Afghanistan & NATO’s Mission Impossible:A Radical New Grand Design Needed or Defeat is Guaranteed
– A New Strategic Plan of Power and Reconciliation and Reconstruction –
Slowly, an endless convoy of heavily loaded trucks coming from Pakistan is creeping over the Khyber Pass through the tribal areas toward Afghanistan. Jalalabad is a mere 60 km away, the Afghan capital of Kabul 240 km. For thousands of years, adventurers and explorers like the Persians under Darius, or the Greeks under the famous Alexander the Great traveled through this pass. White Huns, Mongols, Turks and Mughals, as well as Muslim conquerors like the famous Mahmoud of Gaza or Zaheerud Din Bar moved through these grey canyons on ancient caravan routes traveling from the West with their armies into the legendary India. In the 19th century, the British Crown tried and failed to militarily secure this strategically decisive gateway to its Indian colony. To this end, they founded the Guardians of Khyber Pass in 1878 and in 1925 constructed a railway line from Kabul to Peshawar.
The commander in charge of the legendary Khyber Guards has no problem at all with the Taliban in this area. A remarkable calm hangs over this most significant supply route in Afghanistan—through which more than 60% of the supplies for the nation and the ISAF troops are transported.
Why? All of the troops of the Khyber Guards come from the area which they are protecting—they know each other and the guards have long since become a part of the local culture. They are not foreigners, but rather respected clan members. Tribal law, in existence for thousands of years, guarantees security and stability. In the tribal areas—also known as FATA—a self administered buffer zone of various tribes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, theft, kidnappings, rapes, or murders out of greed are 80% less frequent than in Pakistan. This is due to the fact that each clan is collectively responsible for the crimes committed by its members.
At the same time—from the perspective of NATO—the tribal areas in certain sectors are a breeding ground for the Taliban, who recruit and reorganize here along with their allies the al-Qaeda terrorists. On 30 October 2006, when Pakistani or American precision bombs destroyed an Islamic Madras religious school in Khar in the Bajaur area—because high-ranking Taliban leaders were believed to be located there—80 mostly young people died. Hatred poured out into the streets and reached a new boiling point there as well as in Pakistan. In the absence of stability in the sparsely populated FATA, which has only 3.2 million residents spread over 27,200 km², of which 4,300 km² are inaccessible and with a hardly secured border of 2,400 km, there cannot be a stable Afghanistan. From the perspective of the 32 allies of the ISAF forces, developments in the FATA are decisive with respect to the war.
The FATA joined in the establishment of Pakistan in 1947 and received in return special constitutional guarantees according to Article 247. The majority of the clans have lived for thousands of years in their traditional territories, and at the same time wander across the mountains to Afghanistan. Now they must pass through border stations, but the mountain paths can hardly be controlled, as the commander explains. Conflicts there are resolved traditionally and effectively in the council of elders, the legendary local jirgas, a type of senate or upper house according to Western understanding.
The Governor of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) in Peshawar, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai, reports that the Frontier Corps and local recruiting are responsible for law enforcement. The General through his Chief Secretary is the NWFP Liaison Officer between the Pakistani government and the FATA. He wants to develop and bring peace to his tribal area with one large leap forward.
For decades no one took an interest in the underdevelopment of this sparsely-settled and mountainous no man’s land. Only 17 of 100 people can read and only 3 of 100 women (Pakistan: 45), 60% live below the poverty line of Pakistan, 46% are under 15 years of age and without any chance of a steady income—fertile soil for radical populism and al-Qaeda.
The developmental aid of Pakistan and the international community will now be increased six fold, from approximately $20 million to $180 million per year. The FATA development plan for 2006–2015 projects a total investment of more than $2 billion over nine years. The literacy rate should be increased to 50% (currently 16%), primary school attendance to 90% (currently 50%), and income through forestry and fishing should increase. The Governor has great expectations regarding the development of mineral exploration and the support of international donor agencies.
The Governor states that Pakistan has suffered the most from the long Afghanistan war. Pakistan had to take in more than 4 million refugees during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, 2.7 million remain there today. Drugs come out of Afghanistan along with foreign al-Qaeda fighters. The former general is frustrated, “In Afghanistan, nothing has been achieved!” In five years, neither the USA nor the EU nor ISAF have reached even one of their five goals: the elimination of Osama bin Laden; the elimination of al-Qaeda; the neutralization of Taliban leader Mullah Omar; the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan; and the reconstruction after 27 years of war. “We urgently require a reevaluation of the Afghanistan strategy now and an in-depth analysis, as the situation is growing worse day by day. We need a revised strategy and the time is now for a strengthened political strategy!” Pakistan has sent 80,000 soldiers into the FATA in order to defeat the Taliban there. As a result, 700 Pakistanis have been killed and 1,500 wounded. More than 600 hardcore Taliban have been eliminated in 100 major operations.
Aurakzai says that, “al-Qaeda is an idea, a global ideology. More important than Osama bin Laden is Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He governs. He is supported by the Pashtun tribes, who comprise 14 million of the 31 million Afghan citizens, and who are not appropriately represented in the central government—an immense, fundamental mistake of the Karzai government which relies exclusively on the support of the Northern provinces. The Taliban are turning more and more into a nationalist movement. Military campaigns with massive collateral damage have even turned moderate Pashtun tribes against Kabul and ISAF. For the last five years they have received only bombs. For hundreds of years, these tribes have not tolerated foreigners, neither Russians and never Americans.”
The legendary head of the Pakistani Secret Service (ISI) in the late 1980s, Gen. Lt. (Ret.) Hamid Gul, and according to some sources an old friend of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden is even more direct in a conversation with the World Security Network, “The USA and its allies won’t be able to hold out in Afghanistan for more than two years. They now have the chance to negotiate an exit with dignity or they will later have to retreat in shame. For 5,000 years every occupation of the Afghan mountains has failed—why should NATO be successful this time? The ISAF and the U.S. only have 30,000 troops in the country, in the 1980s the Russians had 120,000 and were defeated,” argues the General who knows all of the Mujahideen and Taliban leadership personally and is revered by some as the “father of the Taliban.”
The image of the USA and its president Bush is at an all time low: “Bush did more damage to America than anybody else could have done!” The U.S. policy is fundamentally wrong, a combination of greed and fear. Fear: power without the will to make sacrifices. Greed: grabbing everything now at the peak of power. Ironically, the U.S. now has to pay the price for it all, as there is no longer any room left for corrections. The price of U.S. failure can be verified: it paid a small price in Somalia when U.S. troops withdrew quickly. The only option now is a paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy towards dialogue, to win over the hearts and minds of the people and show more common respect to other nations, different cultures, aspirations, suzerainty and global problems, rather than dictating U.S.-made solutions. Osama bin Laden only became America’s enemy through the faulty policies of the USA.”
As well, Pakistan’s ex-Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar demands more credibility from U.S. foreign policy. America should use simple terms to reach out to the man on the street in Islamic countries. His predecessor, the legendary former Foreign Minister, Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan, who successfully presided over the negotiations on Afghanistan that led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces, desires in a meeting with World Security Network more understanding and dialogue between the West and the clan-oriented Islamic way of thinking. “A reconstructed and stable Afghanistan is obviously in Pakistan’s interest. We should continue a policy of friendship. We should not resent, nor become indifferent towards that neighboring country with which we have long historical, religious, cultural and ethnic ties. After the Soviet war, the international community abandoned Afghanistan to its own fate. The consequences were chaos and civil war. It became a haven for terrorists. The result was a seething cauldron of anarchy and disorder, which paved the way for a military and political takeover by relatively disciplined, if unenlightened religious obscurantists—the Taliban—who in turn were isolated and denied an opportunity by the international community to moderate their policies. As a result, they were eventually high-jacked by the religious extremists of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.”
Senator Farhatullah Babor of the opposition PPP Party of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto argues that the violence in Afghanistan will increase all the more, the longer Western troops remain there. Soon, the tribes in the north will join the rebels.
The Governor of the Punjab province, Gen. Lt. (Ret.) Khalid Maqbool, states in his residence in Lahore: “The current problems in Afghanistan lie in the overly hasty withdrawal of American support following the victory over the Russians, which left behind a destabilizing vacuum and a mess in which the Taliban and its major ally Osama bin Laden could develop. The Afghans won’t be convinced by killing and be forced into freedom. They only trust someone who brings improvement to their daily lives.”
None of the Pakistani conversation partners give any long-term chance to the U.S. backed Afghan President Karzai: He is not allowed to remain in the open in Kabul for more than four minutes at a time, is isolated in his own country, is ultimately a marionette of American interests, and not an accepted representative of the majority of tribal elders. He relies alone on the Northern Alliance. In the tribal areas of Afghanistan, majorities achieved by elections have no relevance, but rather alliances with tribes and the acceptance of the elders. In the absence of the integration of the strong Pashtun tribes in the government, the Karzai government remains a shell without a core which will collapse within two years.
Prime Minister Shaukat Azis, who until 2004 was a successful investment banker with the Citigroup with an office on Park Avenue in New York City, demands above all an elimination of the roots of terrorism. “Pakistan leads in the role to fight terrorism.”
According to an experienced ex-General of the Pakistani army, NATO must more strongly consider the centuries-old customs of the clans and seek security and cooperation rather than confrontation, as well as providing financial support for clan leaders. For some time now, military operations have achieved just the opposite, namely the unification against foreigners as the British General Robert experienced in the second Afghan war of 1868. Now, it is the Taliban who profit. NATO should not retreat too rapidly, leaving behind a vacuum, but rather determine a new and better political strategy. This includes negotiations with the Pashtun tribes, and even with the Taliban, as well as a ceasefire—where necessary against the resistance of president Karzai.
What should NATO, the EU and the U.S. do now?
The Design of a New NATO Double Strategy of Power and Reconciliation and Reconstruction for Afghanistan
NATO, the EU and the U.S. urgently require a much more credible political-military Grand Strategy for Afghanistan. A radical, new overall design is needed or defeat is guaranteed The West needs a new NATO Double Strategy of Power and Reconciliation and Reconstruction.
Power: The Western nations must continue to maintain power there for some years more to contain the Taliban and defeat the terrorists of al-Qaeda. The ISAF commander must get more power to act and less national caveats.
The advice of the legendary Pentagon strategist Fritz Kraemer applies for the new NATO strategy in Afghanistan: “There can be no diplomacy behind which there is no threat of power. But power alone is not sufficient. We are stressing facts and figures rather than the political-psychological. We are beholden to the Anglo-Saxon pragmatism. Flexibility is a virtue unto itself to solve the problem on its merits. We do not look at consequences in Time and Space. Inner musicality is needed for a good politician.”
Till now, a convincing, credible, efficient and intelligent political-military strategy for Afghanistan has been lacking—a sensible consolidation of power and reconciliation, a genuine political-psychological peace policy derived from the roots of Afghan tribal mentality, rather than that influenced by the offices of the Pentagon and the CIA.
Which elements should a new Afghanistan NATO Double Strategy contain?
1. Five years after the start of the mission in Afghanistan, all plans by NATO, the EU and the U.S. should be put to the test from a military and civilian perspective. There can be no taboos and no mere justifications of earlier decisions. The Pentagon under the incoming new leadership of Robert M. Gates must not be allowed to dominate this process and, together with the Europeans, must conceive of a new Double Strategy for Afghanistan.
2. The currently dominating military planning of NATO and the military approach of the old Pentagon in particular should be replaced by a new meaningful combination of containment (military means, Secret Service, police) and reconciliation and reconstruction (diplomacy, reconstruction aid, integration of the Pashtun tribes, who make up 42% of the population, and the inclusion of the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran) in this new NATO Afghanistan Double Strategy. The civilian aid programs of too many different agencies, from many countries of the world, with uncoordinated plans and too slow implementation, as well as the cooperation between EU, the U.S., the UN and NATO, must be much better coordinated and focused. The commander of ISAF needs only one coordinating and powerful counterpart and coordinator in order to respond quickly in the reconciliation and reconstructions areas.
3. A new emphasis should be placed on the thus far failing and too weak columns of real reconciliation and rapid reconstruction. This policy will be realized in the areas of visible and quick reconstruction aid (infrastructure, police, judiciary, education, middle-class), the inclusion of the Pashtun tribes in the peace process, up to and including negotiations with the Taliban and a ceasefire. Till now, the billions in international reconstruction intended for the population have either not reached them at all or too slowly, have vanished or were committed and never delivered.
4. The conflict should be quickly demilitarized step-by-step with peace being anchored locally. The primary focus will no longer be on a strong central government in Kabul, but rather on a local balance in the many different tribal areas—the atomization of peace making. New police units will be recruited locally. The ISAF will name liaison officers and reconstruction assistants for all tribes, who will realize the most urgent civilian projects quickly in the coming months. The tribes will be firmly included financially in the construction of their region and in local task forces; local ceasefires will be secured through the jirgas present there. Such an approach reflects by the way the Afghan tradition and the history of this country and it eliminates the impression of a solution imposed by foreigners.
5. NATO and the U.S. should now declare the limited character of their involvement in Afghanistan as a political goal—their high military profile is counter productive. An important political signal would thereby be made that NATO is not interested in a long-term occupation of the country through foreign troops of different faiths as the Soviet did in the 1980s. U.S. troops should step down now from their high profile to a minimum profile. Staging Areas will be determined in consultations with the provinces and the central government. The EU and the UN should take on a greater long-term responsibility and a higher profile and initiate more actions. The Allies would retain two additional staging areas in Afghanistan for a further ten years, in the Northern provinces only. All military operations of ISAF and the U.S. special forces will be examined continually for their psychological and political effects in the tribal areas, with the goal of winning the hearts and minds of the tribes as the top priority their.
6. The military containment policy will be combined with a committed combating of drug cultivation and trafficking, which NATO has to date avoided. One strength of the Taliban was its law and order policy and consistent combating of opium cultivation, which in the last five years has exploded from only 90 tons to 6,000 tons per year—a significant source of income for weapons as well as a source of poison for tribal cultures. Farmers will receive an equitable purchase guarantee according to local agreements for alternative products such as rose essence, for example. Between 80 and 90% of the heroin in Europe derives from Afghan opium. As a result, this continent has an additional significant interest in the limitation of production in Afghanistan.
7. The tribal areas (FATA) will receive much more direct assistance on the tribal level now and in the future from NATO countries, in close cooperation with Pakistan.
8. The EU and the U.S. should now produce a ten-year economic plan for the stabilization of Afghanistan and the FATA supported by the UN and World Bank. A primary aspect will be the support of a new elite and the focus on young people between 15 to 30 years of age (scholarships, education), support for local farmers and small merchants through purchase guarantees—as are typical in the EU—as well as for infrastructure, hospitals and schools. In addition, NATO and the EU, as a sign of reconciliation, should repair and build new mosques in Afghanistan and the FATA, as well as hospitals and schools, and intensify the cooperation with the neighboring country of Pakistan.
* Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann, a German entrepreneur living in Munich, is Founder and President of the independent and largest non-profit global elite network for foreign affairs www.worldsecuritynetwork.com. He wrote the Report about Afghanistan for the European Parliament, visiting the Mujahideen in the mountains, organized fund raising for Afghan refugee children in Germany and urged Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq to deploy Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to the Mujahideen to end the killing of the Afghan people as quick as possible in 1985.