Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Costly Mistakes of US Terror Strategy in South Asia


Costly Mistakes of US Terror Strategy in South Asia

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were the result of a catastrophic intelligence failure in which different American agencies failed to connect the dots. In response, the George William Bush Administration launched not one but two wars, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. The military sledgehammer, produced collateral gains and losses for the US–regime change in Kabul and Bagdad. The extraordinary situation  which  was placed forced the US to co-opt Pakistan-the fountain head of terrorist activities–into its crusade against global terrorism. Pakistan, once again, on account of dictates of geography, became a frontline state against Afghanistan for a second time in the last 10 years. Earlier the American interest in Pakistan somewhat declined after the breakdown of the Soviet and cessation of the cold war. But the event of 9/11 had regenerated the US interest in Pakistan because it was at the centre of the world’s worst Islamist terrorist network. The Bush Administration lifted all the sanctions imposed in post-nuclear explosion period, and it became an essential partner in global war on terror. The US in its war against terror had, without hesitation strengthened General Pervez Musharraf, the then military ruler of Pakistan, who was not a democrat. Musharraf seized power in a coup, overthrowing a legally elected government of Nawaz Sharif. In addition his closest neighbour, the largest democracy accuses him of fomenting violence and sponsoring terrorism. The key feature of this strategy was that the US worked through the government of Pakistan and not in disregard of it. It strengthened Musharraf’s capabilities, instead of weakening them.
Pak dilemmas
However, the US support of Pakistan had pushed the military regime in the biggest dilemma the country has ever faced. On the one side, the world’s most powerful nation, wounded and angry, was bluntly telling the General that if he did not act as a friend now he would be considered as the enemy. On the other were the Taliban leaders of the most brutish police state in the world and their hordes who threatened Jihad against the very country that had nurtured them. At the juncture Pakistan with weak economy, a polarised polity, China backing Washington and the Islamic bloc a virtual non-factor all taking together made Pakistan to side with the United States of America’s global strategy against terrorism. It was apparent that General Musharraf was in a difficult position torn between US demands for cooperation and demands by the Islamic clergy, and terrorist organisations. Ultimately, Musharraf decided to distance himself from the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and agreed to provide help to Washington in such key areas as intelligence and information exchange, use of Pakistan’s air space and logistical support which involved tremendous risks for his regime. In a nutshell, to achieve its goal the US forcibly co-opted Pakistan and, through economic inducements, coupled with public praise and private admonition, made Musharraf turn on Pakistan’s protégés, the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Once again the United States war against terror had changed Pakistan’s destiny. Islamabad’s profile in the eyes of the West, and particularly the Americans, had changed completely. General Musharraf had been courted and flattered by world leaders as the defender of the faith of the civilised world.
US terror war in Afghanistan
In post-9/11 period the first anti-terror war that the US had fought was in Afghanistan where ultimately a pro-terror regime was dethroned. By the time of the event in the USA terrorism has become a system with its wings in nearly sixty countries of the world and it was not wisely for the Washington to antagonise them all at one time. In Afghanistan alone there were 30 camps and the world was united to fight this international network of terrorism under the leadership of the United States. In addition, the terror networks in Afghanistan change their colours and mutate their names too fast and adapt to adverse and inclement conditions swiftly. The all Jihadis were united in and around Pak-Afghan border territory with different names, such as, Zamaut-ul-Islam, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Al Faran, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Laskar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipahi Sabah and many others of their local branches. These all terror organisations had bases and branches in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pak-occupied Kashmir.  Their involvement in subversive activities across the border of many countries and beyond makes terrorism a cross–country problem to be addressed and tackled collectively.
The ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ of the United States of America in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001 with the night bombing of Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad at 9 p.m. and all the NATO allies stood by the side of America. On the occasion President George Bush had claimed that 40 countries had pledged support to the US to stamp out terrorism from the face of earth, others have extended logistic support; still others have made encouraging gestures. But from the beginning there was a discernible difference between what the USA tried to protect and what the Taliban regime in alliance with Al-Qaeda sought to preserve. While the former wanted to restore democracy and preserve human rights in a country ravaged by over two decades of continuing war, the latter sought to defend their misrule and mal-administration under the guise of Islam. Despite the paradox, the US decision to co-opt Pakistan to fight Taliban was certainly a tactical move, strategic in nature.
The US anti-terror operation in Afghanistan lasted just two months. It is said to be masterful in both design and execution. The USA dropped more smart bombs on Afghanistan that the NATO dropped on Serbia in 1999. The Taliban forces, estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 strong and a few thousand Al-Qaeda fighters were crushed by the US troops numbering around 60,000 and the allied forces numbering approximately 15,000. War-ships of Japan, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands were deployed in the Arabian Sea. The bombers of the US armed forces operated out of Diego Garcia. Land-based aircrafts flew from Oman and planes from the American aircraft carriers, based in Arabian Sea provided the rest of the combat punch. The cost of the Afghanistan War reached $ 3.8 billion, whereas the military cost of the Homeland Security efforts in the USA was $ 2.6 billion. The US forces, which have claimed to have staged impressive feat of quickest possible military action, lost about only 30 personnel whereas 8,000 to 12,000 Taliban troops are believed to have died.
US felt cheated
As the war against terrorism in Afghanistan progressed, it became clear that Musharraf was not prepared to forsake the Taliban entirely. In fact Pakistan was playing a double game-helping the US offensive while trying to ensure that their old Taliban allies have a prominent role in post-war government. General Musharraf had opposed US support to the Northern Alliance (NA). Sections of the US media felt that Pakistan was not a reliable ally. The CIA had accused the ISI of playing a double-game of pretending to help yet allowing the flow of weapons into Afghanistan. On the other hand even after destroying all the suspected hideouts of Taliban-Al-Qaeda the leadership of neither of the two organisations were to be seen anywhere. They were neither captured nor killed. Further, in the post–Taliban scenario, one finds that the evidence of close ties Islamabad has had with the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, and these three had with terrorist militias like the LeT, JeM and HuM directly and through Pakistan’s ISI, had destroyed its credibility with the US and other Western countries. Hence, Pakistan was under intense pressure to clamp down on these and reform the country into a moderate Islamic state. It was because despite the success of the United States-led coalition in the Afghan war, terrorism is alive and well.
Earlier the military action of United States of America in October 2001 was justified on the grounds that the then Afghan regime was harbouring people responsible for the terrorist atrocities of September 9/11, it however, was not supported by other analysts who propose that on the same grounds Britain could have bombed Boston or NewYork in the 1970s and 1980s as these cities certainly harboured and helped finance IRA terrorists, Cuba could attack Florida now, and at various times India could have claimed justification for an all-out assault on Pakistan. The second execuse on the issue was complaints by the US and British officials that the insurgents are hiding themselves among the populace, using civilians as “human shields” betray the dangerous logic characteristic of military intervention of this type. But above all, was the fact that the US intervention in the wake of 9/11 was primarily motivated by a petty concern for the US reputation as a country that knows how to get its way in the world. It endorsed a war on terror whose aims were frightening open–ended, whose methods were in essence lawless and disproportionate, and whose targets were to be defined as the convenience of the world most powerful nation. The US military intervention in Afghanistan had certainly eroded international support for America in its fight against terror.

Rajkumar Singh is Professor and the Head of P.G.Department of Political Science in BNMU, West, Bihar, India.

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