M J Akbar
Mar 10, 2014
Donald Rumsfeld, who was America’s defence secretary during the Iraq war, pointed out that you fight with the army you have rather than the one you want.
This truism underscores the basic responsibility of a defence minister: to maintain and hone during periods of peace the army that will be needed during times of conflict.
Every war is different. Armies train to fight the next battles rather than repeat previous ones. The set-piece formations of military engagement now seem what they are, history. The enemy no longer necessarily wears a uniform, creating a dysfunctional battlefield. It fights as a disparate militia, in bands that slip through populations like Mao Zedong’s famous fish in water. But Mao’s guerrilla fish were all red, and obeyed the command structure of a Communist party. These bands answer to just their frenzied imaginations.
The fighting units of a loose trans-national conglomeration like Taliban and its partners hit when they can, and rest when they cannot. It is a war of attrition. They do not have artillery or an air force, but they have numbers, motivation, firepower, objectives and that invaluable resource called time. These methods have seen off the Soviet Union as well as America-led Nato from Afghanistan, which is a significant military achievement. Politically, they are leading the crusade to turn Afghanistan and Pakistan into a theocracy that will spread out and engulf adjacent regions where Muslims live, like Kashmir in India, Xinjiang in China and of course the many “stans” of Central Asia which still believe in a non-theocratic state.
It is easy to be gulled by seeming contradictions. Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba might, in their confrontation with India, serve as terrorist ancillaries of a larger and older war, even as they pursue their dream of changing the nature of the Pak and Afghan state. But for them these are two sides of the same ideological coin. They have the freedom to expand strategies with impunity.
Newspapers are already giving us a glimpse of what the withdrawal of Nato from south and central Asia will mean. There is a visible sense of triumph as theocratic forces pause and regroup in their long march towards the ‘liberation’ of ‘Muslim lands.’ They do not accept the concept of a secular state; for them Muslims, whether in India or Pakistan or China, who believe in secular societies are enemies twice over.
We know only too well how difficult it was for the Indian Army to restore peace in Kashmir after the onslaught that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan two decades ago. Today, China is also on their radar, as are southern Russia and Central Asia.