea ports on the Arabian sea. The US wanted to ensure that this does not happen through a hostile Iran. So for the last five years or so, it turned a blind eye to the appling human rights record of Taliban. No American media is prepared to accept this basic truth.

But a landlocked country like Afghanistan and its guest militants Al Quaida network needed access to the outside world. This was provided though Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan. It would not be an exaggeration to say that without this access to the outside world, Osama Bin Laden’s network and its activity would have been confined to Afghanistan itself, Chchenya and Kashmir. The truth is that ignoring the Pakistan connection of Osama made the outrage of 11 September possible.

Deeper Malaise.

But the deeper causes of the current epidemic of terror can be directly traced back to the Cold War policies of the US. In the aftermath of the WW II many of the former colonies emerged as independent countries. The leadership of, by and large most, countries was inclined towards Socialism as an ideology to fight the poverty in their countries. The US equated this nationalism with Communism and opposed Nasser, Ho Chi Minh and Nehru and instead backed the dictators and regressive regimes.

The Cold War is over for the last decade or so yet this suspicion and abhorance of even vaguely Socialist nations remains. Thus the US and the West opposed every modernising regime as in the post cold war era commercial interests of US corporations gained ascendance. In a short sighted view, the old policy of supporting dictators continued.

There is much talk of ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan. Yet none has had the courage to accept that in the brutalised environment of Afghanistan, it was the Socialist regime that was the only one that tried to give equal rights to women and also attempted to modernise Afghanistan.

Confusion over War Aims

Right form the outset there has been confusion over the war aims. Is it war just to finish Osama Bin Laden and Al Quaida? Is it a war to finish Taliban ruled Afghanistan or a counter- insurgency operation? Is it a limited war or Total War?

These are not just rhetorical questions but issues that directly influence the strategy and tactics on both sides. There have been many critics in the US who have questioned the bombing of Afghanistan to get Laden, according to them it is more appropriate to take ‘Police Action’. These critics ignore the fact that for all intents and purposes Laden and Talibanized Afghanistan are synonymous and virtually one. Confusion on war aims was also evident by comments of some Americans about the need to win the hearts and minds of Afghan people!

There is clear understanding that in case of riots one uses what is termed as ‘Minimum Force’ with ‘good faith’. In case of insurgency the doctrine is to use ‘Adequate Force’ so as to avoid co-lateral damage and also win the hearts and minds of the people. In case of war however, whether limited or total, maximum force is the norm. The only ( self induced) restriction that divides limited war from total war is use of nuclear weapons!

In the entire history of mankind, military thinkers have been rare! Not more than a score and that includes Sun Tzu and German soldier philosopher Carl Von Caluswitz (1780-1831). It will not be out of place to quote him verbatim,

" Woe to the government, which relying on half hearted Politics and a shackled military policy meets a foe, who, like the untamed elements ( of nature) knows no law other than his own Power!" ( ‘On War’ Princeton University Press 1976. page 667).

There is obviously lack of leaders able to think ‘out of the box’. All professional militaries that have prolonged periods of peace suffer from this. General George S. Patton’s ( the dashing American commander of WW II) of this world, never have a chance to make it to the top in peace time armies. And on top of that the US is also blessed with a self appointed advisor in President Musharraf-with a Company Commander’s mind-set, for whom the reductionist logic of military appreciation is the end and be all of strategic thinking!

Encouragement to Radical Islam.

During the Cold War, the Americans ‘used’ the radical Islam as a tool in the Muslim world to fight the ideology of Communism. The rise of Osama Bin Laden’s of this world is thus a direct result of this folly. Instead of making a clean break with the past, many in the US today are attempting to mollycoddle the Islamists. Radical Islam is as totalitarian an ideology as International Communism was! Inability to accept this truth will vitally affect the war against terrorism.