So, on the surface of it the US appears to have everything under control in Afghanistan. US officials are now talking directly with the Taliban. There seems to be some sort of a breakthrough. Well, how wrong. The horror continues, and the civilians continue to pay a price in a war in which they, apparently, have no stake, whatsoever. It has hence become a typical South Asian (India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in particular) dilemma that is getting harder to navigate through with each passing day.
Let’s wrap our heads around to why terror isn’t subsiding in Afghanistan. Launch large-scale military strikes against the Taliban. Check. Talk directly with the Taliban. Check. Offer the Taliban political space by allowing their leaders to engage in political activities. Check. Put pressure on Afghanistan’s eastern neighbour to go all-out against the Haqqanis. Check. Send more troops to Afghanistan. Check. Train the Afghan forces and let the US forces take the back seat. Check.
Peace achieved. NO.
Why do strategic gains still elude the US forces?
The Taliban are the insurgents. Right? Not really. The United States appears to be making it complicated by offering the Taliban an olive branch without actually decimating them from within. When it comes to insurgency, and the art of tackling it, factually one just can’t talk with the insurgents when they’re in the ascendance. You’ve got to have them against the wall before even contemplating any peace talks with the insurgents. The United States tried altering the script, and indeed ended up making a costly mistake. And, if this mistake isn’t corrected anytime soon, the latest terror wave is only going to get deadlier in the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
Also, in terms of countering the insurgents, use of heavy artillery isn’t going to get the job done. If large-scale conventional strikes were to be the answer, then the war in Afghanistan wouldn’t have ended up as a war the United States couldn’t win. And, it surely wouldn’t have been tipped as a battlefield the US contemplates exiting gracefully, rather than bringing the laurels home.
It’s only the psychological military operations that are going to decimate the insurgents from within. The US forces now need to do something about how the Taliban think. What’s in the head of the Taliban needs to be countered, rather than what’s in their hands. And, in order to achieve this, the US forces need to think like the Taliban, and act like the Taliban. You can only defeat your enemy when you can successfully predict their next move. Psychological operations have now become the need of the day, and the utility of employing these tactics in Afghanistan can’t be stressed enough.
It’s obvious that the Pakistani establishment isn’t in the mood to budge under the US pressure. While the United States wants Pakistan’s support with regard to Afghanistan, alienating Islamabad at such a critical juncture doesn’t sound to be the most prudent of the options. If Pakistan doesn’t toe the line, get tough on it. That’s a rhetoric Washington has been employing for far too long. Democrats or Republicans, that’s a go-to strategy.
However, it’s time it changed. Pursuing the more-sticks-less-carrots policy hasn’t worked in the past — particularly, in terms of having Pakistan complying as a full-fledged ally in Afghanistan. Not that the Pakistani establishment might want to shun its alleged support for the Taliban and the Haqqani network overnight, but with the new government in Islamabad, pulling a new trick out of the hat just wouldn’t harm much. If it helps in pulling it off, great. If it doesn’t, there wasn’t an enviable job being done previously, anyway.
The US administration giving a chance to psy-ops than artillery, and have Pakistan on board is a daunting task, but surely worth spending the time and energies on.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2018.