Some consequences of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan
President Obama has announced the drawdown of US military surge from Afghanistan by the middle of next year. Nearly 33,000 US troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by September 2012, which means that 68,000 US troops will still remain in that country.
With nearly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan today, US transports 40 percent of its supplies through Pakistan. The US had plans to eventually bring it down to 25 percent. Going by a rough yardstick of supplies being directly proportional to the number of troops, with a 33 percent reduction in troops, the US military would theoretically be in a position to bring the percent of supplies over Pakistani soil down to a single digit.
This has a direct bearing on Pakistan GHQ’s status in its relationship with the US. It will drastically diminish the significant leverage — although constantly decreasing over the last couple of years — the GHQ has held over the US for many years now. This leverage has been exercised by either threatening to close the supply routes or asking its proxies to bring the supply lines to a halt by coordinated attacks on tankers carrying fuel for US forces. This will also silence many Western commentators who argue that the US must supply military aid and equipment to Pakistan military as a transactional quid pro quo for maintaining the supply lines from Karachi to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
There are three major reasons proffered by Western commentators for placating Pakistan. While the long-term strategic aim may be driven by fears of a nuclear-armed country falling to the jehadis, the two short-term goals have been provision of supplies to US forces in Afghanistan, and preventing any terror attack on the US mainland. US-Pakistan intelligence cooperation, one of tools for pre-empting and preventing a terror attack, has already hit the rock-bottom in recent months. With the rumours of an impending Pakistani denial of bases to US inside Pakistan for operating CIA’s armed drones, the US will have to operate its drones from the bases in Afghanistan (as suggested by Bruce Riedel in today’s NYT). This will further reduce the transactional component of US-Pakistan relationship, which is reflected in Hillary Clinton’s statement during today’s testimony on Pakistan that “We are not prepared to continue providing [military aid to Pakistan] at the pace we were providing it until we see steps taken”.
There is another, an often ignored aspect of this reduced US dependency on Pakistan for military supplies in Afghanistan: the financial losses it will bring to the Pakistan MilBus (Ayesha Siddiqa’s description of the Pakistani Military-Business complex). As my colleague Nitin Pai has explained (here), Pakistan army has benefitted to the tune of approximately $500 million per year by allowing these supplies to transit through Pakistan. This has created vested interests along the supply chain which will be hurt by this dismantling of the political economy along the supply route. It will create further social and political unrest and fuel more anti-American sentiment inside Pakistan.
The announcement of withdrawal of the US surge forces from Afghanistan is significant not merely for the US domestic audiences and Afghanistan but for Pakistan too. Its impact on Pakistan is going to be far greater than is being currently estimated by most experts.
Beyond Afghanistan, has India started to analyse the impact of this announcement on the regional dynamics in the months to come? What is India’s strategy to deal with the developing situation? Are there any plans on the anvil to safeguard Indian interests — mainly the safety and security of Indians on Indian and foreign soils — in the region? These are questions which need answers — the answers that should be coming from the Government of India.