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Friday, October 28, 2011

What do the recent statements by US, Afghanistan & Pakistan mean ?

Slowly, the contours of the game are becoming clearer though seemingly contradictory statements are being made by all and sundry involved in this deceptive game. In fact, it is these contradictory statements that are paradoxically helping to clear the fog.

First the recent seemingly inexplicable statement emanating from the Afghan President Hamid Karzai aired on the popular Pakistani channel, Geo TV. "God forbid, if a war breaks between Pakistan and America, we will side (with) Pakistan", he said and added "If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you." This has given rise to serious analysis among the stakeholders in Afghanistan. This statement is akin to his reference to Pakistan as a 'twin' after signing the strategic agreement with India.

In my opinion, this announcement of support must be taken with a bucketful of salt, for several reasons. Just three weeks earlier, Karzai had signed a strategic friendship agreement with Pakistan's arch-enemy India, quite annoying the Pakistani military leadership. Immediately upon returning from India, in time for the 10th Anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of Taliban, President Karzai accused Pakistan once again saying that without Pakistan’s sanctuary and help, the Taliban terrorists would not be ‘able to move a finger’. We must remember that President Karzai had himself escaped at least four attempts of assassination by the Taliban and by their association, the PA/ISI. He has just recently lost his step brother to assassination by the Taliban. He has also lost several key supporters of his to Taliban attacks, including Prof. Rabbani. Karzai knows perfectly well that it is the Pakistani Army (PA) that sustains the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the remnants of Al Qaeda against the Afghan civilian government. He knows very well too that it is the support, guidance and instigation from the PA that makes the Taliban intransigent towards negotiations for a peaceful post-2014 Afghanistan. He knows equally well that the PA/ISI would never favour a Durrani like him to come to power in Kabul and would always support the Ghilzais like Mullah Omar, Haqqani or Hekmatyar. Ever since he assumed office as Interim President on November 27, 2001, he has been complaining bitterly to the Americans about the Pakistani perfidy. However, the Americans, in their eagerness to go after Iraq's Saddam Hussein, took their eyes off Afghanistan and even listened to their long-standing friend, Pakistan, who took advantage of the situation to play its own double game. For such a person as Hamid Karzai, therefore, to suddenly announce his support for the PA is laughable. In fact, Pakistan itself has not commented about this unexpected support from Karzai, thus proving that they are themselves not taking it seriously.

Besides, Pakistan knows that the common folk Afghans never had great love for Pakistan because of Pakistan's continuous poking in the internal affairs of that country, its attempts not to settle the border dispute (Afghanistan does not officially recognize the Durand Line which was drawn as a result of a treaty between British India and the Afghan King Abd-ur-Rehman, founder of modern Afghanistan, in c. 1893) and generally its arrogance towards an impoverished neighbour since Independence. Afgahanistan was the only country to object to the entry of Pakistan into the United Nations in September, 1947, based on the issue of Pashtunistan. In c. 1949, the Loya Jirga of Afghanistan de-recognized the British-Afghan Treaty of 1893, thereby de-recognizing the Durand Line as well. The self-anointed Field Marshal Ayub Khan arrogantly dismissed Afghanistan as inconsequential claiming that just a brigade of PA would be enough to quell that country and enter Kabul in one day, when tension mounted between these two countries after Pakistan took aggressive posture following induction of large-scale American arms, against an unfriendly Afghanistan. That the same Pakistan today praises Afghans as slayers of two superpowers, namely the former Soviet Union and the USA, is quite another matter ! Pakistan has frequently resorted to shutting its borders and trade routes with a landlocked Afghanistan, thus putting the populace to misery. One such episode led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Daoud Khan by his cousin, King Zahir Shah in the 1960s when the blockade remained for two years. As early as the 50s, there were economic blockades by Pakistan (1950, 1951 & 1955). In c. 1973, Daoud Khan once again assumed power in a coup and deposed King Zahir Shah and continued with his earlier reforms process which included such things as keeping the ulema under check, building up the army, spreading education, ensuring more rights for women, implementing land redistribution through land-ceiling act, making Afghanistan a more robust Republic etc. Disliking his reformist agenda but fearing his tough actions, Islamists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the recently assassinated Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani (a Mawdudi follower) fled to Pakistan where they received support from Z.A. Bhutto and the ISI. Since then, it has been Pakistan's endeavour to checkmate reforms in Afghanistan, arrest their modernization and keep them backward. In the latter half of the 90s, the creation of the Taliban and the complete backing that Pakistan gave to their most repressive measures in the name of Islam just so that Pakistan could have its Strategic Depth, once again proved Pakistan's long-standing malevolent intentions vis-a-vis Afghanistan. This Pakistani approach of hegemonic overlording of Afghanistan has always been resented by the Afghans at large. Pakistan and Afghanistan came close to war several times between 1947 and 1979. However, even the Pakistan-created Taliban refused to abandon their claim for greater Pashtunistan and refused to acknowledge the Durand line as the permanent international border between the two countries. Though Pakistan has been hosting the largest Afghan refugee concentration for decades now, there is not much love lost between the Afghans and the Pakistanis. Reciprocally, there is not much love lost for the Pakhtuns within many pockets of Pakistan itself, including for their own in the recently christened Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region (formerly, NWFP).

The reasonable question to ask therefore is then why did Karzai make the surprising statement that he did indeed make ? The spokesman for Karzai has explained that away by saying that the support that Karzai referred to was humanitarian and not military support. The implication was that a grateful Afghanistan owed it to the Pakistanis in return for the decades that the Pakistanis across the border have hosted (and continue to host) Afghan refugees since the Afghan jihad, followed by the civil war and the brutal Taliban regime. It would be reasonable to expect that in case a war broke out between the US/Afghan troops and the PA following further worsening of their relationship, it would be around the Af-Pak FATA badlands and therefore the refugee population into Afghanistan would be predominantly Pashtuns whom Afghanistan anyway claim as their very own. The US would not attack Balochistan and even if it did so in order to secure an alternate land route into Southern Afghanistan, the scarce population of Balochistan and the vast lands there would not lead to an exodus. In fact, Balochis may be expected to even collude with the Americans in their common cause against the PA. Any attack on the Sind or the Punjab (both almost improbable to be attacked), would only cause refugees to stream into neighbouring India. In effect, therefore, Karzai's support to Pakistan stops at welcoming the Pashtuns and Pashtuns alone in the event of a war, something that does not surprise anyone.

For their part, the Pakistanis who have both publicly and privately received a spanking from Ms. Hillary Clinton during her visit last week to Islamabad, are clutching at straws and claiming some sort of victory that they forced Ms. Clinton to acknowledge American contacts with the Haqqanis. This may surprise the lay public but anyone who has been closely following the situation would know that contacts have been going on with the Taliban for a long time. The sticking point is that they have made little progress while the Taliban have stepped up their attacks on the NATO/ISA forces. The major supplier of foot-soldiers to the attacks is the Haqqani network and sometimes the LeT, while the planning and coordination is done by the PA through the ISI. Expecting increased pressure from the Americans after the US Presidential election in c. 2008, the ISI planned ahead. While continuing to hold off the American pressure to act against the Haqqani shura, the PA/ISI urged Haqqani to enter into a peace treaty with the Shi'a of Kurram who had been besieged for the most part of the previous three years. By December, 2010, this allowed the Haqqani warlords and soldiers to cross easily between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So much so, that today Sirajuddin Haqqani claims that they are now back in Afghanistan and no longer are present in Pakistan, a claim that Pakistan also approves of in order to escape American action within Pakistani soil or American accusations of hosting these terrorists. It also puts the onus back on the ISAF, NATO and the ANA to take action on their side of the border. However, the continued killing of Haqqani commanders in North Waziristan by the CIA drones disproves the claim.

Just after the elimination of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, UK’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Sedwill, informed the media that the Taliban leadership was engaged in talks with various stakeholders with the full backing of the US with the sole aim of finding a solution to the Afghan problem from within. On June 18, 2011, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai admitted that the US had been in direct talk with the Taliban and the talks were going well. In order to facilitate these talks, the UN Security Council decided to split the Taliban from Al Qaeda within the sanctions regime. Ms. Clinton called on Pakistan to support nascent reconciliation talks with the Afghan Taliban launched several months ago by the United States and Afghanistan. The goal, she said, is “to split the Taliban from al-Qaeda,” a possibility the administration believes has become more likely with bin Laden’s demise, and Pakistan “has a responsibility to help us.” It is the continued refusal by Pakistan to help the US in bringing the Haqqanis around that is causing a breakdown in the relationship between the US and Pakistan.

On June 24, 2010, the New York Times reported that the Pakistanis were offering to mediate a power-sharing agreement with Sirajuddin Haqqani. A few days later, the Middle-Eastern Al Jazeera, which had broken many authentic news about Al Qaeda earlier, dramatically announced that Sirajuddin Haqqani, accompanied by the Pakistani COAS Gen. Kayani and the ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, had already met the Afghan President Karzai in his Kabul Palace. A few days later, the US President Barack Obama, at the G-20 meeting in Toronto in June 2010, praised the efforts of Pakistan to find a political settlement for the Afghan crisis. Refusing to directly comment on the meeting between Haqqani and Karzai, he said, “I think it’s too early to tell. I think we have to view these efforts with skepticism but also with openness”. However, in two years since then, the Americans are frustrated by the lack of any meaningful progress. Thus, Pakistan demonstrated its clout with the Haqqanis and demanded the US to leave it to the Pakistanis to forge a peace deal, something the Americans are no longer willing to countenance unlike in the 1980s. In fact, the Pakistanis have been caught red-handed, on the other hand, of helping and using the Haqqanis, a classic case of double-game that the Pakistanis are so notoriously known for. The game is quite similar to Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, DG of ISI, who egged on the Taliban when he was ostensibly sent by the Americans to ask them to surrender peacefully. Thus, the US contacts with the Haqqanis have been going on for a long time now.

And, when they help, the Pakistanis still play a game. On Oct. 10, 2010 Hamid Karzai also confirmed on a US Television channel that discussions were going on with the Taliban, an announcement that caused Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani to warn on October 12 that any direct talks with the Taliban without Pakistan would fail. A few days later, on October 14, 2010, the US Special Envoy for Af-Pak, Late Richard Holbrooke, confirmed the talks with the Taliban while Gen. Petraeus, Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan, said his troops facilitated a high-level Taliban leader to travel to Kabul to have talks with the Government. Later, it turned out that they were referring to Anwarul Haq Mujahed, a terrorist leader who is in custody in Peshawar along with the former Taliban governor of eastern Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, and his deputy governor Sedre Azam. These leaders were taken in a helicopter from Peshawar, obviously with Pakistani consent and knowledge. It is being seen as a ploy by Pakistan to create divisions among the Taliban.

But, the US continued to be frustrated by the Pakistani stubbornness in not going after the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network and its allies. In September, 2010, the US dramatically increased the frequency of its drone attacks, from a monthly average of ten strikes to twenty and killing many militants. Though it was later touted to be a pre-emptive strike to prevent a Mumbai-style urban terror attack in the UK, Germany and France, there is no denying that a frustrated US wanted to demonstrate to the Pakistanis its determination to go after the Haqqani group which Pakistan has been successfully defending. The helicopter attack on a Pakistani Army post in early October, 2010 within Pakistan by the American forces resulting in the killing of two Pakistani soldiers must also be seen in the light of frustration among the Americans on the reluctance of Pakistan to stem the flow of Taliban and their armaments especially as the ISAF was involved in securing Kandahar before their departure. The infuriated Pakistanis closed the border crossings at Torkham (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) and Chaman (Balochistan) for eleven days until the Americans issued an apology for the attack. On October 15, 2010, the Pakistani Foreign Office defiantly re-stated its long standing policy, “While we understand the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) concerns, any question relating to when, how and what is to be done in North Waziristan is based on judgment, keeping in mind our capacities, priorities and overall national interest. This in no way should be interpreted as lack of Pakistani resolve”. It is over one year now and Pakistan has not yet decided that the time was ripe for any action in North Waziristan ! When the US Special Envoy to Af-Pak, Richard Holbrooke, passed away most unexpectedly on December 13, 2010, the general consensus was that even he could not “get Pakistan on board to deal with Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” That simply explains the confusion in the American approach to Pakistan. They are neither able to treat Pakistan as snake and jump over it or as garbage and step on it.

In any case, Pakistan's mischievous attempt to twist Ms. Hillary Clinton's statement of admission regarding American 'contacts' with Haqqani as something sinister or hipocritical, is exactly the way Pakistan fabricates news and spreads falsehood. The 'contacts' between the PA/ISI and the Haqqanis are not exactly the same as those between the Americans and the Haqqanis. Pakistan's references to the American support for the Haqqanis during the 1979-1989 Afghan jihad is also a clever word-play and an attempt to fool the gullible.

Pakistan has played similar games with Taliban leaders. On Feb. 11, 2010, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a brother-in-law of Mullah Omar, the head of the Quetta Shura and the second in command after Mullah Omar, was arrested by the ISI in Karachi. {Out of the eight arreasted along with him, five of the Quetta Shura members were caught in Karachi alone thus confirming earlier reports that the ISI had relocated them to Karachi a long time back. In mid-January, 2011, news also emerged that the ISI had arranged for a heart operation for Mullah Omar in a Karachi hospital} The UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Kai Eide also echoed the same thoughts when he said that Pakistan was well aware of the on-going contacts with Baradar and yet decided to arrest him and keep him in Pakistan to abruptly thwart the dialogue. It later emerged that Baradar was planning to attend the May 2-3, 2010 Jirga of about 1200 to 1400 people that Karzai had called of the tribal leaders to give a shape to the reconciliation process. The jirga was also expected to set the terms and conditions for reintegrating the insurgents. Karzai’s attempts revolve around the US plan of weaning away those Taliban who are not ideologically committed to the Taliban cause but are in it for money, relocating hardcore and uncompromising Taliban leaders in another country and revoke the names of some of the amenable Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist so that the Government can freely negotiate with them. Pakistan’s calculation is to ensure the failure of the jirga and stake its claim to be the ‘sole conduit’ for peace in Afghanistan. (The jirga was postponed twice and later was fixed for June 2, 2010 but finally held in July. As an outcome of this, Karzai set up the High Council for Peace and Reconciliation.) On August 22, 2010, the New York Times reported that the ISI officials admitted that Baradar and his aides were by-passing the ISI and hence were arrested. ISI was quoted as having admitted, “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.” The arrest and its location also proved the existence of the Quetta Shura, strenuously denied by the Pakistanis for years, and the fact that the Shura had relocated to Karachi, another fact also strenuously denied by the Pakistanis for quite some time.

One can easily deduce that the Pakistanis are protecting their twin primary assets, the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Shura, and are manipulating them carefully as to how they are exposed to the emerging developments, while at the same time frustrating the Americans in developing their individual contacts with the Taliban and the Haqqanis. At the same time, the PA/ISI are ensuring that attacks on the NATO/ISA Forces are continued by the Haqqanis, LeT and the Taliban so that they are kept under constant and probably escalating pressure. The Pakistani calculation is that either they frustrate the Americans into accepting Pakistani hegemony over Afghanistan or make them withdraw from the area in their larger interests after mounting losses of men and material force the Americans to sue for peace.

For their part, the Americans seem confused. They are unable or unwilling to use force against the PA because, as Gen. Kayani rightly said, Pakistan was not Iraq. Nobody today talks of the strategy of 'great awakening' that Gen. Petraeus was supposed to re-employ in Afghanistan as he successfully did in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus’ strategy was to control the 10% land area of Afghanistan from where he estimated 80% of attacks and terrorism originated. Similarly, there was a time in c. 2009 when Pres. Obama said that the Pakistani nuclear weapons were in safe hands thereby implying that the Americans knew their whereabouts. But, since then, the Pakistanis have been furiously expanding their Pu-based bombs over which the Americans may not have enough intelligence. It is another reason for the US hesitation to use any force against Pakistan. The PA may not use tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) against an advancing column of American forces into Waziristan or even nuke the Bagram base as retaliation for they know that Pakistan would be decimated in double quick time if that happens. But, they could pose other serious dirty-nuke challenge to mainland America. Besides, the Americans still depend upon Pakistan for nearly 30 ~ 40% of their supplies. Even after pilferage and disappearance of containers from the Karachi port, almost 25% of the supplies depend upon Pakistani routes. Unless the US finds an alternate route for these supplies, the US cannot squeeze Pakistan beyond a certain point.

In her latest testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ms. Hillary Clinton termed the US strategy towards Pakistan as "fight, talk and build". This strategy is similar to the way Imperial Britain handled the Afghan tribes. The Vidura Neethi of Indian Epic, The Mahabharat, advises rulers to conquer friends and foes alike using sama, dana, bheda and danda. The PA has abundantly made it clear to the Americans about their redlines and they revolve around India, Haqqani, Quetta Shura and the LeT. Almost all aspects of these redlines are huge concern for the US. For his part, President Obama made it clear on several occasions that the Pakistanis were barking a wrong tree by considering the Indians as the most major threat and that there was no need to station so many troops on the eastern borders with India. However, the Pakistanis have not moved an inch from their position of India being the mortal enemy whose capabilities, if not intentions, threaten their very existence for which Pakistan needs to take counter measures in the form of strategic depth, terrorist non-state actors, nukes and an enduring hostility with that country. General Kayani has said that Pakistan had handed over its position on Afghanistan to the Obama administration in writing in c. 2010 and claimed “We have long-term interests in Afghanistan, others might have short … For short-term gains, we cannot lose [sight of] our long-term interests,”. The US is increasingly being left with only one answer, danda. It has two forms of danda, soft and hard. The soft danda would be such measures as military and economic aid squeeze, making loans difficult for Pakistan from international financial agencies etc. while the hard danda would be a military option. At this point, while one can virtually rule out any hard danda option, soft danda is very much on cards. For all of Gen. Kayani's bravado that Pakistan does not need the US aid, stoppage or even suspension of spare parts to American supplied F-16s, P-3Cs, helicopters, frigates, various radars, howitzers, communication sets etc would bring them to their knees immediately. The US can also force its western allies to do the same for the Agosta submarines and other hardware. Even at a diplomatic level, the US can apply enormous pressure on Pakistan.

We have to wait to see whether the US abdicates or acts decisively.

2 comments:

  1. Ironically, the very day Clinton issued her warning, USAID issued a Request for Proposals from companies (with a "Pakistani Businesses Only" requirement) to provide tens of thousands of items to school in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province -- 23,000 student bags, tens of thousands of benches and desks, etc. Strange timing, or evidence of empty State Dept. rhetoric? See: http://www.tradeaidmonitor.com/2011/10/pakistan-receive-us-funded-equipment-schools.html

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  2. The US is hopelessly divided among the CIA, Pentagon, the State Department and the White House. The recent Ms. Condoleeza Rice's revelation of India moving missiles to the India-Pakistan border after the Parliament Attack of December 13, 2001 is a case in point when the CIA and the Pentagon held diametrically opposite viewpoints. There are many other examples over the decades on various issues. But, this case of aid to schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa may be different. Normally, such aid had been planned way before and the timing may be just coincidental. Besides, the US wants to emphasize the point that it is only targetting the terrorists and has otherwise nothing against the ordinary folks of that troubled area. Pakistan has been trying to project the story that the drone attacks are angering the Pakhtuns and driving them to jihad and terrorism. Lack of access to this area adds to lack of information. However, reports by genuine Pakhtuns with their ears to the ground tell an opposite story. So, the aid to the schools may be an US attempt to reinforce that point.

    It is the aid to the Pakistani military that causes all the grief, followed by aid to the State that gets diverted to the Military.

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