There is much debate in the United States about how it is much too early for US troops to leave Afghanistan and Iraq in view of the resurgent Taliban and the growth of the murderous ISIS/DAESH/ISIL, call them what you will. Indeed, the destruction of the ancient city of Nimrud (1250 to 610 BC) and its priceless archaeological treasures; and the ‘sudden’ discovery of hundreds of young people from Europe, the United Kingdom, and even the United States making their way to join the terror group seem to have finally focused the attention of the Western powers on ISIL’s rampage through the Middle East.
Add to that the request of the worldly and intelligent Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, to US President Obama, to slow down the exit of American troops from Afghanistan for some few years as he foresees the Taliban refusing to talk peace in a hurry. This is not all, just two days ago, a museum in Tunis was brutally attacked by terrorists in which at least 19 tourists belonging to Poland, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, Colombia and Italy are said to have been killed and many others wounded.
A video on social media tells us that one Abu Bakr Hakim alias Abu Moqatel had warned as far back as December 2014, after owning responsibility for killing two left-wing politicians, “You will not live in safety as long as Tunisia is not ruled by Islam.” Recall please that whilst Tunisia was known as the birthplace of the Arab ‘Spring’, a deep winter seems to be knocking at its door too.
American commentators can be heard on CNN now saying that the ‘frontiers’ of ISIS are now on the borders of Tunisia, having moved from Iraq, Syria and Libya in a rather quick march towards the West. In a sign that this realisation is finally sinking in, the secretary of defence of the US has appeared before Congress to request an increase in the budget to defeat ISIS.
Many of you will have found the title of this piece as little more than ‘I knew better’, as if I were saying I was a seer of some kind! No, that is not how I meant it: it is used just to say that many people, including myself, with no real access to ‘secret’ information, or an intimate knowledge of how the high and the mighty were thinking, knew what was coming reading the situation just using common sense. Read on:
In June 2011, I happened to be in Washington, DC and was kindly invited by Shuja Nawaz of the Atlantic Council to join a panel made up of Walter Andersen, formerly chief of the US State Department’s South Asia Division, and now the administrative director of the South Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University, and Vanda Felbab-Brown, an expert on international and internal conflicts, and now senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings.
At the end of what each of us had to say, and the question/answer session, Mr Nawaz asked an excellent and most intelligent question of his own. But before we go there, recall please that this gathering at the Atlantic Council was held on June 30, eight days after President Obama’s speech of June 22, announcing the troop drawdown in Afghanistan. After giving a brief history of the wars in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, here is some of what the president said: “Without a new strategy and decisive action, our military commanders warned that we could face a resurgent al Qaeda and a Taliban taking over large parts of Afghanistan.
“For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as president, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
“Tonight, I can tell you that we are fulfilling that commitment. Thanks to our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our civilian personnel, and our many coalition partners, we are meeting our goals. As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”
Mr Nawaz asked us three panelists, whether in our individual opinion, there was going to be ‘another speech’. Both Andersen and I immediately said there was going to be another speech; that seeing the state of the training and the discipline of the Afghan National Army it would not be possible for the Afghans to take complete responsibility in the face of the Taliban threat which had not been defeated decisively.
Now then, come to the present and add to the mix the fact that ISIS is very much raising its ugly head in the region too, with six TTP ‘commanders’ already swearing loyalty to the terror group and you come to the inescapable conclusion that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is right in many ways in requesting a delay in US forces departing Afghanistan.
Indeed, instead of the bluster of when Generals Kayani and Pasha held sway in our security establishment, even our FO is saying that a delay in the US departure from Afghanistan would be viewed “very positively in Pakistan”.
My friend, Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jillani is right on the button.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2015.