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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Pause & Reflect

One hears and watches with utter incredulity the demands being heaped on the Afghan Taliban governments soon after the complete and forced exit from Afghanistan by the U.S. and allied forces. The revengeful invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by U.S. and NATO/ISAF allies, rubber stamped by the UNO and followed up by 20 years long pulverization of Afghan culture, society and the country as a whole with complete disregard to human rights, international laws and any morals is no secret. But the UNO and international community in control of the global media kept mum on all the horrors unleashed in Gitmo Cuba or at other military bases inside Afghanistan like Bagram base. The killing of thousands of civilians including women and children by botched air & drone strikes besides ground military and covert operations is also well documented, remorselessly though. Even on the last day of American exit in August 2021, a drone strike killed an aid worker and his complete family including wife and seven children. The whole world saw Afghan civilians dropping from the tailboards and wheels of U.S. military cargo planes after takeoff; which was indicative of the insensitivity and disregard for non-American human life by the withdrawing forces. The U.S. support to non-democratic governments in the ME and elsewhere and strategic partnership with even much touted democratic governments like India practicing state terrorism and atrocities against minorities all over India (particularly in IIOJ&K, Punjab, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Junagarh, Assam and in the North Eastern Seven Sister States) for economic and security interests is well established too. That begs the question as to how long the USA can stay as a global leader san high morals of democracy it preached, which stands badly exposed as hypocrisy. Does U.S. realise the pitfalls of indulging in yet another Cold War, arms race and failing the UNO like the erstwhile The League of Nations?

It has obviously taken decades for the patriotic, extremely hard working and good-hearted people, political leaders and brave men/women in uniform to make America a global leader. However, since the end of WW-2, American over reliance on use of military muscles with over 200 military interventions as a main tool of foreign policy has made America internally weak and internationally unpopular. I had briefly analysed the down side of excessive use of hard power in my piece ‘The Limits of Hard Power’, and the reasons for following such a counterproductive policy in ‘Pentagon’s Foolish Friends’. It was an effort to remind thinking people in the U.S. that “I read old books because I would rather learn from those who built civilization than those who tore it down”. Unfortunately, soon after withdrawal from Afghanistan, the same club of foolish friends including Deep State, Zionist and Indian lobby in the U.S. duly supported by the well paid quasi experts working in various state sponsored Think Tanks are once again back to their malicious blame games, misguiding the POTUS, The State Department, Pentagon and the U.S. Congress about the CASA region and in particular inciting antagonism against Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consequently, President Joe Biden was compelled to state at the end of August, “We will maintain the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and other countries…We have what’s called over-the-horizon capabilities—including drones—which means we can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground.” This represents an awful irony: by increasing its reliance on drone strikes, Washington will be embracing a tactic that played a major role in the United States’ strategic defeat in Afghanistan. Throughout the two decades of war there, U.S. policymakers used short-term operations such as drone strikes to put off thinking about and confronting the weaknesses of the Afghan National Army, the shortcomings of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, and the absence of a workable endgame. Drones also killed hundreds of innocent civilians; delinquent strikes, especially those that hit women and children, inflamed local populations and helped extremists recruit new members in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world targeted by the U.S. On the night of October 7, 2001, a CIA Predator drone flew from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan. Armed with a Hellfire missile, the aircraft fired at Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Omar at a compound in Kandahar. It missed, instead killing several bodyguards. This marked the first time that a U.S. drone had been used to directly conduct an assassination attempt. Over the next month, CIA Predators hit more than 40 Taliban and al Qaeda targets. By the end of the George W. Bush administration, Washington had carried out nearly 60 drone strikes, mostly in Pakistan. Upon taking office, President Barack Obama expanded the drone program. The growing use of drones outside combat zones resulted in an estimated 606 innocent deaths between 2009 and 2017. The Trump administration launched 40 drone strikes in Somalia alone during the first six months of 2020, compared with 41 attacks there during the 16 years of the Bush and Obama eras.

There is no reason to think drones will be more strategically successful in Afghanistan going forward than they have been for the past 20 years. If anything, it will now be even more difficult for U.S. forces to accurately identify and hit targets. Reportedly, a plan for Turkish troops to stay behind and provide intelligence fizzled when the Taliban forced them to withdraw. Washington now has no straightforward way to collect the intelligence it needs to inform targeting decisions—or to figure out whom, exactly, it has killed in the wake of a drone strike. Needless to say that by following such a proven flawed policy Washington will continue perpetuating a needless cycle of violence; and POTUS would be better advised to keep such ill advisers under effective check through comprehensive congressional oversight. As per reports, CIA Director William Burns has been deliberating with Pakistan and even the Taliban about gaining permission to strike common enemies such as IS-K, and discussions are also underway about basing drones in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The administration seems to be moving toward a hybrid approach that may curb the worst excesses of the Trump years, but it will hardly fix the underlying problems. If the Biden administration really wants to break with the failed policies of the “war on terror,” it should dramatically curtail the use of drones and the United States must stop killing people it does not know; instead, U.S. may assist CASA regional countries with drones, munitions, technology and sharing of technical intelligence to take on the common foes. The United States should play by the same rules governing the use of force as it expects other countries to play by.

At a time when Pak-USA relations once again seem at its nadir, it is considered appropriate for both countries to pause and reflect to discuss the friction points and identify common interests in broader context keeping respective national interests intact; regional and global realignments notwithstanding (refer ‘Pak-US Relations: How to Bridge the Widening Gap’). Or else the mutual regret ought to be greater than the mending efforts. As for Pakistan, overcoming political polarisation, economic decline and effective control on unbridled corruption and inflation should remain a top priority for strong internal front that manifests in better foreign policy decisions.

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