On December 28, 2014, the US and NATO formally declared an end to the Afghan war despite an ongoing insurgency. Nevertheless, a treaty was signed by the US to allow for the retention of some troops to serve in an advisory and counter-terrorism role.
The reassignment in role began a new phase of the war in which the Afghan forces would lead the fight. Since then, the Afghan government has found itself inept and incapable in defending the country despite more than 14 years of training by foreign forces.
President Obama has recently become more active in Afghanistan despite vowing to end the war during his presidential candidacy. First, the newly elected leader of the Taliban was killed by a drone strike and recently, President Obama announced a more involved role for US forces in the country. While many believed the US was slowly withdrawing from the longest war in its history, it appears to be back in the fight. The situation in Afghanistan is as precarious as ever, with the presence of ISIS in parts of the country coupled with a raging Taliban insurgency, the US objective has never been bleaker in the region. It is clear; the Afghan government is incapable of restraining the Taliban militarily or integrating them politically, without the US presence the Afghan government will fall quickly. On the other hand, the US cannot perpetually sit in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban because neither time nor money is on their side.
The Afghan government’s composition makes it inherently incapable of ever being able to take on the Taliban on its own. The government is an ironic web of warlords, criminals, technocrats, and fanatics that are swathed together by the US Dollar. The US finds itself in a true quagmire; it cannot stay forever nor withdraw anytime soon, so what to do?
President Obama recently traveled to Vietnam to fully normalize relations with a former enemy. Despite fighting a long drawn out war, the US and Vietnam find itself today working together to help contain a larger regional threat, China. The possibility of the US military going back to the country appears more plausible as each day goes by, but not as an invader but rather ally. What can the improved ties between the US and Vietnam teach Americans about its current war in Afghanistan? On occasion, losing a battle can lead to a greater victory in the long run if a nation’s strategic interests are viewed through a non-myopic lens. While the US attempts to preserve a fledgling regime in Afghanistan comprised of people as worse as the Taliban, it should not allow the current situation to blind its strategic ambitions for the region. Similar to Vietnam, once the US is fully withdrawn from the area, whether sooner or later, the Afghan government will collapse and the country will resume the civil war it was fighting before the American intervention. With the exception that the Taliban are much stronger now, while the former Northern Alliance network is essentially eliminated since many of its former leaders have been killed. It would behoove the US to negotiate with the Taliban directly rather than carry on an expensive and futile war.
Vietnam and the South China Sea
Due to nationalistic and ideological hubris, the US isolated Vietnam while the Cold War continued on. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Vietnam’s largest patron, relations with the US began to warm up. President Clinton recognized the country and President Bush normalized them. President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam came with the lifting of the arms embargo, finalizing the full recognition process. The improved relationship was not due to humanitarian concerns but rather geopolitical. The fear of a rising China has created an opportunity for both Vietnam and the US to restore ties. Both countries see a mutual interest in working with each other in containing the Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. The decades long freeze in relations could have been avoided if American planners better understood the local dynamics among the regional nations.
After the US withdrew from Vietnam in 1975, the unpopular US-backed government of South Vietnam fell to the invading North Vietnamese forces. Despite losing the war, the US global clout allowed it to isolate Vietnam from most of the world. What the US ignored was Vietnam and China’s centuries of animosity trumped their provisional wartime alliance, which erupted into another war due to North Vietnam’s intervention in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Nevertheless, the US continued to neglect Vietnam for another decade.
As the Cold War came to an end, China began to emerge as a long-term threat to American regional interests in the Pacific. Vietnam and the US fearing a more assertive China looked to each other for help. In particular, Vietnam’s Cam Rahn Bay offers a deep water port, perfect for larger naval ships. The rise of China offered both nations a quid pro quo situation in terms of military cooperation and even an alliance.
Afghanistan and the Lessons of Vietnam
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it had done so on the basis of destroying Al Qaeda’s terror network along with removing the Taliban from power for providing such havens. After successfully deposing the Taliban regime, the US put together an Afghan government that was unfortunately comprised of corrupt warlords and criminals similar to Diem’s government in South Vietnam. These warlords were the same murderous bandits that were once chased out by the Taliban to the delight of the people in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, the Taliban’s true nature was demonstrated through their extreme and misogynistic rule.
The US’s next misstep was before fully defeating the Taliban; there was a focus shift to Iraq. As the US began to become bogged down there, the Taliban regrouped and began to win popular support while the Afghan government was losing it due to corruption. The success of any insurgency resides with the local population. Despite a military surge by President Obama, the war has gone on to become the longest in US history and the end doesn’t appear to be anywhere near. So what will happen after the US withdraws?
A Faustian Bargain?
The most likely event after a complete US withdrawal from the region is that the government in Kabul will disintegrate along ethnic lines and a small pitch civil war will be fought. Due to the state of the war in the past 14 years, the Taliban have been able to structure, plan, and organize the insurgency to be a proper fighting force. Any pockets of resistance in a civil war would be short-lived due to the lack of any cohesion or leadership amongst any type of opposition to the Taliban. Without any troops in the fight, the US will condemn the Taliban but nothing more than sanctions and verbal condemnation. This situation provides an opportunity to learn from previous conflicts such as Vietnam.
The US needs to be fully cognizant that the fragile Afghan government it has spent billions in treasures and blood to prop up, can never move forward with the mantle of democracy that it was designed for because of the politicians that were instituted to run it. Many that wield power in the Afghan government are illiterate, leave alone fluent in the understanding the concepts involved in running a Democratic government. The US needs to begin direct negotiations with the Taliban without any preconditions. It should then withdraw from the region on an understanding that the Taliban will not revert back to its old ways but instead renounce terrorism, ensure equality for women and minorities, as well as not become an oppressive regime again. If the Taliban are meant to ascend to power, the US should, albeit with certain boundaries, embrace it as long as it works to its interests. The US needs to ensure the situation with Afghanistan is stable to ensure its regional strategic interests are secured. Retaining an ally country can serve the US very well in the region similar to how Vietnam is now unfolding with respect to China. Afghanistan is geographically situated in a strategically imperative location; Iran to the West, Central Asia and Russia to the North, Pakistan to the South, and China to the East.
The Iranian expansion in the Middle East is becoming a threat to US interests in the region. Potentially the only way to stop the Persian flood is with a polar opposite government at its border. While the Shiite Mullahs rule Tehran, Kabul’s Sunni Mullahs can damper Persian regional ambitions. Despite being nominal allies in the current war, like China and Vietnam, the Iranians and Taliban have a turbulent history. Simultaneously, as Russia continues to exercise its power in Eastern Europe, it’s looking to Central Asia to reestablish its foothold there. Once again the Taliban and Russia do not see each in other in the best of light due to their tumultuous dealings in the past. China has been somewhat neutral with respect to the Taliban prior to 9/11 and desires a stable region no matter who is in power. Yet, the Chinese were apprehensive of the Taliban influence on the Uighur population in its volatile Xinjiang Province, who want an independent state. Finally, the Pakistanis in the south have been the Taliban’s main patron and ally since the formation of the group in the early 1990s. The instability in Pakistan creates more complication in an already intricate web of regional politics. An understanding between the Taliban and the US can create the necessary environment for the group to wean away from its reliance on the Pakistani government. If the US carries out similar diplomatic relations with the group as it does with Vietnam now, Afghanistan can end up being more strategically valuable then Vietnam for American interests even with the Taliban in power.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Safety and Security
Wyn Bowen and Matthew Cottee discuss in their research entitled “Nuclear Security Briefing Book” that nuclear terrorism involves the acquisition and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon from a state arsenal. The world has not experienced any act of nuclear terrorism but terrorists expressed their desires to gain nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has observed many incidents of lost, theft and unauthorized control of nuclear material. The increased use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has intensified the threat that terrorist can target these places for acquiring nuclear materials. They cannot build a nuclear weapon because production of a nuclear weapon would require a technological infrastructure. Thus, it is the most difficult task that is nearly impossible because the required infrastructure and technological skills are very high which even a strong terrorist group could not bear easily, but they can build a dirty bomb.
A dirty bomb is not like a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb spreads radiation over hundreds of square miles while nuclear bomb could cause destruction only over a few square miles. A dirty bomb would not kill any more people than an ordinary bomb but it would create psychological terror. There is no viable security system for the prevention of nuclear terrorism, but the only possible solution is that there should be a stringent nuclear security system which can halt terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials.
The UN Security Council and the IAEA introduced multilateral nuclear security initiatives. Pakistan actively contributed in all international nuclear security efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. For example, United States President Barak Obama introduced the process of Nuclear Security Summit (NSS)in 2009 to mitigate the threat of nuclear terrorism. The objective of NSS was to secure the material throughout the world in four years.
Pakistan welcomed it and not only made commitments in NSS but also fulfilled it. Pakistan also established a Centre of Excellence (COEs) on nuclear security and hosted workshops on nuclear security. In addition to all this, Pakistan is a signatory of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 and affirms its strong support to the resolution. It has submitted regular reports to 1540 Committee which explain various measures taken by Pakistan on radiological security and control of sensitive materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) transfer. Pakistan is the first country which submitted a report to the UN establishing the fact that it is fulfilling its responsibilities. Pakistan ratified Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) in 2016. It is also the member of Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). It can be rightly inferred that Pakistan is not only contributing in all the international nuclear security instruments but has also taken multiple effective measures at the national level.
Pakistan created National Command Authority (NCA) to manage and safeguard nuclear assets and related infrastructures. The Strategic Plan Division (SPD) is playing a very important role in managing Pakistan’s nuclear assets by collaborating with all strategic organizations. Establishment of Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA)in 2001 is another development in this regard. The PNRA works under the IAEA advisory group on nuclear security and it is constantly improving and re-evaluating nuclear security architecture. National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) was established under PNRA in 2014. Pakistan has also adopted the Export Control Act to strengthen its nuclear export control system. It deals with the rules and regulations for nuclear export and licensing. The SPD has also formulated a standard functioning procedure to regulate the conduct of strategic organizations. Christopher Clary discusses in his research “Thinking about Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime” that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals are equipped with Permissive Action Links (PALs) for its stringent security. According to Pakistan’s former nuclear scientist Samar Mubarakmand, every Pakistani nuclear arsenal is now fitted with a code-lock device which needs a proper code to enable the arsenal to explode.
Nonetheless the nuclear terrorism is a global concern and reality because terrorist organizations can target civilian nuclear facility in order to steal nuclear material. The best way to eradicate the root of nuclear terrorism is to have a stringent nuclear security system.
Western media and outsiders often propagate that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals can go into the wrong hands i.e. terrorists, but they do not highlight the efforts of Pakistan in nuclear security at the national and international level. The fact is that Pakistan has contributed more in international nuclear security efforts than India and it has stringent nuclear security system in place.
India’s Probable Move toward Space Weaponization
The term Space Weaponization tends to raise alarm as it implies deployment of weapons in the outer space or on heavenly bodies like Sun and Moon or sending weapon from earth to the outer space to destroy satellite capabilities of other states. Thus, space weaponization refers to the actions taken by a state to use outer space as an actual battlefield.
Space militarization on the other hand is a rather less offensive term which stands for utilization of space for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions through satellites to support forces on ground in the battle field. Space militarization is already in practice by many states. In South Asia, India is utilizing its upper hand in space technology for space militarization. However, recent concern in this regard is India’s attempts to weaponize space, which offers a bleak situation for regional peace and stability. Moreover, if India went further with this ambitiousness when Pakistan is also sending its own satellites in space, security situation will only deteriorate due to existing security dilemma between both regional counterparts.
Threats of space weaponization arise from the Indian side owing to its rapid developments in Ballistic Missile Defenses (BMDs) and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Both of these technologies, BMDs and ICBMs, hand in hand, could be used to destroy space based assets. In theory, after slight changes in algorithms, BMDs are capable of detecting, tracking and homing in on a satellite and ICBM could be used to target the satellites for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Many international scholars agree on the point that BMD systems have not yet acquired sophistication to give hundred percent results in destroying all the incoming ballistic missile, but they sure have the capability to work as anti-satellite systems. The reason behind the BMD being an effective anti-sat system is that it is easier to locate, track and target the satellites because they are not convoyed with decoys unlike missiles which create confusions for the locating and tracking systems.
India possesses both of the above-mentioned technologies and its Defense Research and Development Organization has shown the intention to build anti-satellite weaponry. In 2012, India’s then head of DRDO categorically said that India needs an arsenal in its system that could track the movement of enemy’s satellite before destroying it, thus what India is aiming at is the credible deterrence capability.
One thing that comes in lime light after analyzing the statement is that India is in fact aiming for weaponizing the space. With the recent launch of its indigenous satellites through its own launch vehicle not only for domestic use but also for commercial use, India is becoming confident enough in its capabilities of space program. This confidence is also making India more ambitious in space program. It is true that treaties regarding outer space only stop states from putting weapons of mass destruction in outer space. But, destruction of satellites will create debris in outer space that could cause destruction for other satellites in the outer space.
On top of it all the reality cannot be ignored that both Pakistan and India cannot turn every other arena into battlefield. Rivalry between both states has already turned glaciers and ocean into war zones, resultantly affecting the natural habitat of the region. By going for ballistic missile defences and intercontinental ballistic missiles India has not only developed missile technology but also has made significant contribution in anti-sat weaponry, which is alarming, as due to security dilemma, Pakistan will now be ever more compelled to develop capabilities for the security of its satellites. So far both states are confined till space militarization to enhance the capabilities of their forces, but if that force multiplier in space goes under threat, Pakistan will resort to capability to counter Indian aggression in space as well, which will be the classic action-reaction paradigm. Thus, it is pertinent that India as front runner in space technology develop policy of restrain to control the new arms race in the region which has potential to change the skies and space as we know them.
Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy: Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia
Most significant incident happened when India tested its nuclear device on18 May, 1974.After India’s nuclear test, Pakistan obtained the nuclear technology, expertise and pursued a nuclear program to counter India which has more conventional force than Pakistan. Pakistan obtained nuclear program because of India, it has not done anything independently but followed India. Pakistan just wanted to secure its borders and deter Indian aggression. It was not and is not interested in any arms race in the region. It is not signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT). Pakistan has not signed NPT and CTBT because India has not signed it. Since acquiring the nuclear weapons, it has rejected to declare No First Use (NFU) in case of war to counter India’s conventional supremacy.
The basic purpose of its nuclear weapons is to deter any aggression against its territorial integrity. Riffat Hussain while discussing Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine argues that it cannot disobey the policy of NFU due to Indian superiority in conventional force and it makes India enable to fight conventional war with full impunity. Pakistan’s nuclear posture is based on minimum credible nuclear deterrence which means that its nuclear weapons have no other role except to counter the aggression from its adversary. It is evident that Pakistan’s nuclear program is Indiacentric.. Owing to the Indian superiority in conventional forces Pakistan nuclear weapons balance the conventional force power percentage between the two states. In November 1999, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar stated that ‘more is unnecessary while little is enough’.
The National Command Authority (NCA), comprising the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division, is the center point of all decision-making regarding the nuclear issue.According to the security experts first use option involves many serious challenges because it needs robust military intelligence and very effective early warning system. However, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is concerned about nuclear security of weapons for which it has laid out stringent nuclear security system. Pakistan made a rational decision by conducting five nuclear tests in 1998 to restore the strategic stability in South Asia, otherwise it was not able to counter the threat of India’s superior conventional force.
The NCA of Pakistan (nuclear program policy making body) announced on September 9, 2015 the nation’s resolve to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in line with the dictates of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to deter all forms of aggression, adhering to the policy of avoiding an arms race.”It was the response of Indian offensive Cold Start Doctrine which is about the movement of Indian military forces closer to Pakistan’s border with all vehicles. Pakistan wants to maintain strategic stability in the region and its seeks conflict resolution and peace, but India’s hawkish policies towards Pakistan force it to take more steps to secure its border. Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is very vigorously implementing rational countermeasures to respond to India’s aggression by transforming its nuclear doctrine. It has developed tactical nuclear weapons (short range nuclear missiles) that can be used in the battle field.
Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in 2013 that Pakistan would continue to obey the policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence to avoid the arms race in the region. However, it would not remain unaware of the changing security situation in the region and would maintain the capability of full spectrum nuclear deterrence to counter any aggression in the region. Dr. Zafar Jaspal argues in his research that Full credible deterrence does not imply it is a quantitative change in Pakistan’s minimum credible nuclear deterrence, but it is a qualitative response to emerging challenges posed in the region. This proves that Islamabad is not interested in the arms race in the region, but India’s constant military buildup forces Pakistan to convert its nuclear doctrine from minimum to full credible nuclear deterrence.
India’s offensive policies alarm the strategic stability of the region and international community considers that Pakistan’s transformation in nuclear policies would be risky for international security. They have recommended a few suggestions to Pakistan’s nuclear policy making body, but the NCA rejected those mainly because Pakistan is confronting dangerous threats from India and its offensive policies such as the cold start doctrine. Hence no suggestion conflicting with this purpose is acceptable to Pakistan. This is to be made clear at the all national, regional and international platforms that Pakistan is striving hard to maintain the strategic stability while India is only contributing toward instigating the regional arms race.
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