Original Articles

Afghanistan: NATO’s mission impossible – by Shiraz Paracha


During the weekend, leaders of 28 NATO countries gathered in Lisbon, Portugal, for a face saving meeting as it became clear that the Western military alliance could face a humiliating defeat in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Contrary to the NATO’s official statement about providing security in Afghanistan as long as it takes, the NATO commanders know that the longer they stay in Afghanistan, the deeper their troubles would become in the war zone as well as at home fronts.

In 2005, NATO sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan to support the US occupation amid tall claims about the “noble Afghan mission” and how it would bring peace and security to Afghanistan.

Five years on, peace and stability are distant dreams in Afghanistan. The security situation has worsened under the NATO control. The foreign occupation has brought further death and destruction to the country. The people of Afghanistan are suffering, while NATO soldiers die on a daily basis, and there are other signs that the mighty NATO has miserably failed in Afghanistan.

One aim of NATO gathering in Lisbon was to find a way out of Afghanistan. The reality is that the Afghan mission was wrong from the outset. NATO’s presence in Afghanistan violates the organization’s own charter and the heavy Afghan engagement is beyond NATO’s basic mandate.

It was apparent that Afghans would never accept foreign troops, especially Western forces, on their land, but NATO forced its agenda upon the UN and instead of involving the wider world, particularly Muslim states and neighbors of Afghanistan, the West took direct charge of Afghanistan at gunpoint.

It is possible that building peace and security was just the stated purpose of the military intervention in Afghanistan, and the actual and wider aim of the Afghan mission could be taking control of vital energy routes out of Central Asia. Perhaps encircling China and Russia could be another reason for the NATO Afghan misadventure.

It was amusing and ironic, however, to observe NATO leaders flattering Russia, a country that NATO intended to defeat and destroy. After all, 61 years ago, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to counter Moscow’s global influence. Interestingly, in 2010, NATO leaders were inflated when president of the proud and strong Russia granted the Lisbon gathering an audience and agreed that his country could consider cooperating with NATO.

At the Portuguese capital, the most ‘advanced and civilized’ nations again lied to their public almost in the same way as they did back in 1949 when NATO was established. Back then, a manufactured hysteria about the Soviet threat led to the creation of NATO.

During the Cold War, Europe and the United States exaggerated the Soviet military threat and justified the existence of NATO. But when the Cold War ended in 1991, NATO lost its purpose and became irrelevant.

To date, no country on earth can match the US military might. Europe is not under threat by a state or states; however, warmongering Western leaders and generals are looking for new and perceived enemies to continue the fear game. The war and weapons industry also want to keep the ‘White Elephant’, therefore the Capitalist world is, now, inventing threats to justify the otherwise redundant NATO to maintain the Western military hegemony.

In the middle of the Second World War, Britain and the United States were drawing the contours of the Cold War. Together, they plotted against their own ally, the Soviet Union. Western countries considered the Communist Soviet Union as a bigger threat to the Capitalist system than the Nazi Germany.

A careful and detailed strategy to counter the Soviet Union was in play during the war years. The main target of the 1941 Atlantic Charter was the Soviet Union. The Anglo-American leaders had created the Charter to defeat the Communist threat. It was based on certain freedoms — freedom of thought and expression, freedom from want, freedom of religion and freedom of movement. These freedoms were boosted as the founding principles of the Western Free World by then US President Franklin D Roosevelt and then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The underlying message was that the Western world was the beacon of hope and prosperity and was superior to Communist countries where no such freedoms existed.

The 1941 Charter was a calculated move to stab the Soviet Union and sabotage her image and credibility at a time when the USSR was already a Western ally. It was the Soviet Union which took the real brunt in the Second World War. More than 25 million Soviet troops and citizens lost their lives at the hand of Germans but at the end it was Stalin’s strong policies and Soviets’ bravery that Germany was defeated. However, the West never really recognized the Soviet role in the Second World War. On the contrary, the West stole the credit of winning the war from the Soviet Union.

The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 to protect and pursue Anglo-American interests. The 1941 Atlantic Charter was the base of the UN and the West wanted to use the international body to discredit the Soviet Union and indeed the whole Communist-Socialist model. It is another matter that a decade later, newly independent states from the developing world started joining the United Nations and Western countries became a minority. Nevertheless, the West tried to undermine the UN General Assembly and manipulated the UN through the Security Council.

When the socialist revolution occurred in China and from East Europe to East Asia Communist and Socialist ideas gained popularity, the West openly launched a new war against the Communist Bloc. It was a Cold War mainly because the Soviets, too, had developed the nuclear capability and it was impossible to bulldoze the USSR by a military conflict.

The start of the Cold War is also interesting. In the late 1940s, Churchill, who was rejected by the British public in the elections, was sitting at home but was hungry for a role in international politics. A depressed and angry Churchill was missing the limelight that he had become used to during the war years. He saw himself as a statesman and a savior of Britain but the thankless Britons sent him home exactly at the time when he returned to Britain after ‘winning’ the war.

Shrewd and opportunist Churchill used the Soviet threat as an opportunity for his return to the international political stage. He became the drumbeater of the Communist threat. It was Churchill who had coined the term ‘iron curtain’ in a speech at a US university.

The launch of the Cold War gave birth to NATO. For the following 40 years, the world was divided between the Good and the Evil and NATO was on the side of the Good. It was a defender of democracy and freedom. It was a grunter of Western security and from a Western perspective, NATO protected the civilized world. It was simple and easy as the world was seen in black and white. The organized propaganda through the Western media presented NATO and the West on a ‘high moral ground’.

But in 1991, all that ended abruptly with the smooth and peaceful split of the Soviet Union. The West painted the Soviet demise as its victory. But in fact, it was the biggest shock for the huge Western military and propaganda machine.

The Cold War mindset was not ready to accept the new change. The mysterious attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent ‘war on terror’ filled the enemy vacuum for the Cold War warriors, but it did not help an organization like NATO that was created on the concept of traditional warfare.

In the post-1945 era, despite their technological superiority and military and economic power, Western countries did not fight directly against powerful states. Proxy wars were the West’s preferred method throughout the Cold War period.

Nevertheless, in the 1990s, the West opted for military interventions and regime changes. Western countries acted as a pack of wolves and attacked small and weak states. The strategy provided an opportunity to lightweights such as Bush and Blair to imitate Churchill and Roosevelt and appear strong and victorious.

But the US defeat in Iraq and the NATO’s failed mission in Afghanistan have proven that military occupations and interventions are counterproductive and expose weaknesses of occupiers and aggressors.

Today, NATO is disillusioned and disoriented. It is demanding from its member states to allocate at least two percent of their GDPs to defense budgets. In a desperate effort to keep its large and bureaucratic structures and huge budget, NATO has been adding vague, unrealistic and ambiguous aims and objectives to its mission. It has committed blunders like Afghanistan but its commanders did not seem to have learned any lessons.

Regardless of the Lisbon rhetoric, not all NATO member states can afford ever increasing military budgets to counter open-ended threats and fight unspecified enemies. Weakening European economies need trade and investment rather than wars. They rely on energy but the energy sources are out of Europe. Skilled labor and markets are beyond the geographical sphere of the most NATO states. And most NATO countries certainly do not have the will and capacity for missions impossible, like the one in Afghanistan.

Shiraz Paracha is a journalist and analyst. He can be reached at: shiraz_paracha@hotmail.com

About the author

Shiraz Paracha

Mr. Paracha has worked as a journalist, with newspapers, television, radio and online companies in Britain, Central Asia and Pakistan. Between 1995 and1996, hosted and presented very popular television programs (Awami Forum and Awami Jirga) in Pakistan. His former employers include the BBC and Press TV among other notable names. Mr. Paracha is also a journalism professor and has taught journalism and communication courses at international universities outside Pakistan.

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  • I am really impressed by your description of the facts and figures regarding the Creation of NATO and the threats the Europe and USA faced then. NATO evolution into an aggressive force from a Defense alliance, is due to the changing priorities of Europe and USA.

    But, I do not agree with the theory that NATO is out of touch with the ground realities in Afghanistan or its objectives in Afghanistan are not realistic. Please see my article on the subject to have a better understanding of the emerging situation in Afghanistan and its effects on Pakistan.
    Friday, September 24, 2010
    EMERGING BLOOD BORDERS OF PAKISTAN

    “What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren (the point of this exercise is not to draw maps as we would like them but as local populations would prefer them). Pakistan, another unnatural state, would also lose its Baluch territory to Free Baluchistan. The remaining “natural” Pakistan would lie entirely east of the Indus, except for a westward spur near Karachi”. (RALPH PETERS)

    This quote of Ralph Peters seemed ridiculous and wild day-dreaming when it first appeared in the Armed Forces Journal, back in 2006. But, when we look at the rapidly changing political and geo-strategic scenario in Pakistan and Afghanistan, today in 2010, it seems a prophetic vision of a Political Scientist. Many questions are boiling in one mind. Is Afghan Taliban insurgency turning into a Pashtun nationalist resistance? But how? This is a million dollars question to be answered by political and military analysts.

    The recent statements of Mullah Mohammed Umar, the spiritual leader of Taliban, appearing in the selected press in Pakistan and Afghanistan, lead one to believe that the man has decided to part ways with Al-Qaeda. The tone of the message and suggestions presented appears to be a turning point in the core ideology of Taliban which will determine its future course of action. Mullah Umar has offered an olive branch, though not openly to the USA and Allied Forces. He expressed his desire to establish relationship both with Muslims and Europeans. He also expressed his commitment for respect for Human Rights particularly the rights of Women and their education. He clearly mentioned that the important posts and ministries will not be given on religious ground rather on competence and capability in future set-up, if they are allowed to participate in. Though political observers have a lot of doubts, but the way, the US is using its sticks & carrot strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it does not seem impossible.

    Even, a recent interview by Gulbadin Hikmatyar is also indicative of the change in the approach of former Mujahedeen Commander, an important player in the Afghan game. But, these Taliban and Mujahedin commanders should not be considered seriously until or unless they openly renounce terrorism and extremism.

    To understand, the currents trends, we have to analyze the important events that are shaping Afghan political and military land-scape for some time.

    Americans have developed a strong Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), which is becoming stronger and stronger with every passing day. The Afghan Army is dominated by Tajiks, but Pashtuns are also not negligible.

    Second, Afghan Police is locally recruited. It is also establishing itself as a strong force to be reckoned with as it is rapidly becoming the eyes and ears of the government. Local policemen know about the terrain completely and it is becoming difficult for Taliban to find safe heavens and to hide themselves in civilians areas to launch attacks either against foreign forces or terrorize local people.

    Another important development is the establishment of local Lashkars (local armies consisted of Pashtuns) to fight against Taliban and other extremist groups. These Lashkars commanded by ordinary citizens are fighting against Taliban, dis-credited warlords and former Mujahedeen commanders. Later, these Lashkars can easily be absorbed into the main police or Army structures at a convenient time.

    The recent discovery of the mineral resources in Afghanistan also gives a hope for the people and they know it well that only through co-operation not through war they can exploit these resources and develop badly-needed infra-structures for economic and social development. Through co-operation and peace with western forces they can get the much needed foreign investment for the exploitation of the these natural resources.

    New York Times, report that these huge reserves of lithium, iron, gold, niobium, cobalt and other minerals worth trillions of dollars could transform Afghanistan into a global mining hub. There is ever-growing demand for lithium, which is used to make batteries for everything from mobile phones and cameras to iPads and laptops. Future growth in electric and hybrid cars could create still more demand. Afghanistan has so much of the metal that it could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” according to an internal Pentagon memo quoted by the New York Times.

    China Metallurgical Group has won a $3.5 billion contract to develop Afghanistan’s Aynak copper field, the largest foreign direct investment project in the history of Afghanistan. By some estimates, the 28-square-kilometer copper field in Logar Province could contain up to $88 billion worth of ore. This chines investment in mine sector is very important and more investment is till to come. Similarly, infrastructure development projects are underway by Chines, Europeans, Indians and Americans firms. Afghanistan can become a viable state now, as it can afford to pay for its government, army and police without being dependent on foreign aid or drug trade.

    With arrival of this huge wealth the menace of drug production and trafficking can also be effectively tackled now. Drug trade has been a biggest source of instability in Afghanistan. As drug producers, traders and traffickers were always creating instability in Afghanistan to keep it as a safe-heaven for drug production and trafficking. Most important of all, Afghanistan is slowly and gradually experimenting democracy. Already, two Parliamentary and two Presidential elections have been held. They were not exemplary but Afghans are moving in right direction with a clear vision of future which will mature with the passage of time and will lead towards a democratic and stable state in the years to come.

    Despite the fact that these statements and important developments on the ground are new, but the strategy and plans for these developments are not new. The major force behind all this seems to be USA. Rather, these are well thought-out and carefully planned strategies devised by military, political scientists, social experts and think tanks of America, which are the real movers & shakers of the political, social, economic and military events in Afghanistan.

    While, we see a stable Afghanistan emerging on one side, on the other side of the Durand line an unstable and terror-torn chaotic Pakistan is in sight.

    Extremists elements, having almost lost their ideological battle in Afghanistan. Unable to come- to-term with new reality, they are entering Pakistan, where they are meeting like-minded religious fanatics, welcomed by a state (Pakistan) sponsoring ideology of hate and killing:, providing them safe heavens, finances and training.

    Already weakened by terrorism, corruption, un-employment, economic mismanagement and political instability, Pakistan is an ideal location for the terrorists and Taliban to take refuge in. On economic front, the Finance Minister of Pakistan has recently told media that government will not be able to pay the salaries of the government servants in the next two month. The cheques handed over to government contractors are not paid by the banks.

    Recent floods have completely handicapped the government of Yousof Raza Gilani as most of the infra-structure in three provinces of Pakistan is damaged. Besides, due to Army interference in Political affairs and continued black-mailing of the government has rendered the state of Pakistan politically unstable and direction less. If military ventured into derailing the present democratic set up, with the exit of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), one of the biggest political Party of Pakistan which is considered the binding force of the federation of Pakistan will plunge Pakistan into complete chaos and disarray. The last straw in the revolution, which will make it easy to divide Pakistan on Ethnic lines. It is not known, whether Pashtun leadership is prepared for the future course of action or not? But, soon very important developments are about to take place which can cause the probable break-up of Pakistan on ethnic-lines. Anticipation and preparation by Pashtuns in advance will minimize the material and human loss to the Pashtun Populations living in areas like Karachi, Quetta and Islamabad. Of course, Pashtuns will face problems in Karachi and Quetta, but with active diplomacy by Americans, these problems can be resolved as they have strong influence on Baluchs in Baluchistan and Urdu speaking Muhajirs in Karachi.

    The operations conducted by Pakistan Military have failed completely despite the fact they seemed successful in the beginning. The recent wave of suicide and controlled attacks by Taliban in the three provinces of Pakistan have shown that they are still strong and they can attack any target anywhere in Pakistan with impunity. The weak and demoralized army is fighting a Nationalist Movement in Baluchistan Province on one hand and Taliban on the other hand in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After a little bit stability and peace in Afghanistan, the Afghan Nationalists will start supporting their brothers in Pakistan, which will turn this Taliban resistance into PASHTUN NATIONALIST MOVEMENT.

    On the other hand ordinary secular-minded Pashtuns have established local Lashkars, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, supported by USA. These lashkars are fighting against Taliban for the moment. Awami National Party (ANP), a secular face of Pashtuns, can play a leading role in the future of Pashtun Nationalism, which is already rendering great sacrifices in its fight against Taliban and other extremists elements. But, disappointed and enraged by the atrocities and the state-sponsored-terrorism of the present Military Establishment, dominated by Punjabis, which is killing more civilians than Taliban, they (Lashkars) may turn antagonists rather than allies with the Army and the state of Pakistan.

    While the reducing influence of Taliban may turn them into Pashtun Nationalism, the same Taliban with active political and financial assistance from America will shake hands with the Pashtun Nationalists in Pakistan, which will be the first step towards the creation of Greater Pakhtunistan. It is really a tricky question as to how the Taliban extremists will convert into Pashtun secular Nationalists, but the inherent resilience and flexibility of Pashtuns in tough times will give this option a chance. However, the developments on the ground have to be followed with extreme care by the international Community.

    It is to be noted here that Taliban extremists and Pashtun Nationalists both consider themselves to be betrayed by Pakistan Army, particularly the ISI. Gulbadin Hikmatyar and other former Mujahedeen commanders have already lost their trust in Pakistan. Hikmatyar in his recent interview with Salim Safi, at a GEO TV program JIRGA on September 13, 2010, has supported all those Taliban who are attacking foreign targets in Pakistan and termed Pakistan a lesser evil. Pakistan ditched him, to support Taliban in Afghanistan. It shows that the former Mujahedin commanders do not consider Pakistan to be a Sacred Cow. On the contrary, he offered Guarantees of peace to US and NATO forces, if they withdraw from Afghanistan. It seems likely that Hikmatyar will play an important role in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan. Other Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders have already distanced themselves from Pakistani authorities, due to its blind support for Taliban before September 11, 2001. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a founder of the Taliban in 1994 and former ambassador to Pakistan, in his book named “My Life with the Taliban”, has criticized Pakistani authorities as betraying him, by capturing and handing over to Americans, despite his diplomatic immunity as an Ambassador

    The arrests of Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s leader in Kunduz, and Mullah Mir Mohammed of Baghlan in Akora Khattack, the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and the deputy to Mullah Muhammad Omar and some other top Taliban commanders in Karachi have dismayed Taliban. Taliban feel betrayed by the double-timing of Pakistani Military and they can join the resistance movement of Pashtun Nationalists in Pakistan in the near future, fighting for carving out a purely Pashtun Secular State consisted of Pashtun dominated areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. This state of Pashtun can only be a guarantee of peace and stability in this region. Could the political and security analysts, think in their wildest dreams that this nationalism which appears to be taking shape in Afghanistan and Pashtun dominated areas of Pakistan, is directed not against Americans but Pakistan?

    While in trance of Pashtun Nationalism, Pashtuns will not have more interest in Northern Afghanistan, so the Tajik dominated Afghan Army will easily take control of Northern Afghanistan making a new Tajik state. The presence of American bases both in Greater Pakhtunistan and Northern Tajik state will provide stability in the region

    Until and unless, a state for Pashtuns is created, where they can live according to their traditions and customs, we cannot see a stable south Asia, central Asia and Middle East. American should keep in mind and think over it, as without peaceful and tamed Pashtuns, one cannot think of peace and stability in this region which is a big hindrance in developing link with central Asian mineral rich states, and transferring these minerals through Afghanistan via Gavadar sea Port of the future State of Baluchistan or the future Hong Kong (Karachi) to the countries of the world and vice versa.

    Pakistan has become so weak that it has virtually handed over the de facto control of Gilgit & Baltistan to CLA. The construction of permanent military barracks by Chinese Army in GB, shows the real future intentions of China. Selig Harrison, an American expert on Asia, in his article published in New York Times, has termed it a dangerous development which will have negative implications for American interests in the region. Soon, Pakistan is going to hand-over the control of Gawadar to China, to counter American-supported Baloch Liberation Movement. The volcanic situation in Pakistan is best summarized by Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal in his article, appearing in the The News of September 24, 2010, which says, “One cannot think of any reason other than Pakistan and Iran to be the cause of prolonged American presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan is being dismembered chip by chip; in fact, it will not be wrong to say that Pakistan is now like a volcano already simmering. It will take very little for the lava to gush out, taking with its volcanic fury the entire country: from the ethnic violence to sectarian feuds and from the economic meltdown to random violence, all scenarios for the last and final fury are looming on the horizon”.

    The phenomenon of double timing will continue between Pakistan and American, as Pakistani Military still consider some Taliban like the Haqqani Network to be a strategic Asset and will continue to bleed American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. But, Americans will also not sit idle and they are not sitting idle by actively supporting the TTP to weaken Pakistan to bring it to term with the new realities of the fast changing world. Or worst, to balkanize it in the near future. The religious motivated war is rapidly changing into Nationalist freedom struggle of Pashtuns who are fighting for their true identity, free from extremism and terrorism based on the centuries old traditions of Pakhtunwali. And the new reality is written on the wall for Pakistan, as the very Army which is suppose to defend the borders of Pakistan is putting colors into the Map of Ralph Peter s Blood Borders to realize the dream of dismantling the unjust and un-natural borders and create new states which will be better for the International peace and security.