Thursday, 20 November 2014

Pakistan’s Afghan policy- arsonist or fireman? Dr Mohammad Taqi

Pakistan’s Afghan policy- arsonist or fireman? Dr Mohammad Taqi

Pakistani officials claim that the Afghan jihadists have gone back to Afghanistan while the information from the ground suggests they have been redistributed over Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber tribal agencies

Former US Ambassador Peter Tomsen was almost prophetic when he warned in his 2011 book The Wars of Afghanistan, “If Pakistan hews to its fireman and arsonist policy in Afghanistan, the Obama administration will likely make little progress in Afghanistan.” He accurately noted:

“The most valuable contribution that America can make to Afghan peace lies not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan”. Sadly, voices like Ambassador Tomsen’s were not heeded in Washington DC in a timely fashion and Pakistan successfully dragged its feet on taking action against the Afghan jihadists of three main varieties, i.e. Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura Taliban, the Haqqani terrorist network and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, till the bulk of US and NATO combat troops were out of Afghanistan.

The Pentagon’s report, ‘Progress towards security and stability in Afghanistan’, submitted to the US Congress last month, has once again pointed out that Pakistan continues to maintain these jihadist safe havens. Pakistan has since rubbished the report, issued a démarche to US Ambassador Richard Olson and was subsequently able to squeeze kudos out of Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, a senior US officer in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, for tackling the Haqqani network.

The fact is that the death of not even one of the 1,200 or so terrorists that Pakistan claims to have killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan could be independently confirmed. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has issued no names either. Not a single Haqqani network commander has been arrested or killed. Contrarily, the prime minister’s national security advisor, Sartaj Aziz, has raised a furor by telling the BBC Urdu service: “Why should we target those extremists who do not target us...why should we willy-nilly make the US’s enemies our enemies?”

He also conceded that the Haqqani network had been operating from Pakistani soil but claimed that now the “infrastructure has been eliminated”. A Pakistani foreign office spokesperson has since stated that Mr Aziz’s comments were reported out of context. Interestingly, Mr Aziz has also said what North Waziristan locals also frequently say, i.e. many terrorists fled way before Zarb-e-Azb started. In fact, locals say a curfew was clamped in many areas of North Waziristan before the operation and then transportation mysteriously appeared and carried away the Haqqani network hordes. 

The course correction vis-à-vis harbouring the Afghan jihadist rebels that the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif is trying to persuade the Afghans and the US about is at best partial. Quetta remains off limits to any foreign diplomat except perhaps the Houbara Bustard-hunting Arabs. Pakistan does not appear to be taking any serious action whatsoever against any of the three prongs of the Afghan Taliban insurgency that it harbours.
 The Pakistani security establishment appears to meticulously be repeating its November 2001 drill when it retracted and preserved its Afghan Taliban proxies only to launch them with a vengeance in 2004-2005 when the US took its eyes off the ball. This time the game plan seems to be to play nice till the US takes both eyes and hands off the ball in Afghanistan before letting the jihadist killers loose again. The line that General Raheel Sharif seems to be taking in the US is that Pakistan has cured the 66-year-old jihadist cancer in less than six months of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. It would be incredibly naïve of US officials to fall for this without due diligence, which must span years, not months. Issuing a clean bill of health prematurely will imperil not just the Afghans but the Pakistanis too, who have suffered tremendously from jihadism’s blowback.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said in a blistering interview with the Prague-based Mashaal Radio that Pakistan not only sheltered jihadist insurgents but also pressed Afghanistan to accept the Durand Line as the permanent border, make peace with the Taliban (on its/their terms) and tried to dictate Afghan foreign policy by telling it to curtail ties with India.

Mr Karzai said that accepting any of this would have meant compromising Afghan sovereignty. He blamed the US for a duplicitous policy where it acknowledged that Pakistan harboured terrorists but did nothing to stop it. Mr Karzai also indicated that the US wanted him to accommodate Pakistan’s perverse demands on how the Afghans should handle their relations with India. Just days before Mr Karzai made these remarks, his successor, Mr Ashraf Ghani, made his maiden visit to Pakistan, including to its military’s general headquarters. The visit ended on the optimistic note that both countries were ready to reset their relations favourably.

While the suave Mr Ghani has to exhaust this diplomatic song and dance, just like his rough and tough predecessor, he too will not be able to concede to a single one of Pakistan’s demands. Pakistani media made a big deal of Mr Ghani coming to Pakistan before going to India but Mr Ghani is not the first Afghan leader to do so. In 1958, Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah also visited Pakistan before he went to India.

During its 1965 and 1971 wars with India, the Afghan government sided with and helped Pakistan. The India-Afghan relationship is a red herring that Pakistan has consistently deployed to dupe the US. Hegemony over Afghanistan is still the Pakistani security establishment’s goal. It yearns for the days when the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) ran at least eight large centres in Afghanistan during the 1990s Taliban regime and its men served as advisors in every single ministry there.

Whether or not the US continues to fall for the Pakistani establishment’s dual policy, Afghanistan’s other neighbours, including China, seem to be developing a consensus that a slide back to the 1990s is not an option. The US can leave the region but Afghanistan, its neighbours and India do not have that luxury. The region has no appetite for Pakistan hewing to its fireman and arsonist policy in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s honeymoon period with the new Afghan government will be short; it will have to clean up its act quickly and transparently. 
The writer can be reached at and he tweets @mazdaki

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