BY WAQAR MASOOD KHAN
“And perhaps we’ve grown so used to horror we assume there’s no other way.”
Clearly, the aim of the recent interview is to create frenzy about Pakistan just as the administration is close to draw its plans for Afghanistan. We should not be too alarmed but we should note the perceptions being created in public minds.
President Trump visited the Pentagon a few days ago and was later quoted as saying that the US was winning against ISIS and it was falling fast. When asked whether he would send more troops to Afghanistan, he did not comment. However, the media is not missing an opportunity to drum up the frenzy. Here is a brief rendering of a report of that day at the Fox TV:
Fox Anchor: President Trump visited the Pentagon today for a briefing on the fight against ISIS and the Taliban…. but he avoided a question whether he would send more troops to fight the anti-terror fight in Afghanistan, which defence secretary Mattis says ‘we are not winning’. Joining us live is our defence analyst Lt General Thomas (R) Mclnerney (Air Force): General, why are we not winning in Afghanistan?
General: One word, Pakistan. For almost last 16 years Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban. When George Bush said: You are either with us or against us, they said they were with us, well they are not with us. We have to acknowledge that. There are 9 major cities in Balochistan that are raising money, supporting them in recruiting as well as training areas. We have a major problem because in the non-fighting season and in winter time they are retreating back into Pakistan.
Fox Anchor: Excuse me general, why are they supporting them, we are their (Pakistan)’s paymasters, (we) give money to Pakistanis, we support them in their fight against terrorism, which is real ….. Why are there some military elements that are supporting the Taliban?
General: Well, there are two reasons, they don’t want to have a strong Afghanistan, where say India – or some other country – could start working with them and outflank the Pakistanis. They are afraid of that ….
Fox Anchor: That actually says something … why China would support North Korea.
General: And that is why China is also supporting Pakistan because there is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that moves into the Middle East through Afghanistan…
Fox Anchor: Why don’t we stop our support to Pakistan unless they stop supporting Taliban?
General: I would do that plus I would start bombing those training areas that unless they clean it up we would continue to strike them.
Fox Anchor: And under these conditions doing what Pakistan is doing with us, should we send more troops?
General: Not until we take care of Pakistan. There is no point in doing so.
If one looks for the background of Lt. Gen. Mclnerney, who was born in 1937 and retired in 1994, the only presentable thing about him is that he was once a general in the US Air Force. He saw the war theatre in Vietnam and in Asia he was stationed in places like Philippines and Japan. He had no role in combat operations since modern wars started with Operation Desert Storm in 1991, much less the war in Afghanistan or, in general, the so-called War on Terror. He holds non-standard views on important matters (why else would he be welcomed at Fox News). He was amongst the 87 generals who signed a letter of support for Trump as presidential candidate.
The most bizarre view the general has held, and again via Fox News, was regarding the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370. The BBC News in an 8 September 2014 report had this to say about general’s views on the subject:
“Retired US Lt Gen Thomas Mclnerney argued in the wake of the plane disappearing that it was flown to Taliban-controlled Pakistan. It would be used against the US later. “If the Pakistani government doesn’t talk soon they’re going to be complicit in this,” Mclnerney told Fox News, where he works as a military analyst. The plane could be used to carry weapons of mass destruction to hit an aircraft carrier or attack Israel, he said.
McInerney’s theory was based on the idea that Pakistan would have been consistent with the final ping from the plane to a satellite. He argued that the US government knew far more than it was letting on and did not want to embarrass allies in the region. Rupert Murdoch was one of those who had also speculated that the plane was in Pakistan.” (Emphasis added)
It is tempting to dismiss the interview as of someone who is so blatantly biased against Pakistan that he can’t be objective on the subject. Yet the proximity of the general’s views with Rupert Murdoch’s warrants a serious assessment of what he is now talking about.
Clearly, the aim of the recent interview is to create frenzy about Pakistan just as the administration is close to draw its plans for Afghanistan. We should not be too alarmed but we should note the perceptions being created in public minds. In a previous article in this newspaper I have noted that it is open season on Pakistan for Washington think tanks and news and media organisations. This interview is creating the following perceptions: (a) Pakistan is the single reason behind US failure in Afghanistan; (b) In 9 major cities of Balochistan not only funds are being raised for the Taliban but there are training, recruitment, and rest and recreation facilities that are used during the non-fighting season; (c) Pakistan doesn’t want to see Afghanistan strong as it will outflank Pakistan with the help of India and other countries; (d) the US is Pakistan’s paymaster and we are not doing the job according to
payments we are receiving; (e) Pakistan is supported by China just as they support North Korea; and (f) maligning the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (which, curiously, according to the general, passes through Afghanistan) as part of Chinese designs to reach the Middle East.
Mercifully, the good general is not a policy maker in Washington. He is being paid by Murdoch for creating myths against Pakistan. All his ‘analyses’ are baloney. Frankly, he doesn’t know what he is talking about; he doesn’t know that the US is not Pakistan’s paymaster; he doesn’t know that Balochistan has only one major city, Quetta; that there are neither training nor recruitment centres for the Taliban, nor any rest and recreation facilities; that there are tribes that move freely across the 2000 km border between Afghanistan and Pakistan; that CPEC doesn’t pass through Afghanistan; and, that North Korea cannot be compared to Pakistan, which is a responsible nuclear power and has cooperated with the US on a large number of occasions in international affairs, while the US and North Korea (since its existence) have not known each other except as adversaries.
More importantly, the general can find better answers for why the US is not winning in Afghanistan. In his latest High-Risk Report (Jan ’17), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) writes: “The U.S. investment in Afghanistan has been extraordinary. Since 2002, Congress has appropriated more than $115 billion for Afghanistan’s reconstruction. It is the largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our nation’s history. This tremendous amount of taxpayer money has been used to train Afghan security forces, stand up the Afghan government, and develop the local economy. Despite this enormous expenditure, the reconstruction effort remains tenuous and incomplete. U.S. and international donors recently pledged to financially support Afghanistan through 2020, with our contribution expected to remain at or near $5 billion a year. What all this aid has amounted to and what kind of Afghan army has been developed is explained in a March Op-Ed in New York Times, by the renowned war historian, Andrew Bacevich: ‘Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for non-existent soldiers; according to the report, ‘The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.” Large-scale corruption persists, with Afghanistan third from the bottom in international rankings, ahead of only Somalia and North Korea.
Pakistan takes no solace in such reports but would resist efforts to turn it as fall guy for the mistakes and shortcomings of American strategies.
At the same time we should recognise that there is a need to redouble our efforts to remove such patently baseless views on our role and objectives in Afghanistan and to highlight how much assistance we have given to support US’s efforts in this war. Our concern over Indian influence in Afghanistan is no different than what was articulated in Monroe Doctrine with reference to European nations’ interference in South America much before the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out in early 60s. Since India does not have a border with Afghanistan, its presence beyond the level of diplomatic relations is a genuine threat to the security of Pakistan, and Central Asia, as evidenced in its clandestine operations in Balochistan and Karachi. India’s national security advisor hurled flagrant threats of breaking Balochistan. It would not be in America’s interest to think that it can expend with Pakistan to appease India, either in Afghanistan or in Kashmir. Barring these red lines, Pakistan would support all US efforts to achieve its goals. But let it also be known that Pakistan has been consistently saying that military victory in Afghanistan would not be achieved. Only a negotiated settlement with Taliban is the first step on the road to a lasting solution.