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American Arrogance

By Javed Hussain

May 21, 2010 "
Dawn" -- On March 8, 1965, when the US Marines landed on the beaches of Da Nang in South Vietnam, history was poised to repeat itself as the Americans were poised to repeat the mistakes made by the French in 1946 when they returned to colonise Indo-China.

The marines had come with the belief that the ‘racially inferior gooks’ would not stand up to America’s military forces and that they would be home in time for Christmas. The American arrogance had percolated through their military’s rank and file. They soon discovered that their belief was entirely misplaced.

The Vietnamese fighters not only stood up to them, but also turned them into psychopaths. Ten years later, when they could take it no more, the Americans withdrew in panic defeated, disgraced and traumatised. During the war they dropped 7.8 million tons of bombs of all kinds against 2.06 million tons dropped in the Second World War, and sprayed 75 million litres of defoliants including Dioxin over the fields, forests and villages of Vietnam, causing seven million casualties including three million dead, for the loss of 58,000 American servicemen. Their arrogance was buried in the jungles of South Vietnam, until it was resurrected 26 years later.

History is now repeating itself in Afghanistan because the Americans repeated the mistake made by the Soviets. They are being made to pay for their folly of overestimating themselves and underestimating the skill and fortitude of the Afghan guerillas. Nine years on they have learned that it is far more difficult to withdraw than it was to go in. As a consequence, they have put in place a new strategy which seeks to create an environment that would allow them to commence the process of withdrawing the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) from Afghanistan in July 2011.

To create this environment they would apply such force on the Taliban as would compel them to sue for peace, while at the same time enticing the Taliban rank and file into desertion; then negotiate from a position of strength, transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan army, and commence the withdrawal process. If the strategy succeeds President Obama would be hailed as the victor in Afghanistan and his party would not only sweep the November elections to the Congress, but also the presidential elections in 2012. But if it fails, their arrogance would once again be buried, this time in the valley of death that south Afghanistan is for invaders.

Why was the need felt for a new strategy? In a war against insurgency unless the mission is accomplished within a year, the war tends to drag on for years on end. In the event, the soldiers who are basically groomed for conventional war lose their combat effectiveness, having to fight an invisible enemy who is here, there and everywhere, yet nowhere. The guerillas have no such compulsion as time is always on their side. Therefore, they do everything to prolong the war in order to not only cultivate more recruits, build their inventory of weapons, ammunition and explosives, put in place an effective intelligence network, but also to play with the minds of the soldiers, for once the mind is defeated, the war is won. Therefore, it follows that if a half-hearted effort is applied against insurgency, it is bound to fail.

The first mistake made by the Americans was to defy history. But having chosen to do so they should have assigned the resources needed to accomplish the mission. Thus, their main effort should have been in Afghanistan, not Iraq. Their second mistake was to initiate the air-bombing campaign without securing the crossing sites on their side of the Durand Line to prevent the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives from escaping to the tribal areas of Pakistan — they thought that the Taliban would give battle in which they would be wiped out. But the Taliban were wiser. Even today, despite the deployment of substantial Pakistani effort along the Durand Line, a complementary effort by the Isaf is missing on their side of the Line. Their third mistake was not to end the Taliban domination of the mountains in which they have their safe havens.

Yet instead of taking corrective action they persisted with the mismatch between the mission assigned and resources given. Consequently they suffered operational setbacks and blamed Pakistan for them. The additional US forces sanctioned are still not enough to accomplish the mission. However the least that can be done is to employ the available forces judiciously — one, for blocking at least those crossing sites which are used by the Haqqani group to make forays into Afghanistan from North Waziristan, and two, for ending the domination of the mountains by the Taliban.

But they are fixated on Kandahar and North Waziristan. They want the Pakistan Army to take control of North Waziristan before the start of the Isaf operation against Kandahar planned for August 2010, even if that involves uncovering the eastern front which they mistakenly believe India would not exploit. The Pakistan Army formations presently engaged in holding the captured areas in Swat and Fata cannot be pulled out for an operation against North Waziristan, for doing so would create a weakness in these areas which the TTP would be quick to exploit. Therefore a new force would have to be assembled by denuding the eastern front even more, a situation that should not be acceptable to the high command. Instead, apart from their ongoing commitments in Fata, they should plan on eliminating the religious militant groups who are capable of orchestrating strikes beyond the borders of Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton’s outburst is reminiscent of the arrogant ‘stone age’ call after 9/11. On reflection she just might have discovered that Pakistan has lost more soldiers than the combined losses suffered by foreign forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and five times more civilians than those lost in the 9/11 strikes, which eminently reflect on Pakistan’s commitment to the war on terror.

What ‘serious consequences’ is she threatening with? Choking the country economically, drone attacks across the country, invasion of Fata, seizure of nuclear storage sites by special operations forces or an air blitz against these sites and allied facilities, perhaps even carrying out the ‘stone age’ threat?

Instead of living in mortal fear, the Americans should shed the paranoia that has gripped them and the arrogance that characterises their conduct with weaker states, and show some grace, serenity of mind and understanding and receptiveness to Pakistan’s concerns and constraints. Their uncalled for outbursts against a ‘partner’ would only serve to alienate the Pakistani people even more.

The writer is a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army.



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