Manipal, India — The 1989 defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was a tactical victory, but a strategic defeat for the Western alliance. The induced success of the jihadis gave them a boost of vainglory, leading to the expansion of their jihad to the West.
Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and their al-Qaida organization are the unintended consequences of the 1979-87 strategy by former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency William Casey of funding, training and equipping jihadists to fight a conventional force.
Those lessons are now coming in handy for terrorists operating in the Afghan countryside, where NATO is floundering in a manner similar to the 1983-84 travails of the Soviet battalions.
If it can be said that the economic and other costs of the Afghan war helped push the Soviet Union to collapse, it can also be argued by those determined to undermine the West that the immense financial costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – along with the concomitant speculative rise in commodity prices sparked by the conflicts – are responsible for the apparent meltdown in Western economies witnessed in the latter half of 2008.
Iraq and Afghanistan are theaters separated by conditions on the ground. In Iraq, the policy of occupation has led to an essentially nationalist rebellion against the United States and the United Kingdom – giving the religious Shiite parties an opportunity to secure the political space left empty by the secular nationalists’ recourse to insurgency.
In Afghanistan the resistance has come from the jihadists who since 1996 have been known as the Taliban. And, as in the 1980s and 1990s, the principal support base for this militia has been the Pakistan army. Whether it is training given by soldiers "on leave" or access to funds, safe houses and munitions, the Taliban could not have put up a viable front against NATO for more than a few months without such support.
Astonishingly, as yet the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and numerous other U.S. intelligence agencies appear clueless about the extent to which the Pakistani army is providing sustenance to the Taliban. U.S. officials are still in denial and hoping for a miracle – aware that numerous military, diplomatic and academic careers would go up in smoke were they to accept that their policy of relying on Pakistan’s army to fight their own auxiliary in battle is flawed.
By looking toward heaven rather than at ground realities, NATO planners are preparing for a Soviet-style retreat from Afghanistan. But this will give the jihadists the oxygen they lost after the setbacks caused by the U.S. military and other actions since the terror attacks of 9/11.
The head of the snake that is the Taliban is the Pakistani army. This is where attention needs to be focused, now that Pakistani General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has failed in his gambit of using the Mumbai terror attacks to divert international attention away from his reluctance to engage the Taliban in Waziristan and in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Because cash and other assistance is funneled through religious "trusts" and other cutouts, and because of an undeclared policy that all soldiers fraternizing with the Taliban be dressed in the same garb as the militia, somnolent U.S. intelligence agencies have failed to detect the multiple contacts between the Pakistani army and the jihadists, including clearance from the higher brass to missions directed against India and NATO.
Kayani's bluff must be called. This is what Soviet leaders failed to do when General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, the former president of Pakistan and founder of jihadism in a once-professional army, was soaking up billions of U.S. dollars to send irregulars into Afghanistan.
The de facto president-cum-prime minister, also known as army chief, of Pakistan needs to be given the message that unless his forces take out the Taliban within Waziristan and FATA, NATO will provide assistance in the form of air sorties, missile strikes and reconnoitering troops on the ground. The elimination of the Taliban within their nests in Pakistan has become a national security priority for the United States and the European Union. It is intolerable that success is denied because the Pakistani army is clearly unable or unwilling to accomplish the job.
As matters evolve, despite the infatuation of the many U.S. and EU officials for Pakistan’s military, planners in Western capitals may finally accept that the rapid metastasis of jihad from safe areas in Pakistan is a hazard requiring immediate action, and that the present policy of relying on Pakistan has not worked.
The 2009 general elections in India may produce a government willing to commit at least two divisions of Indian troops to Afghanistan to assist in the battle against a jihadist force that has carried out six mass terror attacks in India in 2008 alone. While a fresh terror attack on India may not lead to a military attack on Pakistan, it may strengthen the argument that India needs to place military boots on the ground to assist NATO in Afghanistan.
Unless the Pakistani army is liberated from the jihadist influence steadily injected since the days of Zia, it will remain an accessory to terror rather than a defender against it. General Kayani had calculated that the Mumbai attacks would lead India to mobilize troops on its western frontier, thereby giving him a reason to refuse NATO's request to go after the Taliban. That has not happened. The Indians have not mobilized.
The situation does not need more of the same failed medicine of depending on Kayani. It requires a clear ultimatum, followed by NATO action to take out the Taliban nests.
The people of FATA, Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province will themselves hand in the Taliban once they see that having them in their areas does not bring goodies from the Pakistani army, but death from NATO attacks.
The road to success in the war against jihadis runs through Pakistan, and this route is too vital for the security of the world to remain in the control of the current leadership of the Pakistani army, unless that army can throw away the poisoned legacy of Brzezinski, Casey and Zia.
-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University.He can be reached at email@example.com. ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)