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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 50, November 28, 2009

An Analytical Look at McChrystal’s Report

Saturday 28 November 2009, by Uddipan Mukherjee


Is the inexorable march of the NATO-led coalition forces, through the cobweb of insurgency in Afghanistan led by non-state actors, coming to a grinding halt? It is no longer a mere wishful thinking by the resurgent Taliban that the NATO-led forces are on the brink of defeat; rather it appears to be an ineluctable destiny for the US-spearheaded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) unless bolstered by an invigorating strategy and further resources. This is the prognosis put forth by none other than Lt General McChrystal, the Commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan and the ISAF.

He finalised the hefty draft of sixtysix pages on August 30, 2009. It was addressed to the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. The insightful and thought-provoking report reached the Pentagon on September 25. The thesis has naturally generated a lot of debate among the top officials and policy-makers in the US as well as in other parts of the globe. And India has been no exception in that regard: more so because of a direct reference to it on page nineteen of the report. India has been categorised under the rubric of “External Influences” in Afghanistan, along with Pakistan and Iran. What does this imply for India and its presence in the region?

Stanley A. McChrystal was a former commander of the Joint Special Operations Command who ran all special operations in Iraq. He replaced Gen David McKiernan in Afghanistan as the chief of the ISAF. McChrystal has previously served in Afghanistan as the chief of staff of military operations in 2001-02. He also commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment and served in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf war in 1991. He has been credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein. Also the annihilation of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of the Al Qaeda in Iraq, is attributed to him.

In his report, McChrystal aptly summarises:

The situation in Afghanistan is serious; neither success nor failure can be taken for granted….. the overall situation is deteriorating.

This is certainly ominous. Shall the Phoenix named the Taliban and its concomitant the Al Qaeda be ultimately successful in re-establishing their hegemony in the country which has already been inflicted with a multitude of problems and impoverished due to decades of wars?

The US General shows us the light. He definitely endorses his President’s Af-Pak policy which was proclaimed on March 27, 2009 whereby Obama decided to send more troops to Afghanistan. The number of American troops total 68,000. Reports say that McChrystal may be asking for troop enhancement to the tune of about 40,000. His report does not explicitly mention the number though.

But the General differs with his President on one vital count. He clearly points out that a mere troop build-up is not a necessary and sufficient condition for success in Afghanistan, although more soldiers are absolutely necessary for preventing an ignominious failure. He draws attention to a serious lacuna of the coalition forces, that is, not extending support to the Afghan masses. And that has happened due to the inability of the foreigners to come out of their security cocoons. The controversy of fraudulence which mired the recent Afghan presidential elections acts as a serious obstacle for the US-led forces since their credibility amongst the commoners is at stake. Karzai’s government seems to be an engineered structure for the benefit and sustenance of the foreigners on Afghan soil.

Hence, McChrystal talks about an ‘integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign’. The crux of the matter is that the Afghan masses need a secure environment, a solid institutional framework providing them justice and civil liberties. According to McChrystal, these institutions are to be developed through a proper democratic government, stripped of corruption. Moreover, the ISAF should also have a major role to play in this contentious issue by being physically and psychologically closer to the common Afghans.

Is the General talking about establishing the American hegemony in the region through consent in the Gramscian sense? Is he hinting towards a long term occupation of Afghanistan? He must have studied History and knows that Afghanistan has been termed as ‘the graveyard of empires’. But in his report he does not subscribe to that view. He even recommends local language courses for his men!

He also advocates upgradation of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in order to increase its efficacy since in the long term scenario; it is the ANSF that will hold the reigns of a stable Afghanistan. McChrystal is worried about the “lack of unity of effort and command” in the ISAF and wants to “modify organisational structures” to achieve them. He is perturbed with “this under-resourced campaign” but at the same time does not guarantee success if resources are pumped in to desired levels unless the ‘strategic game plan’ is reversed and the civilians are taken into confidence. The General portends that time is running out and the US Government needs to show celerity in revamping the whole programme in Afghanistan. Actually a multipronged approach has been urged for.

Regarding the insurgent groups and networks active in the geography, three primarily surface: the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the Haqqani Network (HQN) and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) of Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar. Of these, the QST has undoubtedly garnered maximum leverage and is the most threatening. The one-eyed cleric Mullah Muhammad Omar remains the unchallenged leader of the QST. McChrystal also conveys that these groups presently “have the initiative”.

The insurgents are financed by external agencies and narcotics trade. They rule their “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” with the aid of shadow Governors in each province and by implementing the ‘Sharia’ law. In fact in some enclaves, the shadow government is probably a better option for the ordinary Afghans in comparison with the present government.

The General never indicates that the insurgents are overwhelming and without vulnerabilities. But he ordains that victory can only be achieved if a holistic approach is taken up with more cooperation by the civilians. That is the acceptable modus operandi to weed out the terrorists since they are ‘wedded’ to and ‘embedded’ in the complex socio-ethnic matrix of Afghanistan.


Returning to the pertinent question concerning India, the report lauds the developmental activities pursued by it. At the same time, the report expresses concern that Indian presence can accentuate regional tensions as Pakistan would not tolerate a pro-active India in Afghanistan. The report unequivocally asserts about the ‘Pakistani hand’ behind this insurgency and also warns of fresh violence in Afghanistan as well as in India if Pakistani interests are harmed.

Does it mean that Obama may urge both India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue? But that seem to be far from being realised until Pakistan acts on the dossiers supplied by India on 26/11 and incarcerates Lashkar-e-Taiba supremo Hafeez Saeed. Is it that Obama favours Pakistan vis-a-vis India since he announced a whopping US $ 7.5 billion to the former in March 2009, in a phased manner for a period of five years? But he made it curtly clear that grants would flow into Pakistan if and only if it supports the USA unswervingly in uprooting the safe havens of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from its territories.

The recent revelations by Arif Jamal in his book Shadow War: the Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, that several meetings were arranged between the various Afghan Taliban groups and the Kashmiri jihadis in 2007 by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) actually corroborates the ‘Pakistani hand’ in spreading the parasitic non-state actors in neighbouring countries. In fact, according to the author, one of the purposes of such meetings was to help the Kashmiri terrorists with a strategy to thwart Indian help from reaching Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul.

In these complex circumstances, it would be naïve to expect India to scale down its activities in Afghanistan and Central Asia. At the same time, stuck with the ‘inherited’ quandary of Afghanistan, Obama may pressurise India to lay dormant in Afghanistan for the immediate future. Though nothing of that sort emerged at the recent G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, clearly stated in his post-summit press briefing that there is no pressure on India to dilute its stakes in Afghanistan. Moreover, Dr Singh also informed the media that officially the US Government has assured him that Washington will not pester New Delhi about the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). So, the weather is not inclement, as far as Indo-US relations under the Obama regime are concerned.

The USA needs to appreciate the fact that its global war against terror is incomplete without India’s participation in ‘Extended South Asia’. Focusing solely on Pakistani help would be myopic. Pakistan has extended perennial support to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to serve its own interests in South Asia and there is no guarantee that the present political dispensation shall act differently. USA is probably vacillating on mounting strong pressure on Pakistan due to the frightening scenario of the insurgents getting hold of the nuclear arsenal. And Pakistan is exactly playing this ‘fear card’ to extract maximum leverage with respect to India.

New Delhi needs to stand firm in this not-so-salubrious climate. It cannot allow Pakistan to steal the show. Indian presence in Afghanistan or for that matter in Central Asia is strategic but not in any sense military. The presence of a few hundred Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Forces in Afghanistan or an alleged air base in Tajikistan can be merely matters of perception.

The world shall wait for President Obama to finalise his decision. Presently, he is engrossed with Iran’s nuclear facility at Qum. His Vice-President has tendered divergent opinions regarding the troop build-up in Afghanistan. Random polls have suggested that the US masses are against further militarisation. Whatever be the case, Obama and the USA cannot repeat a Vietnam in Afghanistan. And surely, McChrystal’s Report is no metanarrative!

Dr Uddipan Mukherjee, a Lecturer based in Kolkata, has a Ph.D from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (January 2007).

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