US Troops Pullout: Implications for Pakistan
July 01, 2011
On June 22, 2011, President Barrack Obama announced US forces pullout plan from Afghanistan. It will mark the beginning of the end of US war in the country. It wasn’t the first time that Afghanistan was invaded by a foreign power. The first recorded invasion was by Alexander the Great in 330 BC; since then, it was invaded by Arab Muslims, Genghis Khan, Timur Lung and others.
In the 19th century it was invaded twice by British India, starting the first Anglo-Afghan war which lasted from 1838 to 1842, and then second Anglo-Afghan War from 1870 to 1880. Towards the end of the 20th century, Russians invaded Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, and after having fought a long war extended over nine years and fifty days, they withdrew in humiliation in February 1989. They not only failed to reach warm waters, rather the economic cost of the war affected USSR economy to the extent that the country disintegrated into fifteen republics between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991.
The tempting geographic location of Afghanistan lured Americans to attack and occupy the country under the garb of War on Terror in 2001. The attack was launched with the overt objective of toppling Taliban government and disrupting Al-Qaeda, a network unknown before 9/11.
American presence in Afghanistan obviously was not to the liking of Russia and China. It was viewed as a move to control hydrocarbon resources of Central Asian States and to exert American military influence in the region. These two powers, for their own reasons, opted to follow a wait and see policy. The worst came for Americans from Afghan people. It must be mind boggling for them that these medieval, barefooted and half-starved people, instead of being grateful for US-Aid ‘bag of wheat’, picked up arms against them.
Americans, after having fought for about ten years, have failed to win hearts and minds of the locals. Having suffered around 1,500 casualties, they only control a fraction of the Afghan territory. To maintain its presence in Afghanistan, the US has spent over a trillion dollars with $120 billion during 2010 alone. According to Senator Kerry, price tag of $ 10 billion per month is unsustainable. President Obama in his speech has also remarked, “Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource: our people.”
Disenchantment of the American people with war in Afghanistan in the face of recession and growing national debt is understandable. It also underlines that the present change in American policy towards Afghanistan and the decision to pullout its troops is necessitated by the economic compulsions rather military or strategic dictates.
The American decision to withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of 2011 and another 23,000 by summer of 2012, and thereafter at a steady pace depending upon conditions on ground, will set in motion a continuously receding presence of their troops in different parts of the country. Predominantly, non-Pashtoon Afghan security forces will find it difficult to maintain law and order, especially in Pashtoon majority areas. It will become increasingly difficult to retain fragile and reversible gains made by coalition forces in Kandahar and Helmand provinces. In the absence of ground forces, there will be increased dependence on drone attacks and commando raids.
This shift in strategy can prove to be highly counterproductive. Killing of innocent civilians in drone attacks will alienate people, increase support for Taliban and affect negotiation process designed to pave way for involvement of Taliban in Afghan main stream politics. If such situation develops, drone attacks on Pakistani territory may also increase in the garb neutralizing Taliban safe heavens. This strategy, besides alienating Pashtoon population in Afghanistan, will steer greater terrorist activities in Pakistan. It will add to instability in the region and push Americans away from their objective of having negotiated settlement with Taliban to secure respectable exit from the country.
It will be in the fitness of things if Americans lower the overall tempo of operations. That will create an environment which will be more conducive for peace negotiations. If the Americans wish to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan, Pashtoon community must be given proportionate representation in the government and Afghan security forces. As peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan is interlinked, they should cut down drone attacks in Pakistani territory and take action against those launching cross border raids from Afghanistan into Pakistan. No one should be allowed to use Afghan territory to perpetrate terrorism in Pakistan. Such positive developments will create environment of reconciliation and accommodation necessary for peace, an outcome that truly can be termed as victory.