Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Daily Times Editorial May 14, 2014
Taliban’s spring offensive The fighting season is once again upon Afghanistan now that the winter snows are melting. As announced by them the other day, the Afghan Taliban launched their spring offensive with attacks throughout the country, including ambushes, bombings, firefights and sieges in a number of provinces, including Nimroz, Kapisa, Zabul, Patika and Paktika. The attacks included a three-man suicide squad’s assault on government offices in Jalalabad and rocket attacks on Kabul and Bagram airports, the latter failing to inflict any casualties. Elsewhere, Afghans were not so lucky and the death count throughout the country panned out at 21 dead on Monday. Although an annual feature of the struggle in Afghanistan, this year’s spring offensive comes against the backdrop of a successful first round of presidential elections that the Taliban seemed unable to disrupt. Since the leading two contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are due to face off in a run-off second round of voting soon, the offensive acquires a different importance and hue. An International Crisis Group report has characterised the overall trend currently as escalating violence throughout the country because of insurgent attacks. In classic guerrilla style, the Taliban are making a push in the remote countryside to wrest control and encircle the cities from the rural areas and mountains. The ability of the 190,000 strong Afghan National Army (ANA) to stave off the Taliban in the context of the withdrawal of the remaining 51,000 US/NATO troops by December this year remains the critical conundrum. The ANA has been raised from scratch since 2002 and billions of dollars are required every year to keep it going. Despite the US and west’s best efforts, however, the ANA remains troubled by a number of problems, amongst them living conditions in the remoter parts of the battlefield, equipment, food supply, vehicle maintenance, a high desertion rate, ethnic imbalances, poor logistics and ‘insider’ attacks. With fewer and fewer western troops available between now and December, the ANA’s challenges are enormous. It has incrementally been taking over security duties from its western allies over the past year or so. Last year’s spring/summer offensive yielded a casualty count of the ANA of about 100 per week at its peak. Although western, particularly American, handlers/trainers speak highly of the ANA’s capabilities, the real test lies ahead. Countries throughout the region are facing the prospect of the post-withdrawal scenario with varying degrees of trepidation. They are increasingly apprehensive of the activities of proselytising groups spreading out throughout the region who, as has been found in Pakistan too, represent the ‘soft’ face of what eventually transmogrifies into extremism and terrorism. Second, the threat from terrorists belonging to various movements targeting the region’s countries who are training in Pakistan’s tribal areas and getting battle experience in Afghanistan is considered to loom increasingly over the heads of China (the Uighur terrorists), Iran (the anti-Shia Sunni Taliban), the Central Asian states and even India (in the context of Kashmir and with lingering memories of the Mumbai attack). But in case complacency creeps in, most informed observers are convinced that Pakistan too faces the threat of a spillover of conflict across the porous Afghan border if and when the fighting in Afghanistan intensifies. Not to be forgotten is the alarming fact that Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is ensconced on Afghan soil across the border. These developments and threats are the unintended consequences and blowback of using extremist proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir over the last four decades. Unfortunately there is a lack of consistency in policy despite the fact that Pakistan’s Taliban problem has yielded 50,000 deaths, including 5,000 personnel of the military and paramilitary forces. Ordinarily, the logic of the situation would seem to determine the approach of the government and the military to this existential threat from terrorism. However, the government is still wedded to an increasingly unlikely peaceful solution through dialogue, while the military is not helping its cause by desiring to fight the Pakistani Taliban and at the same time support the Afghan Taliban. This duality of policy has taken, and is increasingly taking, its toll of the clarity of vision and strategy without which this battle cannot be won. Our past reliance on jihadi proxies must now be brought to an end as soon as possible and Pakistan must look to its own house, overcome the terrorist threat, and usher in peace and development so that our people can heave a sigh of relief.