Spring America's Target
Is Not Iran But Pakistan
By Abid Mustafa
01 March, 2007
February 27 2007, US Vice President Dick Cheney paid a surprised visit
to Pakistan and held private talks with General Musharraf. After the
meeting, Cheney refused to comment on the nature of his visit and left
for Afghanistan. The New York Times stated that Cheney was sent to remind
Musharraf that he must take stiffer action against the Taleban; otherwise
US aid will be in jeopardy. The Pakistani government issued the following
statement: "Cheney expressed US apprehensions of regrouping of
Al Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering
the threat", and also talked of "serious US concerns on the
intelligence being picked up of an impending Taliban 'spring offensive'
against allied forces in Afghanistan." Cheney's trip coincided
with Britain's Foreign Secretary, Margaret Becket's visit to Pakistan.
Becket also pressed the Pakistani government to take more action against
Al Qaeda and the Taleban, but struck more reconciliatory tone. Speaking
at the Foreign Services Academy on a lecture entitled 'The UK and Pakistan:
partners in diplomacy', she stated that the UK would not link its aid
to Pakistan over its performance on counter-terrorism measures. So what
was the purpose of Cheney's visit to Pakistan? Does the British stance
suggest cracks in the Anglo-American alliance over Afghanistan?
Cheney's visit comes nearly
two weeks after Bush gave his speech on Afghanistan at the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he set out US goals to stabilise Afghanistan
and warned about the Taleban spring offensive. Bush said," The
snow is going to melt in the Hindu Kush Mountains, and when it does
we can expect fierce fighting to continue. The Taliban and al Qaeda
are preparing to launch new attacks.This spring there is going to be
a new offensive in Afghanistan, and it's going to be a NATO offensive."
Other US officials most notably US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates
and US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Boucher have also visited
Pakistan in the past month. Gates's visit focussed on how to secure
greater freedom for US and NATO forces to launch strikes against Taleban
sanctuaries and conduct military forays deep inside the Pakistani tribal
areas, whilst Boucher reviewed Musharraf's progress on the peace deals
signed with tribal elders.
The visits by senior officials
of the Bush administration to Pakistan demonstrate that the carrot and
stick policy adopted against the Pushtun resistance and their supporters,
since 2003 has started to unravel. The carrot disguised as Afghan national
reconciliation drive was meant to entice moderate elements of the Taleban,
Al-Qaeda, Afghan Mujihideen and ordinary Pushtoons radicalised by the
war-together they constitute the Pushtun resistance-into a political
process to bolster Karzai's fledging government. The US is still encouraging
Karzai's government to explore ways of accommodating moderate elements
of the resistance. On January 27 2007, Karzai renewed the offer of peace
talks. He said, "While we are fighting for our honour, we still
open the door for talks and negotiations with our enemy who is after
our annihilation and is shedding our blood." Karzai's gestures
of peace comes amid the passing of a bill on National Stability And
Reconciliation by both the Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders) and the
Wolesi Jirga (People's Council). The bill offers blanket amnesty to
all parties, and after demonstrations in Kabul demanding its implementation,
awaits Karzai's signature. Nevertheless, the US has ruled out the inclusion
of hardened Taliban fighters such as Daud Ullah.
To curb the tribal support
enjoyed by the Pushtun resistance, peace-pacts were introduced by the
Musharraf government. These were designed to achieve two objectives.
Firstly to entice tribal elders in laying down their arms, dismantling
the jihadi infrastructure and surrendering elements of the Pushtun resistance
hostile to America in exchange for economic aid. Secondly, to use the
lull in fighting to assemble a moderate faction of the Taleban, take
helm of the Pushtun resistance and invest it in a political process.
The stick comprised of punitive measures to isolate and destroy hardcore
Pushtun resistance leaders vehemently opposed to the NATO's occupation
of Afghanistan, and Pakistan's collaboration with the US.
The peace deals struck by
Pakistan had tacit approval from the Bush administration. However, the
callous killing of civilians by NATO forces and Pakistani troops on
both sides of the border combined with the endemic corruption and injustices
of the Karzai government, have transformed the parochial Pushtoon resistance
into a mass movement. When the European Union (EU) took command of NATO
they were shocked by the ferocity of the resistance and laboured hard
to contain its growing influence in the Southern Afghanistan. The rising
NATO causalities spurred the EU, especially Britain to expose Taliban
sanctuaries in Pakistan. This forced the Bush administration to gradually
withdraw its support for the peace deals. By now Pakistan was also struggling
to gain control of the Pushtoon resistance. British influence in the
religious seminaries, amongst the scholars and in the tribal areas,
foiled Pakistan's attempt to create a monolithic Taleban army that Pakistan
could use effectively. Beyond Quetta and some parts of tribal areas
the new Taliban failed to make impact.
It is not the first time
the EU has been at odds with the US over Afghanistan. European countries
have consistently refused to deploy a significant numbers of troops
assist NATO efforts in Afghanistan. In his speech at the AEI, President
Bush lamented at European countries for their failings. He said, "For
NATO to succeed, member nations must provide commanders on the ground
with the troops and the equipment they need to do their jobs.As well,
allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO
commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever
the enemy may make a stand." The EU's reluctance to contribute
to NATO's mission in war torn Afghanistan can only be explained by its
desire to see America fail in Afghanistan. But at the same time the
EU does not want to see Islam returning to Afghanistan-a political conundrum
it has been unable to solve.
The additional US and UK
soldiers sent to be bolster NATO troops in Afghanistan fall way short
of the numbers required to confront the Pushtoon resistance. The troop
numbers have been further exacerbated by America's distrust of the Afghan
army- the army has been intentionally deprived of heavy weaponry-rendering
almost useless in any upcoming battle. All of this means that the US
will have to bear the brunt of the fighting. This comes as a huge blow-
US forces are over stretched in Iraq and there are not enough troops
to send to Afghanistan. The situation is rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan.
The assassination attempt on Dick Cheney clearly highlights America's
To redress this situation
America has again turned to Musharraf to prepare for a mini war in the
tribal belt and Southern Afghanistan. Negroponte's remarks about Al
Qaeda regrouping in Pakistan and the recent US intelligence assessments
echoing similar findings are intended to prepare opinion both at home
and abroad for this war. It is expected that Pakistan will provide the
bulk of the troops for this offensive, while NATO will utilise the American
build up in the Gulf to conduct air strikes and limited ground operations.
America knows full well that
she will not be able to crush the Pushtun resistance and that Musharraf
may not survive. But the US has no choice-it is make or break for the
US in Afghanistan and the calculus of Musharraf survival is irrelevant.
America's tactical goal is to degrade the resistance in Afghanistan
and confine it to a small area until next spring. By then the Bush administration
hopes that situation in Iraq would have stabilised and there would be
more US troops to confront the Pushtun resistance in Afghanistan 2008.
But the reality may turn out to be entirely different- instead of the
Pushtun resistance the Caliphate could be waiting for America.
Abid Mustafa is a political
commentator who specialises in Muslim affairs