The decision is made. The American officers and soldiers would go home from the battle zone in Afghanistan. Ten thousand or so would leave Kabul airport before 2011 comes to a close and more than twice that number would return by middle of next year. The phased withdrawal would continue without jeopardising security of Afghanistan. The American army was getting a bad name as fighters as they failed to cut the Al Qaida and the Taliban to size and the mounting rate of casualties, both dead and wounded, was giving the politicians back home a nightmare.
In my opinion it is Pakistan that will benefit most from the strategic mistakes made by America when President Barack Obama had announced prematurely decision to withdraw from battle zone and send soldiers home. In the first place, the announcement of a likely date of withdrawal of US forces had boosted the morale of the Taliban and other rebels. Further, Pakistan never played the role of a faithful ally of America and it damaged the reputation of both in the eye of other countries. It kept on receiving the US aid to the tune of billions of dollars and at the same time was encouraging the Taliban forces too to attack and beat the NATO forces.
Pakistan has specialised in running with the hare and hunting with the hound at the same time. Now,
Pakistan will be getting Afghanistan on a silver platter for providing protection from the rear to the US forces. Its military doctrine of possessing Afghanistan for having Defence in Depth, just in case India attacks it, will see the light of the day. One may recall that Pakistan was the biggest beneficiary after the Soviet withdrawal too.
There has been an exchange of views in military circles that America and Afghanistan may request India to train the Afghan security forces to take on the Islamist rebels known as the Al Qaida and Taliban. Presently the American sergeants are training them but they would be gone sooner than later.
As far as training the Afghan Security Forces is concerned, India is not prepared for the task militarily and mentally. The Congress government will not touch the proposal with a barge pole because it would harm the Muslim interests and thus antagonise the vote bank of the Congress. Moreover, it may prove the proverb: FOOLS RUSH IN WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD.
Afghanistan has been the Waterloo of many Indian military adventures in the past too.
Chandragupt Maurya was the sole Indian emperor to have conquered the area after defeating Selecus,a general of Alexander the Great and had married his daughter too. Thereafter, the Indian military campaigns in Afghanistan, be it of the mighty Moghuls or the super power, the British Empire - all had to bite the dust. Birbal, Akbar's Navratna, who led the Mughal army there, was killed in action.
It would have been a brilliant piece of military strategy to commission the Indian officers and Non-commissioned Officers to train the native Afghans of all tribes and regions as a solid security force to fight against the Taliban and defeat them. it goes without saying that the US Treasury would have picked the tab and paid the bill.
Unfortunately this plan cannot materialise as long as the Congress government is in power in Delhi and does not abandon its age-old flawed policy of appeasement of Muslims. Indeed the Gandhi legacy encumbers India's myopic policy in the Middle-East too. Let us leave that for a chat later.
Has anyone in power asked us to train the prospective Afghan Security Forces? None. Not any government that I know of. It is just a drawing room chat in the cosy environment of the National Capital Region where the participants are unaware of the harsh ground realities of terrain, weather, tribal feuds and fierce independent spirit of children and adults alike. Afghans are Muslims but they are not dogmatic like Muslims of the Indian sub-continent that includes Pakistan geographically.
India had been asked to render help to the Afghan people by building educational infrastructure, medical facilities like hospitals, roads and highways in rough regions to connect the outlying areas with Kabul and so on. Our personnel have done a commendable job there even at the risk of losing life or limb. Some medical and educational personnel of the Indian army on a training mission in Kabul were killed by the Taliban terrorists at the instance of Pakistan. Of course, the Americans have been appreciative of India’s contribution to the economic development of Afghanistan. But beyond that, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
In the broad strategic scenario, as seen by the American commanders, Pakistan would be of more use to them than the Indians. As is known to the wide world, the American GIs did not have their heart in fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan. An average American soldier took it as a punishment posting if he was deployed in the Kabul-Kandahar or Helmand region. The American strategists had all along counted on the Pakistan army to provide protection to the retreating Americans from the harassing fire of the Islamist terrorists. Pakistan in turn asked for its pound of flesh and got it. Pakistan opined :
KEEP INDIA OUT OF PARLEYS AND CONFERENCES WHERE SERIOUS DELIBERATIONS TAKE PLACE ABOUT THE FUTURE ARBITER OF AFGHANISTAN – THAT WAS THE PIVOTAL POLICY OF PAKISTAN AND ALL CONCERNED SUCCUMBED TO THEIR POLITICAL PRESSURE. India thus remained on the periphery, notwithstanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s economic aid to Afghanistan.
Pakistan has always been opposed to the idea of India gaining a foothold in Afghanistan. Much to Pakistan’s chagrin, the Afghan people and government both feel closer to India than to Pakistan. The Afghans have a lurking suspicion that Pakistan wishes to subjugate their land-locked country and treat it as a vassal state. They are not far from the Truth
LIMITATIONS OF AMERICANS
I shall not cite the American military performance in Vietnam but only say that they have a super air force and a mighty navy. Of course, the US Navy was not required to play a role in the land-locked Afghanistan and the Air Force had a limited role in reaching supplies and personnel to remote areas. It was the Army and the Marine Corps that bore the brunt. They did not take any credit as no outstanding performance was ever reported from the fighting zone but casualties, dead and wounded, they did take. The fighting quality of an American soldier is not much to write home about. Their life style back home in the States, their training in academies and recruiting centres did not make the GIs and their officers good fighters who would take their mission doggedly. The zeal was missing mostly.
A word about the enemy, the Islamist terrorist named Al Qaida or Taliban would be in order. They are fierce fighters. They have a mission. They were brain washed every Friday in mosques, where they prayed less and were indoctrinated more. The Taliban had the sole aim of getting their Islamic land freed from the occupation of the Christian army of Americans. It was a JIHAD for the rebels.
The American generals and the President of the United States were constantly under pressure of public opinion back home where everybody thought that the super power was fighting a losing war. Like it was in the Vietnam war, in the American-Taliban war too lasting a decade the people’s clamour was: Bring the boys home. The number of body bags brought home from Kabul by air was indeed a depressing sight. The more body bags the louder the demand to end the war. Indeed no politician wishes to win a war and lose elections. Unfortunately, in case of Afghanistan, they lost both the war and the White House. The Democrats had dislodged the Republicans and did not wish the same fate to overtake them. So, the decision was made :keep the White House; lose the distant Afghanistan.
The Americans needed a country located in the vicinity to provide covering fire to the retreating GIs.
Well, there are only two countries in the neighbourhood with large standing armies – India and Pakistan. Both are nuclear powers. Both could be trusted by the American Administration.
On a military assessment of the withdrawal scenario, it was considered that Pakistan, well armedwith American weapon system and equipment and in receipt of American money to the tune of billions of dollars would be more keen to go into battle to cover the rear of the American troops.
On the contrary India’s record of fighting against Islamist guerrillas was not found inspiring. Many hundred thousands of the Indian army has been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir for decades, since independence, but they have not been able to have the better of the rebels and infiltrators from Pakistan. Are the Indian army officers and jawans poor achievers? Let their record in skirmishes speak for itself. In a major fire fight the Indian army officers and soldiers suffer as many casualties as the guerrilla rebels. Thus the track record of the Indian army in controlling the rebel fighters did not inspire much confidence. They could not be entrusted with the major task of protecting the withdrawing American army.
The American Administration reposed more trust in the battle worthiness of the Pakistan army units and formations and decided to pay them for protection. Thus India has lost the little foothold that it had gained. Is the game over? Not yet as the final whistle is yet to be blown by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM