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Was the War in Afghanistan Lost in Pakistan

The book Restructuring Pakistan * came out in January 2002. Had 9/11 not intervened it was originally scheduled for launch around November 2001. The epilogue of the book with the heading Dealing with the Afghanistan-Pak Cauldron: the Global Perspective relates to a talk delivered at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi to an international audience almost exactly a year (August 9, 2000) before the September 2001 attack on the United States The trajectory for Pakistan for the ensuing decade has by and large turned out to be true. The reason for recalling the August 2000 talk is that it predicted - some people called it presciently – the unfolding of events a year later. What is more, the book also suggested as to what the US should do if it were to be impelled to directly retaliate in Afghanistan . Karl F. Inderfurth, then Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia had the talk circulated in the State Department. Many other details of relevance to what follows are contained in the book Restructuring Pakistan.

            Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, such was the shock that the event created, that its ripples were felt around the world, because the US was the unquestioned superpower of the day. At that point in time nobody in the world had any doubt about it – the US was simply too mighty to buck. Hence, when President George W. Bush stated that the US would pursue its attackers wherever they might be, practically every country in the world decided to give way in the face of the anger that had welled up in the United States of America . NATO straightaway put out that an attack on America was an attack on the Alliance . Even China and Russia decided that it was prudent to conform. India was no exception. Besides deployments in Central Asia, where bases were readily made available, the US decided to tackle Pakistan head on.

            General Pervez Musharraf, who had become the military dictator of Pakistan barely two years earlier found himself facing the Americans with a gun to his head. It is said that had there been a civilian government they would have prevaricated for some time, as is usually the case with civilian governments anywhere. However, the ex-commando who was the single point authority in Pakistan wilted almost immediately. He capitulated to almost every demand that was made on him. He would take his revenge on the Americans later.

            After the Indian Army had been mobilized consequent to the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, General Musharraf was forced, both on account of the extremely dangerous situation that had developed on the Indo-Pak border, as well as due to the insistence from Washington that he give way, to eat humble pie. In his famous speech in January 2004, where ostensibly he agreed to change course, he stated that he would ensure that Pakistan territory thenceforth would no longer be a base for terrorism against India . He also realised that radical departure from a cherished policy of long standing required that the nation, particularly the Army-ISI combine and the tanzeems sending terrorists across the border, had to be assuaged. In his speech, that was perfectly understood by the elements that needed to be mollified he gave an example from the life of the Prophet, when the latter retreated from Mecca to Medina in order to recoup and re-emerge stronger, i.e., live to fight another day. While some American analysts understood the reference to context the establishment in Washington did not grasp its full import. Musharraf in the portion of his speech that referred to the Prophet practically gave away the strategy that he would be following thereafter with the Americans as well as with the Indians.

            In the ensuing six years till almost the very end of the presidency of George W. Bush, General Musharraf honed, perfected and implemented his strategy. He ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds. It was masterly deception perpetrated on the Americans with consummate skill. He continued to protect and give a free hand to the elements that would get back into Afghanistan when the opportunity arose. The opportunity presented itself when the US President took his eye off the ball and decided to invade Iraq , in the process considerably weakening the US presence in Afghanistan . Not only did he inveigle the Americans to make Pakistan a major Non-NATO Ally, he persuaded them to pump in military hardware for the Pakistani Armed Forces, and make generous grant of funds. Other concessions followed from the US , Japan and its allies in Europe . The Americans shut their eyes to the fact that the military hardware transferred could only be used against India and was not much good for fighting in the tribal areas from where the Taliban operations in Afghanistan were being launched. Of course, there were ups and downs, and on several occasions Musharraf had to make Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders high on the US list available for rendition or elimination. Musharraf’s duplicity worked superbly to gradually strengthen Pakistan ’s position and weaken that of the US - both militarily and financially; while US casualties in the field kept mounting. Towards the end of his tenure the outgoing US President perceived his folly, but it was too late. America and its allies were well on their way to losing the war in Afghanistan .

            The situation changed with the advent of Mr. Obama as the successor to George W Bush. Although fresh impetus was given to the Afghan theatre in men, materiel and nomination of high powered military generals to head the effort in Afghanistan , the situation had already deteriorated to a point where winning had become problematic.

            No doubt there were short interludes when signs of a turnaround appeared on the ground. These were invariably followed by setbacks elsewhere. Had a realistic analysis of the strategies being followed by the highly decorated, highly admired US force commanders in Afghanistan been carried out**, a different outcome might have become possible, seeing the enormous outlays that had been made for the war in Afghanistan. Unfortunately this was not done. Musharraf’s hand-picked successor as the Army Chief, Gen. Kayani continued to follow Musharraf’s well-honed strategy and even brought in greater sophistication to lead the Americans up the garden path. The rest as they say is history; this time around still in the making.    

The Other Side of Zero Dark Thirty

            The film Zero Dark Thirty had a much-hyped release. It was hoped that it would win several Oscars. That did not turn out to be the case. Meanwhile criticisms multiplied. Many Senators and Congressmen - both Republicans and Democrats - felt that Kathryn Bigelow had been given access to classified material, even at the level of the White House. According to an item appearing in The New York Times (February 22, 2013), Torture, Lies and Hollywood by Alih Soufan, a former FBI special agent, while the film opens with the words “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events”, the film makers proceed straightaway to pass fiction off as fact when a character named Ammar is tortured and afterward (it’s implied) gives up information that leads to Osama Bin Laden. The author has other criticisms to offer as well.

            Ironically, the  operation for eliminating Osama Bin Laden, while it boosted the re-election prospects of President Barack Hussein Obama, did not lead to more substantial gains that could and should have been made - a missed opportunity. What is more, the blame for the death of the Al-Qaeda leader that was put on the Americans could very well have been put on the Pakistan Army-ISI handlers who had put Osama Bin Laden in a secure place in the garrison town of Abotabad , barely 1km away from the Pakistan Military Academy . No matter where he was holed up, Osama Bin Laden, known for his expertise in constructing bunkers, tunnels and defence works would certainly have made sure that he would not be captured dead or alive by any US raiding force. He knew that the hunt for him would never be given up. He would minimally have ensured that his hideout had underground escape passages and barriers that denied easy access to a raiding party. In the case under review, it turned out to be a cake-walk. The fact is that OBL was obliged to put his life and trust in the hands and competence of the Pakistan Army and ISI generals who sheltered him in the safe house in Abotabad. They too could have easily made sure that no US raiding party captured or eliminated Osama Bin Laden. These precautions would have been normal for even a low-level guarantor of Osama’s security. There are several other foolproof methods that could have been adopted for protection of the most wanted man in the world. That this was not the case bespeaks unpardonable complacency on the part of Osama handlers, based on the erroneous belief that the Americans would not be able to locate Osama Bin Laden, and even if they did, that no US government would dare risk a raid of this nature deep into Pakistan without being detected or meeting the fate that befell the US raiding party in the Jimmy Carter era in Iran.

            The Pakistani top brass were convinced that an Iran type raid would never be repeated by any US president, seeing the fate that overtook President Carter; and certainly not a Democrat president seeking a second term. They had reckoned without President Obama. The Pakistani Generals who had taken upon themselves the security of the Al Qaeda leader were wrong on every count. Today Al-Qaeda followers around the world and radical anti-US organizations believe that they have to take revenge on the Americans for the death of the Al-Qaeda leader. Several years into the future when the secrecy shrouding the Pakistani side of the story gets blown****, the realization might dawn on the ordinary Pakistani people that above all, when all is said and done, the blame for the ignominious death of Osama Bin Laden lies squarely on the Pakistan Military leaders and the ISI, who took upon themselves the responsibility for the security of the Al-Qaeda leader when they placed him in the safe house in the Pakistan Military garrison town of Abotabad.


Reports coming in from the country suggest that Pakistan ’s economy is in dire straits. One way of giving a boost to their country’s economy would be for Pakistani generals to charge a handsome fee by way of royalty (Intellectual Property Right) for every Hollywood macho film on terrorism made on their territory – and these are bound to proliferate - that shows the US Seals as super heroes.

Vinod Saighal



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