As the war in Afghanistan continues, so does the purported regional chess game between India and Pakistan. Below, Tariq Tufail, from Karachi, presents his views on Pakistan’s evolving policy in Afghanistan:
A huge shift in the U.S. Afghanistan policy is reportedly taking place. The London conference and the meeting in Turkey indicate that some degree of reconciliation and an integration of the Taliban into the mainstream in Afghanistan will be attempted in the next 18 months. To support this effort, donors have already pledged about $500 million. When these events unfold, they will have a great effect on Afghanistan and the region, comparable to the Soviet withdrawal, the fall of the Najibullah Government and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
What are the ramifications for Pakistani security and foreign policy? Unfortunately, I think this policy shift comes at an inconvenient time for Pakistan, when the Pakistani public and armed forces have not completely renounced the use of Islamist proxies to achieve our diplomatic objectives. In this context, there is a great danger that Pakistan will commit foreign policy and security blunders.
First, a background:
Pakistan’s perception of its security is India-centric. To this effect, Pakistan has always sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. Though the definition is vague (and probably dreamed up by our generals who have given us similar disastrous “strategies” in the past), the prevalent theory is that a friendly and pliable Afghan government will provide the landmass and the population in any future conflict with India. Furthermore, a Pro-Pakistan (and by implication anti-India) tilt in Afghanistan will protect Pakistan from:
(i) a two-pronged front against India
(ii) Pashtun nationalism endangering both the Durrand line and our territorial integrity
While the pursuit of “strategic depth” by itself is neither unethical nor dangerous, the method by which we had pursued it until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has endangered our security and threatened the very existence of Pakistan.
The training of Afghan fighters for the Soviet Jihad, the infrastructure of madrassas, gun culture and drug running, have severely destabilized our tribal areas and FATA. The extremist interpretation of Islam, which provided the ideological foundation for the mujahideen, on the one hand prevented economic and social development, and on the other served as a magnet for undesirables all over the world (it was in this environment that Osama Bin Laden found refuge in Afghanistan). While it was immoral and unethical to foist this culture on the Afghans, it was also inevitable for these same extremist ideologies, gun and drug cultures to spill on to the Pakistani side of the border, endangering our own population.
In addition to utilizing the various terrorist organizations and militants to create a pliant Afghan government, Pakistan also has had a history of using such groups against India. The hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 and its diversion to Afghanistan in order to free people of (Pakistani) Punjab origin (among them Omar Sheikh Sayeed, implicated in the killing of Daniel Pearl, and Maulana Mazood Azhar, the Amir of Jaish-e-Mohammed, implicated in assasination attempts on Gen. Musharraf) is a significant example. (Before the readers of this article protest that Pakistan had nothing to do with the Taliban, the role of Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agents in the training and nurturing of Taliban is undeniable and one can refer to the Kunduz “Airlift of Evil” also covered in “Descent into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid.)
Fast forwarding to the future:
It is inevitable that Pakistan will play a central role in the reconciliation between the Taliban and ISAF in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s leverage arises from:
(i) the possible sheltering of the top leadership of the Taliban (including Mullah Omar, and members of the “Quetta Shura“), as well as our influence with other figures like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar,
(ii) the role of Pakistani armed forces in preventing Taliban movement from Afghanistan into Pakistan to carry out cross-border attacks and,
(iii) Our indispensability for logistic routes and supply of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The way we use this leverage will determine whether our security will be strengthened in the long term or whether we slip into another spiral of instability, several orders of magnitude worse than what we have today.
Is there a danger in reverting to Pre-9/11 status and why is it a bad idea?
COAS Kayani has indicated that Pakistan’s primary security threat is India and “strategic depth” is still being sought in Afghanistan. In addition, there is a widespread school of thought in Pakistan that the current violence and instability in the country is the result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Therefore, taking these factors into account, it is clear that the establishment finds it very attractive to revert to a pre-9/11 status – where the Taliban is supported and nurtured by the ISI and armed forces, a pliant Taliban-supported government is installed in Afghanistan with the associated medieval interpretation of Islam, and the various Afghan forces are used for leverage against India in Kashmir. In fact, this possibility has rattled India, which until a few weeks back had refused talks with Pakistan until concrete progress was made in the Mumbai case, but now is pushing for dialogue.
The prevalent sentiment that a Pre-9/11 scenario will put Pakistan on the driver’s seat in Afghanistan, India and the rest of the world, was further enforced by our foreign minister, who declared, “India had blinked on talks” and “Pakistan has held its ground.” Pakistan’s foreign minister even reneged on the progress made so far on Track-II diplomacy with India on Kashmir under the Musharraf regime. In addition, Jamaat-ud-Dawah and other “Punjabi Taliban” groups who were laying low after Mumbai, surfaced and held a rally in Muzaffarabad on Feb 5, promising, among other things, to “spread Jihad in other parts of India beyond Kashmir.” All this before talks had even begun with India. In one sense, they can be viewed as pre-talks sabre rattling, and in another sense, it can be viewed as the establishment’s desire to return to a Pre-9/11, Pre-Mumbai status quo, which may be advantageous in the short-term.
However, this line of thinking is a huge fallacy due to two reasons:
1. Proxy warfare didn’t work in Kashmir
Pakistan has to wake up to the fact that Kashmir’s “jihad” has been a spectacular failure. After sparking many wars, sending in many Jihadis, sponsoring numerous resolutions in various international fora, we are nowhere near wrestling control of Kashmir. Direct military action supported by the Mujahideen is unlikely to work. The Kargil war was a spectacular defeat–despite recent attempts to spin it as a success–Nawaz Sharif to his credit made a face-saving exit after the sudden trip to the U.S. to meet President Clinton. If anything Kargil has indicated that future wars over Kashmir will invite international wrath as well as destabilize our politics.
India has held democratic elections and thinned out their military presence in Kashmir and the number of violent incidents have gone down year after year since 2002. Even when Pakistan’s leverage on the Mujahideen was the strongest, (in the 90’s), and India’s economy was simultaneously the weakest with a balance of payment crisis, India demonstrated that it could hold on to Kashmir. Instead of harming India, armed jihad against India has destabilized the Pakistani population, killed and maimed Kashmiris, reduced our international standing, de-legitimized the Kashmir cause and is unlikely to yield any result in the changed international attitude towards terrorism. Moreover, China‘s wariness about the Mujahideen given the problem it faces in Xinjiang (recall that China did not support Pakistan during Kargil), the increasing economic gap between India and Pakistan (which will soon translate into a gap in defense and diplomatic capabilities) and the concomitant hardening of Indian public opinion as they flex their national strength further reduce any possibility of success.
2. With great power comes great responsibility
Secondly, if Pakistan is co-opted to hammer out a solution in Afghanistan by using our influence on the Taliban, the international community will shift responsibility to us . If another 9/11-like attack occurs by elements sheltered by the Taliban, Pakistan will subsequently be blamed or asked to “do more”. Given the ideological leanings of the Taliban, as well as their involvement in the gun culture and violence, it is inevitable that Afghanistan will once again become a magnet for undesirable elements. Who in their right mind would want to be responsible for the actions of such elements?
Policing the behavior of Taliban, while simultaneously facing the threat of economic and military retaliation from the West for their bad behavior is an unenviable proposition.
So unpalatable as it might be, we should recognize the changed international scenario, the harm that we are causing to our population and go for a radical rethink of our Afghan policy and strategy.
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