Emerging situation in Afghanistan and challenges for Pakistan
The swiftness of Taliban’s advance and the takeover of Kabul has surprised many. The ensuing volatile situation in Afghanistan will likely pose a serious challenge for Pakistan. Safety & Security Today sat down with Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi (Retd) to better understand the quickly changing situation in Afghanistan, its repercussions for Pakistan and other pertinent issues.
Safety &Security Today: Tell us something about your early education?
Naeem Khalid Lodhi: My father was an Army officer and being part of the army we had to move around a lot. I almost had to switch around 10 schools by the time I reached grade ten. I attended the St. Francis’ Grammar School in Quetta, the Presentation Convent High School in Rawalpindi and even attended a ‘Tatt school’ while my father was posted in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. I also attended a religious seminary for religious education. Thus, growing up my schooling was diverse as I had a taste of the English medium schools, Urdu medium school and also religious seminaries.
S&ST: Tell us something about your career journey from the 39 years in the military to being part of the Federal Cabinet?
NKL: In most traditional jobs you get a specific education and then apply what you learn during the course of your job. When it comes to the military it is entirely different. You deal with materials, machinery, logistics and most importantly morale of the men under your command. Keeping the morale of your men high is a challenging job, since it is something not tangible, but one we must excel at. Working with the Armed Forces is also different because working with the Armed Forces is not just a job, it’s a way of life. Being an officer you also have to set an example for the troops, whether it was physical fitness, running or shooting, I always took upon myself to set an example. I remember that as a Lieutenant Colonel when I was around the age of 36-38, I would be one of the faster runners and easily beat those much younger than me because I knew I had to inspire those under my command.
Another thing I would like to mention here is that to excel in the Armed Forces one must enjoy the job. Most of those who reach the rank of Brigadier or above are those who continue serving with passion and dedication. The institution draws its strength from the system of meritocracy it has adopted. I was son of a Major and we weren’t rich or well-connected but I achieved the prestigious rank of Lieutenant General. Heading a Corps being from the Corps of Engineers is also something not very common. I achieved all of this because of my hard work, my passion to serve the country and also due to my good luck. It was a privilege to serve in the army and I am proud of it.
After retirement, I served as the Defence Secretary for a while. After a stint of a few months I became the Chief Executive and Managing Director of Fauji Fertilizer. I served there for three years and during that time Fauji Fertilizer established itself as one of the leading companies in the country. From my successful time in the corporate sector I have one lesson to share and that is to make a company successful you have to keep your investors, your clients, and most importantly, your workers happy.
More recently during the caretaker setup in 2018 I held the portfolios of the ministry of defence in addition to Aviation Division, National Security Division and the ministry of defence production. Being a part of the Armed Forces, the corporate world and the government, I would say that the model of the corporate world is the best, followed by the Army. I have endeavored to give back to the country but it can never be enough for the amount of respect this country has given me.
S&ST: There is a lot of talk about hybrid warfare and fifth-generation warfare these days. Do you see this as a legitimate threat and what can be done to counter it?
NKL: Hybrid warfare is one of the leading threats any country faces in todays’ world. Even in the older days the purpose of war was to mentally defeat the opponent. In those days the only way to inflict a mental defeat was to physically harm them. Hence, wars were fought on the battlefield.
An army that was mentally defeated gave up even if it had manpower. On the contrary hybrid warfare is conducted on multiple fronts and the part of it that falls in the domain of military is rather small.
Hybrid warfare is a combination of psychological warfare, media warfare, political warfare, economic warfare and physical warfare. Hybrid warfare employs media as its key tool, be it the traditional media, digital media, social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter or video hosting websites like Youtube.
All these are employed to change the mindset of the opposing nation through falsehood and propaganda.
Falsehood and propaganda are rampant on social media platforms. Be it photoshopped images, fake news or deepfake videos, it is hard to separate fact from fiction. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting should set up a dedicated website where information available on social media, particularly news items that are viral on the social media platforms, can be verified. There is a lot of misinformation and myths being disseminated against the Armed Forces on social media platforms by our enemies and people sometimes get carried away without verifying facts.
In my view as of now we are not fully prepared to deal with the serious nature of this threat. There has to be unified response from the government to counter this threat.
S&ST: Do you think that United States-China relations are eroding and the two countries are on the brink of a cold war. If so, how will this impact Pakistan, being a close ally and neighbor of China?
NKL: US and China are already in the midst of a cold war. However, the dynamics of cold war have now changed. During the cold war between the US and Soviet Union, both countries supported regional conflicts through proxy wars, be it Cambodia, Vietnam or Afghanistan. Now instead of proxy warfare, economic warfare is being used. Both US and China are currently directly and indirectly, engaged in an economic tussle. The US is also using its influence on the United Nations and other similar organizations to establish its economic and political hegemony. In the coming years this tussle between the two countries will intensify. Being an ally of China and having longstanding relations with the US, it will also put us in a difficult situation. Ideally, Pakistan should maintain a healthy relationship with both countries but with each passing day, we are heading closer to the time where we will have to make a decision. Whenever such a time comes, it will be a challenging situation for our leadership.
S&ST: How do you view the recent targeting of Chinese nationals in Pakistan? It seems that international actors are behind this to draw a wedge between Pakistan and China.
NKL: The US has openly expressed displeasure against China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being a part of the BRI has also drawn the ire of US Similarly, India not only has a direct animosity towards Pakistan but also with China. So, it’s rather obvious that they are against CPEC. Right now there is a nexus of different powers who want to sabotage the increasing strategic and economic cooperation between China and Pakistan.
To thwart conspiracies against CPEC, Pakistan has to give confidence to the Chinese leadership that Pakistan will always stand with China. We also should make efforts to realize the Chinese leadership that most of challenges and threats Pakistan is facing are because of its cooperation with China. We need to further improve our coordination with China and further strengthen the technological cooperation so that we are better positioned to counter this threat.
In our own capacity we should also focus on further enhancing our offensive capabilities to create a deterrence.So our enemies are mindful of the fact that any misadventure or conspiracy can prove costly for them.
S&ST: The US troop pullout has left behind an uncertain Afghanistan, with different internal and external stakeholders vying for power and influence. What challenges will Pakistan face in the coming months?
NKL: I think as far as Pakistan is concerned, it is very obvious that our interest lies in a peaceful Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan. BRI and CPEC will only reach their full potential if the Central Asian States are connected to it, and that is only possible through Afghanistan.
When it comes to the different stakeholders in Afghanistan, we have to consider interests of all these stakeholders to fully understand the situation. In my opinion, US, India, Ashraf Ghani government, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Daesh and certain drug barons and warlords do not want stability in Afghanistan.
The US has spent over two decades in Afghanistan, it could have ensured that peace returns to the country but they never wanted it. Instability in Afghanistan has been used by the US to stop the economic expansion plans of China and Russia’s access to warm waters.
The group that wants peace in Afghanistan includes the people of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and Central Asian States. Once the US withdrawal is completed, I think this group will be dominant over the former, ensuring a peaceful Afghanistan. The US is trying to paint a bleak picture of Afghanistan’s future but I don’t see it happening. There will be a period of transition because a temporary void will be created with US departure but, in the long run, Afghanistan and the wider region will see peace and prosperity.
I would also like to clear a misconception that is being created by certain groups regarding the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban are a completely separate group to the TTP. The latter was created by the troika of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and National Directorate of Security (NDS) to create instability in Pakistan. There is no link whatsoever between the two groups and the Afghan Taliban have never bothered Pakistan. Pakistan’s enemies, particularly India wants to create difference between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban but I hope and pray that our leadership doesn’t adopt an antagonist attitude towards the Afghan Taliban.
I also don’t agree with the myth that Afghan Taliban don’t have any support in Afghanistan. No insurrection of this size can succeed without the support of the people. The Taliban draw their strength from the people of Afghanistan, the only reason their narrative isn’t more widely accepted is because they don’t get adequate media coverage to highlight their support. The mainstream narrative of Taliban being barbarians was promoted by the Ashraf Ghani government as it served their agenda of keeping Afghanistan in a state of chaos.
S&ST: You are one of the most sought-after analysts on defence and contemporary affairs, one has to stay abreast of the happenings domestically and internationally for this, how do you manage it?
NKL: In todays’ world it has become very easy to stay updated regarding the latest happenings and form an informed opinion. There are certain very credible websites that I follow to keep up with news be it national or international. I also keep an eye on Indian news outlets as one has to be aware of what the enemy is up to.
I prefer getting information from multiple sources, sifting fact from fiction and then form my opinion based on the information. Having studied International Relations, I have a natural inclination and passion towards international affairs which helps me as well.
S&ST: On a personal note, being a veteran and senior citizen how do you see the future of Pakistan?
NKL: The future of Pakistan depends on the choices we make and how we go about reforming our political system. If we persist with the current system, I unfortunately don’t have very good hopes. Our present constitution is good enough to form the basis of a prosperous and stable Pakistan provided we follow it in letter and spirit. Inclusive and far sighted policies can yield best results.
Pakistan has tremendous potential, I have visited many countries across the world and I can say this with authority that Pakistani youth is second to none in terms of potential. We have exceptionally good doctors, our engineers are second to none, our information technology professionals have proven their mettle around the world but we lack meritocracy in Pakistan, nepotism is rampant, and that must end.