Securing Pakistan’s Interest in Post-American Afghanistan

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When Mr. Barrack Obama entered the Oval office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led the US to invade in the first place. “I want the American people to understand,” he announced in March 2009, “we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Obama ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he did not know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley Machrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas Macarthur at the height of the Korean War.

In December 2009, President Obama startled the world by announcing that the American troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan by July 2011.

Justifying his decision, he said, “The absence of a time-frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghanistan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

Obama added, “Some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.”

Obama’s declaration was indicative of the fact that the war in Afghanistan was not winnable, it was proving extremely costly, it had become unpopular in the country and America’s NATO allies were no more prepared to have a long haul in Afghanistan.

As the Republican Senators observed, it was a ‘self- defeating’ message to American allies in the region Pakistan being one of those allies.

When Obama gave his deadline for beginning US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the idea was that there would be a surge of American troops to overcome the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan, in particular in its southern and southeastern provinces, where the Taliban were very strong. The top U.S. Military Leaders assured him.

“Here’s the exchange, between Obama, Petraeus and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as reported by Jonathan Alter in his new book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One:
Obama: “I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
Petraeus: “Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA in that time frame.”
Obama: “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
Petraeus: “Yes, sir, in agreement.”
Mullen: “Yes, sir.”
That seems unequivocal, doesn’t it? Vice President Joe Biden, famously dissed as Joe Bite-Me by one of the now-disgraced aides of General Stanley McChrystal in the Rolling Stone profile that got him fired, seems to think so. Said Biden, again according to Alter: “In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.”

Pakistan was to mount pressure on the Taliban on its side of the border so that they did not find sanctuary or support base to conduct raids on the coalition forces inside Afghanistan. Pakistan began playing its role by opening new fronts with the militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The American strategy was designed that would pave the way for the Karzai government’s forces and police to take the charge of peace and security in the areas cleared of the Taliban. The task of expanding, training and equipping the Afghanistan forces was to be undertaken in the meantime to prepare them for their responsibility after the NATO/ISAF withdrawal.

However, during past seven months, the US-led coalition forces have claimed only partial successes in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the strongholds of the Taliban, and there is no guarantee that the reclaimed territory would not fall to the Taliban once the foreign troops were gone.

The Karzai government, which is corrupt to the core and has further lost its legitimacy after the rigged presidential elections, does not enjoy the necessary popular support to confront the Taliban.

The American urgency to withdraw is understandable in the light of the fact that according to one estimate more than 1,800 coalition troops, including nearly 1,100 Americans, have lost their lives in Afghanistan since its occupation.

Citing the Congressional sources, a recently published report by the London School of Economics claims that the war in Afghanistan has already cost the United States around $ 300 billion. The same sources have estimated that at present the annual cost of this war is more than $ 70 billion for the United States. This is a heavy drain on the US economy, which is already under recession.

After the recent change of government, Britain is no more a committed ally of the United States in its war against the Taliban. Canada has already announced to pull its troops out of Afghanistan. Some NATO partners have only symbolic presence and do not matter much.

Since the coalition troops have not succeeded in subduing the Taliban to the desired extent, it is not clear if the American withdrawal would begin according to the deadline.

Nevertheless, to implement its plan the Obama Administration is now amenable to let some Taliban factions share power with the Karzai administration in Afghanistan provided they sever their ties with Al-Qaeda and ensure that Afghanistan’s territory would not be used against American security interests.

Apparently, the American withdrawal is a foregone conclusion, only its time and mode are debatable.

Criticizing Obama’s announcement about withdrawal of troops, Republican Senator John McCain observed during recent Congressional hearings that Obama’s deadline was “convincing the key actors inside and outside of Afghanistan that the United States is more interested in leaving than succeeding in this conflict.”

He added, “And as a result, they’re all making the necessary accommodations for a post-American Afghanistan.”

It is in this backdrop that an international conference was held in Kabul during the third week of July. The conference backed President Karzai’s peace and reintegration plan aimed at reaching out to the Taliban militants who renounced violence, maintained no links with Al-Qaeda and agreed to respect the constitution of Afghanistan.

The final communiqué of the conference supported Karzai’s call for the Afghan security forces to “lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.” The conference also pressed the Karzai administration to reduce corruption and improve financial management of the country.

In an interview to CNN given soon after the Kabul conference, Richard Holbrook, the US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, observed, “Among the Taliban leadership, there are some people who are reconcilable and some are not.”

While commenting on the Wikileaks, the US National Security Adviser, James Jones, told a Washington Post columnist, “The Taliban generally as a group has never signed on to the global jihad business and doesn’t seem to have ambitions beyond its region.”

Although the United States supports the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, it wants all groups with ties to Al-Qaeda, which includes the Haqqani network, out of this process.

Obviously, Pakistan is one of the important and natural stakeholders in Afghanistan and has legitimate concerns about the character of the future government in that country. Afghanistan is an important element in Pakistan’s geopolitical and security environment.

Since 9/11 Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its policy of siding with the United States in its so-called war on terror. Because of this policy today, Pakistan’s national security is at stake.

By ditching the Taliban, Pakistan lost its foothold in Afghanistan. At the peril of its internal peace and security, Pakistan launched military action against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements that mounted cross-border attacks from its tribal belt into Afghanistan.

Pakistan backed out of the Sakhai and Miramshah Peace Agreements at the American behest at a prohibitive cost. Resultantly Pakistan stands engaged in its own war within.

The militancy confined to FATA has spread to settled areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, southern Punjab and Karachi. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan is at war with the armed forces of Pakistan. Military and civil installations and public places have repeatedly become targets of suicide bombings and attacks by the militants. Neighbors hostile to Pakistan, led by India, have played havoc in Pakistan in the murky internal security environment, by infiltrating and funding terrorists and militants.

Due to the ongoing operations, in the tribal agencies and Swat Pakistan armed forces have been stretched and have paid a very heavy price in the form of Officers and Soldiers, more then the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s western borders have become less secure as more and more troops are moved to its western borders, FATA and Swat.

The policy of reining the Kashmiri jihadi organizations has, contrary to Musharraf era expectation for peaceful resolution of IHK and soft-pedaling has enabled India to tighten its grip on the part of Jammu and Kashmir under its occupation through unfettered use of force and persecution of people of occupied territory.

Instead of responding positively, India has set up its consulates and export houses of terrorism, in the name of development companies, along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan to foment trouble inside Balochistan and Tribal Areas.

India wants to enhance its role in Afghanistan in the name of reconstruction and development and training the Afghanistan army. If India were able to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of NATO/ISAF from Afghanistan, the enemy would encircle Pakistan on almost three sides.

Giving recognition to Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan, General David Petreaus, head of the US Central Command, had observed last March: Pakistan “has an interest that is somewhat different than ours, and that is their strategic depth and always has been for a country that’s very narrow and has its historic enemy to its east.”
In this scenario, Pakistan, naturally does not have the stomach to wage yet another operation in North Waziristan at the behest of the United States. It would be a tragic and classic blunder if the Pakistan government succumbed to the US pressure.

It is not fair on the part of the US Administration to press Pakistan for doing more when U.S. vigorously trying to engage with the Taliban through proxies.
Reportedly, Pakistan is trying to use its good offices to mend relations between the Karzai government and the Haqqani group as a part of the broader reconciliation process in Afghanistan.  US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, has warned Pakistan to be sensitive to American security interests in brokering any deal between the Haqqani network and Kabul, while the U.S. is doing the same through its proxies in Kabul.

The resignations of Afghanistan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar may prove helpful in forging bridge between the Karzai Administration and the Haqqani group and Taliban. For Pakistan, this is the right course of action.

Pakistan would only have a place on the negotiating table, when the future of Afghanistan is decided, if it is able to articulate, invest and go there with instruments of its interest by engaging the various elements of resistance against occupation of Afghanistan.

While Pakistan is denied this natural and legitimate course for securing its interest as Afghanistan’s most important neighbor, the India gets away with supporting the occupation forces and their surrogates in Kabul.

The military operations by the Pakistan armed forces and the American drone attacks inside Pakistani territory are bestowing legitimacy to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and creating sympathy for the militants. Such acts are radicalizing the Pashtun people. Pakistan can ill afford to lose mind and hearts of any segment of its population.

Pakistan armed forces are not likely to achieve a military victory in FATA while the Americans have lost hope in Afghanistan despite availability of all resources and want a negotiated settlement. Sooner the Pakistan government comes to the negotiating table with the local militants, excluding the sectarian outfits, the better.
However, as claimed by the WikiLeaks, the US Administration continued to be fed false intelligence reports, that allegedly the ISI was hand in gloves with some Taliban factions, in particular the Haqqani network, and was assisting them, by biased and Indian sponsored Afghan Intelligence.

According to WikiLeaks, more than 180 intelligence files accused the ISI of supplying, arming and training the insurgents since at least 2004.  On its own showing, these allegations came from the Afghan intelligence sources hostile to Pakistan.

Hence, the US Administration also suspected that Mulla Umar and Osama bin Laden were hiding somewhere near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the ISI was giving them protection or at least knew about their whereabouts. Perhaps these false reports also led to misgivings between the United States and Pakistan and the United States repeatedly demanded that Pakistan needed to ‘do more’ and Pakistan kept on doing more and is required to do more.

Grudgingly, the Western media is also appreciative of Pakistan’s concerns in terms of its interest in future political settlement of Afghan occupation.
This editorial on articulates thus:

This to me is a far more interesting question than whether Pakistan has a role in Afghanistan. You can be sure the U.S. administration has a shrewd idea of the answer and has been working for months to narrow its differences with a country, which has a powerful role as either ally or adversary.

It says it wants a stable and neutral Afghanistan and a rollback in Indian influence there. While “neutrality” is hard to define given Pakistan’s deep distrust of India, and while it would be expected to push for a friendly government in Kabul, this does not imply that it wants the Taliban back in power in Kabul (although it would probably expect them to be part of any political settlement.)

Pakistan found the Taliban hard enough to control when they were in power from 1996 to 2001 – it was not, for example, able to persuade them to recognize the Durand Line, the colonial era border dividing the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. A resurgent Taliban, fresh from any victory against the Americans, would be even harder for Pakistan to manage. Therefore, it would be against its interests for the movement to have too much power, particularly since this might embolden Taliban allies on the Pakistan side of the border, who have already unleashed a wave of bombings across the country.

On top of that, there is little love lost between the Taliban and Pakistan, and certainly no liking for the ISI, if you go by comments made by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the last Taliban ambassador to Islamabad. “In my dealings with them (the ISI) I tried not to be so sweet that I would be eaten whole, and not so bitter that I would be spat out,” Zaeef writes in his book “My Life with the Taliban”.

Pakistan has also been pushing for a political settlement which it says should include all Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups (a Pashtun/Taliban only settlement would likely lead to renewed civil war and de facto partition, both of  which would leave Pakistan still struggling with an unstable neighbour).  But I’ve not heard anyone suggest that Pakistan wants U.S. troops out of Afghanistan within a year – rather the talk is more of a three to five-year time horizon (coincidentally or not, the three-year timetable matches the unexpectedly-long three-year extension in the term of office just given to Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.)

Compared to that, the WikiLeaks reports are only the tip of an iceberg that everyone has always known is there.

Or as Andrew Exum argues in this op-ed in the New York Times: “I can confirm that the situation in Afghanistan is complex, and defies any attempt to graft it onto easy-to-discern lessons or policy conclusions. Yet the release of the documents has led to a stampede of commentators and politicians doing exactly that.” An editorial on MYRA MACDONALD);“

About amicus

The courageous and daring character of Mehran Bank Case, Yousuf Memon Advocate, is none other than the Amicus of The Pakistani Spectator. Amicus a.k.a Yousuf Memon Advocate is one of the leading bloggers at the TPS. Amicus regularly appears in Pakistan TV talkshows.

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