Chris Alexander: The ‘forever war’ against Afghanistan that we couldn’t end
Al-Qaida and Taliban aren’t ‘insurgents,’ they’re highly trained proxy armies of PakistanAuthor of the article:Chris Alexander, Special to National PostPublishing date:Sep 14, 2021 • Last Updated 3 hours ago • 5 minute read
Afghanistan came steaming back into our collective consciousness after 9/11.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Before then it was a half-remembered place: part hippy trail, part The Bear Went Over the Mountain — a Cold War set piece, with dollops of Kim or Flashman, Joseph Kessel’s Les cavaliers or Peter Levi’s Light Garden of the Angel King: Travels in Afghanistan with Bruce Chatwin.https://www.youtube.com/embed/4mYQ_d-lmKc?enablejsapi=1&=1&controls=1&playsinline=1
Now all of us recall that sunny September morning 20 years ago — a Tuesday, eight days after Labour Day — when almost no one was expecting an attack on the U.S. mainland master-minded from the Hindu Kush.
Nearly 3,000 lives lost in two Manhattan towers, a Pennsylvania field and Washington, D.C.’s Pentagon brought Afghanistan hurtling back into focus.
Or almost did.
All of us recall that sunny September morning 20 years ago
Yes, NATO invoked Article Five — the “all for one” provision of the North Atlantic Treaty.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
The UN Security Council even authorized the use of force unanimously.
The whole world sent aid and institutional support.
Over a million served from the U.S. and other NATO member and partner militaries.
Yet here we are: the troops are gone; the Taliban and al-Qaida are back.
Disaster has struck with a vengeance.
Disaster has struck with a vengeance
A legacy of collective action, restored legitimacy and hoped-for freedoms is irretrievably lost.
Afghanistan’s war did not start with airstrikes and CIA operatives in October 2001.
External aggression has been an unbroken reality for Afghanistan for 50 years.
It started with Pakistan’s 1970 general election, which triggered unrest in East Pakistan that Pakistan’s army then violently repressed.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Instead of urging restraint, then president Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger — then relying on Pakistan as a back-channel to China — responded with “deafening silence.”
In The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, a prize-winning work from 2013, Gary Bass quotes a cable sent in March 1971 by the U.S. Consul General in Dhaka, Archer Blood and his colleagues, which read, “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities … Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy (…).”STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
By the end of the year, India had joined the fight, with decisive results: Bangladesh was independent.
To compensate for losing half the country, Pakistan’s generals quickly developed a doctrine of “strategic depth”: they would avoid conventional war with India to focus on irregular warfare in Afghanistan.
This was a repackaging of the old Raj “Frontier Policy” that had led to three Anglo-Afghan wars.
So in the 1970s Pakistan hosted and trained Afghan Islamist leaders, including the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud, future Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Taliban forces stand guard in front of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 2, 2021. PHOTO BY REUTERS
After the Soviets invaded in 1979, they outfitted guerrilla armies with U.S. and Saudi largesse.
When the Soviets departed, U.S. largesse dried up, but Pakistan continued the fight, founding al-Qaida as a new revenue stream.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
When the mujahedeen squabbled, butchering each other and countless civilians after taking Kabul in 1992, Pakistan founded the Taliban as its new vehicle for dominating Afghanistan.
The Taliban/al-Qaida tandem duly took Kabul, but also attacked Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and the USS Cole in Yemen. Eight years before 9/11 they first tried to topple the World Trade Center with explosives placed below it.
Even after 9/11, al-Qaida launched major attacks in Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, Madrid, London, Amman, Algiers and Islamabad itself.
Pakistan continued the fight
Now both the Taliban and al-Qaida are back in Kabul. Sirajuddin Haqqani, a key liaison between the groups who is simultaneously a senior member of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is now the new interior minister in Kabul’s de facto government.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
His boss, Mullah Hassan Akhund, another UN-listed terrorist who personally ordered the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, responded to a 1999 ultimatum by saying, “We will not give up Osama bin Laden at any price.”
These are true terrorist war criminals — unpitying misogynistic thugs, global jihad’s elite.
How could they possibly be back?
To put it bluntly, the world has consistently underestimated the size of the chip that has been on the Pakistani military’s shoulder since the “Blood Telegram.”
When the Taliban fell, ISI started planning to bring them back.
Taliban supporters carry the Taliban’s signature white flags in the Afghan-Pakistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan in July. PHOTO BY TARIQ ACHKZAI/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Instead of bringing bin Laden and Taliban leaders to justice, ISI sheltered them.
With the U.S. distracted by Iraq after 2003, they were relaunched.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
For over a decade, U.S. and NATO forces were not fighting “insurgents”: we were fighting highly trained proxy armies rigged out by the sixth-largest military on the planet.
While U.S. forces battled Pakistan’s mercenary legions, supply routes through Pakistan made the U.S. simultaneously and paradoxically dependent on Islamabad’s goodwill.
Pakistani deception operations, up to and including attacks on their own country, threw credulous American partners off the scent for long enough that, by the time the depth of ISI’s treachery was definitively known, it was too late.
The war that Canada fought against the Taliban in Kandahar was doomed by the fact that ending Pakistan’s “forever war” never became part of the U.S., UN or NATO script.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
In my view, this could have happened in the 2007-09 period, before Obama’s surge.
Ending Pakistan’s forever war never became part of the U.S., UN or NATO script
Instead, Pakistan was given the benefit of the doubt, even after bin Laden was killed a few hundred metres from where Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of the U.S. Central Command and later CIA director, had given a speech one year earlier.
In the end, three factors opened the door to a Taliban return. First, Donald Trump’s disastrous 2020 deal froze out the Afghan government. Second, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had a bitter rivalry with Ashraf Ghani, another Afghan-American who had become president of Afghanistan in 2014. Third, Joe Biden, a hard-bitten opponent of the mission from the start, opposed president Barack Obama’s surge when Biden was vice-president and refused to bend on withdrawal as president.STORY CONTINUES BELOWhttps://832ccd6f40701c8a7e190cbc511051cb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
None of the four U.S. presidents since 2001 has come close to ending Pakistan’s aggression.
As a result, Pakistan’s 50-year-old “forever war” against Afghanistan rolls on.
By failing to stop it, the U.S. and its allies are still exhibiting moral bankruptcy.National PostChris Alexander is a former Parliamentary Secretary for National Defence, former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, former ambassador to Afghanistan and United Nations secretary-general’s deputy special representative to Afghanistan, whose recent paper for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute is entitled Ending Pakistan’s Proxy War in Afghanistan.