Forgotten lessons of history from Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jumpinjarhead, Oct 21, 2009.

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  1. Forgotten lessons of history

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009
    By Roedad Khan

    On Saturday last, the army launched an operation, code-named Rah-i-Nijat against Mehsud strongholds in South Waziristan. "Both air and ground troops are taking part", Major General Athar Abbas, Chief of the Inter-Services Public Relation told the journalists. Earlier Army Chief General Kayani briefed the political leadership on the "imperative" of the operation against the Mehsuds. The die is cast. An invisible Rubicon crossed.

    With this operation Pakistan is launched on the path to a protracted, inconclusive war in the mountains of Waziristan. The decision to commit our forces to such a war is, in my view, a tragic error. Waziristan may not be Vietnam but it has its own river of history that General Kayani is now stepping into.

    Once again, there is a dry wind blowing throughout Waziristan and parched grasses wait the spark. Now that the match is lit, the blaze may spread like wildfire throughout the tribal area. Talking about Waziristan, a Mehsud tribesman told a missionary doctor at Bannu: "When God created the world there were a lot of stones and rocks and other lumber left over which were all dumped down on this frontier".

    In the early 1900s, a crusty British general, Andrew Skeen, wrote a guide to military operation in Waziristan. His first piece of advice: "When planning a military expedition into Pashtun tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire".

    The British decision to send troops into the Khaisora valley in November 1936 which transformed Ipi's agitation into a full scale uprising almost over night and set Waziristan on fire which lasted until after 1947. The British failed to capture Ipi and the campaign had to be called off. The judgment displayed by the British and the poor intelligence upon which they based their decisions were chiefly to blame for the disasters that followed. This was the last major rebellion in Waziristan which stemmed from an abrupt change of policy.

    The tribesmen's unrivalled fighting record, their ability to intervene in Afghan affairs and to involve Afghans in their own affairs, were factors ignored by the British that made Waziristan different from other Frontier areas. This disastrous attempt to "pacify" Waziristan was the last of several major incursions into tribal territory during the hundred years of Britain's presence in Northwest India. On each occasion the tribes and the mountains won a strategic victory, despite local tactical reverses, and the bulk of the Indian troops were forced to withdraw back into the plains of the Indus valley. The British soon learned that you can annex land but not people.

    When the British left, Pakistan had reason to be glad that it had inherited a secure North West Frontier. In September 1947, Mr. Jinnah took a bold decision to reverse the "pacification" policy, withdrew regular troops from Waziristan and entered into new agreements with the tribes. Cunningham, the new governor of NWFP, appointed by Mr Jinnah was a Frontier expert. His disillusion with the "pacification" policy was complete. "I think that we must now face a complete change of policy. Razmak has been occupied by regular troops for nearly 25 years. Wana for a few years less. The occupation of Waziristan has been a failure. It has not achieved peace or any appreciable economic development. It ties up an unreasonably large number of troops, and for the last 10 years there have been frequent major and minor offenses against the troops." The change in policy produced dramatic results and paid rich dividends.

    All this has now changed. Mr Jinnah's Waziristan policy which had stood the test of time has been reversed. Our troops are back in Waziristan. Some time back, the commander of the US led troops in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Borno, let the cat out of the bag when he said that US and Pakistani forces were working together like "hammer and anvil" to trap Osama and Al Qaeda forces along the border".

    Those who know the Frontier are deeply concerned. The Pakistan government is playing with fire. By reversing Mr Jinnah's Waziristan policy, at the behest of Americans, it has alienated powerful tribes in Waziristan and unsettled our western border which had remained peaceful for 62 years since the birth of Pakistan.

    The nation is beginning to see the rapidly unfurling consequences of General Musharraf's fateful decision to join the "coalition of the coerced". America's dreaded war on terror has indisputably arrived on Pakistan's soil. Pakistan is slipping into anarchy and stands on the brink of civil war. A perfect storm is looming on the horizon.

    We have stumbled into a war that we cannot fight and win for the simple reason that we don't seem to realize what guerrilla war is like. We are sending conventional troops to do an unconventional job. I can foresee a perilous voyage. The war in Waziristan cannot be won because it is perceived as the white man's war. It could be won only if perceived by the powerful tribes as Pakistan's own war. That, unfortunately, is not how they perceive this war. The conflict will, no doubt, be long and protracted. We will suffer more because not even a great power can beat guerrillas. The enemy cannot be seen: he is indigenous to the country. My fear is that we will get bogged down.

    War against our own people is too terrible a thing to resort to. Many questions spring to mind. Was the decision to go to war determined by the absence of other viable options? Why was it not debated in parliament? Why deploy military means in pursuit of an indeterminate and primarily political end? Was there a geopolitical imperative to resort to war in Waziristan? Aren't we Pakistanising the American war on our soil?

    We must also recognize the limitations of modern, high technology, military equipment in confronting highly motivated guerrilla movement in a treacherous terrain. We must also recognize that the consequences of large-scale military operations – against our own people – particularly in this age of highly sophisticated and destructive weapons – are inherently difficult to predict and control. Therefore, they must be avoided, excepting only when our nation's security is clearly and directly threatened. These are the lessons of history. Pray God we learn them. But as George Bernard Shaw said: "We learn from history that we learn nothing from history."

    The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:,
  2. It seems that message could hardly be clearer,but will any of the 'coalition' politicos take heed?Highly unlikely,but if what the author of that report fears actually happens,the result would surely be difficult to ignore? :?:
  3. Yet more grim escalation,The Pakistani government must have been pressed pretty hard to be commiting itself to further involvement.It knows it has neither the 'blood or treasure' to succeed in this,and the Coalition forces are either stretched or not inclined,This can not end well.
  4. I suppose the recent call for more troops to be deployed is an echo of a resounding failure?

    Still, they'll keep funnelling money we don't have into wars that were never anything to do with us in the first place and was simply all for the US looking for someone to blame their own problems.
  5. I assume this is hyperbole?
  6. No, it's a fact.
  7. Andy_S

    Andy_S LE Book Reviewer

    This is a nicely written piece, but how many "Forgotten History" lessons from Afghanistan/Pakistan/the Northwest Frontier/The Raj have been rolled out and generally de-forgotten in Op-ed pieces in the Western media in the last decade? I would imagine hundreds, if not thousands.

    The comment below is so breathtakingly unoriginal it verges on the trite:

    We have stumbled into a war that we cannot fight and win for the simple reason that we don't seem to realize what guerrilla war is like. We are sending conventional troops to do an unconventional job. I can foresee a perilous voyage.

    The only thing different is that THIS particular comment comes from a Pakistani media outlet, not a Western one. And yes, it DOES make a change for the government of an an ex-colonial state - rather than an ex-imperialist state - to be lambasted by pundits for forgotting those good old "lessons of history."

    Anyway, another front has been opened in the war. Strategic blunder or strategic error? We shall see.

    The best outcome I can see here would seem to be some tactical level successes.The worst outcome is that the Pakistani Army and government face spiralling disaffection from its own populace, the government is overthrown and we end up with an Iranian Ayatollah-type situation.
  8. If the valleys containing the taliban and al-qiddly plus the locals (taliban/ al-qiddly) have left then just destroy every last blade of grass.

    but NO, when the pakistani army have claimed victory and gone home the locals(taliban/al-qiddly) can return to a safe homeland.

    after the same modus operandi removing asama bin dogshoite from the same valleys how many years ago?????

    dont make me piss.

    ops sorry, i forgot the usa and the british army have NEW leaders and ITs ALL NEW AGAIN.
  9. There's more tosh talked about the Brtish activities on the NF Frontier than on most other subjects. Now we have a Pak journo sprouting crap as well.

    The original problem was the time honoured Pushtu practice of raiding into the Indus valley for anything portable and worth more than a brass razzo (plus women). A larger chunk of Brtish legitimacy in India was that they dealt with the local scallywags and introduced good order and administration. The Pushto antics were intolerable and British India had to deal with the problem. There was never any attempt to occuppy the Pushto areas, the usual practice to to encourage acceptable behaviour by a mixture of gold (in both directions) and other collective punishment. Helped along by British political agents (mostly army officers) who had their finger on the local pulse (and not a anthopologist or other academic amongst them) and generally managed to head of problems.

    Sometimes punishment needed largish forces, 1919 is a good example, but the mission was always to exact a price for unacceptable mischievemaking, never to occuppy. This highlights the current problem. The Pak govt has relied entirely on the carrot since 1947, but sometimes the carrot is insufficient and the stick is needed. Inflicting collective discomfort on Pushto has become necessary.
  10. Unfortunately, those who spout such tosh shout the loudest - everybody thinks they're a history professor :x
  11. I think to use the term "simply" in relation to the US, UK or any other country's involvement in Afghanistan suggests the shallowness of the user's analysis. I await with bated breath the facts that support such an assertion.
  12. Already been tried in a slightly different context in Vietnam--didn't work especially well and lots of US veterans are still paying for the experiment (Agent Orange).
  13. What about the people it was used against? How many untold millions suffer because of the US's use of this chemical? Of course, as they are not US citizens, the US couldn't give a toss about them despite the fact that it caused untold suffering by using it.
  14. Your bias is showing. The chemical was not "used against" anyone in the sense you suggest. It was a defoliant herbicide "simply" intended to unmask the massive logistic routes and staging areas used by the NVA. The horrible health effects were unintended consequences. We can both agree the chemical was a bad thing but like so many other things in science, we often do not learn the real effects until it is too late. Numerous examples exist in military and nonmilitary contexts.
  15. The only people who are shallow are the people who started this war. The US started it as a knee jerk revenge action for the events of the 11th of September 2001. The US people wanted some action of some description so Bush gave it to them. Al Qaeda enjoy freedoms in a number of countries of which Afghanistan was one and was probably chosen for two reasons. The planners of the attack were residing in Afghanistan and the US thought that Afghanistan would be an easy "mission" due to the fact that it was basically devastated by 30 years of war. It does seem that the planners of that attack put more into it then the planners of the invasion of Afghanistan....and Iraq for that matter.

    The UK got involved because Blair in his infinite arse licking wisdom decided that involving us in the US's so called "Global war on terror" (actually war against the US's enemies) would give him a green card and probably some sort of recognition by the US which he probably felt was worth something. He easily persuaded MP's and the public because of the outrage of that heinous terrorist attack on the 11th of September 2001.