What would the US/Nato/Isaf combine leave in its wake as it egresses from the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) - apart from a geopolitical and geostrategic mess of gargantuan proportions!
What pathetic, pitiful and pitiable returns for a labour of such arrogantly savage proportions!
The Geopolitical Dimension
The Regional Scenario: The resultant power vacuum in Afghanistan will entice regional powers, like Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, to mount direct or indirect challenges to the US/Nato/Isaf forces or bases there. Thus, this power struggle will emanate from beyond the borders of Afghanistan portending serious implications within. Pakistan and Iran have genuine interests in Afghanistan and their national interests will get primacy there. Russia, China and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) will get more proactive while a peripheral India, still lacking genuine credentials to project power, will observe from afar.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Factor: The emerging geopolitical and geostrategic environment is ripe for the SCO (with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran as full members) to assume responsibility for SCAR. It must emerge as a unified competing pole and countervailing force to the US-led West in the region. It must secure the enormous mineral resources of the region for its people and assert decisive control over the many east-west and north-south trade corridors (e.g. New Silk Road Project) and oil-gas pipelines (TAPI, IPI) under consideration. The SCO must unambiguously declare that the SCAR lies well within its sphere of influence and that it will henceforth contest all ingresses in this vital region! With the US already intending to “rebalance” or “shift pivot” to the Asia Pacific now, perhaps, would be the ideal time for the SCO to make its move!
The Afghanistan-Afghan Nation Scenario: Any US/Nato/Isaf combine supported future NA government will be a blatantly unnatural political dispensation - a minority ruling over the majority (Pashtuns)! Whither democracy? An inevitable internecine power struggle will fracture Afghanistan and the Afghan nation along several lines. The country will be politically carved up between the NA (north and west) and the Pashtuns (south and east). And both sides will attempt to widen their areas of influence and writ at the cost of the other.
The existing and emerging tribal, sectarian and ethnic divisions and affiliations will further complicate the scenario. External influences of Afghanistan’s neighbours, the presence of militant groups like the Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and interference by the US/Nato/Isaf combine will further polarise the Afghans. Thus, a bewildering array of some mutually exclusive and some reinforcing fractures will emerge along which the Afghan body politic and the Afghan nation will be split up.
Numerous warlords and militant groups with their respective fiefdoms will emerge. There will be widespread chaos and a total loss of central command and control from Kabul. This phenomenon will lead to a civil war, and could cause the balkanisation of Afghanistan and also encourage ethnic unifications across Afghanistan’s political borders with its neighbours - Pakistan (Pashtuns), Tajikistan (Tajiks), Turkmenistan (Turks/Turkmen), Iran (Shiites) etc. Afghanistan could, thus, splinter and put the region into a frenzied tailspin, a deathly vortex!
The Geostrategic Dimension
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF): The ANSF and its leadership almost totally comprise non-Pashtuns! This could lead to a serious implosion once the stabilising factor of the US/Nato/Isaf is removed. The multi-ethnic nature of the ANSF will cause powerful centrifugal pulls to seriously threaten the unity of the force. Its long-term sustenance and maintenance ($4.1 billion per annum) will be a serious concern too. This could well mean the difference between maintaining a professional ANSF or finding thousands of quasi-trained, well armed deserters or militants roaming the Afghan landscape seeking affiliations and trouble!
The Bases Factor: The ANSF will have the support of the US/Nato/Isaf from five bases - Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Shindand. The US/Nato/Isaf will still be a potent entity comprising drones, gunships, airpower, special operations forces and civilian contractors, like Blackwater and Xe, and the intelligence agencies. However, easy access to short and secure supply routes will still be crucial.
The Militant Factor: The ANSF and the US/Nato/Isaf will encounter Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network (HN), the TTP and most importantly, the majority Afghan population, the Pashtuns. The US bases will be isolated and then reduced piecemeal by the Afghans, who are historically known to employ the tactics of siege, intrigue, conspiracy, treachery, raids, ambushes, IEDs and outright attacks to defeat their enemies. Their patience and ingenuity in such affairs is legendary.
The Pakistan Factor: The US arrogance and intransigence have transformed their once major non-Nato ally into a virtual enemy! This was always predictable. One, the US was never a reliable ally of Pakistan - flashback 1965, 1971, 1989. Two, there was never any convergence of aims and objectives at the strategic or by implication at the tactical level. Therefore, despite the mutual political rhetoric, the USA’s Afghan campaign was actually doomed from the very outset. And that is how it will end!
Furthermore, the US will seek some “major or spectacular” victories before it departs the SCAR. It might launch more “Abbottabads” to ostensibly get the likes of Al-Zawahiri and Mullah Omar or could also carry out arrogant cross-border operations (a parting kick) in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), Balochistan or even at some nuclear sites! Such a gross strategic miscalculation could actually set their withdrawal plans back by decades! Pakistan’s responses will be unpredictable and could take any form, scope and/or dimension!
Come end 2014, the US will be defeated, piqued, hurt, angry, bitter and, perhaps, on the prowl, too!
Pakistan, the SCAR and the world, beware!
n The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.