Looming Kandahar operation

Growing civilian casualties severely jeopardise coalition efforts to muster support in the country. They push the common Afghan to join the Taliban in their fight against the coalition forces. This has tremendously helped the Taliban grow stronger

The coalition forces in Afghanistan are flapping feathers for another massive offensive in the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar after Operation Moshtarak in neighbouring Helmand. Though a formal announcement has not yet been made, media reports unveiled ISAF’s plans for launching an operation in Kandahar in the coming months. This new offensive is being considered as the mother of all previous operations conducted against Taliban insurgents across the country. This is also aimed at driving the Taliban out from their sanctuaries and restoring the writ of the Karzai government in the area. Looking at past experiences, it would be premature for any analyst to anticipate its success.

So far, the coalition forces have conducted the operation in Tora Bora, Operation Anaconda, Operation Khanjar — alongside its sister Operation Panther’s Claw — and Operation Moshtarak since toppling the radical regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001. The first two operations were aimed at hunting down Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives including their top leadership, who were on the run and were believed to be hiding in the rugged mountainous region along the Pak-Afghan border. The other two operations were focused on securing areas controlled by the insurgents in the southern part of the country.

The much hyped Operation Moshtarak in Marjah of Helmand province could not achieve the desired objectives. The increased death toll of civilians was a negation of the newly introduced doctrine of General McChrystal of lessening civilian casualties during operations against insurgents. Fleeing of the Taliban from their traditional stronghold prior to the operation certainly undermined its strategic aspect.

The Kandahar operation too is not free of challenges. Unlike Helmand, Kandahar is a densely populated area and civilian losses seem certain in case of any military offensive. Growing civilian casualties severely jeopardise coalition efforts to muster support in the country. They push the common Afghan to join the Taliban in their fight against the coalition forces. This has tremendously helped the Taliban grow stronger, in terms of men and material, and establish control in areas across the country.

Nevertheless, the coalition forces have realised that the Taliban have become undefeatable and every step the former has taken in the past nine years to eliminate the latter has proved futile. Now their entire focus has been shifted to isolating the less harmful Taliban from al Qaeda. Recently, the US president unveiled his National Security Strategy — primarily focusing on al Qaeda as the main threat to US security. This is what Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have also agreed upon. But, so far, there are no signs of the Taliban falling into this trap. Some leading analysts on Afghan affairs believe otherwise. They think coordination between the two has bolstered recently.

President Karzai, on the other hand, is striving hard to seek a peaceful solution to the problem in his country but so far his initiatives have not yielded any fruits. His recently held three-day-long Afghan National Peace Jirga in Kabul, attended by nearly 1,600 delegates representing all major segments of Afghan society, was to persuade the insurgents to stop violence and respect the constitution. The jirga remained inconclusive after the Taliban rejected it and declared it as an attempt by the Karzai government to further consolidate the occupation of Afghanistan by foreign forces.

Abdullah Abdullah — a key challenger of Hamid Karzai in last year’s controversial presidential election — refused to attend the jirga after questioning the selection procedure of the delegates, which failed to truly represent Afghan opinion. In an interview with The Guardian prior to the jirga meeting he said, “Had it been a national jirga and a national effort, we would have supported that effort.”

The Obama administration has deployed a two-pronged strategy since the proclamation of the first Afghan war strategy, using muscles with diplomacy to gradually “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban-cum-al Qaeda-led insurgency. The recently held jirga is widely seen as an attempt to soften up the Taliban ranks by bribing their foot soldiers with lucrative incentives before the proposed Kandahar operation.

It is pertinent to mention that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami (HI) had entered into a serious dialogue with the Afghan government in the recent past. Various rounds of talks took place in different locations across the region in order to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, the HI withdrew itself after accusing the Karzai administration of being ineffective in paving the way for the foreign forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. The HI’s unilateral decision of entering into a peace process also brought to the surface serious differences with its partner in resistance, the Taliban. The Taliban have repeatedly rejected becoming a part of any plan that fails to ensure the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Seen in this background, things are not moving as satisfactorily as they should. Pakistan has failed to remove US scepticism regarding alleged terror ties, despite making boundless sacrifices in terms of men and material to protect the US mainland from being attacked since 9/11. Recent reports surfacing in influential US media quarters are quoting top US officials, both civilian and military, brazenly accusing Pakistan of posing a serious threat to US homeland security. The Washington Post in its May 29, 2010 edition revealed that the Pentagon was considering the option of carrying out a unilateral attack against Pakistan after the surfacing of the failed Times Square bomb plot.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her recent interview with CBS Television, blatantly threatened Pakistan with dire consequences: “If, heaven forbid, an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences.”

In the past 30 years, Afghans have seen nothing but death and destruction. The international coalition needs to revise its Afghan war strategy by focusing on human development and social uplift of this war-ravaged country. A peaceful and developed Afghanistan is indeed in the prime interest of the regional as well as global community. It needs to be realised, in its true sense, by a bunch of global powers that violence always breeds violence and the time to impose one’s hegemonic designs on the other has ended.

The writer is a defence analyst of Waziristan origin based in Islamabad

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