Hiranmay Karlekar’s book covers a wide spectrum related to the war in Afghanistan, the stakes the whole world-and not just the United Stateshas in it, and its possible outcome. It shows that it is not merely a war for the future of Afghanistan, but a conflict between the regressive worldview of the Taliban and al Qaeda and modernity. The book examines the consequences of an American exit from Afghanistan under circumstances indicating a defeat; the ability of the Karzai government or its successor to hold its own thereafter; and the regional and global geostrategic consequences, including those on Pakistan, of a Taliban-al Qaeda takeover of Afghanistan. It also explores the possibility of the United States arriving at a peace settlement with the Taliban as well as that of the Americans winning the Afghan war.
In the book’s first chapter, The Spectacular Episodes Syndrome, Karlekar begins by explaining how spells of such a syndrome-in this case the undoubtedly meticulous operation by US special forces resulting in killing a very wellhidden bin Laden, even if after ten years of hot pursuit-can last for a few hours to a few years, till unpleasant realities shatter them and the desperate response syndrome takes over. He concludes this chapter by stating that whereas defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda militarily will require a vast array of military, technological and financial resources to cover an effective intelligence grid, sustained drone strikes, clandestine special operations ala the raid on bin Laden’s lair, the outcome will depend upon how the two mentioned terrorist outfits react- because an essential element of their philosophy is revenge – and how the US is able to talk to the Taliban to try to detach as much of it as possible from Al Qaeda.
In the second chapter, A War for the World, the author very relevantly cautions against the approach of complacency that with bin Laden eliminated, Al Qaeda is in shreds or that reach of Taliban and Al Qaeda is confined only to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It should not be forgotten that the religions targeted for the 9/11 attack were Christians and Jews-Zionists as they were referred to- and that significantly in the 26 November 2008 Mumbai attack, Hindus got added to them as this attack was launched by a combo of not only of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Lashkar e Taiyyaba (LeT), but also Al Qaeda represented by Ilyas Kashmiri, as brought out by Saleem Shehzad, in his book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, released shortly after bin Laden’s killing. Within days after release of this book, Shehzad was brutally killed because an article he wrote exposed Al Qaeda’s penetration into Pakistan Navy, a major factor behind the attack on Pakistan’s premier naval shore establishment PNS Mehran. Both Al Qaeda and LeT have spread their tentacles in many nations. While that may not mean that they will launch attacks on all, but it suits them very well to use some countries to maintain sleeper cells or safe houses for wanted terrorists to ‘lie low’ or for medical support. And both, along with the Taliban are great threats to communities/ countries which uphold modernity and its values.
The third chapter, Wooing the Good Taliban, very importantly brings out the great hazards of believing in Pakistan’s devious theories about dialogue or deals with so called good Taliban-a very creation of Pak army/ISI- and of the US trusting Pakistan to deliver on any of its promises, which were in any case broken continuously in the ten years of pursuing bin Laden, but with cautionary deception. Once the Americans leave, there will be total freedom for terrorists of all hues to strike from Kabul to Kashmir.
The fourth chapter aptly titled Poor Progress and its Causes dwells on what should and should not have been done including particularly underestimating the enemy’s tenacity and linkages and alienating Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The fifth, sixth and seventh chapters-Patron of Choice, The Shadow of Jihadis and As the Dice Rolls cover various events, factors and analyses, which leave little doubt about the fate of Afghanistan in case of a complete exit by the US.
The tally of fatal casualties of coalition troops so far, of which the US suffered the most, is perhaps strong enough a reason for an exit, but to claim that the pullout is owing to a coalition victory and vanquished Taliban and Al Qaeda ,would be an absolute delusion. Further, most of these casualties have been caused by deceit of Pak army/ISI. What is it with the US, that even after all that has happenedthe soldiers it has lost owing to Pak army’s duplicity and Operation Geronimo/ Neptune Spear succeeding mainly because Pak army/ISI were kept out of the loop- that it still does not declare Pakistan as a state that supports terrorism?
Citing an excerpt from an article in Walsh School of Foreign Service’s Foreign Policy, stating that declaring Pakistan as a sponsor of terrorism would amount to punishing the elected government, it suggests targeting personal financial resources, coordinated visa restrictions and Interpol actions. The book ends with a very sound recommendation that the US “must clearly indicate that it means business” for Pak army/ISI to get the message. But will that happen? Not if the US makes deals with any Taliban and the latest ‘drone deal’ with Pakistan, which skips anti-India terrorists’ training camps, whilst anti-Afghan and anti-US attacks continue to be planned/ launched.