September 30, 2022

America’s OTH Googly

Witness how India was invited by the US only last minute to participate in multilateral discussions on Afghanistan. America is advancing its own strategic aims in South Asia, which do not necessarily match that of India. Kuwait and Qatar being far off is hardly an excuse for snaring India into providing staging areas for US drones.

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

At America’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on US troop pullout from Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Washington is now “deeply engaged” with India for ‘over-the-horizon’ (OTH) capabilities to keep a check on Afghanistan and the new Taliban regime there. Naturally, this will be on the agenda for the bilateral in-person meeting between US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Washington DC later this month. This perhaps was why Directors of CIA and MI-6 visited India recently and the tête-à-tête between Blinken and External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar.

The OTH proposal may give first impression that America is only looking for a staging area for drone strikes in Afghanistan although it would be akin to the ‘camel’s nose in the tent’ strategy with the balance camel barging in later – a base with elements of military. But that may not be all because the hidden aim appears to be to draw India into ‘America’s War’.

America puts the entire blame of the mess in Afghanistan on collapse of the Afghan National Army (ANA). But Congressman Adam Kinzinger, former military officer nailed the subterfuge saying ANA was built akin to US Military which relied on air power and logistics; then the air and logistics support was pulled out. He added, “I don’t know many even of our allies and militaries that frankly could have stood in those conditions, in that kind of an onslaught.”

On July 13, 23 US embassy personnel in Kabul had sent an urgent dissent memo to Washington warning about advances of Taliban and the rapid collapse of Afghanistan. Had this been taken note of, 13 US marines possibly would not have been killed. Blinken’s response was that intelligence assessment did not see such a rapid collapse of Afghanistan. This hardly is a convincing excuse when the embassy on ground had warned so.

Grilled by Congressmen on Pakistan’s negative role in Afghanistan from Taliban’s very inception, ISI’s strong links with Haqqani Network responsible for many things including deaths of over 2,600 US soldiers and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan claiming Afghanistan had “Broken the shackles of slavery” after Taliban takeover, Blinken sheepishly admitted Pakistan was harbouring Taliban cadres and Haqqanis but insisted Pakistan was also cooperating with the US for counterterrorism at different points.

The OTH proposal may give first impression that America is only looking for a staging area for drone strikes in Afghanistan although it would be akin to the ‘camel’s nose in the tent’ strategy with the balance camel barging in later – a base with elements of military. But that may not be all because the hidden aim appears to be to draw India into ‘America’s War’.

Blinken said Pakistan has multiplicity of interests, some in clear conflict with the US, and added that US wants Pakistan to make good on the expectations that the international community has of “what is required of a Taliban-led government….Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations.”

From the above, it is obvious that the US will continue to soft-paddle Pakistan. The Pakistani NSA and DG ISI were last summoned to Washington possibly to coordinate the Taliban blitzkrieg. If the US is now ‘officially’ convinced that Pakistan was undercutting the US in Afghanistan, how come it has no guts to sanction Pakistan, Pakistan’s military and the ISI? The reason can be read in between the lines by Blinken saying that Pakistan “cooperated with the US for counterterrorism at different points”.

Pakistan’s so-called cooperation in counterterrorism with the US included: establishing the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) in Peshawar and pushing them into Afghanistan; act as staging post for ISIS being pumped from Iraq-Syria into Badakshan region of Afghanistan to threaten Central Asia and Russia; train and arm Taliban-Haqqanis, and; provide manpower (regulars and terrorists) to boost Taliban and fill voids – recall report this summer of 10,000 Pakistani fighters entering Afghanistan to make up Taliban casualties.

At one point during the hearing, Blinken termed Taliban as representatives of Afghanis (legitimised by the US?). He also emphasised that US-Taliban deal was generic (flawed) and legacy of the Trump administration. But why then did the Biden administration not renegotiate the same as being done for the Iran Nuclear Deal? Why when one American civilian contractor gets killed in Iran, the US threatens multiple strikes, even to obliterate Iranian heritage sites but when hundreds of American contractors are killed in Afghanistan, there was silence against Pakistan?

Before the US-Taliban deal was signed, were contingencies post US withdrawal not catered for including the need for OTH strikes in Afghanistan? Or just because the US did not brand the Taliban terrorists despite fighting them for 20 years, did the US think the Taliban would invite the Pope for inauguration ceremony of their ‘inclusive government’?

Before the US-Taliban deal was signed, were contingencies post US withdrawal not catered for including the need for OTH strikes in Afghanistan? Or just because the US did not brand the Taliban terrorists despite fighting them for 20 years, did the US think the Taliban would invite the Pope for inauguration ceremony of their ‘inclusive government’?

For which targets are the US drones planned to be staged through India? Is it Al Qaeda who is same as Haqqanis and blood brothers of Taliban? Is the US going to strike Al Qaeda in Iran? What about ISIS-ISKP where Afghans term the ISKP Brigade in Afghanistan as the “ISI Brigade” because it was configured in Peshawar (with blessings of CIA) and Pakistan continues to be inexorably linked to it?  If the ISIS is to be targeted, why is US withdrawing all troops from Iraq? Why not at least retain Erbil Air Base with the 15,748 feet runway which is one of the longest in the world? Or is it being vacated for fear of Iranian retaliation in case of hostilities?

The fact is that Afghanistan has become a cauldron of multiple inter-linked terrorist organisations that are rapidly proliferating; it is difficult to differentiate between a dog and a hyena. What else did the US expect after signing the Doha Deal with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, UN-designated terrorist with a price on his head? But one can undertake drone strikes to project muscle power, kill some civilians and keep insisting you killed ISIS-Al Qaeda operatives.

Has the US ever targeted ISI-backed anti-India terrorist organisations? It has nothing to say about recent relocation of Pakistani anti-India terrorist training camps of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) into western Afghanistan. It has not uttered a word about Hizb-e Wilayat, a new terrorist outfit floated by Pakistan’s ISI to exclusively target Indian owned assets in Afghanistan.

Not only will the US not sanction Pakistan, it will not even dump Pakistan as a non-NATO ally because Pakistan has understood the psychology of America to protect its mainland at ‘any cost’ and orchestrate regional wars. All that Pakistan needed to hold America hostage was help the US achieve these aims and provide well trained terrorists as one major tool.

Recent documents unclassified in the UK reveal how Britain connived with Pakistan-Taliban to kill British troops in Afghanistan. Similarly, the irony is that American politicians hype ‘God Bless Our Military” but have scant regard for soldiers. Chairman Gregory W Meeks while concluding the Congressional hearing referred to America’s overseas deployments and said, “Last year (2020) alone, it resulted in 17 veteran suicides a day on average. We could not ask our service members to fight overseas without a clear, winnable objective.” Significantly, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin despite being invited to testify by the Chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee failed to show up.

Getting back to the provision of staging areas for American drones in India, this seemingly innocuous proposal if agreed to will lead to much larger, more serious, and less desirable consequences down the line. India has strategic partnerships with other nations also including Russia and we should not become part of America’s War and phony counterterrorism.

Witness how India was invited by the US only last minute to participate in multilateral discussions on Afghanistan. America is advancing its own strategic aims in South Asia, which do not necessarily match that of India. Kuwait and Qatar being far off is hardly an excuse for snaring India into providing staging areas for US drones. Besides, both the US and UK have enough naval power to operate drones. Alternatively, the US should persuade its best buddy Pakistan to provide a drone base least the US will support the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in attacking Pakistan.

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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