Age Islam Edit Bureau
11 February 2017
Moscow, With Love
By Fahd Humayun
By Irfan Husain
Control Gone Foul?
By Babar Sattar
Myth of a Post-Racial America
By Rizwan Asghar
Power Struggle In Middle East
By Dr Muhammad Khan
Troops Needed For Fight Against Taliban: US General
By W J Hennigan
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
February 11, 2017
As Islamabad grapples with the
uncertainties of a new Trump administration, a recent timeline of Russian
advances to Pakistan is not inconsequential.
In 2016, Pakistan and Russia reached a
price accord on a $2 billion North-South LNG pipeline running from Karachi to
Lahore. Russian and Pakistani Special Forces held their first joint tactical
exercises last September. Later this month, Russia will host six-nation talks
on the future of Afghanistan, without the US, as a follow-up to a December
conference as an index of Moscow’s rising stakes in the regional endgame. And
in December, Pakistan’s minister for defence production announced a Russian
agreement for the delivery of four Mi-35M (Hind-E) attack helicopters to the
Pakistan Army in 2017. The disclosure follows the lifting of a self-imposed
Russian embargo on arms supplies to Pakistan back in 2014.
What best explains Russia’s newfound
attentiveness towards Pakistan and the region? Beyond the obvious dismantling
of cold war conventions, there is a tendency among policy implementers in
Pakistan to play up Russia’s eagerness to cash in on Pakistan’s CPEC
opportunity. While this is a convenient explanation – influenced no doubt by a
canonical Soviet yearning for warm-water access – it undersells Russia’s
broader geopolitical aspirations as well as the changes proffered by the
confusion of Eurasia’s own post-unipolar moment.
Since 2011, Russia has come under pressure
in two obvious areas of geostrategic latitude: Eastern Europe and the Middle
East. With Nato batting down the hatches to the west, Russia’s relations with
Europe are set in deep-freeze. Given Western lobbying to drive Moscow away from
Europe’s energy markets, Russia has been looking to offset geopolitical
setbacks with an eye closer to Asia.
Buoyed by a Russia-Turkey brokered (albeit
fraying) ceasefire in Syria, there is growing political pressure in Moscow to
reassert primacy closer to home and compensate for an encircling snare of
Atlantic Alliance partnerships from the Far East all the way to New Delhi. This
reassertion is expressing itself unilaterally (through intervention in
Ukraine), bilaterally (through heightened diplomatic engagement with other
members in the Asian hemisphere) and multilaterally (with Moscow’s amped-up
leadership role in the SCO, BRICS and Afghan consultation forums).
The Kremlin’s appointment of Zamir Kabulov
as presidential envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and head of the Russian
foreign ministry’s Asia and Middle East department also signals a strategic
rethink about how Moscow views the Pakistan-Afghanistan beltway.
Russia concurrently has two overriding
strategic objectives vis-a-vis South Asia. The first relates to the investment
of diplomatic capital in a way that builds vital strategic equity to check the
US rebalance in Asia. The second is to address the dangers of Daesh emanating
from the Khorasan region, which is now threatening to breach the Central Asia
ridgeline and disturb Muslim-majority pockets in Russia’s southern tracts.
Recent statements from Moscow on the need to cooperate with Islamabad in the
building of an anti-Daesh firewall point towards Russia’s recognition of the
need for strong counter-terror partners in South Asia. December’s trilateral
summit held on regional security underscores this point further.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, Moscow’s
engagement with the Taliban remains driven by similar CT-security concerns.
Russian diplomats and intelligence maintain private communication channels with
the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, which – crucially for Kabul – may end up
being an important conduit of influence when the fighting season gets underway
later this spring.
At the same time, Russia will continue to
keep Pakistan and India de-hyphenated because it suits its own regional
interests and larger strategic ambitions. Moscow remains India’s largest
weapons seller, having recently agreed to supply India with S-400 air defence
systems and stealth frigates for the Indian navy. By extending the range of the
BrahMos missiles to over 600 kilometres, Russia has also helped nurture India’s
While engaging Moscow, Pakistan needs to be
aware that Putin will be more likely to play the field rather than take sides
in any future Indo-Pak conflict. At the Heart of Asia summit in Amritsar – as
in the Brics summit in Goa – Moscow declined to raise its voice against India’s
call for isolating Pakistan. Instead, Russia will look to quietly building
relations with Pakistan while maintaining its investments in India. Russian
engines currently power the JF-17 Pak-China combat aircraft rolling off the
assembly lines in Pakistan, and Russo-Pak defence cooperation is growing.
A recent photograph of a Pakistan Air Force
Ilyushin IL-78 re-fuelling tanker in the Russian city of Ryazan indicates that
Russia may also be refurbishing the tanker. If correct, it will be the first
transaction between Russia and Pakistan that supports the latter’s conventional
But keeping Russia engaged will require
Islamabad to expand its horizons as it thinks about the next decade of its
international relations. While the 2008 Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian
Federation declared Pakistan as a key regional power, the latter disappeared
from the concept notes of 2013 and 2016. Furthermore, bilateral trade between
the two countries decreased between 2014 and 2015.
Even with the realisation that Pakistan is
unlikely to become the torchbearer of Russian interests in South Asia, there
are a few things Pakistani policymakers can do to keep Moscow interested. The
first is to take advantage of a historically weak rouble and a Russian
presidency looking to reassert itself regionally. Islamabad can do this by
retrofitting its own outreach to the CARs to accommodate the potential for
closer Pak-Russo cooperation.
The North-South gas pipeline is the first
major instance of Russian investment in Pakistan after decades of estrangement.
Russia is also assisting OGDC – Pakistan’s largest hydrocarbon explorer – in
search for new energy sources.
After initially denying media reports that
Russia was set to join CPEC, Russia’s Ambassador to Pakistan Alexey Dedov has
now clarified that Moscow and Islamabad have indeed held discussions to merge
the corridor with the Russian-sponsored Eurasian Economic Union. Pakistan
accession as a full member state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation later
this year provides another platform for Islamabad to pivot itself in the
increasingly competitive Pan-Asian arms and energy market.
And short of falling into another
ill-advised client-patron trap, Islamabad could consider scaling up soft-power
mobilisation and the all-important issue of skills transfer, to go hand-in-hand
with the search for new policy-sphere partnerships with Russia. With the
Russian Land Forces Command having confirmed that a second joint exercise will
be held with Pakistan in 2017, there is certainly space to reengineer the
Not a single Russian head of state has
visited Pakistan to date. Moscow’s own economic situation is increasingly
tenuous, owing to a combination of Western sanctions and falling oil prices. In
an increasingly competitive world market, Russia is looking for new buyers, a
new strategic role, and new friends. And while a hyper-engaged Russia may still
be a few years away, a little perestroika wouldn’t hurt as Pakistan looks to
configure its own strategic trend-lines in response to Moscow’s overtures.
February 11th, 2017
THE distance between Pakistan’s three
principal allies can be better measured by the gulfs between their ideologies
than by miles alone.
Indeed, one wouldn’t be able to find three
such disparate states as the United States, China and Saudi Arabia if one
looked. The one common element in their policies seems to be a shared desire to
somehow keep Pakistan afloat, despite its best efforts to go under.
From Islamabad’s perspective, each of these
crucial relationships is transactional as there are no cultural, historical or
ethnic ties that bind us. While Pakistan shares a religion with Saudi Arabia,
there are no other common elements to underpin our so-called brotherly bonds.
What binds Pakistan and China is an old
Alliances, while based on national
interest, are seldom permanent unless layered in shared values. Thus, the US,
Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are referred to as the ‘five eyes’
in security circles. Sensitive intelligence that is not shared with other
allies is exchanged among themselves because hostilities between them are
Although the US has given and lent more
money to Pakistan than China and Saudi Arabia combined, and transferred
billions of dollars worth of arms, it currently has less influence in Islamabad
than our other two allies. The reason is that our military, despite being
dependent on Washington for much of its modern weaponry, is suspicious of it
for a number of reasons.
For one, Washington has always tried to
curtail and limit our nuclear programme, imposing sanctions from time to time.
Then, it has objected to our frequent bouts of martial law, as well as voicing
concerns over our poor human rights record. Finally, its constant refrain that
Pakistan should ‘do more’ against our snake pit of Jihadis jangles in the ears
of the very people who unleashed these monsters to start with.
China and Saudi Arabia, on the other hand,
are no shining examples of democracy, and treat their citizens appallingly. So,
neither objects to our violation of democratic norms. The strings to their
assistance are not as embarrassingly public as are American conditions.
Pakistan harps constantly about its
friendship with China being ‘stronger than steel and higher than the Himalayas’,
or some such cringe-making rubbish. And yet China is an atheist state, and has
cracked down on its own fractious Muslims. The Uyghurs of Western China are
forbidden from many outward displays of faith.
What binds the two is the old adage ‘my
enemy’s enemy is my best friend’. Thus, China finds a militarily strong
Pakistan to its strategic advantage as it forces India to guard two borders,
and Pakistan’s location allows it to access the Indian Ocean through Gwadar, a
port it has largely financed.
Saudi Arabia’s interest in Pakistan is
based largely on its military needs: lacking a fighting force that is fit for
purpose despite the hundreds of billions it spends on brand new weapons, it
looks on Pakistanis to train their soldiers. And it also counts on our army as
a defence force of last resort for the time the Americans withdraw their
protective umbrella. The Saudis also view our nuclear arsenal as a big plus.
Our geostrategic position has motivated the
large economic and military programme Washington has financed with billions of
dollars over the years. Unsurprisingly, Pakistani leaders have milked our
geographic location for all it’s worth.
Many blame Pakistan’s early leadership for
dragging us into America’s network of anti-communist alliances. They overlook
the fact that, back then, we were hopelessly outgunned by the Indian military’s
firepower. The Soviet Union was too weak in the aftermath of WWII to be a
significant supplier of arms.
After the Korean War ended, we received
many surplus arms from the US and, soon thereafter, we joined the Baghdad Pact
(later renamed the Central Treaty Organisation, or Cento), and Seato, the
Southeast Asian alliance. We continued receiving American arms until the 1965
war, when we used weapons against India that had been supplied specifically for
deployment against communist aggression.
Since then, our relationship with the US
has veered from bad to worse. It took the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan for a
resumption of aid that ended after the Red Army’s retreat, and we were back in
the doghouse because of our nuclear programme. 9/11 provided the next chapter
in Pak-US relations.
Now, with Trump in charge, how this touchy
alliance will evolve is anybody’s guess. But with his stated intent of
improving ties with India, and taking a tough stance against China, it is clear
that a realignment of forces can be expected.
China’s deepening economic ties with
Pakistan via CPEC increases its stakes. Hopefully, Beijing will use its growing
clout to force our generals to rein in the extremists they supported for years.
If it does, it will have been more successful than Washington has been.
Here is one version of how private media emerged
in Pakistan under Musharraf. After Kargil, private TV channels in India (which
started around 1995) spoke with one voice claiming that Pakistan was a
terrorist state with a finger on the nuclear button. To respond all Pakistan
had was PTV. So the state rationally concluded that state-owned media couldn’t
effectively counter Indian propaganda.
To be credible, we needed our own privately
owned TV channels countering, in times of hostility, the propaganda of Indian
channels. The model works. Amidst a crisis, we see anchors blaring, frothing
and fighting it out on TV screens in both countries.
In most countries there exists a conformist
consensus on matters of national security without much dissent and India is no
different. In Pakistan, while there is general consensus around India trying to
hurt Pakistan when it can, there are more voices critical of national security
policies in comparison to India.
Unlike India, Pakistan’s military is the
most powerful state institution. And it isn’t just responsible for external
security but now is also the frontline internal security agency. Consequently
its actions and policies affect lives and rights of citizens more. It is in the
context of civil-military imbalance and its effects on democracy, rule of law
and fundamental rights that those who seek the emergence of a welfare state
critique policies that project Pakistan to be a national security state.
The emergence of private electronic media
also provided some space to critical voices. Controlling print media was a lot
easier than controlling diversely owned electronic media. The emergence of
social media that critiques and informs narratives being shaped on electronic
media has made state control even more challenging. And yet within the state’s
mindset there exists the unshaken belief that in today’s age of fourth and
fifth generation warfare, the ability to shape and control narratives is a
national security imperative.
But the tool to shape narratives is
coercion not persuasion. The focus is on dissuading dissent and encouraging
self-censorship. We may never find out what the crime was of the now infamous
returned bloggers. But it was a warning shot for all social media activists to
practise self-censorship. The strategy to deal with electronic media has also
been evolving. The state seems to have concluded that traditional control
measures – advertising revenue, disruption through cable operators, secret
funds, threats of physical harm etc – aren’t enough. Two flawed conclusions
seem to have been drawn in the wake of the Hamid Mir affair. One, that the
state can acquire greater control over shaping narratives and punishing
critical voices if it introduces a few of its own agents within the Aegean
stables dressed up as free media outlets attacking rivals. And two, use
populist rhetoric laced with patriotism and bigotry as the attack tool to
threaten and silence critics and condemn them to live with the risk of violence
by state and vigilantes alike.
There are at least three problems with this
approach. One, by introducing its own dog in the fight, the state weakens its
ability to influence rival players it castigates as treacherous. When President
Trump leashes out at CNN or New York Times, does it enhance the credibility of
Fox or Breitbart News or Trump in the eyes of rational folks? Two, by
cultivating an alliance between jingoism dressed as nationalism and religious
hate, the state cedes space to vigilantes – space that is hard to recapture, as
we have seen in our fight against terror.
And three, a state that treats policy
criticism by its own citizens as a security threat reflects its own sense of
acute insecurity. Do thinking minds running the state really believe that our
bigoted brigades (DCPs etc) and their menagerie of haters (now on mainstream
media too) ‘defending’ the state and its policies or labelling critics as
traitors or blasphemers or heretics make the state look good? Can anything be
worse than allowing irresponsible use of the charge of blasphemy (in a 96
percent Muslim country) to threaten and silence critics?
Why should the state be so thin-skinned
that critical debate over whether allotment of state land to generals is good
policy or not threatens it? Isn’t it a matter of public importance whether
limited state resources are to be committed to building bombs, shiny
infrastructure projects, perks of public servants or the health and education
of citizens? If we have a national consensus over the need to extinguish terror
and terror infrastructure in Pakistan, why shouldn’t there be a debate that
dissects the strength of competing ideas on how best to do so?
In 1644, Milton sought “the liberty to
know, to utter and to argue freely according to conscience, above all
liberties”. The logic and concept of ‘marketplace of ideas’ is especially sound
in this age of technology and social media: in a marketplace with limited
barriers to entry, let all ideas be expressed and debated and let superior
ideas drown out inferior ones. But the powerful seldom bear criticism
willingly. Consequently the history of free speech has been more a history of
censorship of speech.
The right to free speech is not without
restraints. Mill defined the scope of restraint using the ‘harm principle’:
“the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member
of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” As we don’t exist in isolation, our
fundamental rights compete with those of others. The freedom to speak freely is
a fundamental right. But it can’t be used such that it breaches the fundamental
right of another to dignity, privacy, life or liberty.
John Finch explained it best when he said,
“your freedom to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” Hence the
consensus that some speech is so harmful or offensive that it is to be
prohibited. In the US courts employ the “clear and present danger” and
“imminent lawless action” tests – that speech that creates a clear and present
danger for others (like falsely yelling fire in a crowded theatre) or incite
violence doesn’t enjoy protection.
A subset of the prohibited speech category
is ‘hate speech’. During the hearing of Hamid Mir vs Federation, upon prodding
of our Supreme Court, the government and PBA agreed upon the Electronic Media
Code of Conduct, 2015. This was formally promulgated as a subsidiary
legislative instrument under the Pemra Act. Clause 23 defines hate speech as
“any expression that may incite violence, hatred or discrimination on the basis
of religion, ethnicity, color, race, gender, origin, caste, mental or physical
Sub-clauses (2) and (3) of Clause 23 state
that, “the licensee shall not relay allegations that fall within the spectrum
of hate speech, including calling someone anti-Pakistan, traitor or
anti-Islam”, and “where hate speech is resorted to by any guest, the channel
and its representative must stop the participant and remind him and the
audience that no one has the authority to declare any other citizen as a Kafir
or enemy of Pakistan, Islam or any other religion.” This is the law of our
country and makes abundant sense. Why is it being violated with impunity?
What the right to free speech doesn’t grant
is entitlement to make false allegations, impute vile motives and incite hatred
against someone. We fail to protect the dignity and reputation of citizens
because our defamation law is ineffectual. It is this law that must be brought
to life and given a bite to inject responsibility and accountability into the
media, penalise libel and slander while protecting speech merely critical of
power elites and bad policies.
Instead of employing contempt laws or
manufactured threats to national security to censor speech judges and generals
find unpleasant, or slapping labels of treason and blasphemy to incite hatred
against dissenters, can we please use the defamation law to strike the right
balance between protected and prohibited speech as is done around the civilised
Over the past few decades, scholars and
political pundits have debated whether race and ethnicity matter to American
During this period, we have witnessed the
election of an African-American president, the nomination of a Latina Supreme
Court justice, and the wider political representation of racial and ethnic
minorities than ever before. This has led many to claim that the US is now a
colour-blind political society. But the empirical evidence that is available on
the matter suggests the opposite. Given the fact that ethnicity and racism
remain strong social forces in American society, there are no grounds for such
According to a 2015 CNN survey, 49 percent
of Americans believe that racism is “a big problem” in today’s America. Bernie
Sanders was right when he said that the US was founded on racist grounds.
However, what is more troubling is that the systemic racism of America’s past
is still alive and kicking.
Race and other social cleavages continue to
play a critical role in every aspect of US politics and society. The view that
the US is a post-racial society has been challenged on many fronts since
Trump’s election. Nearly 60 million US citizens voted for a candidate who looks
at the world through ethnic and racial stereotypes. Trump wants to ban Muslims
and other immigrants from entering the US and it is crystal clear that
America’s white working class tacitly approves of his anti-Muslim agenda.
Muslims are considered pariahs in the US and are therefore viewed with
In the post-9/11 era, the cultural
atmosphere of fear and paranoia has created a new generation of Americans who
do not have a favourable opinion of Muslims. This trend is particularly evident
on university campuses in the southern states of the US, where Muslim students
are treated like ‘outsiders’. This loathsome behaviour is symptomatic of the
deep-seated racism in the country.
In 2008, many experts heralded the historic
election of Obama as the dawn of a post-racial era in American politics.
However, the election results showed that only 43 percent of white people voted
for Obama, giving a strong impression of a society polarised along racial
Race relations in the US have evolved over
time as a result of gradual changes in intergroup relations within society.
There are instances when the role of race in politics appears minimal, whereas,
in other circumstances, racial segregation seems to pervade every aspect of US
Discussions over the extent to which race
shape political behaviour at both the elite and mass levels remain central to
the study of the US government. Despite the widespread scholarly consensus that
such factors should not impact politics, race continues to play a crucial role
in determining the electoral choices made by a large number of voters.
A critical number of studies recommend that
race is a significant force at work with regard to the shifting partisan
alliances since the mid-1960s. In the wake of the civil rights movement in the
US, political parties had to take clear and distinctive positions on civil
rights issues, leading to significant party alignments along both racial and
social lines. Gradually, the Republican Party emerged as the white man’s party
and Democrats gained more support from African-American and women voters. More
than 80 percent of the black vote usually goes to the Democratic Party’s
The existence of wide inter-regional
differences of opinion on racial issues in marriage also yields strong evidence
of ethnic cleavages among the American people. These regional differences have
been nourished over time by the prevalence of racial stereotypes from
generation to generation in the south. This is exactly why young, white,
southern Americans are found to be more racially conservative than young people
in other states. Similarly, lifelong southerners are always more racially
conservative than immigrants to the southern states from other parts of the country.
Many political scientists have found
empirical evidence to suggest that race is a decisive factor in the political
choices made by American voters. Evidence collected over several decades
suggests that black and white voters prefer voting for candidates of their own
race when both black and white candidates are contesting elections. Despite
repeated calls for racial equality, it is still rare for African-American
candidates to be elected outside of majority-minority districts.
Racial attitudes among whites are an
important explanatory factor for their lack of electoral support for black
candidates. White voters are always more likely to support white candidates.
Darker-skinned black candidates receive less support from white Americans than
The impact of racial attitudes on policy
opinions becomes more critical during the presidential elections. And the
racial differences on prominent policy issues are huge and difficult to ignore.
In some elections, racial gaps of above 40 percent have been found when it
comes to the support shown for race-targeted policies, such as equal
opportunity in employment, spending on programmes to assist blacks, and
affirmative action schemes in academic institutions.
Even in the 21st century, race remains the
central dividing line in US politics. It is feared that race relations are
likely to worsen under Trump’s watch. Group loyalties determine the behaviour
of the political elite. And the portrait of the US as the world’s most
egalitarian society is nothing but a simple and harmless farce.
Dr Muhammad Khan
February 11, 201706
THE local uprisings of Syria in 2011 could
neither be brought dexterously under-control nor did the Syrian Government
address the grievances of those protesting to their satisfaction. Resultantly,
the writ of the Syrian Government diminished with each passing day. The
domestic rift invited regional countries to exploit the worsening situation to
their respective advantages on ideological and ethnic basis. The diverging
regional interests not only further complicated the nature of conflict but also
provided a battleground for the major powers for their power play against each
other, away from their national boundaries.
With minor variations, the Iraqi conflict
too have domestic, regional and global dimension. Other Middle Eastern
countries, faced uprising from 2010 to 2015 were able to put those under
control at least for the time being. Nevertheless, there is an element of
dis-satisfaction among the masses in the entire Middle East. There is a
remarkable difference in the thinking of Muslim elites and Muslim streets
throughout the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle Eastern countries still
under monarchy. Then the ideological rift among two key regional states has
further cemented this gap, each side trying to enlarge its constituency.
For the Muslim community, this is the most
damaging trend, dividing the Muslims on sectarian lines. The overt involvement
of the cold war rivals; Russia and United States in the regional conflict has
left less manoeuvring space for the Bashar al Asad as well as the regional
actors like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Turkey, a member of NATO, seems more
inclined towards Russia, rather US and Europe. Turkey strongly realizes that,
United States and European powers are behind the Kurds, fighting for their
The element of Daesh (IS) is very critical
in the regional politics. On one hand, US is fighting against IS and Al-Qaeda,
but on the other hand these groups are fighting against Asad Regime alongside
other rebels supported by Trans-Atlantic Alliance. This is a very tricky
scenario of having double standards. Then, IS has killed only Muslims; no
Israeli has been killed by this mysterious group, taking cover of Islam but
acting in contradiction to this Great religion (Islam), which preaches peace
and love for entire humanity. Indeed, the current scenario in Syria and Iraq in
particular and larger Middle East in general is a true reflection of global
power struggle with Syria emerged a real battle ground.
With new guards at Whitehouse, this power
play is expected to be more vicious in nature and prolong in duration. President
Trump has otherwise imposed a ban on seven Muslim countries with an indication
of fighting against the Islamic militancy? Though he has been a man of
contradictions, front line runner of promoting hate against Muslims and Islam,
yet, such drastic steps were not expected from him as a President of a super
power. The track-record of IS and Al-Qaeda shows that, they are promoting the
US cause, by providing an excuse for US intervention or use of force.
Whereas, for the old rivals (US and
Russia), it would be a conflict for defeating each other’s influence in the
region, the sufferers would be the Middle Eastern region in general, Syria,
Iraq and even Yemen in particular. Amid rising global power struggle and a
conflicting situation in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, it is difficult to achieve
peace in the region. Although the regional conflicts need a regional solution,
however for the peace in this volatile region, the major powers need
reconciliation and reorientation in advancing their agendas for international peace.
The human sufferings in the form of casualties, loss of property, migrations
and displacement call for immediate peace and rehabilitation efforts in
affected region, particularly these countries.
The GCC countries have diversified their
bilateral and multilateral relationship, thus a traditional fixation may not
bring good results for Pakistani foreign policy. All GCC countries prefer their
bilateral relationship with India, rather with Pakistan. On its part, India is
maintaining an excellent relationship with Iran as well as with GCC and broader
Middle Eastern states. These new developments and global alliances call for a
serious rethinking at the level of Pakistan’s foreign policy. To have a
diversified foreign policy, Pakistan need to have a dynamic and qualified
foreign minister, who can re-assess and re-orientate the foreign policy of
Pakistan according to the changing regional and international trends of power
Troops Needed For Fight against Taliban: US General
THE top US commander in Afghanistan said
Thursday that he needs several thousand more troops to help Afghan government
forces break a stalemate with the Taliban less than a year after President
Obama drew down American forces. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr. told the Senate
Armed Services Committee that more troops are needed to help train
Afghanistan’s military and police forces as they battle Taliban insurgents, IS
militants and other militias. “We have a shortfall of a few thousand,” he said.
He said the troops could come from US or other countries in the international
coalition in Afghanistan.
President Trump said little about America’s
longest war, now in its 16th year, during the campaign last year or since
taking office. He has spoken far more often about US military efforts to defeat
so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, where the militants have
steadily lost ground over the last year. The Taliban, in contrast, controls
more territory now than at any point since the US-led invasion in 2001,
according to United Nations estimates. And the Pentagon has far more troops in
Afghanistan than in Iraq and Syria.
In July, President Obama ordered a
reduction of US troops to 8,400 from 9,800 by the end of 2016, backing off his
2008 campaign promise to extricate the US from the punishing war. Nicholson,
commander of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces in Afghanistan,
oversees about 6,300 NATO troops from 38 countries in addition to US troops.
Nicholson wants more advisors to assist Afghan army commanders at the brigade
level, rather than at the higher corps level, he said.
US special operations troops routinely
accompany and advise Afghan forces on combat missions, while US fighter jets
and drones provide air support and surveillance. The US also has a
counter-terrorism mission, which Nicholson said was adequately staffed, to
track and kill militant leaders. Nicholson described the war against the
Taliban as “a stalemate.” He said Afghan forces had suffered twice as many
casualties in the last two years as US forces did in 10 years.
The Afghan government controls about 57% of
the country’s populated districts, down from about 72% in November 2015,
according to a report released Jan. 30 by the US special inspector general for
Afghanistan reconstruction. “Our Afghan partners have been sustaining very
significant losses,” Nicholson said. “And I’m not sure that’s sustainable.”
Nicholson also said Russia was
“legitimising” the Taliban by creating a “false narrative” that the
fundamentalist Sunni Muslims insurgents are fighting IS militants, who are also
Sunni Muslims, in Afghanistan. He said Iran continues to arm and fund Shiite
Muslim fighters in Afghanistan. “When we look at Russian and Iranian actions in
Afghanistan, I believe that… they’re trying to undermine the United States and
NATO and prevent this strong partnership that we have with the Afghans in the
region,” he added.