By:Samson Simon Sharaf
(This is a cross post from The Nation)
We as Pakistanis should be in awe of the fact that US defence contracts have already floated a bid for increased jet fuel in Afghanistan till 2013, with the condition that it must not come through Pakistan. Does this imply that Pakistan may be under US attack from Bagram in 2012-13? Or does it mean that Pakistan would have plummeted to anarchy by that time. Much before General Stanley McChrystal had resigned, ‘Obama’s Third Surge’ had already petered into nothingness. The operations failed to create intended effects in a highly destabilized, charged and violent region. McChrystal, the highly decorated specialist in covert operations and assassination squads of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) may have been a brilliant and brutal tactical hit man, but a strategic failure nonetheless. His resignation has come as no surprise to analysts following the tug of war between the US Defence and Political Establishment and how the third surge was identically conducted at the heels of the failed second surge. In both failed operations, CENTCOM conspicuously avoided Kandhar but why?In my article, ‘The Wilting Obama Surge’ in the Nation, I had identified the fault lines within the US establishment. Even the UN envoy in Afghanistan had called it too military driven and doomed to failure. Nothing had worked as per the plan; neither the carrot, nor the stick nor stacks of cash for the breakaway Taliban. The contradictory statements of Gates, Halbrooke and the local military command spelled it all. The foreign press corps in Kabul, obscure from reality was making big news. Media was bubbling with optimism while efforts were at hand to find a scapegoat if the good news turned sour. This scapegoat is now General Stanley McChrystal.It was indeed at the heels of this failure that USA decided to co-opt Pakistan in the Strategic Dialogue diplomacy. In a typical US media hype, much was made of the prowess of General Kayani as a brilliant military commander with an equally sharp eye on the long term vision. A leading Indian newspaper took the lead in portraying him as the man who was in charge. Guns and Roses were offered to win over Pakistan’s military establishment towards a US driven operation in the region. The entire political establishment of Pakistan was eclipsed. There may have been some tactical compromises, but as events proved, Pakistan resisted the trap. US could not have its way and a new strategy became inevitable. Time for a new plan had come.This change of heart also caused a furore amongst the ‘Shock and Awe’ rightist who singled out Pakistan as part of the problem (Lisa and Nicholas). This same right saw McChyrstal as an upholder of US Absolutism and a Bush Strategy downgraded by the Democrats. It also set the template of the future US election debate between the Democrats and the Republicans. Writing on Obama’s Third Surge, I had cautioned, “The new AF-PAK strategy is a compromise with enough blank space for narratives to be filled later. It is these blank narratives that cause concern… What lies undisclosed is high intensity sting and covert intelligence operations conducted by CIA and the dreaded JSOC. The message is unambiguous. Pakistan will have to face a surge of expanded drone attacks (settled urban areas) by both JSOC and CIA, and a cruel spate of covertly sanctioned illegal assassinations, sting operations and anarchy generated by contractors with leaks capable of breaking hell in Pakistan”.As an analyst, my biggest concern is to identify the blank spaces in the narratives that need to be filled in after the change of command in Afghanistan and what USA terms AF-PAK. This is a moot to be contended between the Pentagon and the White House in the coming months. In the interim, all ongoing operations in Afghanistan will lose their momentum and the operational pause give a much needed respite to the Afghan resistance to recoup and reorganise. The pause is also a blessing for Pakistan to put its house in order. However, given the ground realities, Pakistan’s politicians will continue to display their insensitivity to national sensibilities and allow the country to drift with only the military calling shots and determining the course of future events. Much is also being made of the COIN Strategy cited as success in Iraq. Apparently this strategy had a socio economic pincer at the leading edge with dollars being used to buy off Sunni Muslims against hardcore militants linked to Al Qaida. Total economic destruction of Iraq had led to extreme poverty that was later exploited to trade loyalties for bread. This was a controversial US counter insurgency doctrine called COIN devised and implemented by U.S. Central Command Chief David Petraeus in Iraq. Premised on ‘money talks’ all future operations in AF- PAK will witness a surge of monetary kickbacks as a corner stone to other factors related to combat, overt and covert violence, expanded role of drones (settled urban areas) and terrorising tactics in urban areas. A failing Pakistani economy is mandatory to the success of this strategy.It is with this reason that my last ten articles on these pages have primarily focussed on the intrinsic link between the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s political economy. The focus of the primary threat to Pakistan shifted long ago from India to bad policy making and bad governance from within. In the worst case scenario, by the time US stabilises in Afghanistan, Pakistan would be a state vulnerable to a COIN Strategy.Though the modality and command may have changed, we Pakistanis must realise that the American long, mid and short term designs and objectives in the region have not. This should also dispel any illusions that some Pakistanis may have on the benefits of the Pakistan-US Equation as a saviour. We should rather be in awe of the fact that US defence contracts have already floated a bid for increased jet fuel in Afghanistan till 2013, with the condition that it must not come through Pakistan. Does this imply that Pakistan may be under US attack from Bagram in 2012-13? Or does it mean that Pakistan would have plummeted to anarchy by that time. Supply of jet fuel would start in 2011 about the time when new US operations would be peaking in the region.Afghanistan is a country whose economy thrives in times of conflict. Already USA is indirectly funding the war against itself through its local contractors and efforts to buy off revolutionaries. The COIN may buy off the war lords but never the romantic revolutionaries. To the contrary, money is endemic to Pakistani Politics. It works wonders especially when it will be funnelled through methods that promote corruption and a black economy. Under the new command, the next phase of US operations is not likely to commence before September 2010. This also coincides with the time when Pakistan army will be looking forward to a new military chief. Speculative options on the continuity of General Kayani as COAS are rife and so is the rumour and manipulation mill. Hence all rumours must be put to rest so that the military and country can concentrate on the US operations in the Kandhar region and its backwash on Balochistan in particular. As an appropriate measure, the nation must agree to eat grass, least for the survival of its crowned jewels rather for its own national honour and pride.If this preparation does not take place before the new surge, Pakistanis will have no option left but to look for a new social contract. I pray it comes peacefully and not through violence.
(Brigadier (R) Samson Simon Sharaf retired from Pak Army in 2005. He is an infantry officer with considerable international exposure speaking at seminars and universities. He served for a long time in the Operations Branch of GHQ with substantial contribution in Nuclear Policy Making. He is a regular writer for The Nation).