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Volume 1, No. 6 - November 2001

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The Defense of Afghanistan: Learning From the Kashmir Model Printer-Friendly Page


The Defense of Afghanistan: Learning From the Kashmir Model
Subodh Atal

The latest from the Afghanistan war suggests that the US campaign against the Taliban is faltering. Three weeks of high-tech bombing with 3,000 bombs have not shaken the Taliban or its paid guests, the Al Qaida. The defenders of Afghanistan are dug in, with reinforcements waiting across the border in Pakistan. The long-range prospects are less than certain, with US officials acknowledging that Bin Laden may never be captured and that the war could last for years.

It is possible that in the next few weeks, given continued and sustained bombardment, the Northern Alliance may be able to capture a town or two, and make inroads into Taliban-controlled territory. It is also likely that US ground troops could take the fight to the Taliban. But any decisive outcome is unlikely before the winter snows set in and impedes progress in any direction.

How is it that a rag-tag group of a less than thirty thousand warriors can hold off US might and keep the Northern Alliance at bay? Yes, the Afghans drove the Soviet Union out during the 1980s. But they were more united, and had the CIA and the Pakistani ISI to support them in material and logistics. Given the current parameters, US officials may be right in their prognosis of a prolonged war with no end in sight.

For a similar model, one needs to examine the situation in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. For 12 years, the state has been reeling under terrorist export from Pakistan and Afghanistan. India’s military might has not been able to mop up a force that is no more than a few thousand jehadis at any given time. The terrorist operations are carried out within a standard framework developed by the ISI itself during the Afghan war.

Terrorists sneak into Kashmir, mingle with sympathetic sections of the local Muslim society, and carry out hit and run raids on civilians and security forces. When security forces carry out counter-terrorism operations and pick up suspects for questioning, a chorus of excessive targeting of civilians is immediately heard in the state. This has an effect at two levels. Local Muslims, already fed a diet of fundamentalism and animosity towards non-Muslims, turn even more sympathetic to the jehadi cause. Externally, pressure is raised on India to soften the counter-terrorism operations. Pakistan takes the lead in this, ironically feeding the terrorist activity and at the same time accusing India of being too harsh in dealing with the terrorists. Other countries join the chorus, making it difficult for India to take sufficient steps to end the violence.

Whenever India points to the root cause of terrorism in Pakistan, and mulls wiping out terrorist bases in the country, the Pakistani leadership of the day hints at using nuclear weapons, effectively resorting to blackmail. Pakistan uses a cyclical approach – send terrorists, complain about counter-terrorism abuses, and then call for negotiations.

Careful analysis of the last 3 weeks of response to US action reveals the same pattern. As US strikes continue, and cause inevitable collateral deaths, the Taliban scores propaganda points both within Afghanistan and outside. Afghans and Pakistanis get ready for jehad, vowing to replenish any dead Taliban fighters. Pakistan, the so-called “front-line ally”, has already begun its much-practiced chant of an end to strikes and a “political settlement”.  The game plan of the Taliban, and a deceitful Pakistan is clear: hang in there and create a Kashmir-like long term situation for the US. Implicit in this approach is the Taliban-Pakistan plan to have a post-strikes scenario where much of the Taliban will remain intact, and Pakistan’s goal of exporting fundamentalism will continue. The losers will be Americans and other peace-loving countries, which will be at the mercy of endless Islamic fundamentalist spread.

Some in the US, especially Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, see through this game plan better than others. Rumsfeld has resisted calls to reduce air strikes, and refused to go to terrorist-sponsor Pakistan during his late September foreign trip.

Others, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, seem to be in the grip of the Pakistani web. Powell dutifully parroted Gen. Musharraf’s comments, including those on the continuance of Taliban elements in a post-war Afghan government. The presence of such weak voices in the US government makes it inevitable that the US campaign against global terrorism will fizzle out.

If the US truly wants to defeat global terrorism, it needs to bring Pakistan itself to account. Its nuclear weapons need to be forcibly dismantled before they are used by pro-Taliban elements. The next step should be a partition of Pakistan into its four main regions – Sindh, Punjab, North-Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan. Pakistani-controlled Kashmir can be returned to India and integrated into the latter’s democratic institutions. The ability of Pakistan to create mischief in Kashmir, Afghanistan or anywhere in the world will then be eradicated. The Kashmir situation will be resolved, the nuclear threat in South Asia will be neutralized, and the smaller nations created from Pakistan would not have the wherewithal to continue significant levels of terrorist activity or to provide future support to Taliban or Al-Qaida style groups in Afghanistan.

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