AMERICAN AIMS AND INDIAN CONCERNS.
Major General SCN Jatar.
On all accounts, Musharrafís position is precarious. He appears to hold with the hare and hunt with the hounds. The US is going ahead single minded to tame Taliban with the strategic aims of getting a secure access to the massive oil reserves of the central Asian states, simultaneously creating a bulwark against China. The immediate military aim is to get a foothold close to Kabul with a view to fulfilling its short-term political objective of foisting a friendly regime in Afghanistan. Indian concerns are mounting because of its inability to substantially influence the future Afghan set-up and the fear of a backlash in Kashmir.
The US has not been too kind to Pakistan contrary to popular belief. In an address to NATO on October 11, President Bush did not mention Pakistan as an ally. The US says that the war in Afghanistan would continue until the military goals are achieved and through Ramadan notwithstanding Musharrafís pleadings. Colin Powell, in his testimony to the US Congress ruled out a major role for Pakistan in forming the next Afghan government. Powell did not promise any economic aid package during his last visit to Pakistan and said that the matter would be discussed in Washington. Significantly, the US Congress lifted sanctions against Pakistan only for 2 years. As if this was not enough, Pakistan had to accept Zahir Shah to head the interim government in Afghanistan. It is an irony that the only country that opposed Pakistanís entry to the UN in 1947 was Afghanistan, when Zahir Shah was the King. Pakistanís humiliation was complete when Musharraf attended a dinner hosted by the US Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain in honour of the US Secretary of State in mid-October 2001 against all norms of protocol. And finally, for the first time since terrorism struck J&K, Musharraf termed a mujahideen act as a terrorist attack. He condemned the Jaish Mohammad sponsored suicide attack on J&K Assembly building in October, obviously under duress.
Seemingly, Pakistan shows great concern for US efforts but covertly it aids the Taliban. There is also the prospect of Saudi Arabia being privy to Pakistanís duplicity given Saudi Foreign Ministerís two recent visits in two weeks to Islamabad. This is a funny war no less because one of the main allies (Pakistan) has diplomatic relations with the "enemy" (Taliban), and continues to supply arms, fuel and mujahideens for the opposing war effort! It is quite probable that the US knows what Musharraf is up to. Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence, evensuspects that Pakistanís ISI has given nuclear material to Osama, without Musharrafís knowledge (?). Recently, Pakistan returned three military helicopters to Taliban. These helicopters could have come for replenishment to Pakistan. That the ISI betrayed Afghan opposition leader Haq to the Taliban is no longer a secret and that Hamid Karzai along with 12 anti-Taliban leaders could face the same fate is more than likely. The most telling incident pertains to the bodies of 8 Pakistanis out of 22 Harkat-Ul-Mujahideen militants that were killed in US air attacks in Kabul. The hearse was stopped at the border town of Torkham to avoid discomfiture to Pakistan both because HUM operates in Kashmir with its base in Pakistan and Pakistan is unable to prevent its own Taliban element from crossing over. As recently as on November 3, Pakistan allowed about 3000 jehadis into Afghanistan to assist the Taliban.
As the Resident Chief Executive of Oil India Ltd in Assam in early eighties, I faced virulent agitation and threats to oil installations. I found that persons who played a deceitful and double game were more hated than those that opposed them. The three Anthrax attacks in Pakistan and the statement by Osama on November 3, disapproving Pakistanís alliance with the "Christians", clearly indicate that Pakistanís game is up both with the Taliban and the US. One cannot rule out destabilisation and anarchy in Pakistan with adverse consequences for India.
America used its air power with the initial military objective of destroying Taliban infrastructure, its air force, communication centres, petroleum dumps, and armament caches. The US did achieve its initial aim early but clearly failed to press on to exploit the situation either by sending ground troops to capture an airfield close to Kabul to establish a bridgehead and to pound Taliban frontlines to enable NA forces to make headway in furtherance of the US plan. This is a classic case of military objectives clashing with the political objectives.
The political objectives, as spelt out by Senator Joe Biden, Chairman of US Foreign Relations Committee, are "in the short term, to eliminate bin Laden and his top aides and remove Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership. In the medium term, to establish a stable regime in Afghanistan and wind up Al Qaeda cells around the world and in the long term to deter state sponsorship of bin Ladens, rebuild Afghanistan and stabilise Southwest and Central Asia".
As in the Gulf War so in Afghanistan, oil is intertwined with US national strategy and has caused profound concern, especially in Russia, Iran and India because of the fear that the US may retain a permanent military presence in Afghanistan. The oil rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have phenomenal oil resources of 65 to 80 billion barrels with proven reserves of 20 to 33 billion barrels. "Bush's concealed agenda is to exploit the oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin, the greatest source of untapped fossil fuel on earth and enough, according to one estimate, to meet America's voracious energy needs for a generation. Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans hope to control it" as John Pilger aptly put it. A strong military presence in Afghanistan with Pakistan and India on the same side is additionally a fortification against the Chinese dragon, a fact that the US keeps uppermost in its strategic planning.
The US thinking, on Pakistani assurance, was that rigging up an alternative government after defections in Taliban ranks due to American air attacks, would automatically herald the end of hardcore Taliban. Pakistan even set up its candidate for the Prime Minister of Afghanistan, Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani, to hold a two-day "National Assembly for Peace and National Unity" in Peshawar towards the end of October 2001. All that the so-called National Assembly could do was to call on Zahir Shah to establish a supreme council for convening the Loya Jirga and heading an interim set-up. Incidentally, the Shah did not send any representative to this conference. Dependence on the Pakistani premise has proved costly for the Americans.
On the same basis, the US did not attack Taliban frontlines initially. Pakistani logic is that the collapse of Taliban frontlines would enable the Northern Alliance to take over the reins in Kabul. The US too wanted to avoid this because the Northern Alliance is friendly with Russia, Iran, Turkey and India and represents only the minorities and not the Pashtuns who form 38 to 45 % of the population of Afghanistan. Joe Biden has said that if the Northern Alliance sets up a government, "weíll have the potential for disintegration in Islamabad, that Pakistan may, in fact, collapse". The US and Pakistan want a "broad based" government to replace the Taliban, which will have "moderate Taliban" in majority. However, Russia backed by Tajikistan, Turkey, India and Iran categorically said, "There is no such thing as moderate Taliban". The US has not yet resolved the future set-up in Afghanistan. Pakistanís hidden agenda, on the other hand, is to stall American offensive until the onset of winter by dissuading them from forming a bridgehead and advancing on Kabul with the help of the Northern Alliance.
The US has commenced hitting at Taliban frontlines only last week after realising that it has to cooperate intimately with the Northern Alliance "to eliminate bin Laden and his top aids and remove Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership". The US has now apparently meshed its political objectives with its military aims.
It is axiomatic that ground troops, be it of the allies or of Northern Alliance, have to physically occupy Kabul to dislodge Taliban. There is not a single recorded instance in military warfare, except the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where air power has singly forced the downfall of a government more so when the terrain is mountainous as in Afghanistan where air power is much less effective.
To forestall the winter, the US appears to have started preparation for its ground offensive from the North and North West in conjunction with the Northern Alliance and General Dostumís forces. The aim is to capture the airfield at Bagram 40 km north of Kabul to establish a base for its capture. The fall of Bagram in US hands in the next few days would be the first signs of success of the US war on terror. If Iran cooperates, a front could be opened in the South West too. Adverse fallout could be a massive refugee influx towards Pakistan. Many of these refugees would in fact be hardcore Taliban in disguise. Pakistan may push these hardcore Taliban mujahideens into Kashmir lest they create trouble for Pakistan itself, a scenario India must guard against. An international force under UN auspices should be brought in at this stage not only for Afghanistan but also to be positioned in Pakistan to deal with the refugee problem. If the US were able to achieve success, it would accomplish its short-term goal to remove Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership. Whether the allies can physically eliminate bin Laden remains a moot point. They can, however, neutralise him in the short-term.
The medium term objective to establish a stable regime in Afghanistan and wind up Al Qaeda cells around the world will take time to accomplish. For the former, the US has to continue building a global consensus and pour in massive aid for reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan through the UN. Winding up Al Qaeda cells worldwide is easier said than done. Once Afghanistan is rid of Taliban, Osama may well start his operations from another "friendly" country. It is indeed going to be a very long war against terrorism.
If the US fails to achieve its short-term objective soon, there would be unbearable strains on the anti-terror coalition and threats of further terror acts. Extremists ranging from Pakistan to Indonesia could then foment insurrections, especially in countries such as Pakistan. This will herald a new cold war; inject instability in oil producing countries and affect global economy. An Arab-Israel war cannot be ruled out. India will, of course, get adversely affected with an extremist leader in Pakistan and J&K literally on fire.
How has the Indian establishment faired in this global war against terror? The banning of Harkat-ul-Ansar, Al Badr, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba is certainly a tribute to the quiet Indian diplomacy. The real test of our political shrewdness will, however, come when the next government is formed in Afghanistan. The part that the Northern Alliance plays in it will decide the extent of Indiaís role in the future central Asian oil setting and the durability of our links with the US, Russia and Iran. Militarily, our trial will commence if and when the refugee exodus hits us and cross-border terrorism gets a boost.
The US is playing a balancing game. It wants Pakistanís help in fighting the Taliban even at the cost of ignoring Pakistanís excesses against India in Kashmir. At the same time, it wants India too on its side so that the US, India and Pakistan can form a bulwark against the growing "menace" of China. Would the US succeed or rather would Pakistan and India let the US succeed?