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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Recent Kabul Attacks and Pakistan

April 15, 2012 dawned in Afghanistan as one of the most violent and bloodiest days in recent times as the Taliban launched a coordinated attack with about 40 suicide-bombers at several targets in Kabul, and locations in the three Eastern provinces of Afghanistan adjoining Pakistan, namely Nangarhar (Jalalabad), Paktia (Gardez) and Logar which are traditional strongholds of the Haqqani network. The attacks, later owned up by the Afghan Taliban as the beginning of their 'Spring Offensive', were audacious in that the targets selected in Kabul such as the embassies of the US, UK and Germany, the Afghan Parliament, the ISAF Headquarters, the Turkish military base, the office of the World Bank etc. were well guarded and were located inside the heavily guarded central district of Kabul. The tactic used was also new. The heavily-armed attackers were all suicide bombers too who wore explosive vests but instead of just blowing themselves up as they used to do before, they launched a guerrilla attack and fought for several hours. They were not for mindless suicide attacks killing themselves without causing extensive damage as it happened sometimes. They wanted to penetrate the security cordon and then blow themselves up to cause maximum or precise damage. It was thus a mixture of LeT's fidayeen attacks and the suicide bombing of the Taliban.

When the 18-hour battle eventually came to an end and resulted in 47 deaths, the Afghan Foreign Office blamed the attacks on the Pakistan-based Haqqani terror network. The Afghan interior minister Bismillah Mohammadi accused the Al-Qaeda linked and Pakistan-resident Haqqani-network, based on information given by one of the suicide bombers who was arrested (a la Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai in 2008) even as the rest of the suicide bombers had died. This has also been the refrain of the US and NATO commanders on the field in Afghanistan that the attack bore all the hallmarks of a Haqqani operation. They were surprised by the scale and sophistication of the attacks. The US Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton, agreed that “there were indications of Haqqani involvement”. She said that she had pressed Pakistan to “squeeze” the Haqqani network when she visited Islamabad in October, 2011 and would once again do so "and press it[Pakistan] hard". Describing the Haqqanis as "a group of killers, pure and simple", the long-time American ambassador in Kabul, Ryan Crocker, said, "There is no question in our mind that the Haqqanis were responsible for these attacks". He was even more explicit as to where the attacks were coming from, "We know where their leadership lives and we know where these plans are made. They're not made in Afghanistan. They're made in Miranshah, which is in North Waziristan, which is in Pakistan". A worried Government of India, whose Kabul embassy has been the target of Haqqani and LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) combination thrice before in c. 2008, 2009 and 2011, urgently reviewed its security procedures once again. Addressing the Army Commanders a day after the Taliban attack, India's defence minister, A.K.Antony asked them to be more vigilant. He also conducted an unprecedented second security review meeting on April 25 with his security advisers including the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the three service chiefs.

Within a week after the attack, on April 21 to be precise, the Afghan police and intelligence recovered 10 Tonnes of explosives in Kabul about to be used in terrorist activities and arrested five  terrorists including three Pakistanis belonging to Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The huge cache of explosives had been smuggled into Afghanistan from Pakistan. There is therefore a concerted and determined move to cause widespread devastation in Kabul and other Afghan provinces in the weeks and months ahead. Simultaneously, Afghanistan's National Director for Security spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiry also revealed that the Afghan security forces had also thwarted an attempt by the Haqqani network to assassinate Afghan Vice President Mohammed Karim Khalili. A week later, two Taliban terrorists attempted to assassinate the Governor of the Kandahar province, Tooryalai Wesa. Coupled with the series of assassinations in the last few months of prominent and powerful pro-democracy personalities such as Burhanuddin Rabbani, Karzai's brother and a series of police officers, these new assassinations reveal the Taliban plan which has always been to eliminate leaders. This was the tactic that the Pakistani Taliban have used very successfully against inconvenient jirga leaders in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

To understand the Pakistani linkages to these incidents,  we need to look at a few things. One certainly is the Afghan-Pakistan relationship, at least going back to some five decades, if not earlier. We also need to look at developments within Pakistan itself in the last five years. We also should not forget to look at the continuing strategic thinking of Pakistan.

Afghan-Pakistan Relationship with Particular reference to India

The 'idea of Pakistan' (to borrow from the American expert on South Asia, Stephen Cohen) has gone through four evolutions in the last one hundred years. When a 'Mussalman Delegation' met Lord Minto, the British Viceroy in Simla in c. 1906, their demand was to ensure a separate treatment for the Muslims of British India in the political reforms that were then being set into motion. Slowly, this demand morphed into equality between the Hindus and the Muslims. Jinnah, who anointed himself as the Sole Spokesperson for all Muslims of India, put forth the fake theory that Hindus and Muslims were 'nations' and that they should be treated equally because the latter's numerical disadvantage was more than compensated by the fact that they had ruled large parts of India for six centuries before the arrival of the Colonial powers to Indian shores. However, this quest for Muslim separatism had to be supplanted, after the secession of East Pakistan (into Bangladesh) in c. 1971, with the larger Islamic identity anchored in the Middle East because the creation of Bangladesh had dealt a death blow to the hitherto prevalent dubious 'Two-Nation Theory'. By identifying itself with the larger Islamist cause after 1971, Pakistan sowed the seeds for being sucked into Islamic extremism of today. Though nobody could have predicted the twin events of 1979, namely the Soviet forces entering Afghanistan or the deposition of the Shah of Iran leading to Ayatollah Khomeini seizing power, both of which changed the face of the region, the die was cast for Pakistan with its fateful decision to identify itself with the Wahhabi ideology in the 70s. The fourth and the current stage in the evolutionary process has been the continuing and unabated migration of large sections of adherents of Islam in Pakistan to the literalist, puritanical and scripturalist Wahhabism, Deobandism and Salafism in the last two decades.

By c. 1974, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (of the Ikhwan) and Burhanuddin Rabbani had already fled Afghanistan to Pakistan to escape from Muhammad Daoud Khan who had seized power from his cousin, King Zahir Shah. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was angered by Daoud Khan for raising the Greater Pashtunistan issue, helped Hekmatyar and his group with military training and arms and ammunition. But, their uprising fizzled out as Daoud Khan easily crushed it. However, under Daoud Khan’s onslaught against the Marxists, the latter formed a new organization, People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) which activated the leftist component in the Afghan Army, a legacy of being trained earlier by the Soviet army. The overthrow of the Daoud government by left-wing Noor Mohammed Taraki in the ‘Great Saur (April) Revolution’ of April 27, 1978 was followed by reforms of the feudal system. This was opposed by the ulemas, tribal chieftains and landowners. By March 1979, Captain Ismail Khan from Herat had started a major insurgency killing over 350 Soviet citizens. Soviet tanks from Turkmenistan retaliated killing over 5000 in Herat. Unable to bear the onslaught by the Islamists, the Afghanistan government entered into an agreement with the USSR in April 1979, the Mutual Defence Treaty. In December 1979, the Afghan Government invoked that treaty after sustained onslaught from the Panjsheri Mujahideen operating out of Pakistan. It was thus the USSR Army entered Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979. Foreseeing an opportunity to take revenge on the USSR, the US National Security Adviser, Zbignew Brzezinski, had already planned what he called ‘The Bear Trap’ and the CIA had clandestinely started to help the Panjsheri Mujahideen in Pakistan.

Throughout the three decades between 1950 and 1980, Pakistan and Afghanistan had tumultuous relationship leading to border clashes, closure of the borders of  a land-locked Afghanistan by Pakistan, diplomaic rows etc. Within Pakistan itself, the dominating ethnic majority of the Punjabis had to accommodate the Pashtuns in the armed forces (especially the Pakistani Army) and civil services to blunt local Pashtun nationalism. So, the developments involving Afghanistan, the USSR and the USA came as a great opportunity to Pakistan. Maj. Gen. Naseerullah Babar, the then commander of the Frontier Corps (FC) and a decade later the Interior Minister in Ms. Benazir Bhutto's government, has recalled arranging meetings between the Afghan resistance leaders and the American diplomats as early as May 1978, more than a year-and-a-half before the arrival of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The FC created the Afghan jihadi party, Hezb-e-Islami under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Executive Order of President Carter of July 3, 1979 authorized CIA’s covert operation and funding to anti-Marxist Afghan insurgents, to be channeled through Pakistan. Thus, the stage was set for a jihad in the Af-Pak region with far-reaching consequences that would come back to haunt the US itself twenty two years later.

The word ‘Pakistan’ that was coined to the new entity that separated from India in c. 1947 has been explained away in two different ways. One was that ‘Pak’ meant ‘pure’ while 'stan' meant 'place' and hence the ‘Land of the Pure’ (i.e. Muslims) was appropriately given the name ‘Pakistan’. The second explanation is to think of 'PAKISTAN' as an acronym based on the first letters of the provinces that were supposed to form part of the new country, namely, Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iran, Sind, Tukharistan (Comprising of Southern Tajikistan and Northern Afghanistan), Afghania (i.e. NWFP), and Balochistan, as propounded by Rehmat Ali. By virtue of the second definition, Pakistan has a territorial claim on Afghanistan even if it does not talk about it openly.

For its part, Afghanistan was never reconciled to an arbitrary border drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in c. 1893 that forcibly and unilaterally divided the tribes across the then British India and Afghanistan in the usual British strategy of divide-and-rule. The Durand Line was expected to provide a buffer to the British Empire (and later to Pakistan). After the massive defeat in c. 1971, Pakistan sought ways and means of countering India. The earlier tactic of aligning with the Western powers through various defence treaties had clearly failed as nobody came to its side when it most needed them against India in all the wars and skirmishes. The Afghan Jihad came as a great opportunity for a bold new concept by Pakistan against India. This was Gen. Zia-ul-Haq's idea of a 'thousand cuts to bleed India to death'. Pakistan's new approach, codenamed Operation Topaz, to bringing India to its knees needed four important ingredients before being launched. In order to deter India from reacting violently to Pakistan-sponsored jihad and terrorism and to beat her into submission, Pakistan needed nuclear weapons. Of course, there were other benefits to possessing nuclear weapons and Zia-ul-Haq's predecessor, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had already set that process in motion. Additionally, Pakistan needed to be trained in covert warfare, intelligence etc. Pakistan also needed a lot of funds to support this jihad against a vast country such as India and arms and ammunition to fight a conventional war with India if the situation so escalated to in spite of nuclear blackmail by Pakistan. Finally, it needed jihadi and terrorist foot soldiers in large numbers who could sap India's energy from behind enemy lines or act as the first line of defence so that the regular Pakistani Army (PA) could 'plausibly deny' its involvement but victoriously march into India and avenge the ignominy of 1971 and claim territories that it had always coveted.

The developing situation in Afghanistan offered Pakistan all the opportunities to achieve these goals. Pakistan's conditions to the US for its support to Afghan Jihad were predicated upon these underlying objectives. Thus it was that the US, in pursuit of its realpolitik, turned a blind eye to growing evidence of Pakistan building nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. In fact, the US even went out of its way to protect Pakistan's clandestine acquisitions of technology and equipment. It is now well known that by c. 1983, Pakistan had acquired nuclear capability. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) provided support and training to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) for covert operations in Afghanistan. The skill and knowledge acquired was then transferred to the Indian theatre by the Pakistanis. The US generously supplied arms and ammunition of an offensive nature to Pakistan during the period of 1979-1989 that could be used by it also against India. Some of the platforms like the F-16s were meant to be used only against India. Under the guise of Afghan jihad, Pakistan had also established a network of terrorist tanzeems which had an unending supply of manpower from Wahhabi, Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadith madrasseh established all over Pakistan through Saudi munificence. By mid-80s, Pakistan was therefore able to achieve all the pre-conditions that it felt it needed to successfully launch and conclude jihad and terror against India.

Jinnah might have demanded and got equality with India by getting a Muslim nation, but it was apparent that by no means was Pakistan equal to India in any true sense. Not only Jinnah but also other leaders of Pakistan were acutely aware of that. In order to tackle this deep and troubling asymmetry with India, Pakistan entered into 'deals' with more powerful nations. It has tried to use a lesser power like Afghanistan for the same purpose by trying to dominate it for its acquisition of 'strategic depth'. Pakistan felt betrayed by both the US and then China in the two wars of 1965 and 1971 when they stopped with mere platitudes without substantially coming to Pakistan's help otherwise. Pakistan which had been after nuclear weapons since the 60s, pursued its nuclear ambition aggressively after the cataclysmic 1971 separation of East Pakistan. Pakistan's calculations were four fold in acquiring nuclear weapons; one, was that the possession of nuclear weapons would obviate the need for looking up to the reluctant US and China for help in the event of a war with India; two, was the prestige that it would bestow upon Pakistan among the brotherly Muslim nations, something that Pakistan had always longed to but unable to achieve hitherto; third, was the freedom that it would give to Pakistan to pursue Op. Topaz under the threat of a nuclear overhang; four, was the 'parity' that the nuclear weapons afforded to Pakistan vis-a-vis India.

However, Pakistan was still afraid of its peculiar geography that did not provide enough depth from Indian borders. While this was an advantage in quickly mobilizing troops to the borders from the cantonments (India suffers in this ability because its garrisons are far removed from the borders), it poses some disadvantage in locating nuclear weapons and missile sites as they could be overrun by the Indian Air Force (IAF) or missiles or advancing Indian columns or special forces. That was when it thought of 'strategic depth'. Through the concept of ‘strategic depth’, Pakistan wanted to establish a sufficiently friendly government in Afghanistan that would more or less bury the Pakhtun nationalism that wanted to erase the artificially created Durand-line, deny any sphere of influence by India in Afghanistan, deny access to the Central Asian Republic (CAR) countries to India, and help Pakistan hide its strategic assets (or 'Crown Jewels' as it calls them) there in case of a war with India or even allow it to launch weapons of mass destruction at India from there. Pakistan thought that after the Geneva Accord in 1991, a friendly dispensation could be established in Kabul that did not include the Tajik group of Ahmed Shah Massoud who was disliked and distrusted by the Pakistani Army (PA) and the ISI. However, Pakistan had not bargained for the internecine war among the various mujahideen factions that followed the Geneva Accord. Finally, Pakistan created the Taliban who took control of Kabul and Kandahar by c. 1996. After strenuously denying for almost two decades, President Zardari finally accepted during his State visit to the U.S. in May 2009 that the Taliban was indeed the creation of Pakistan. Surprisingly, he also said that the US was also involved in that. "Taliban was part of our past and your past, and the ISI and CIA created them together" Mr. Zardari told the NBC news channel in an interview. The noted Indian strategic and security analyst, Praveen Swami, says in one of his articles, “my boys and I are riding into Mazhar-i-Sharif,” Rafiq Tarar (sic, Sultan Amin Tarar also known as Col. Imam), the head of the Pakistani intelligence's Afghan operations who was killed by his very same boys last year, was recorded saying in an intercepted 1998 conversation Thus, a 'friendly dispensation' had also been established in neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan turned its full focus on India now that all the pillars of Op. Topaz were finally in place.

Countries take a long time to change their policies especially a country like Pakistan which is extremely obsessed with India. For over six decades now, it has oriented the entire state, from drawing up a curriculum for school children to its foreign policy to investing so much against India, towards this obsession to defeating India. In spite of the grave devastation that has visited upon Pakistan, it has not found it fit to shake off its obsession which has brought it only gloom and doom. With a weakening PA that has hitherto managed to run Pakistan's foreign policy, the power centre is getting fragmented though the PA still retains considerable clout. However, the political dispensation that is likely to come to power next year could wreak changes. The PA may lose its clout even more significantly as leaders who identify with jihadi terrorist causes come to power and begin to subsume the PA itself. The new dispensation can be expected to implement Op. Topaz (or a more sinister variation of it) even more vigorously. They may even see a parallel between the emerging situation in c. 2013 with the situation in c. 1994 when the Taliban began to establish its ascendancy, and draw inspiration thereof. India has been consistently demanding the US and the NATO not to hold talks with the Taliban and not to leave Af-Pak without completing their task. Increasingly Russia, China, and Afghanistan's northern neighbours such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have also been demanding the same thing. The April 15 Kabul attack reinforces these argument strongly.

Developments within Pakistan

When one discusses the developments within Pakistan, one looks at them from four different perspectives: political, economic, military and jihadi. Of course, they are all inter-related and certain developments in one of them could provide a pointer to the shape of things likely to occur in the others.

Early October, 2008 saw seven important developments in matters concerning Af-Pak and the Taliban. First, the commander of the British forces in Afghanistan said that the Afghan war was unwinnable for the NATO-ISAF forces militarily. Such a view has been expressed by the renowned ‘Colonel Imam’ - Brig. Amir Sultan Tarar (r) of the Pakistani Army with deep ties to the ISI and who helped create the Taliban - in an interview with the Sunday Times. He therefore advised the Americans to negotiate with the hard-core Taliban leadership claiming that they were the ones who mattered in the end, not the moderate or the so-called ‘good’ Taliban. It is so ironical that ultimately, he was killed brutally by the very same 'boys' even though he was rooting for them. Secondly, the word came of secret parleys in Makkah in late September, 2008, involving the Taliban and the Karzai government of Afghanistan mediated by the Saudis. Thirdly, a disturbing news emanated of Taliban influence in Lahore where CD shop owners in Hall Road were threatened who promptly burnt all CDs taking the threat seriously, women were ordered to cover their heads over loudspeakers from mosques in the Liberty Market,  and places where men and women intermixed were bombed though lightly. Fourthly, a joint session of Pakistani Parliament, briefed for several days by the Army on the Taliban threat, failed to arrive at a consensus over how to tackle the situation. There were quite a few, like the JUI-F’s Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, who even wanted the Taliban to present their side of the story to the Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) thereby equating the Army and the Taliban. It was again ironical that the Maulana, who created the Taliban phenomenon and remained their spiritual and political mentor, was attempted to be assassinated by the very same 'boys' soon after his defence of the Taliban in the Pakistani Parliament. The unanimous resolution that was passed in the end, on Oct. 22, 2008, pressed for a dialogue, did not appreciate the actions of the Army thus far even as it did not condemn the atrocities of the Taliban and their frequent violations of peace agreements. The resolution sought to distinguish between the ‘foreign fighters’ and ‘elements willing to abide by the constitution of Pakistan and rule of law’, an euphemism for Pakistani jihadists. This was the genesis of the ‘good Pakistani Taliban’ and ‘bad Pakistani Taliban’ concept picked up by the Obama administration in Feb. 2009 and transferred to the Afghan theatre as part of the new administration’s policy review for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fifthly, word also leaked of the new Centcom Chief, Gen. Petraeus’ approach of ‘an awakening movement’ similar to the ‘Anbar Sunni Awakening’ that was employed among Iraqi tribals, being employed among the Pashtuns as well. Gen. Petraeus’ strategy was to control the 10% land area of Afghanistan from where he estimated 80% of attacks and terrorism originated. This needed a ‘surge’ in the strength of the NATO/ISAF armed forces and the US planned to double its strength from 38000 to over 78000 even as other important NATO countries such as Germany and France were reluctant. Sixthly, the much debated and delayed training of the Pakistani Army (especially the Frontier Corps) in guerilla warfare by the Special Forces (SF) of the US started off in Warsak region of Mohmand agency. It was reported that 32 SF soldiers of the US Army were involved. The fact that the training was in Warsak (rather than in Tarbela where it was supposed to be) and the fact that SF men were involved in it and the training also included actual field missions made one suspect that there was more to it than met the eye. The seventh, but the most important of all, development was the rapidly worsening economic situation of Pakistan with reserves falling steeply and being capable of covering hardly a few weeks’ worth of imports. Pakistan began to seek funds from friendly countries like the US, China and Saudi Arabia. All of them refused to give hard cash, the need of the hour for Pakistan. Instead, they constituted a grouping called “Friends of Pakistan” which would deliberate the issue later. In the meanwhile, in order not to default on payments and to sustain the requirement of USD 5 Billion needed in short term, Pakistan decided to approach the IMF agreeing to its harsh conditions which will lead to the Government having to take unpleasant decisions.

All these seven developments shaped the PA thinking. The PA would have euphorically concluded that they had once again defeated a superpower as they did in c. 1989 and a sense of deja vu would have revisited it. It must have also been elated by the acceptance by the US Administration of its definition of 'good' and 'bad' Taliban. Under the guise of training, the USA set up extensive intelligence gathering apparatus including human network that was successful in eliminating the most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. These were the trainers whom the PA expelled first from Pakistan after the Abbottabad incident. The economic situation and the lack of interest among the traditional friends of Pakistan in resusscitating its moribund economy taught a bitter lesson to Pakistan, namely that Pakistan's economic revival (and even the survival) depends ironically upon India ! This has been the reason behind a calibrated approach by the Pakistani Government (and more importanly the PA) to open the trade doors with India.

On the political front, the significant development was Zardari's visit to India a couple of weeks back. In my opinion, the visit was intended to bolster the chances of the PPP which is otherwise staring down the barrel. Zardari can afford to give any promise to the Indian leaders, by word of mouth because he knows that either he would not be there in power to implement the promise when the time comes or he could always wriggle out as his predecessor Pakistani Presidents and Prime Ministers have done since time immemorial. On the other hand, India seems to feel that all it needs is to get a toehold and it can then force the Pakistani peace door ajar. Time will tell how foolish the Indian leadership had been. Any relaxation of conditions with respect to Pakistan will be immediately (mis)used to target India with terrorism by that country. The PA, ISI, LeT combine needs a spectacular terror attack on India sooner than later as it has been more than three years since the last strike (26 Nov 2008) and almost a year since a milder version of it struck Mumbai in c. 2011. For this unholy and evil alliance of the Pakistani official institutions and terror groups, Mumbai has become the modern-day Somnath. The relaxation of visa norms, ability to do easier financial transactions, foreign direct investment (FDI) by Pakistanis in India etc. are all avenues that can and will be easily misused. Gen. Kayani has just recently said that improved trade relationship did not mean that Pakistan would lower its conventional guard against the enemy. Coming from the Army Chief of a revisionist Pakistan that believes in the doctrine of  'offensive-defence' against India and which has been the initiator of all wars and terror against India so far, that statement could only mean that Pakistan would continue with its policy of jihad and terrorism against India. That would also mean that there is no revision to the concept of 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. Some might argue that Kayani has also spoken of de-militarization of Siachen and 'peaceful co-existence' with India. These are to be interpreted as taqiyya. Pakistan has been demanding de-militarization of Siachen because it is no where near the Siachen glacier as it is far away on the western slopes of the Boltoro range. It is at a massively disadvantageous position and can never entertain any hope of coming anywhere near Indian positions. Further, it is unable to meet the huge costs, both men and material, of deployment there especially in the current economic situation. Its de-militarization antic is like a wolf  pitying the sheep being drenched in rain. Why has the Pakistani Army allowed the Chinese for a joint expedition to climb peaks in the forbidden zone now in a throwback to pre-1984 days that in fact prompted India to launch Operation Meghdoot to capture Siachen. Then, it was the USA that emboldened Pakistan to depict these areas as belonging to Pakistan thereby precipitating Indian action and now it is China that is trying to do the same. The Chinese may increase their presence in these areas (as they are already present in significant numbers in the rest of Balawaristan) and even defray the costs of Pakistani deployment. Gen. Kayani may be even indirectly threatening India that if they do not accede to Pakistan's terms of demilitarization of these ranges, it would allow China a free hand. In any case. the PA's words and actions are not pious and betray the old mindset once again.

The Musharraf regime (c. 1999-2007) , followed briefly by the interim caretaker government led by Senate Chairman Mohammed Mian Soomro and now the new democratic dispensation led by the PPP have all believed in two myths. One, that somehow they can isolate the Al Qaeda from the Taliban and two, the Taliban are amenable to reason and manageable unlike Al Qaeda. The underlying assumption in making these non-existent distinctions between Al Qaeda and Taliban is that the goals of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban are entirely different as the former have a worldview of Caliphate while the latter are purely Afghanistan-centric. At least that is a story that Pakistan seems to be selling its Western benefactors. Nothing can be more dangerous than these two pernicious assumptions.  However, the overlapping links among the Taliban (Afghan and Pakistani), Arab, Uzbek, Chechen, Uighur, North African, South and East Asian factions of Al Qaeda as well as the jihadi and sectarian outfits of Pakistan are so strong, based as they are on the convergence of their common Islamist goals, that making such a distinction is meaningless. The arrest in Karachi on Sep 26, 2008 of the Amir of Sindh of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and his confession reveal how the TTP and these jihadi outfits work together. It has been known that JeM fighters were helping TNSM in Swat valley and HuJI cadres were fighting along with Maulvi Fakir Muhammad’s Taliban in Bajaur. One can quote many such examples.

What is more worrying is the radicalization of the Pakistani society at large. A recent article by the noted Pakistani commentator and strategic analyst, Ms. Ayesha Siddiqa explains how Wahhabism and Deobandism are overwhelming Sufism and Barelvism in their traditional stronghold of the Punjab and the Sind, something that has become common knowledge by now.

Continuing Strategic Thinking in Pakistan

Has the PA given up on its agenda of overpowering India militarily ? At least, are there indications to that effect ? Does the PA even decide anymore on these things, as they used to do, now that the jihadi elements seem to be gaining an upper hand over it ?   Does the civilian government exercise any control over the PA and the jihadis ? And, even if they do, is Pakistan interested in behaving like any other normal nation-state in resolving disputes with a neighbour ?

These are the questions that need to be considered in the light of the incidents of April 15 in Kabul and elsewhere. Why are these questions necessary when discussing attacks on Afghanistan ? The early dispute between Pakistan and Afghanistan was irredentist in nature over the question of Greater Pakhtunistan that encompassed large parts of what was then known as North Western Frontier Province (NWFP and now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or KP). Moreover, one of the tallest Pakhtun leaders of Pakistan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (or Bachcha Khan or Frontier Gandhi as he was called) was a secular Congress leader who was distrusted by the Government of Pakistan (GoP) because of his Pashtun demands. To add to Pakistan's woes, Afghanistan became the only country to bitterly oppose Pakistan's entry into the United Nations (UN), of which Afghanistan was already a member. Afghanistan's opposition stemmed from its opposition to the arbitrary Durand Line which now became a de facto boundary line between Pakistan, a successor state to the British Indian Empire and itself. Pakistan's stubbornness and its attempts to convert the de facto Durand Line into a de jure concept has been opposed by all Afghan rulers up to and including the Taliban. The British bribed the khans and the maliks to suppress the Pashtun opposition to the division of their lands, a tactic that was carried forward by the Pakistanis too. After the creation of Pakistan, the UK has supported consistently the Pakistani position on the Durand Line just as it did on Pakistan's Kashmir position. Even after the expiry of the 1893 treaty in c. 1993, Pakistan has simply refused to re-negotiate. Thus, Pakistan adopts a revisionist approach with respect to India on the eastern borders and a status-quoist approach with respect to Afghanistan on its western borders. However, the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship took a religious tone after the Soviet troops crossed the Oxus into Afghanistan a day ahead of Christmas in 1979. Pakistan found this development quite convenient to subsume Pashtun nationalism in the larger cause of Islamism. As it usually happens in such matters, the greater cause of Islamism then singed Pakistan itself in due course and the country became a burning inferno, especially after the Laal Masjid incidents of Islamabad in c. 2007. A series of incidents in the last couple of years such as the high accuracy of the CIA drones in taking out these jihadi elements and some anti-terror operation from the PA under enormous pressure have brought the situation somewhat under control in Pakistan in recent months. But, the PA has only targetted the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban and the Punjabi Taliban who have been together clubbed as 'bad Taliban') but have not gone after the Afghan Taliban or warlords (the 'good Taliban'). When the Americans extended their drone strikes to cover the 'good Taliban' too, the Pakistanis suddenly began protesting vociferously about 'infringement to their sovereignty'. Recently, after the meetings between the United States Special Representative for Af-Pak, Marc Grossman and the top brass of the Pakistani civil and military leadership, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, said, "US didn't want to listen to Pakistan's demands of halting the US drone attacks. Other means should be used to take out militants in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghanistan border". 

A few weeks back, the Commander of the Peshawar-based XI Corps, Lieutenant-General Khalid Rabbani said what was the 'other means' that Pakistan had in mind. He said, "They may indicate (a target), we’ll pound it with the precision shooting of our F-16s. So it can be done, it has been done at one or two places. Why can’t this model be followed, we keep on telling them this is a possible model to be followed."  It beats one's credulity as to how the GPS coordinates that the US uses in its drones for bombing the hideouts of these jihadi terrorists might kill civilians while the same coordinates supplied by the Americans to the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) pilots using the American-manufactured F-16s would lead to no collateral damage !! Lt. Gen. Rabbani should also know the answer for his own question of why the Americans do not share intelligence with the Pakistanis. Such shared intelligence is always leaked to their terrorist friends immediately. We have seen this double-crossing since at least August, 1998 when the then Pakistani ISI Chief alerted Osama bin Laden of an impending US Tomahawk cruise missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in retaliation for the coordinated Taliban bombings of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

What does it show ? It shows that Pakistan has not given up at all on its ambition of seeing a Pakistan-compliant Taliban in power at Kabul and Kandahar post 2014. The only reason for Pakistan supporting this barbaric Taliban regime in a neighbouring country is the expectation that they would serve Pakistan's interests against its real and only mortal enemy, India. Delivering the sixth Air Chief Marshal L M Katre Memorial Lecture on April 28, an unusually blunt Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief N.A.K. Browne warned of Taliban menace for India in the coming months and years. He said, "Our fear is that we may have these forces very close to the Wagah border to deal with because the focal point of al-Qaida and Taliban has dramatically shifted very fast from Afghanistan to Af-Pak border and North West Frontier Province to the heart of Pakistan". He referred to JuD Chief Hafeez Muhammad Saeed as having said, "It is Kabul now we are dealing with. The moment we resolve that, we will take over the next phase to liberate Kashmir from Jammu & Kashmir state".

In February 2012, the Afghan President Hamid Karzai travelled to Pakistan mainly to press Pakistan to curtail cross-border Taliban attacks on Afghanistan, and to allow him direct access to the Taliban leadership located there since c. 2002. Until now, he has been singularly unsuccessful in these twin objectives. We know that during the talks, Karzai became so angry at the obstructionist behaviour of the Pakistanis that the Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani had to abruptly call off the meeting. The April 15 Kabul attacks followed by seizure of a very large cache of explosives prove that Pakistan is completely backing the Taliban even in their violent approach towards seizing power. Even earlier, in September 2011, the Chairman of the High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated by the Haqqanis.

This is why Pakistan has successfully pushed back enormous pressure from the US to act against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. In c. 2006, the PA struck a peace deal with the major warlord and Haqqani supporter Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan on February 17, 2008. This helped the Taliban forces, especially the Haqqani network, to consolidate there, as similar peace deals elsewhere had allowed similar consolidation. Hafiz Gul Bahadur formally revoked the peace deal a year later in June 2009, after the goal was achieved. To repeated US demands for action by the PA in North Waziristan, the PA had always said that it would take action at a time and place of its choice, thereby successfully evading its end of the responsibilties.

What are the likely scenarios for Pakistan after the proposed withdrawal of ISA Forces in c. 2014 ? It could lead to political stability in Afghanistan excluding the Taliban, or a devastating civil war might break out  as it happened after the Geneva Accord or the Taliban might return to power after ousting Karzai. All of them bode ill for Pakistan. Let us see how.

It has been Pakistan's contention that a politically stable democratic dispensation comprising all ethnic sections of the Afghan society would be detrimental to Pakistan's interests because a normal nation-state of Afghanistan would not only deny the undue influence that Pakistan wants to exert on it but also establish a preeminent relationship with a large economic powerhouse like India thereby furthering Pakistani paranoia of a pincer attack against Pakistan by these two nations. Besides, Pakistan wants to restrict India's access to CAR nations and it would not be served by an India- friendly dispensation at Kabul. Pakistan may also be acting as China's cat's paw in such a decision.

A devastating civil war will cause a huge exodus of Afghans into Pakistan which an insecure and increasingly impoverished Pakistan will simply be unable to sustain. Pakistan has seen fatigue among international donors in helping Pakistan as we saw during the disaster caused by floods in the Indus in c. 2009. Besides, this large influx would seriously endanger the already bad security situation within Pakistan.

If the Taliban come back to power in Afghanistan, Pakistan will not regain the strategic depth which it lost in c. 2001. The Taliban of c. 2014 would be very different from those of c. 1994 even if most of the leaders happen to be the same. They have openly aligned with the Islamist jihadi and Salafi worldview of Al Qaeda and Pakistan cannot expect to limit them just to Afghanistan. The first aim of AQAM (Al Qaeda and Allied Movements) after the Taliban establish and consolidate their power in Afghanistan would be to usurp power in Pakistan. A Taliban-sympathetic Islamist in the form of Imran Khan is most likely to be in power in Islamabad at that time. However, Pakistan either does not visualize dangers for itself or it facetiously believes that it would be able to 'manage' the Taliban as it did before. The continuing Pakistani intransigence in taking part in a constructive way in the peace discussions and the hurdles it places in giving access to the Taliban point to the continuing belief that Pakistan has in the Strategic Depth and the utility of the Afghan Taliban.

The April 15 Kabul attacks must therefore be seen in the overall context.

2 comments:

  1. Hello.

    I'd like permission to reproduce this post in www.orbat.com "Analysis" E-magazine, where we occassionally carry analytical articles. Can you tell me who I should apply to for permission? I also will out a link to this article in our daily update, for 7 days.

    Thank you,

    Ravki
    Editor
    Orbat.com

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    1. Hi Ravki,

      Can you please send me mail to raptorss AT G M A I L ? I am Subramanyam Sridharan and I am the author.

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