New Delhi: Unless a mission is caused to be terminated by victory, defeat or the onset of peace, military forces are not withdrawn from wartime deployments. This has been standard for military operations since war became known to man. President Obama upended this principle in Iraq and sought to follow suit in Afghanistan. The disaster that followed from Obama’s decision in Iraq is well-known. It has encouraged the rise of the Islamic State whose fighters now claim large tracts of Syria. In Afghanistan, the first signal of the blunder of the Obama doctrine has flashed up. The Taliban have got Kunduz in the north from where over 1000 ISI-Taliban-Al-Qaeda advisors and leaders evacuated at the start of the 2001 Afghan war in a deal with Pakistan that the US came to regret later. Wire reports say the US might revisit its troops’ withdrawal programme following the Kunduz reverse. It is time it did.

Wars do not follow deadlines. There may be deadlines for withdrawal. The United States followed a withdrawal deadline in Vietnam. But Vietnam is not Afghanistan much less Iraq although threats do tend to take a common salience. The Domino Theory which influenced the American intervention in Vietnam had European provenance following from the end of World War II and the establishment of the Soviet East Bloc. There was no natural spread of communism in Eastern Europe anymore than Vietnam’s example would be automatically replicated elsewhere in Southeast Asia. But governments can panic and the Kennedy and following administrations did. That did not prove the Domino Theory any the more. So when the US withdrew from Vietnam and the country united Leftward, it did not turn all Southeast Asia red. Where objective conditions existed for communism, it spread, as it would with or without Vietnam. But Afghanistan represented a different order of threat from Vietnam, and the United States failed to make the differentiation.

There was nothing comparable to 9/11 with Vietnam. There was no threat to the US mainland. Vietnam was not terrorism. It was not terrorism masquerading as a freedom movement. The US intervened in Afghanistan to end terror threats to its mainland. Afghanistan was unruly. It had been so for centuries. It had Pakistan as a neighbour which specialized in the ideology and tools of terrorism. It was going to take extended military operations and democratic reconstruction to defang Afghanistan. It was critical to do the same thing in Pakistan but wasn’t. The dangerous mix of nuclear weapons and terror ideology was never recognized for what it was. Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands also did not meet US extreme threat requirements although it is real and present. With so many loose ends and the peace not being won, President Obama set a withdrawal deadline. It instantly emboldened Pakistan to heightened terrorism against the elected government in Kabul and revived the Taliban, which recaptured Kunduz at the first opportunity of perceptible US slackening. The US has rejoined the Kunduz battle with airstrikes. But how could the Obama administration not foresee this situation?

Peace will not be restored in Afghanistan even if the United States stays indefinitely. Its strategy is wrong. Pakistan has to be cleansed of terrorists. Pakistan follows the policy of good and bad terrorists. The bad terrorists are those that attack the state like the Pakistan Taliban and sectarian groups. The good ones do proxy war in Afghanistan and India at the behest of the Pakistan army and ISI. All of them have to be neutralized as a first step to bringing calm in Afghanistan. The United States lives in denial about Pakistan’s state policy of terrorism. More of the same will leave the situation no better and perhaps worse in Afghanistan, making it impossible for the US to withdraw. Unless the US recognizes the true situation now, it will fumble in similar manner two years hence or whenever electoral pressure renews to withdraw.

The neutralization of Pakistani terrorism in the region is central to gaining peace in Afghanistan. That should follow a new mandate to strengthen US military presence in Afghanistan. A force strength of less than a division is inadequate to meet the burgeoning Taliban/ Islamic State threat.