Tuesday, June 17, 2008



By B.Raman

On June 25,2006, I wrote as follows ( http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers19/paper1858.html )

Quote We saw in Vietnam a clash of wills between a low-tech Vietcong and hi-tech Americans.

Low-tech ultimately prevailed over hi-tech.

Hi-tech taught the Americans how to kill----more and more.

One lost count of the body-counts projected by the US Army officers in South Vietnam and by Mr.Robert McNamara, the then US Defence Secretary, in Washington DC as indicators that the US was winning the war.

If body-counts alone could win a war, the Americans should have won in Vietnam. They did not.

There is something more to battles than body-counts-----morale,motivation, determination, ability to improvise and faith in oneself. The Vietcong had them in plenty.

In addition, the Vietcong had something more, which ultimately made the difference-----the ability to recover and fight again and again undeterred by all the losses suffered by them at the hands of the American troops, artillery and air force.

The Vietcong were like ants. They kept coming more and more. The more the Americans killed, the more they came. They kept coming out of dozens of ant holes located in foreign territory----in North Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China.

You cannot destroy ants unless you locate and destroy the ant holes. The American air strikes could not destroy all the ant holes in foreign territory.

They did not even try to destroy those in China lest they provoke Beijing. Their air strikes against those in North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were ineffective due to the complicity of the local authorities with the Vietcong.

Ultimately, the hi-tech Americans were overwhelmed by the low-tech ants. They called it quits.

We are seeing in Afghanistan a clash of wills between a low-tech Taliban and the hi-tech forces of the US-led coalition.

The hi-tech of the US-led forces is enabling them to kill more and more.

Body-counts reminiscent of the Vietnam days are back in vogue.

20 Taliban killed, 40 killed, 65 killed, 149 killed......

It goes on and on.

Every time you watch the TV, listen to the radio or read a newspaper, you see or hear only body-counts.

To whom did those bodies belong?

To the Taliban as claimed by the US-led forces? Or

To innocent civilians as alleged by the Taliban?

Definitely both.

The more the civilians you kill, the more the alienation.

The more the civilians you kill, the more the anger against you.

It is a vicious circle.

The Taliban are like ants. They keep coming more and more. The more the Americans kill, the more they come. They keep coming out of ant holes located in the Waziristan and Balochistan areas of Pakistan.

Instead of focussing on the ant holes from which the ants are entering Afghanistan, the Americans are focussing on the places in Afghanistan which are being invaded by the ants----killing many innocent civilians and driving others to join the ants.

This is like damaging or destroying your house because it is invaded by ants instead of locating the ant holes and destroying them first.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is right.

The US-led forces have to change their methods. They have to attack the sources of terrorism.

They have to destroy the ant holes instead of keeping themselves confined to chasing the ants after they enter Afghanistan.

The American-led forces cannot be successful, despite all their resources and fire power, in destroying the ant holes unless they have the genuine co-operation of the military-dominated Government in Pakistan.

Expectations of such genuine co-operation have proved themselves to be illusory.

The Americans have only one option. Facilitate the coming into power of a genuinely democratic Government, which might co-operate sincerely.

It is better to have a sincere ally, even if it be only half effective, than to have an insincere ally, who feeds the ants while pretending to destroy them. Unquote

2. Hopes and expectations that a democratic Government in Pakistan will be more sincere in co-operating with the international community in destroying the jihadi ant holes in Pakistani territory are being belied. The democratically-elected leaders are showing themselves to be as insincere as the military leadership was. Instead of destroying the ant holes, they have made deals with the ants and are encouraging them to go to India and Afghanistan and do whatever they want. They pretend as if there are no ant holes in Pakistani territory. They pretend as if they see no ants entering Afghanistan and India.

3.Now that winter is over and the spring too is about to end, thousands of jihadi ants---old and new--- have started moving across Afghanistan. They nearly killed Mr.Karzai during a national day parade in Kabul on April 27,2008. They launched a spectacular attack on the Kandahar prison on June 13,2008, and freed all the about 1000 prisoners---400 of them jihad-hardened members of the Taliban. They forced open the gates of the prison with the help of a suicide truck. A group with hand-held weapons rushed into the prison, killed the guards and freed the prisoners. They identified those who were from the Taliban and spirited them out in 25 motor vehicles, which they had brought with them.

4. The entire operation took about an hour. About 40 minutes' drive from Kandahar was a post of the Canadian Army. It was supposed to protect Kandahar from the Taliban. The Canadians had no inkling of what the hell was going on till the Taliban had left with their vehicles transporting the freed Taliban prisoners.

5. Neither the US intelligence agencies nor those of other NATO countries and Afghanistan had noticed the Taliban vehicular armada driving into Kandahar. No helicopter took off from any of the NATO bases in the vicinity of Kandahar to make an air strike on the invading Taliban.

6. They came, they conquered and left triumphantly. Nobody knows where are the ants which attacked the prison. Nobody knows how the invading and freed ants have managed to disappear without trace. Nobody knows where the ants will strike next.

7. Are you as old as I am to remember the days of Vietnam? Remember the Tet (New Year---January 31,1968) offensive of the Vietcong, which totally took the Americans by surprise and proved all their assessments based on body-counts about a weakening Vietcong disastrously wrong?

8. Remember April 29, 1975, when the Vietcong attacked American positions in Saigon? The Americans and the South Vietnamese political and military rulers supporting them ran away from Vietnam---- some on foot, some in motor vehicles and some clinging pathetically to helicopters which took off from the roof of the US diplomatic mission.

9. If the US and other NATO forces do not draw the right lessons from the ants' raid on the Kandahar prison and act energetically and effectively against the ant holes in Pakistani territory, the day is not far off when April 29, 1975, in Vietnam will be repeated in Afghanistan.

10.The Taliban and Al Qaeda--- and the Pakistanis supporting them--- are waiting for that day. They are determined to re-create history. (17-6-08)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )