Pakistan forms the epicentre of Afghan terrorism.
New Delhi: The United States has dropped some hours previously its most explosive non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Eastern Afghanistan in proximity to the Pakistan border. The target area was riven with underground bunkers and passages which were impeding US special forces from sanitizing the area. The decision to drop the MOAB, as this super bomb is called, was taken at the level of the US Afghan command. The White House has since revealed President Donald Trump had delegated bombing decisions to US forces in the battlefield. Presumably, this would not require prior Congressional approval, a sore point with Democratic legislators and Trump’s rivals.
The question that follows is this: Will the use of the massive ordnance air blast bomb have the desired impact? Part of the question has already been answered by bomb experts. Since the bomb is designed for maximum surface casualty, its impact on underground structures, deployment and movement of Islamic State terrorists would be of doubtful proportion. The United States has a heftier though less explosive ordnance than the MOAB especially made for bunker busting but never tested in the battlefield. The Pentagon would have good reason not to have employed that. Nevertheless, it does not staunch doubts about the effectiveness of MOAB for the given task.
The use of MOAB, however, would gather an interesting and rather foreboding connotation if its psychological impact is gauged away from the immediate target area. What if the bombing was meant to warn China to rein in North Korea or face the consequences? If a theatre commander alone ordered the MAOB bombing, its psychological impact would be restricted. Bombardment has never deterred terrorists or insurgents. An earlier version of MOAB colloquially called the “daisy cutter” was used in Vietnam. In addition to it, a variety of other bombs were used in that theatre, including napalm. It made no difference to the independence spirit of the North Vietnamese. From the time of the Blitz to the more recent Pakistani bombardment of Baluch separatist areas, bombing has rarely broken national spirit. China would be shocked and awed but the terrorists would shrug off the losses and carry on. The United States would have to do more than stand-off bombing to manage the situation in Afghanistan. And it would greatly help if the Pentagon dusted off its admirable collection of ordnance maps of Indochina and applied the lessons learnt from the Vietnam War debacle to Afghanistan.
On the face of it, Vietnam and Afghanistan are geo-strategically dissimilar entities with distinctly different geographies. Afghanistan is land-locked and shares borders with half a dozen countries. (The sliver that links India to Afghanistan is occupied by Pakistan.) Vietnam, on the other hand, has a long coastline that looks on to the South China Sea, roughly about the size of India’s east coast or a little longer. Where the similarities between the Vietnam War and the troubles in Afghanistan grow strong are in the manner of the prosecution of hostilities.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former US President and World War II commander of the allied expeditionary forces in Europe, always held that the key to the Vietnam tangle lay in land-locked Laos. Whoever held Laos, he insisted, held Indochina. His successors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, could not make much of his advice, and when Richard Nixon was compelled to plan the extrication from Vietnam, he returned to Eisenhower’s strategic insight. Nixon bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail that served as the great artery feeding the insurgency and which lay situated in Laos. He bombed the other Viet Cong base areas in the border regions of Cambodia. Further, he mined the North Vietnamese harbours. It is amazing that none of these measures were seriously contemplated prior and their international implications cast aside. It brought North Vietnam to the negotiating table on more reasonable terms than before.
The base areas of Afghan terrorism lie in Pakistan. It is a mistake to suppose that the Taliban and other terrorists who infest Afghanistan are located entirely in FATA which has been periodically subject to US drone attacks. The Pakistan military intelligence service, ISI, harbours the terrorists in the major urban centres of Pakistan. One need go no further than Osama Bin Laden, who lead a sheltered life in a Pakistani garrison town. The United States will not be able to get a grip on Afghanistan unless and until it neutralizes Pakistan. Pakistan is the Vietnam War equivalent of Laos and Cambodia. Pakistan has to be denuclearized, demilitarized and civilized for peace in the region and for the security of the US mainland.
President Trump should know that it will take more than tactical bombing to save Afghanistan. The crisis is located in Pakistan, and that terror state has been too long given a free pass by the international community.