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The Strategy of Concentric Circle

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With no victory in sight and the ANSF becoming a major failure it appears to be a prudent decision to cut  losses and even “prepone the egress” - a possibility under discussion too. However, the US will be able to come up with a clearer desired end state of the Afghan Campaign after the November elections.

By Imran Malik

Will the failed Afghan Campaign sound the death knell for the US’ penchant for military expeditions and power projection as the world has known and experienced for almost a century?

Media reports indicate so. The US appears to have lost the political will and economic stamina to continue with the Afghan Campaign and is considering a re-orientation of its strategic direction.  

There has been a constant whittling down of the aims and objectives of the Afghan campaign over the years. The US has progressively downgraded its strategy from one of counterinsurgency to pure counter terrorism – giving up on nation building altogether! With the failure of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) experiment it has now been forced to give negotiations with the Taliban, the preference – a Pakistani position since long! The US now wants to include Pakistan in its efforts to vet potential   Taliban interlocutors for negotiations, anew. This would clearly mean negotiating from a position of weakness.

The US may have succeeded in decimating and dispersing the Al Qaeda significantly but has singularly failed to neutralize the Taliban or pacify Afghanistan and the APR! In more than ten years of combat the US has failed to stamp its authority or impose its will on the militants in the APR or the APR itself! 

However, this new development indicates a major re-orientation of US’ strategic direction/objectives in the APR. It is a major paradigm shift with the main effort moving from combat to negotiations eventually leading on to a safe egress come end 2014 – the apparent desired end state of the Afghan campaign now!

What may have caused this drastic paradigm shift?

For the US this is essentially a self-inflicted and rather painful wound. This was an ill-conceived and poorly executed military campaign to start with. It was further stunted by the constant changes made to its strategic objectives which must have played havoc with the commanders in the field. The major organs of the Obama Administration appeared to be at daggers drawn most of the time. The infighting between the State Department on one side and the Pentagon and the CIA on the other led to a confused and erratic handling of the situation generating conflicting views and vibes to allies and adversaries alike!

The US may have achieved a regime change in Afghanistan but there is no sign of a stable, vibrant and fair democratic dispensation to be seen anywhere in the country. The majority (Pashtuns) has been deliberately kept out of the loop and has been denied its democratic right to form the Government. Since the basic idea of a concocted democracy is unfair and unjust therefore it cannot and will not succeed. Resultantly, the NA Government lacks the moral authority to rule and has a non-existent writ beyond Kabul!  

The 350000 or so strong ANSF was being created ostensibly to assert the authority and writ of the “democratically elected” Government in the whole of Afghanistan. The Green-on-Blue attacks indicate a fatal lack of understanding of the Afghan psyche and character by the US/NATO/ISAF. The Green-on-Blue attacks have wreaked havoc on the bonds of trust and loyalty between the US/NATO/ISAF troops and the ANSF. Thus far these have just been individual acts. The future may see even deadlier Green-on-Blue attacks by small groups of Afghans/Taliban within the ANSF, leading on to small subunit/unit attacks and so on! They could target not only individual soldiers of the US/NATO/ISAF Combine but also small squads/subunits/units/convoys/military installations/HQs/bases/airfields etc! Were such attacks to materialize the US/NATO/ISAF Combine could find itself looking down the wrong ends of its own protégé’s gun barrels! Were such confrontations to occur the Afghan Campaign would be dealt a crippling and mortal blow from within and would cause it to implode and collapse irretrievably! It could lead to catastrophic mayhem, chaos and disaster and would certainly hasten the departure of the US/ NATO/ISAF from the region.

The reticence and grudging obedience of its allies must have played a major part in arriving at such a conclusion too. The US has no ally (except Pakistan and that too depends upon the nature of their bilateral relations at any given time!) which has a common border with Afghanistan. All have come from afar and are now displaying vivid and unmistakable signs of “allies’ fatigue”. This unsuccessful, endless and aimless Afghan Campaign is becoming hard to justify in vibrant democracies back home and the human and economic costs are becoming intolerable. The main question still remains unanswered though – are the US, Europe and the world at large any safer because of the Afghan campaign?

With no victory in sight and the ANSF becoming a major failure it appears to be a prudent decision to cut  losses and even “prepone the egress” – a possibility under discussion too. However, the US will be able to come up with a clearer desired end state of the Afghan Campaign after the November elections.

As it must egress the US could adopt a strategy of concentric circles centering on Afghanistan and expanding outwards to pacify the region.

The innermost circle should cover the Af-Pak Region (APR). Here it should try to pacify, neutralize, negotiate and broker lasting peace between itself and the Taliban and other militant groups. Simultaneously, it should try to resolve the issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan. These two must come to a strategic agreement and reconciliation that could ensure peaceful, recognizable and accepted borders between the two countries. All cross border activities by militants inimical to one another could be countered and stopped. All Afghan refugees could return home and Pakistan could guarantee it access to its Arabian Sea ports for transit trade. Both countries could guarantee that their territories would not be allowed to be used against one another by any third countries or militants.

The second concentric circle should cover the sub-regional level – all countries with common borders with Afghanistan – in effect Iran, Pakistan and the CARs. Efforts must be made to ensure that Afghanistan’s borders with all these countries remain peaceful and secure. Cross border movement of terrorists, weapons and drugs etc must come to a halt. It should be incumbent upon all countries at this level to clamp down on the export of terrorism emanating from the APR. Bilateral and multilateral efforts must be implemented for this purpose. Bilateral and multilateral trade must be encouraged and international trade corridors be recognized and operationalized.   

The third concentric circle should cover the countries at the regional level and should include countries like Russia, China and even India. These countries could play their roles in bringing up the region economically by investing in the region, its peoples and its enormous mineral resources.  Projects like the TAPI, IP and CASA-1000 and regional trade corridors must be operationalized. They should kick-start an economic revival that would be the bulwark against further militancy in the region and the world at large.

And finally the fourth concentric circle should cover the global level in particular the Greater Middle East Region (GMER), the EU, the OIC, Japan, Australia and so on. Most of the donors for Afghanistan come from such elite groups.(Tokyo Conference-?) They should again invest in the future of Afghanistan and the region which will give far reaching peace dividends for the world at large. East-West and North-South trade corridors must start functioning. Major projects like the New Silk Road Project and the exploration of mineral resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan would bring in peace and prosperity for the peoples of the region.

The US is the only country that can actually make it happen. But for that it will have to rise far above its crass geopolitical/national/commercial interests and for once decide in favor of those peoples of the world which it has repeatedly ravished so callously!

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