Pakistanis objected when President Obama soon after taking oath as President linked Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) as a single issue and appointed late Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to deal with it. Interestingly Taliban has reached the same conclusion and there is increasing evidence that Taliban on both side of the border are cooperating. So now we can say that there is an emergence of Af-Pak Taliban.
There are media reports that Mullah Omar, Chief of Afghan Taliban, broke the stalemate when a new chief had to be appointed for Pakistani Taliban (TTP) after the assassination of Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike. It is interesting that Mullah Omar choose a person, Mullah Fazlullah, who is deadly against peace negotiations with Pakistan government. He lived up to his expectations as soon after his selection TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid issued a statement that Pakistani state should be ready for revenge attacks on her citizens. The selection of Fazlullah was also a slap on the faces of all political parties that has pushed Pakistan towards blanket discussion without any well defined red lines.
Another important aspect is that Fazlullah was elected in a Shura meeting in Afghanistan which in other words means that it had a tacit support of Karzai government. But it is the NATO forces that exercise de facto control of Afghanistan so these things can not happen without their prior knowledge of it. In a way the selection of Fazlullah link Karzai government, Afghan Taliban, NATO and TTP.
There is a propaganda value of Fazlullah as well. He belongs to the Swat region of Pakistan and has recently killed a high ranking military officer in an IED attack on his jeep. His elevation in a way is an announcement of war on Pakistan army. Army has been quite successful in containing Taliban influence in settled areas of Khyber Pakhtonkhwa. This is an effort to create a wedge between civil and military establishment which can be used to dilute the resolute of the state to fight for its interest.
What does it mean for Pakistan and what are the probable scenarios emerging from it?
There has been talk circulating among foreign policy observers and security analysts that there is realization among Afghan Taliban that it is not possible for them to control all of Afghanistan. This conclusion is based on the resources available to them which are not sufficient to control all of Afghanistan geographically. It is also based on their past struggle with Northern Alliance as well as the growing Iranian influence in the North-Western region of Afghanistan. There is growing chatter that Af-Pak Taliban are planning to develop a new boundary line consisting of Eastern Afghanistan and FATA area of Pakistan. It will not be a surprise if Af-Pak Taliban announce an Islamic Emirate comprising these areas. It is also noteworthy that Mullah Omar has not accepted Durand line as a recognized international border. Selection of Fazlullah is an indication where is the probable boundary of influence of Taliban. To the north of FATA they want Swat and in the South an area up to District Tank. Both of these areas have agricultural lands which is important for steady food supply for this new emirate planned by Taliban. This announcement of an Emirate coupled with tension on the Eastern border of Pakistan could but a strain on security apparatus. A civil opposition movement against the government will further aggravate the situation.
There is a misconception promoted in Pakistan that Russia and China are against NATO presence in Afghanistan. The realty is much different. The recent terror incidents in China and continuing terror from Chechens are a worry for both these countries. They would want containing spread of militancy to their areas and Af-Pak Taliban is aware of it. If Taliban guarantees China and Russia that there will be no presence of foreign fighters in their area and they will cooperate to eradicate militancy then they may get up to listen. In return Taliban can ask for support in a multilateral organization for their recognition based on the fact that they never accepted Durand line as a legitimate international border.
In other words there will be an emergence of a South Asian version of Israel that can be used as a pressure point to control the Eurasian trade gateways. This gateway is not mere an idea there has been infrastructure development that shows that it is in the execution stage. These infrastructure projects include development of a rail network from China to Europe through Kazakhstan that reduces good transit time from 30 days via sea to 15 days. Originating in north-western China this train link terminates at Duisburg Germany. China’s takeover of Gwadar deep-sea port is also part of this long-term plan. The increasing influence of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russian sponsored Customs Union is also part of this Eurasian trade zone. The success of this Eurasian trade zone is contingent upon peace in Af-Pak area.
Some may say that emergence of an Af-Pak Taliban announced Islamic Emirate is a far-fetched idea. For these people I would like to highlight that South Sudan is the newest country in the world. East Libya recently announced independence. Kurdish region of Iraq has become an autonomous state that does not accept sovereignty of Iraq in its area and has signed oil agreements on its own. Lebanon was carved out of Syria as well as East Timor from Indonesia. So we should not be surprised when Britain, that was party to the Duran line agreement, takes a lead in defining the intent, content and purpose of this agreement to prepare international acceptance of this new emirate in return to safeguard its trade interest in Eurasia. One of the articles of the Durand Line agreement is as follows:
Pakistan has been blamed by both Afghanistan and USA that there has been interference from its side. Pakistan’s wrong foreign policy position that the conflict resolution should be Afghan owned and Afghan lead will also play a part. Presence of Mullah Baradar, Quetta Shura and recent assassination of Nasiruddin Haqqani are other evidence of Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan. This could tantamount to Pakistan’s violation of Durand Line agreement and a guilty party which has to be penalized.
Pakistan has diplomatically isolated herself as Iran, India, and Afghanistan are all blaming her for terrorism inside their borders. China and Russia will be more interested in safeguarding their interest rather than come out to support a country that has not managed its affairs. Pakistan should learn from the example of Syria which was forced to give up its chemical stockpile in return for stopping support of armed opposition. A similar situation may emerge when world powers may give a deal to Pakistan to give up its nuclear weapons in return for non-recognition of Af-Pak Taliban emirates. Recent news of Pakistan’s willingness to offer nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia might be an effort to prepare the world view.
All nations reach a stage when consensus has to be developed on key issues or risk the very survival of the state. It is that moment for Pakistan. We have to answer the following questions:
Do we want to promote one Pakistani identity or continue dividing the nation on ethnic, sectarian, social and religious lines?
Are we a moderate and tolerant society that can accommodate diversity?
I believe Pakistan was always a moderate society and showed her resolve as nation when she fight natural disaster. So she can fight this man-made disaster as well. What will be your answers to the above questions? That will decide the fate of this nation as only a cohesive and united community can withstand the aggression inside and outside.