|November 15, 2001||atimes.com|
It ain't over till it's over
By Marc Erikson
It ain't over till it's over: Thus, with outrageous logic and simplicity, spake famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra - and it ain't never been truer. Best efforts (at least out of one corner of its mouth) of the US Bush administration and (from the bottom of its heart and tangible interests) of the Pakistani government of President Pervez Musharraf notwithstanding, Afghanistan's Northern Alliance has seized the capital, Kabul, as part of a string of quick victories over the Taliban. Bush and Musharraf had not wanted that to happen for fear that it might complicate or jeopardize formation of a broad-based interim government, possibly including certain "moderate" Taliban elements. But war, once unleashed, has its own logic. Taliban defenses in the north of the country quickly collapsed. Not seizing Kabul was not an option. Bush and Musharraf ended up with egg on their faces.
Is this now the beginning of the end of the oppressive Taliban regime that shelters terrorist Osama bin Laden and part of his Al-Qaeda network? Possibly so. But serious doubts remain and, of course, a key objective of the US and allied forces' military campaign - capture or destruction of bin Laden and his principal operatives - remains as elusive as ever.
One major element of doubt surrounds the degree of determination with which allied forces after the fall of Kabul will assist Northern Alliance troops as they pursue fleeing Taliban forces south to their stronghold of Kandahar. It is by no means clear that the Bush and Musharraf administrations, egg on their faces or no, have given up on their political objections to comprehensive Northern Alliance victory. Doubt also surrounds the extent of the rout of Taliban forces and the intents of their commanders. Are they merely in tactical retreat, withdrawing from urban centers to regroup as guerrilla forces and fight a drawn out war in terrain of their chosing?
The latter question could be easily answered or rendered moot if Bush and Musharraf held their politicking in abeyance and deployed all available force until a definitive military decision is reached. Military forces in hasty retreat are more readily destroyed and rendered incapable of returning to fight another day than when locked in battle. The combined air and land forces of the Northern Alliance and the US and UK certainly now have the capability of inflicting severe damage upon the Taliban and taking Kandahar if the political will is there to do so. Even if it is Taliban leaders' intention to continue the fight guerrilla-style, their losses under punishing pursuit (including loss of command and control functions) would likely be such that the threat of wide-scale guerrilla action would be minimized. And it should be equally obvious that significant defections of Pashtun commanders never fully integrated into the Taliban core structure could be effected more easily under such circumstances. No one likes a loser. Moreover, assuming that bin Laden and some of his top lieutenants are still in Afghanistan, betrayal by a defector is more likely to roust them than high-tech satellite imaging and bunker-busting bombs.
I have previously had occasion to quote from 19th century Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz's seminal work, On War. There is occasion here to do it again. "... in such dangerous things as War," he writes in his first chapter, "the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst", and hence the "utmost use of force" is required to achieve one's goals. There is no place for moderation in the midst of a military campaign. Diplomacy preceeds and follows it, politics defines its objectives, but neither must interfere in its proper pursuit.
That, however, is what's continuing to happen and could still derail decisive Taliban defeat. Noted author Frederick Forsyth in a November 13 piece in The Wall Street Journal Europe defines one of the key issues that won't go away:
"... the worst mistake of all [on the part of the US]," he writes, "was to swallow hook, line and sinker the advice of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence outfit. Despite their clean chins and pressed uniforms, the ISI men are as deeply fundamentalist as any bearded fanatic; the ISI created the Taliban as their own instrument and still supports it. Their advice to the US government was to ostracize the Northern Alliance completely, calling them murderous rabble. They forgot to point out that the foulest of all the warlords is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ISI stooge and creation. He was only ousted from Islamabad's circle of proteges when the Taliban movement proved itself even more extreme. Since then the Taliban have been armed, tutored, funded and sustained by Pakistani help via the ISI.
"The ISI, however, has been pressing for a postwar national government that contains 'moderate' Taliban elements ... This is, however, like proposing in 1945 a postwar German government that included "moderate" Nazis, to give balance. The most powerful tribe leaders of the Pashtun nation will change sides when they see they have a clear choice."
Pakistan is a valuable ally in the war on terror, but only as long as it and its intelligence services and military do not impose their own particular objectives on the goals of the campaign. To make sure that the first phase of the war on terror is brought to a successful conclusion soon and is over when it's over, someone in Washington will need to explain that to Gen Musharraf in no uncertain terms. He is a military man. He should understand.
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