US Unleashes the Dogs of War in Afghanistan

by | Jun 10, 2016


A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday pointedly called on the ‘international community’ to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It commended Pakistan’s contribution to the war against terrorism and stressed that the Afghan reconciliation process within the framework of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group should not be jeopardised. (MFA)

The statement can be seen as a rebuke to Washington over the drone killing of the Taliban chief. It took 17 days for Beijing to break its silence.

The statement came even as a delegation of senior US officials was heading for Islamabad – Richard Olson, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Peter Lavoy, Senior Advisor and Director for South Asian Affairs in the National Security Council, and Gen. John Nicholson, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani accounts convey the impression that the US officials heard from their leadership in Islamabad and Rawalpindi during meetings today strong denunciation of the US drone strikes on Pakistani territory and trenchant criticism about the tilt in the American policies toward India. (A full-spectrum Pakistani reaction also sails into view over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US.) Clearly, US-Pakistan relations are nosediving. (A report in the Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune, here, gives the sense of it.)

The Chinese statement would have kept in view the high necessity to voice solidarity with Pakistan at the present juncture. Importantly, Beijing would have factored in the geopolitical backdrop. The point is, the reverberations of the US’ rebalance are being felt in Central and southwest Asia, finally.

The US is co-opting India as a full partner in the rebalance strategy, which of course would pit India against both China and Pakistan. The US counts on India to join the effort to disrupt the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and frustrate the strategy by China and Russia to create a Eurasian economic bloc.

The war in Afghanistan becomes the perfect alibi to beef up the US military presence in the region, the game plan being to intimidate Pakistan and to break its axis with China. This US policy thrust matches India’s interests, too.

Thus, President Barack Obama is not only abandoning his earlier troop withdrawal plan in Afghanistan but as latest reports suggest, he is even inclined to allow the American troops to undertake combat missions against the Taliban. (Washington Post)

In geopolitical terms, Obama’s move aims at regaining the upper hand in the Afghan endgame. Interestingly, it coincides with the induction of India and Pakistan as full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional development that Washington views with disquiet. (TASS)

Logically, at some point in a near future, US will demand a direct Indian military role in Afghanistan (which would also offset the waning interest in the war among the NATO countries.) Conceivably, India may be already positioning itself for undertaking such a role in Afghanistan as the US’ key partner.

No doubt, the Chabahar Port and the communication links via Iran become vital for India to access Afghanistan and play an effective role in the US’ regional strategy.

More importantly, the Logistics Agreement with the US will come extremely handy if the Indian forces get involved in a military role in Afghanistan. The US has military bases in Afghanistan, which can provide back-up for any Indian military expedition. In reciprocal terms, Indian military bases also become accessible to the US forces, which, on the one hand, would reduce Pentagon’s dependence on Pakistan for logistics support, while on the other hand, give more leverage to Washington to put pressure on Pakistan through intense drone attacks and so on.

If India gets involved militarily in Afghanistan, it will be killing two birds with a single shot, insofar as, one, it can hope to roll back China’s expanding influence in Afghanistan, and, two, a military role in Afghanistan will help India to exert the maximum pressure on Pakistan. In strategic terms, indeed, Afghanistan is a high plateau that looks down on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The US-Indian estimation seems to be that through a policy of systematically decapitating the Taliban, it will be possible to splinter the movement and weaken the insurgency to a point that the Afghan government, supported by Washington and New Delhi, incrementally gains the upper hand and will be in a position to dictate the terms of a settlement.

The Indian security establishment has always been rooted in the belief that it is possible to exterminate the Taliban through force via a comprehensive strategy of intimidating Pakistan and making the price of continued interference in Afghanistan too high for Islamabad, while on the other hand, waging an effective counter-insurgency war.

In Gen. Nicholson, a gung-ho general, India’s security czars may find a kindred soul. The authorization given by Obama for the drone strike in Baluchistan conveys a warning that the US will not hesitate to take the war into the Pakistani territory — and it had Nicholson’s stamp on it. This is precisely the sort of tough approach towards Pakistan that India always wanted Obama to adopt.

Clearly, Nicholson is pulling his weight in Washington, and he is backed by powerful people in the US establishment, as is apparent from the open letter published on June 3 in the National Interest magazine, addressed to the White House by a group of 13 retired American generals and ambassadors, including such well-known names as Gen Stanley McChrystal and Gen David Petraeus. These gentlemen wrote:

Unless emergency conditions require consideration of a modest increase, we would strongly favor a freeze at the level of roughly ten thousand U.S. troops through January 20. This approach would also allow your successor to assess the situation for herself or himself and make further adjustments accordingly.

What lies ahead? In a nutshell, the dogs of war are being unleashed in the Hindu Kush, and, ironically, this will be the last major policy decision on Afghanistan taken by Obama, a Nobel who had actually vowed once at the outset of his presidency that he’d bury this war once and for all.

To be sure, Pakistan won’t blink, since this also happens to be an existential issue. Equally, China cannot but view with disquiet the emergent US-Indian axis in regional politics and working as a template of the US rebalance in Asia. Beijing will understand that the shift in the US policy in Afghanistan – and towards Pakistan – and the newfound alliance with India is in reality aimed at encircling and preparing for war against China.

Clearly, political tensions are rising throughout Asia, and the South Asian region’s political order that largely managed to escape the ravages of the Cold War may not be lucky this time. The danger is real that the major regional powers may be drifting toward a general war.

Reprinted with permission from Indian Punchline.


  • Melkulangara Bhadrakumar

    Former career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. Devoted much of his 3-decade long career to the Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran desks in the Ministry of External Affairs and in assignments on the territory of the former Soviet Union. After leaving the diplomatic service, took to writing and contribute to The Asia Times, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. Lives in New Delhi.

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