Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions

Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions

by Major Mehar Omar Khan

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I know we live in a world that is real and is moved by minds -- thinking, manipulating, conniving, conspiring, calculating and masquerading minds. Our world therefore seldom has a place for 'sentiments' -- pure, sincere, honest and spontaneous as sentiments are. But when it comes to war in Afghanistan, I am not deterred by the tyranny of the trend. I like, in fact I am forced, to think through my heart. What else can you do when you see images of your countrymen; innocent and unsuspecting men, women and children; ripped apart by other human beings exploding in their midst almost on a daily basis? How can I not worry about my daughter when I see a pale and empty face of a mother in Kabul or Peshawar, bent like a broken branch of an old, dried up tree; over the dead body of her child? How can I not cry when the soul of my nation is hit and hurt by violence that is so inextricably linked with bloodshed beyond the snaky Khyber Pass? For us in Pakistan, the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan and astride Durand Line is the most seminal endeavor of our history. If this war is won, the entire world stands to benefit. But if it is lost, one country that will be hurt the most is Pakistan -- my daughter's home and her future. War astride the Durand Line is therefore so personal to so many of us.

This war is also extremely personal for thousands of American mothers who await and pray for the safe return of their sons and daughters: bright young men and women who deserve to live and who must never be wasted just because someone considers it politically expedient to continue to muddle along and because setting the course right needs some statesmanship and may also involve some political cost.

Download the full article: Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions

Major Mehar Omar Khan, Pakistan Army, is currently a student at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He has served as a peacekeeper in Sierra Leone, a Brigade GSO-III, an instructor at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, and as Chief of Staff (Brigade Major) of an infantry brigade. He has also completed the Command and Staff Course at Pakistan's Command and Staff College in Quetta.

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I like much of what Major Khan says, but where I take issue, or perhaps misunderstand, is the extent of the involvement of US soldiers. It is the Afghan's war, and they should be fighting it. I am ok with the US helping the Afghans where our interests coincide, but we have a responsibility to our soldiers and citizens. We should not be asking them to fight for and protect the Afghan people. In fact I would think the Afghans would be much happier protecting themselves. Early on in this conflict we had a much more limited role of support for the Afghans, and they did a great job of fighting for their own country. We worked together and badly hurt both Al Queda and the Taliban. Why not continue that strategy? Arm the tribes and groups of Afghans we trust, and let them handle their own security. Do they really need us, our strategies, or our combat training?

An excellent effort my Major Mehr Omer, which should be taken notice in the corridors of US policy makers ; however i do not think so, as all sane thinkings are not taken seriously there. What i thnik is that " Do not reinforce the failure"; the basic lesson is going to be violated in the days to come in Afghanistan by the US led NATO forces or to say by the United States - seemingly the single decision making body. Pakistans apprehension of the force surge in Afghanistan is not going to be answered by the US administration as Pakistan is rightly concerned about the fresh US policy while being announced at the 'west point ,the 'honourable President uttered the word 'Pakistan 42 times. From this fact, it is fairly palpable that who is the main focal concern of the said force surge, Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Seemingly, the almanac has swung back to 70s while General McCrystal has followed the suit of General Westmoreland in Vietnam. And the history holds testimony to the fact that the step of a force surge on special request of Westmoreland proved fatal for the US in Vietnam which is being replicated in Afghan land shortly. If we objectively and realistically examine the US forces tenure in Afghanistan, we will come to a conclusion that support of a common afghan has tilted again towards Taliban instead of US led NATO forces, not because of exemplary behaviour of the former, but sheer because of anti US sentiment which has grown out of proportion in Afghans.
Pakistan too, is rightly concerned about this all, as no concrete step has yet been taken which should strive to eradicate the concerns in the hearts and minds of Pakistani commoners as well as officials as far as new Af Pak policy in concerned. Here I would like to mention that another vital aspect lately realized by the Obama administration (as evident from a hosh posh and eagerly planned visit of secretary of state Ms Hillary Clinton) that apart from a massive economic support since years; a common Pakistani is very much annoyed from US policies in the region in general and Pakistan in particular.
Trust deficit is the answer Ms Clinton might have gained from her diverse kind of visit in the recent past, where she might have been astonished to see the young minds of Pakistan who despite US efforts have not been on their side even after have been fed up from Pakistan Taliban activities. The message might have reached to the high corridors of White House that it will be quite difficult to mould a spanking fresh Pakistani mind as the US had been accomplishing in the precedent years.
My serious concerns at the moment is the growing strength of NATO forces which most probably is envisaged to be concentrated in southern part bordering Pakistans largest and at the moment most significant province Balochistan (should I say, when even the commander of NATO force - Turkey has even regretted to contribute more). The crescent parliament might have grasped the moment after having learnt the lesson through hard way; however, the calmingly sole power of the world is not ready to learn any lesson being eager to reinforce. This also forces me to think about the agenda of the 'great game. This also reminds me a saying of one of the presidents of United States 'World is no more a safer planet , lets make it one . Would US try... ?

I have wondered for years why the State Department and country team have such a fixation on Political Science 101 when the issues are Anthropology 101. Just how does an Afghani of any of the various ethnic groups define "central government" or "women's rights".

These are all noble sentiments IN THE WEST. They are not noble sentiments IN AFGHANISTAN. Like the man said, give them LOCAL improvements in security and welfare without pushing our values on them. Show them respect for their values if you want to win the day. Build local forces and quite worrying about warlords... They already exist and have the real power.

If you don't want them to grow opium then give them something ELSE to grow before you destroy what little they have.

Maybe they will grow one day into a nice little Western Democracy but that day is far from tomorrow. Blue fingers and ballots do not a democracy make, especially in a country that has no clue what anyone is talking about.

Deal with reality and leave liberal dreams for the future.

Or just get out.

Major Mehar Omar Khan has provided a fresh perspective about a complex issue. Some of his ideas especially concentrating on improving daily life of average Afghan, rethinking about counterinsurgency operations and humility are worth pursuing which can bring some tactical respite. Every conflict has a life of its own and we need to constantly improve and innovate to adjust to changing battle space.

We simplify problems for better understanding but current winds of chaos in the region are the result of a long drawn process and it will take a while before we get a grip on the problem let alone finding a solution. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, citizens of these countries will decide about their own future. Our presence will help in some areas and exacerbate problems in other areas. Local players in both countries will use our military and economic resources for their own power struggles. Even now, we are essentially in a situation where we are supporting one group against the other and hence seen as partisans.

Some of our ill thought policies directly contributed to pushing instability right into Pakistan and for that we can only apologize to Major Khan. First round of Pushtun civil war was fought on Afghanistan field and I fear that second round will be on the killing fields of Pakistan. Those who are familiar with the region are already seeing the signs of coming painful times with battle lines becoming clearer everyday. What will be the role of U.S. is anybody's guess? This can be averted only by the people of the region.

It is a pleasant surprise to see Pakistani officers seriously discussing military affairs at forums like SWJ and if there are more like Major Khan in Pakistan army then we can hope for a better outcome. People like Major Khan will guide their countrymen about the best course and we wish him all the best. Once he finishes his course, he will get his next promotion of Lieutenant Colonel rank. He will likely get the command of a battalion and operate in troubled areas of N.W.F.P. If I had a choice, Ill give him command of a PIFFER battalion and deploy him in Waziristan area because he will be likely more successful in that battle space. I'll then bring him back as instructor at Staff College and then send him back to command a wing of Frontier Corps. In the meantime, hopefully we will learn something from his sound ideas.

Hamid Hussain

Agree but then to do/consider anything more assumes issues after the major's first (the coalition has won the war and has dealt an almost mortal blow to the enemy that originally was Al Qaeda) are strategic interests to the United States. His assumption and the larger COIN debate assumes the affirmative. I posit having met condition one and being able to separate the Taliban from AQ, issues 2 through 5 are nullified as to our vital interests. As you said, "Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan are not the same as America's" so why should we fight their war? Especially w/o a full and legitimate partner in Kabul through which to conduct COIN?


Take what I say as the statements of an ignorant man, a man who has never been to Afghanistan. An acquaintance of mine who has a few tours in Afghanistan tells me that a key fact to remember about Afghanistan [as opposed to Iraq] is that no infidel--no outsider who is an infidel-- will ever win an Afghan Muslim's heart. The Koran makes it clear that for a Muslim to lie, cheat, or otherwise take advantage of an infidel is perfectly moral and wise. So, I think America's goal ought to be that our outlook not be on winning Afghan hearts, but winning the minds of Afghans that we infidels can be useful to what the Afghans want--and hopefully what they see as useful and what we think is useful will coincide. He asked a simple question: What is the GNP of Afghanistan? What is the cost of sustaining an Afghanistan army and police force? What is it that an Afghan army and police force provide for the majority of Afghan people within the context of Afghan culture and history? He sarcastically mentioned that every day an Afghan official is "winning the lottery" in increasing his personal wealth and power. Most care little for anyone outside of themselves and their family and tribe.

These are good insights. I would add one:

"Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan are not the same as Americas."

The irony should not be lost on those who study this problem that Pakistan's efforts to exert control over Afghanistan for their interests destabilized that country and led to the ultimate U.S. intervention; that then led to the destabilizaton of Pakistan as the U.S. exerted controls over Afghanistan for U.S. interests.

The victim in all of this is the popualce of Afghanistan. There are many competitors with widely varying interests involved here. First thing that any way ahead should do is map those competitors and their interests out; and then shape engagement and divvy out roles accordingly.

I am glad to read the article and honestly think it needs serious study by some who think and try to make a difference. Some years back I went through a statement by Professor Chris Bellamy of Cranfield University (an expert on Soviet military history). Who said, "I remember meeting a Russian general after the Soviet war," he recalled. "He said to me - we should have read Kipling! Intrigued by the startling statement, I searched for the novel Kim by Joseph Rudyard Kipling , I wish some US should read it more objectively now. And must not miss the last lines of the novel where the hero of novel (Kim - Kimball O'Hara who is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier (Sahib) and earns his living by begging and running small errands on the streets of Lahore and occasionally works for his friend, Mahbub Ali, a horse trader who is one of the native operatives of the British secret service, the boy entangles into the "Great Game" of the 18th century) "I am not a Sahib. I am thy chela."
What US/NATO troops are trying to accomplish today is not at all different from what soviet and British have tried the previous days. They are trying to modernize and centralize a country which is rippled by ethnic divisions, corruption and weak government, and are confronted by a population of which large parts are hostile to foreign intervention(infidels) and hostile to such attempts. And moreover, they are trying to achieve this in a regional environment where deep rivets of mistrust and diverse national and regional objectives prevail. Nor the country, neither the environment is supportive. I fully endorse the path suggested by the writer. Just to add this much, there is a need for US to engage all regional and local stake holders and convince them to a minimum acceptable agenda. Until that is achieved, US is just seen an outsider trying to win the hearts of public back home and further his international agenda as sole super power.

After reading this article, I turned to Major Khan's earlier article. I've read a lot of conflicting ideas about what the US & NATO should do in Afghanistan, but Major Khan's diagnosis & prescription make more sense than anything else I've read.
Major Khan, thank you for sharing these thoughts with us. May peace be with you, your family, & your people.
Reasonable minds can differ as to whether it is currently in our national interest (much less a "vital" interest) to continue our involvement in Afghanistan. However, the decision has been made to continue, & to increase our commitment, at least for the short term. If we are going to be involved, Major Khan's advice is the best blueprint I've seen for making our investments in blood & treasure pay off for both Afghanistan & the west.
I agree that we have already achieved our original objective of disrupting & punishing al-Qaida and the regime that supported it. What we do next can make a big difference for the Afghan & Pakistani people, & will ultimately affect the rest of the world.
If you want to build anything, & especially if you expect it to last, common sense says you start with the foundation, not with the dome on the roof. If we want to turn the Pashtun people away from the radicals, we've got to think & act locally, we've got to respect their traditions and their right to make decisions, and we've got to show them they have an opportunity to make meaningful differences in the way their families live.
Security, electricity, clean water, basic sanitation, an opportunity to earn a living & supprt a family; yes, I think an Afghan, or an American from Appalachia for that matter, would need to see progress on these issues before caring about the fancy buildings or the other issues that seem important to those of us who don't have to worry about those fundamental needs.
I hope the decision-makers will carefully consider Major Khan's advice. I wish him well in his career, & repeat my thanks that he has shared his views with us.