EDITOIRAL: Taliban strike back
Sunday’s attack on Kabul and three eastern towns near the capital, claimed by the Taliban to be the start of their usual spring offensive, has certainly compelled many to ponder over the security situation in Afghanistan, the role of the NATO forces and the capability of the Afghan security forces to handle such situations as the enemy seems bent upon testing them every so often. Though the Taliban did not succeed in capturing the parliament building, they did manage to cause damage to the US, British, Japanese and German embassies and the ISAF bases in the south of the city. The Taliban have, through these extremely well coordinated attacks, definitely strengthened the doubts of those who are sceptical about the ability of the Afghan security forces being trained by the US and NATO to take over by 2014, the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces, and hold back the expected Taliban tide after the US/NATO forces withdraw. Such sceptics further speculate that the Taliban would try to capture power and reinstate their government in Kabul once again as soon as the foreign forces leave. Hushed whispers even suggest not all is well with the negotiations that were to grant the Taliban ‘official workspace’ in Qatar.
The Taliban’s attacks have also disproved the overly optimistic recent claim made by the Kabul government and NATO forces that the militants were in no position to launch a spring offensive this time. This claim reminds one of the claims by the Americans in Vietnam in 1968 that the Vietnamese resistance was being defeated. The Tet offensive of that year not only put paid to all illusions about the US winning, it signalled, albeit it still took another seven years and the vicious bombing campaigns launched by then US president Nixon, the end of the US’s imperial hubris in Indo-China. The situation on the ground in Afghanistan may not be an exact parallel of Vietnam in the last days of the war, but one thing is clear. The Taliban have ‘seen off’ the US/NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan despite billions of dollars expenditure and great human and other losses, much as the Afghans have done to various imperialist adventurers in their history. This denouement was predicted by knowledgeable observers as early as 2001, especially since Musharraf fooled the US by capturing and handing over al Qaeda operatives to satisfy Washington’s desire for revenge and earn dollars, while providing the Afghan Taliban safe havens and support for attacks across the border, a ‘facilitation’ they continue to enjoy.
The nature of these latest attacks suggests that the Haqqani network is responsible as it has support in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan and has been held responsible for similar attacks in Kabul in the past. A militant captured during the attack has confessed his link with this most powerful faction of the Taliban. The impact of Sunday’s offensive on the security situation of Afghanistan looks graver as the NATO forces are leaving the country’s security to an unproved indigenous military force. Their confidence in their Afghan counterparts seems more a product of wishful thinking since the Taliban have proved a hard nut to crack. There is a possibility of fresh tensions between Islamabad and Washington due to the former’s clandestine support to the Haqqani network — our military establishment’s strategic asset.
In these circumstances, when the announcement of the withdrawal of NATO forces has further unsettled the situation, regional players are vying to fill the vacuum post-2014. There are fears of a proxy civil war breaking out after the NATO forces’ withdrawal. The situation looks grim as the region could be heading for chaos and instability spilling over Afghanistan’s borders. In case this transpires, there could be a further outflow of refugees into Pakistan. Pakistani leaders need to decide if the already floundering economy at home would be able to handle such an exodus and the instability following in its wake for dubious ‘strategic depth’ gains. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: More Attabads, Gayaris in store
The Gayari disaster, which took the lives of 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians, has triggered an informed debate over the need to demilitarise the Siachen Glacier, and instead turn it into a “peace park”. Experts at an SDPI seminar, “Climate Change and Siachen Glacier: a Global Challenge”, have adduced scientific and financial data to call for the glacier’s demilitarisation, as the confrontation on the glacier has cost billions of dollars and loss of precious lives on both sides. Experts believe that if both the countries pull back forces to the pre-1984 positions, they can save as much as $ 10 billion per annum, which they can invest in education, healthcare, and general promotion of human capital, thereby imparting a fillip to their economies and alleviating poverty. Studies have demonstrated that out of a total of 52 glaciers located in Pakistan, the eastern glaciers are melting at a faster pace than the northern glaciers. A NASA report based on scientific imaging has shown that more than 65 percent of the Karakoram glaciers are growing despite global warming. The Gayari disaster was caused by a “glacier surge”, occasioned by the melting of the glacial base, causing the top-heavy mass to fall on the Pakistani troops. Experts maintain that the activities of both the militaries on the world’s “highest battlefield” create heavy emissions of black carbon, which acts as a catalytic agent to speed up the melting process. Similarly, Attabad Lake, formed by blocked flow of river water, could be the harbinger of similar major disasters unless climate degradation is reversed through urgent targeted action.
Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human and industrial activity have trapped atmospheric heat in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an appreciable rise in global warming. The UN summit on climate change had set specific targets to be achieved by member states by 2015. However, most of the developed economies, above all the US, have failed to meet the targets. The trend of popularising ‘green’ activities worldwide can help stem the damage to some extent, though such measures will have to be taken on a sustained basis over decades. Scientists believe that the melting of glaciers under the impact of global warming can lead to a rise in the sea level, threatening coastal communities. Global climate change over the millennia has been responsible for extinction of many life forms. It is about time humanity heeded these warning signs. *