On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai “directly accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of being behind a recent series of attacks by extremist Islamic militants that have killed scores of people,” reported the AFP. On Sunday, a militant assault on an outpost in Afghanistan killed nine U.S. soldiers, while a suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 last week. Karzai told media outlets today, “The murder, killing, destruction, dishonoring and insecurity in Afghanistan is carried out by the intelligence administration of Pakistan, its military intelligence institutions.”
Although the statement was a harsh accusation from the Afghan camp, it was not the first in recent weeks. Just last month, the Afghan president threatened to send his forces into Pakistan “to fight militants operating in the tribal areas there,” amid concerns over the increased infiltration of militants across the border, [see related post]. On Monday, Karzai’s cabinet announced that “Afghanistan would boycott a series of upcoming meetings with Pakistan unless ‘bilateral trust’ was restored.” A statement from the cabinet read, Pakistan’s “intelligence agency and military have turned that country (in) to the biggest exporter of terrorism and extremism to the world, particularly Afghanistan.”
Pressure on Pakistan to rein in the militant threat has significantly increased, a fact further exemplified (and arguably exacerbated) by Western media coverage. Today, an interesting piece in the NY Times, entitled, “Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay in Business,” reported on the Taliban takeover of the Ziarat marble quarry, a coveted national asset located in the FATA region [see NY Times image to the left]. According to the news agency, this takeover “is one of the boldest examples of how the Taliban have made Pakistan’s tribal areas far more than a base for training camps or a launching pad for sending fighters into Afghanistan.” Taxes and fees on the marble quarry have reportedly brought the organization tens of thousands since April. Moreover, noted the Times, “From the security of this border region, they deploy their fighters and suicide bombers in two directions: against NATO and American forces over the border in southern Afghanistan, and against Pakistani forces — police, army and intelligence officials — in major Pakistani cities.”
An Associated Press story reported yesterday that, according to the U.S. military, militant attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased 40 percent this year over 2007. And for two straight months, the death toll of foreign troops in Afghanistan has exceeded that of Iraq. The attack Sunday, which killed nine U.S. soldiers, was labeled by media outlets as “the deadliest single attack for the U.S. since June 2005.” Although the ambush occurred in the country’s Kunar province, where Gulbuddin Hekmatyar‘s radical Hezb-i-Islami has a stronghold, the group is said to have close contacts with militant organizations operating Pakistan.
Therefore, the common denominator in all of these equations is, unfortunately, Pakistan. As a result, it is nearly impossible for our government to avoid taking a stronger stance against these militant forces. However, Pakistan must strike the difficult balance of quelling these international pressures and still maintaining at least an illusion of sovereignty. Islamabad cannot be perceived as a U.S. lackey by a public that is largely anti-American (according to recent polls). So far, the country’s leaders have taken steps to ensure this occurs. In an interview on Saturday with the Associated Press, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said there are no U.S. or other foreign military personnel on the hunt for Osama bin Laden in his nation, and, moreover, none will be allowed in to search for the Al Qaeda leader. He told the news agency,
Our government’s policy is that our troops, paramilitary forces and our regular forces are deployed in sufficient numbers. They are capable of taking action there. And any foreign intrusion would be counterproductive.
PM Yousaf Raza Gilani echoed such statements on Sunday, asserting that Pakistan was an independent state and “no one could dare challenge its sovereignty.” Likewise, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari was cited by the Daily Times stating, “Pakistan was in favor of the war on terror, but it was unjustified of the United States to expect miracles from a four-month old government.”
How much can and should the U.S. expect from Pakistan on this issue? Moreover, how can Pakistan sell a policy to its people in a way that is digestible and acceptable to these outside actors?