Pakistan in crosshairs over US' Afghanistan drawdown - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 24 June 2011

Pakistan in crosshairs over US' Afghanistan drawdown

US Army soldiers supervise firing training for soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA). The ANA is starting to take over security responsibility for some areas this year, leading up to full responsibility in 2014

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Jun 11

The wheel has turned full circle in Afghanistan. President Obama’s announcement on Wednesday of a faster-than-expected schedule for the thinning out of US forces from Afghanistan is one indicator. The other is the ongoing negotiation of a “strategic alliance” between Washington and Kabul that would permit a substantial US military presence in Afghanistan even after that country assumes responsibility for its own security in 2014.

Afghanistan is no longer the crucial battleground, but the essential base from which America would prosecute its war on terror groups in Pakistan.

It was very different a decade ago, the morning after the 9/11 strikes, when Pakistan’s support was deemed essential for America’s retaliation against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. General Pervez Musharraf recounts in his memoirs how US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, demanded staging facilities for US forces, telling him bluntly on the phone that Pakistan was either with America or against it. Powell’s deputy, Richard Armitage, was even franker the next day, famously threatening Pakistan’s ISI chief, Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, who was visiting Washington, that Pakistan would be bombed back into the Stone Age if it sided with the terrorists.

Pakistan was then an indispensable supply route and America’s enemies were in Afghanistan. But today Washington believes that a “transnational threat” comes not from Afghanistan but from a terror triumvirate in Pakistan: the Al Qaeda remnants; the Pakistani Taliban (called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP); and the Haqqani network, which is an Afghan Taliban faction that is widely believed to operate under the ISI’s wings.

For tackling this Pakistan-based threat, a section of US policymakers have long argued that America does not need 97,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. In the lively Washington debate in 2009 that led to the American “surge” of 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, US vice-president Joe Biden argued against stepped up manpower-heavy, “counter-insurgency” operations against the Taliban. Instead Biden advocated primarily for technology-intensive, “counter-terrorism” operations against jehadi groups and their bases in Pakistan. This needed little more in Afghanistan than Special Forces, intelligence units, and unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) for striking pinpoint targets.

The US raid on Abbottabad last month that killed Osama bin Laden, and the killing of Al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri shortly after that, were spectacular “counter-terrorism” successes of the kind that Biden, and many other Americans, continue to advocate.

As Bruce Reidel, a retired C.I.A. officer who conducted Mr. Obama’s first review of strategy in the region, told The New York Times: what the bin Laden raid in Abbottabad “demonstrated more vividly than ever is that we need a base to strike targets in Pakistan, and the geography is simple: You need to do that from Afghanistan.”

Now US President Barack Obama, riding on the euphoria of these operations and with an eye on re-election by a war-weary electorate in 2012, has moved decisively towards a counter-terrorism strategy. Overruling his Afghanistan military commander General David Petraeus, who had argued for a token withdrawal of about 5000 soldiers in 2011, Obama has announced a markedly sharper cut of 10,000 troops this year and another 23,000 by the end of next summer. That would still leave 64,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan; those numbers would gradually reduce in the lead-up to 2014, when security responsibility would be handed over to Afghan forces. How many American soldiers would be permitted beyond 2014 would be decided in the ongoing “strategic alliance” negotiations.

Meanwhile, other members of the NATO coalition are bound to follow the American lead. The United Kingdom, with about 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, is pulling out 450 soldiers this summer, and has announced that all British combat troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2015. France has also announced a withdrawal that parallels America’s.

Their place will be taken by Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces --- the Afghan National Army (ANA); and the Afghan National Police (ANP) --- which coalition members are training. ANA and ANP numbers have swelled to 296,000, of which 100,000 have been added in just the last six months. There are serious questions over their capability. Just one recruit in ten is literate and desertion rates remain worrying, though increased salaries have brought them down somewhat.

Critical to the American vision for Afghanistan is the reconciliation process with the Taliban. A long-term US presence is anathema to the Taliban; a US drawdown, alongside the failure of reconciliation, could well result in the effective Balkanisation of Afghanistan, with the Taliban controlling southern Afghanistan and the remaining US forces militarily propping up Karzai’s (or a successor’s) government in northern Afghanistan. At least one prominent American thinker, former US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, has foreseen the de facto division of Afghanistan, with US drone and Special Forces strikes being conducted from northern Afghanistan into the south and into Pakistan.

For Pakistan, the US drawdown is ominous since Washington’s reduced dependence on Pakistan will allow more effective arm-twisting of Islamabad. As senior US officials have briefed New Delhi, the dependence on Pakistan for logistical routes has already come down thanks to Russia’s cooperation in expanding the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). This involves landing US supplies in Baltic Sea ports and then transporting them to Afghanistan through Russia and the Central Asian countries over a 3,200-mile railway. Even though the NDN is four times as expensive as the comparatively straightforward route through Pakistan, it already accounts for half of America’s logistical requirements in Afghanistan. Any reduction in the American presence will further decrease Pakistan’s leverage.


  1. ANA and ANP will never be a bulwark against resurgence of Taliban and Al-Qaida after US drawdown. We all witnessed the fate of Najibullah and his govt after Russians left. Once Taliban re-establishes itself after US drawdown, they will turn their attention towards India. NDN can not be a dependable route. Islamic affiliations of Central Asian republics favour Taliban. Remember, much before USSR break- up, islamic insurgencies were raging in that region. Chechnya is still boiling.
    It's not the training that ANA and ANP need. They need leadership which is liberal and modern, not tribal and feudal. A similar contrast in leadership crisis was evident in post- mughal period in India. East India Company created sepoy armies which were effective on battle-field. Local rulers, in response, also modelled and trained their armies on European pattern, but these were no match to sepoy armies. The only difference was leadership.
    So, lets be ready for some harsh times.

  2. Dear Colonel,

    What about Kandla Port being the main logistic base for supply for US troops in Afghnistan. India / can easily lay a railway track between Kandla and Amritsar. The only thing required is POK being part of India and Khyber being part of India. Rest all is managiable.

    Indian Troops (five divisions) can replace the US troops in The Frontier Provinces of Southern Afghanistan. That would tie down two corps of Pakistan freed from Northern Areas as that would be part of India then. It would also lay to rest any dream of revival of the Southern Silk Route which China is working on.

    The above can be achieved by slowly but continiously nibbling at POK and Northern Areas in low cost operations. Let Jehadi and Khaki Jehadi resources be exhausted there. There is No danger of Pukes using Nucs in those areas.

    Let us join our frontiers with Afghanistan at Khyber. Which then can be used as a supply route by the Sams.

  3. There is going to be one devastating attack on a base in Afghanistan or America and then Obama will have to redeploy his troops back to Afghanistan. Afghanistan govt is not as strong as the Iraqi govt. It cannot defend it self. Not yet.

  4. Anonymous 14:15:

    I'm sure you have a great sense of humour, but ideas like yours are actually cited in Pakistan to argue that India is just waiting for the opportunity to dismantle Pakistan.

    You might also like to consider: some Pakistani blogger with a sense of humour like yours who posts a similarly clever plan for India's "death by a thousand cuts" would be extensively quoted by Indian bloggers to argue that Pakistan is bent on destroying India.

    There is little place for humour in the dialogue between these two humourless countries... not even in the unofficial dialogue of blogs!

  5. My Dear Broadsword,

    About dreaming and reality, I agree with you. Should that stop one from dreaming?

    Pakistan's creation, existance and what ever they have done so far is nothing more than a fenciful dream which has been coverted into a reality on ground. Their are war against India were just fencifull dreams in line with dreams of Gaznavies and Ghories ! They also dreamed in historical times as did Alaxander !

    Dreaming is the right of Nations and why deny that right to Indians unless that puts one in a bracket that obstructs a certain section of rulers to rule India.

    I assure you that dream is acheivable. Why should one be frightened of What LeT has to propogate. That they do even if the complete Indian class was to hybernate in stupid Maya.

    Yes I am happy You are joining their class and are into a transition zone from being a military man to a politician !

    Do not mind I know you completely well. Your comments are well taken.

    Kon Khata hai Ki Aasman men Surakh nahin Ho Sakata,

    Ek Pathar to tabiyat se Uchhalo Yaro !!

    Regards for your pontifications..

    Develop some tolerrance...

  6. The direction of most feasible solution is towards the division of Afghanistan and then merging back of pakistan in to India.

    During the first stage the Northern Afghanistan controls the things in to South Afghanistan and Pakistan to a great extent.

    Then in second stage India develops enough magnanimity to accept the merger of pakistan back in to India.

    However in this method the full cooperation of CIS states is essential.

  7. Ajai sir any pics or updates on IAC carrier or PDV missile? pls.

  8. Colonel Shukla:

    Regarding your comment, dismantling Pakistan is the only way to ensure peace and stability in that part of the world.

  9. Some people here have suggested, with some amount of glee, dismemberment of Afghanistan and/ or pakistan. They feel that this may happen on it's own or be brought about by Indian arms and diplomacy. They believe that next natural step is merger of debris of such a pakistan back to India. But, is that such a good idea? Pakistan is not just a piece of land. There are people living on it. The contempt, enmity and hatred they feel towards us, reason for partition, is still strong. When 15-20 crore muslims in India are such a problem, what will we do with another 20 crore ( or whatever number). Unless all pakis have a change of heart, which is next to impossible, there is no way we should accept reversion of pakistan into India. We are well enough without 200 million pakis with their obscurantist idea of life, nationhood, diplomacy, history, politics. No, we don't want them.

  10. US is doing what is necessary for it's own national security. Keeping just enough men and material in Afghanistan to prevent Al-Qaida and Taliban from creating another springboard of terror attack on the west. They obviously will save hundreds of billions in bills if they follow this strategy. However, without solid input from the Pakistani side, it is unlikely that this game plan will work out too well. For exactly this purpose CIA has created a massive intel network inside Pakistan that is no longer dependent on ISI as shown by the Osama raid. So the net effect of this strategy is that CIA will track the terrorists from south and Afghans with the help of NATO will keep pounding them from the north. This will most likely turn out to be a long drawn affair. All this is fine but where does that leave India? We have the weakest PM at the helm of affairs who wants to go back his pind in Lahore even as his own countrymen keep dying at the hands of his own pind birathers. With such a weak-kneed policy towards our piggy chop neighbours it is unlikely that India will remain a force to reckon with in Afghanistan. Will the real PM please stand up and stop pussy-footing with hard issues.

  11. This orgy of death needs to stop. Countries have to come to an understanding through talks. I fully support the approach of the honorable PM Shri Manmohan Singh. Peace, education and development will do wonders for this region as well as the world. Imagine the unlocking of the great human potential in our region, which could lead to incredible advancements in science, art and literature. That is certainly reason enough to eschew war and killing.

  12. i want whatever anon 14.15 is smoking.. :-)

  13. We are again falling the trap of thinking, "we seem to know" what US will do next. First and foremost, US always thinks long term and only in it's interest.

    US will never dump Pakistan nor PA. It will not build the civilian administration as they know people will vote for anti-US government.

    Just looking at the map will tell you that PA is the best mercenary money can buy in such a vital location. Using drones is a convenient way of not harming PA.

    Let us start thinking for ourself. Let us encourage US to stay in Afghanistan. Let us encourage PA's paranoia. It is very important that PA's is cutoff from it's life line i.e the US. This can only happen if US stays in Afghanistan and is subjected to Pakistan's "war of thousand cuts".

  14. Dis-membering Pakistan? Nope. Do not even think about it. Never make the same mistake twice! Creation of Bangladesh was a big mistake. India should have left it as a thorn in Pakistan's flesh.

    I do not approve of any country, violating the sovereignty of any other country, what ever be the reason. However when it comes to Pakistan I strongly approve US action and drone attacks. That is why I approve US Army’s presence in Afghanistan.

    What you consider Richard Armitage statement that he would bomb Pakistan back to stone ages as, if not kidding? Did General Armitage forget that Pakistan is a Nuclear Weapon State? US no more enjoys that authority after it has allowed Pakistan to go nuclear. I wonder if attack on Iraq would have ever taken place if Mr. Sadam had a nuclear weapon in his basement?



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