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Opinion: The 3 Elusive WoT: From the War on Terror, being Wrong on Terror to Winning over Terror

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Started by junior Bush in his first presidential term, continued in the two terms of Barack Obama and took 16 years to enter into the third American administration; the WoT is longest ever  and costly war of American history and its yet to be fought for how more uncertain years.

As president Trump and his defense team in Pentagon is at the threshold of concluding a new strategy for fighting WoT in Afghanistan and elsewhere at this juncture there rise many questions keeping in view the past of this war and it’s ungrounded, self-choice and unarticulated strategy of both NATO-US and Afghan government visa vis it’s achievements and outcomes and current slippery and lapsed situation. These questions are critical to reviewing, redefining and reappraising the ongoing War fought with no defined and articulated strategy, goal and contributing inputs. These questions at the meantime are their answers themselves too.

Starting from why it took so long and why there is still no sign that WoT will be winded up in near future? What was wrong that it’s still a failed war? Isn’t indicating that we were wrong on terror that took time, lives and resources vainly with no tangible outcomes and moreover it’s yet expanding, intensifying and slipping out of our hands? What were those loopholes and have we identified them and are we going to fix them? Who was to be blamed; Afghan government on the ground and forefront or US-NATO at the back? How we viewed and understood it; the analytical and conceptual framework? Why we have underestimated militants, their growing influence, strength and presence? Weren’t our perspective and approach towards counter-terrorism cursory, faulty and misperceived? Haven’t we focused only on its military and as well as external aspect and ignored and undermined its internal aspect fed by radicalization, homegrown extremism, Jihadi narrative of 80s and 90s and local resources and relative local sympathy and support? Have we had any articulated and written counter-terrorism strategy to fight the war on its lines? Have we had enough strategic and professional military and civil knowledge and know-how of fighting this new emerging complex phenomenon of terrorism, extremism, and radicalism? Apart from the equipments and traditional fighting trainings;  have we oriented, trained and educated Afghan security forces on what is hybrid of terrorism-extremism and militancy, the genesis, the factors, the reasons, on the ground facts and roots  and how to tackle and counter it and on what grounds e.g. ideologically, politically, economically, socio-culturally and militarily as well? What were the indicators of progress and success (if any) and how were they measured and what are they? Suppose if killing of militants was the indicator of progress and success (as it was and still it’s) why they are still there fighting aggressively (as per the security agencies’ given cited figures and toll of killed militants at least 50 a day)? Given the numbers and figures of total militants ranging from 30000 of 2005 to 15000 of later years in comparison to the daily toll causalities now they would have been already exterminated? Have and why Afghan government lied? How the need of human power (fighters) is met? What feed and breed their number and narrative to sustain, intensify and expand their dubbed holy war?  What was our response (counter narrative) to their propaganda and ideological war? Have we had any check on our local madrasas, religious seminaries and mosques and as well our schools and universities as source of their inculcation, indoctrination, radicalization, preaching and organization? Why we thus far couldn’t develop a hybrid counter-TERM (terrorism, extremism, radicalism and militancy) policy and strategy and why we underestimated and undermined this very critical are and task? Why US-NATO consistently turned blind eye to the role of Pakistan for providing safe sanctuaries and patronage to the militants and acting double standard in dealing Taliban and terrorism inside and outside its state having apparent dichotomy in hers words and actions and still she cash it by asking and expecting funds as a victim and as well as a self-proclaimed war-front? Why so much have been spend on so-called high peace council with no achievements at all, while even most of its members are those religious scholars who are even reluctant to issue ruling against the self-proclaimed holly war of Taliban and other militants? I very well remember that in a meeting with High Peace Council I raised the issue of radicalization (which widely and openly taking place even in mosques and madrassh of the capital Kabul) and the response of high peace council to it; HPC instead of proposing and talking about counter and de-radicalization measures, said there is a freedom of speech we can’t ban it and further argued very blatantly that if music, dance, concerts and other vulgarity and obscenity is free, allowed and practiced then how come we keep check and ban on religious sermons, preaching and teachings?

Conscious or subconscious indigenous radicalization and homegrown extremism taking place largely every other day in our mosques, seminaries, schools, universities and even workplaces that need no proves to present  as its as apparent as Sun and we have numerous cases reported on media and otherwise, while Afghan government either do not have the will and underestimate  or don’t know how to deal it that signify lack of specialized and expert understanding,  capacity, and entity to counter it while consistently attributing the phenomena to Pakistan ignoring and undermining its major and principal internal aspect. This phenomenon of terrorism has been over-politicized, disowned and otherized by Afghan government while in fact apart from politics it has been a genuine and typical of Afghan issues as far as the local drivers, grounds, factors, militants, narrative and sympathy are concerned. The problem with Afghan government is that when it comes to practical actions  it forget and ignore that first it need to put his house in order and then ask others to do so, but very unfortunately in order to conceal and cover its incompetency, corruption, internal political division, and impotency in dealing this menace and always pointed out the finger to others by creating a media-hype, political chauvinism and anti-Pakistan discourse and even sometimes indirectly  associated and disseminated  conspiracy theories even against its western allies as the catch phrase of Muslim east ad non-Muslim (infidel) west goes for shifting the blame to others despite the fact this fashion has never and will never solve the issue rather it will sustain it.

One another delusion and self-deception of Afghan government is the repetitive hue and cry of lacking equipments to fight militants while the opposite side conduct guerilla type warfare with limited human resources and equipments while Afghan security forces has a state, government and international assistance at its back  and have state-of the art equipments and trainings to fight the unorganized, illegitimate and resource less militants what such empty and apologists excuses signify is in fact the incompetency, lack of a clear vision, mismanagement, weak leadership, lack of coordination among all the concerned departments, ethnically and politically-motivated appointments, rampant corruption, unappealing impetus to its forces are some major deficiencies and faults on part of Afghan government that erode its strength to fight militants. Moreover there is no TERM-specific orientation, education, and training to all or a specialized group, handicapped and passive propaganda machine who spent millions of dollars especially on advertisements and commercials whose poor and antithetical content, visuals and message  draw no attention, sympathy and support but resentment and satire from public, no specialized, expert and allocated counter-TERM research center and department, public  counter-radicalization and de-radicalization, engagement and disengagements  initiatives, lack of check and registration of mosques and seminaries even those are registered there is no rigorous check both in terms of curriculum and activities they teach, the same is the case with prisons instead of working as correctional centers they have adversely turned into the radicalization, organization and centers for the jailed militants and nonmilitant, Pul-e-Charkhi the central prison of Kabul is a clear instance in this regard.

Considering all the above questions, concerns, critic and contradiction Afghan government must confess without any  fear and hesitation that they were wrong on terror and haven’t had any war strategy  while there was a pressing need of an integrated and holistic counter-terrorism, extremism, radicalization strategy to have directed and led the war on its ideological, religious, economic and socio-cultural grounds. I think it will be enough to make one convince that WoT was actually wrong on terror on which US-NATO and Afghan government  spend almost two decades, more than $6b and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives but terrorism, extremism and militancy is not only existing today but continuously growing and expanding. Afghan government must realize and recognize anymore that it will be me who will need to tackle all the mess, therefore must do its due part in countering terrorism, ensuring security and building peace as a prime, principal and accountable entity, then comes the role and part of others including Pakistan who as realism appeal do not see itself bound but at least on moral and ideal  grounds she is obliged  to take serious and honest measures against terrorist groups residing, training, operating and financing from and within its soil.

When Afghanistan itself is not doing its part and plagued by incompetency, complacency, corruption, lack of commitment and delivery, neither legally and nor morally can blame and ask others to take actions, therefore it needs to kill the sense of complacency, otherization and disowning, curbing corruption and starting acting locally in fighting locally produced and thrived terrorism and countering homegrown extremism and radicalization, only then others will come to join, act, and trust in WoT.

At the end I would like to put forward few essential recommendations to new American administration as they are about to conclude a new war strategy and meantime to Afghan government to consider them in their newly build response against terrorism, extremism and militancy:

They must realize that WoT cannot be win until and unless there is no clear and articulated war strategy

Need to be recognized that terrorism cannot be defeated until and unless there is no holistic and integrated Counter-TERM policy and strategy to combat and counter this hybrid phenomena in its entirety

Much needed rigorous purge and reforms should take place within security apparatus

To develop a proactive, professional and ideological propaganda strategy and entity

A specialized and expert counter-terrorism research center or department  is required to be established

To orientate, educate and train security forces or a group of them about the complex phenomena of  terrorism and extremism and ways, measures and tactics of fighting and countering it

High peace council need to be dissolved as a highly passive, reluctant and unprofessional entity if not then to be completely reformed and replaced by peace, conflict and ideological warfare experts and  professional

Need to open a new window of open, frank and negotiation and diplomacy with Pakistan  what is its concerns, fears and perceptions and in what regard that make it to support militants and terrorist in Afghanistan; need to ascertain the legitimate and illegitimate interests and concerns of Pakistan and make it public and share it with international community and even India to address and respond it accordingly

Honest, committed and serious channel of talks and negotiation must be opened with Taliban for ascertaining and studying  and discussing their legitimate and genuine demands, concerns, concerns and recommendations and its possibility and implementation

Public de-radicalization, counter-radicalization and counter-extremism initiatives  and programs should be initiated nationwide

Legitimacy of government should be proved visa vis transparent election, and constitutionalism

Government responsiveness, delivery and accountability should be enhanced towards people and international community

Close and vigilant check over mosques, religious seminaries, schools, universities and on their  curriculum and teaching methods and activities

Asad Daudzai is a writer and researcher associated with AORSS and CPTS think tanks. He is exclusively working on the hybrid phenomenon of TERM (terrorism, extremism, radicalization and militancy) and as well as on social, political and educational issues. He can be reached at asadullah.daudzai@gmail.com