Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

In the U.S.-Pakistan fight, India an anxious spectator

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Pakistan and the United States are in the middle of such a public and bruising fight that Islamabad’s other pet hate, India, has receded into the background.  A Pakistani banker friend, only half in jest, said his country had bigger fish to fry than to worry about India, now that it had locked horns with the superpower.

But more seriously, India itself has kept a low profile, resisting the temptation to twist the knife deeper into its neighbour when it faces the risk of isolation. Much of what Pakistan stands accused of, including the main charge of  using violent extremism as an instrument of foreign policy, is an echo of what New Delhi has been blaming Pakistan for, for two decades now.  Even the language that America’s military officials led by Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and diplomats  have employed such as “proxy wars” , “cross border raids”   or terrorism central to describe Pakistan is a throwback to the 1990s and later when India and Pakistan were dueling over  Kashmir.

“What  Mullen has said with regard to the role of certain forces in Pakistan, is also something which is nothing new to us. In fact when we were the first to flag this issue earlier, the world didn’t believe us,” the Press Trust of India quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as telling reporters on board his plane on the way home from the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. 

But the tone and tenor of the Indian response to Pakistan’s predicament, including on the Hindu right, has been remarkably restrained. This, as former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran wrote in The Indian Express on Thursday, is hardly the time to gloat over Pakistan’s situation.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “end game” is in Pakistan

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The United States has turned on Pakistan with such dizzying speed over the past few weeks that it is difficult to keep pace. Yet what is clear after Admiral Mike Mullen's extraordinarily blunt statement that the Haqqani militant network is a "veritable arm" of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is that it now has the Pakistan army very firmly in its sights.

Mullen accused the ISI, which is effectively a wing of the Pakistan army, of supporting the Haqqani network in a truck bomb attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan and an assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul which led to a 20-hour siege. "We also have credible intelligence that they (the Haqqani network) were behind the June 28 attack against the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller but effective operations," he said.

from Photographers' Blog:

Back in Afghanistan, ten years later

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By Erik de Castro

Ten years ago I was part of the three-member Reuters multimedia team that went to Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. We covered the pursuit for Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban followers, who were believed to be holed up in the caves of the Tora Bora mountains, by US military special forces fighting alongside the Afghan Mujaheedin. Nobody from the press saw Osama. Instead about a dozen Taliban captured from the caves were presented to the media in Tora Bora.

As we passed the Afghan border on the road to Jalalabad following a long journey from Islamabad, Pakistan, I remember the precautions our security adviser told us: If ever we are stopped by armed men along the way, stay calm and just hand over our U.S. dollars. Weeks earlier, two Reuters colleagues (a TV cameraman and a photographer) and two other European journalists traveling with a convoy of media vehicles were killed by bandits on the same road.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Kabul attack, pressure remains on Pakistan

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That the situation is bad in Afghanistan is obvious. Quite how bad is open to debate following the 20-hour attack by insurgents on Kabul, though former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman put it rather succinctly on his Twitter feed @SORBONNE75. "If one considers totality of picture---anti-terror, anti-insurgency---- US far from prevailing in Afghanistan. US troops after 10 yrs in same position as Soviet troops after 8 yrs were in 1987---victory increasingly elusive."

Yet as has been the case for years, the United States has few good options in Afghanistan. Pulling out altogether would not only leave Afghanistan dealing with a bitter civil war but could further destabilise Pakistan.  Staying runs the risk of testing the patience not just of western public opinion but also of Afghans, who as the Afghanistan Analysts Network said, could come to see foreign forces as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  "The possible perception among Afghan residents that the presence of foreigners is a catalyst for attacks may lead to a growing conclusion that the problems related to their presence far outweigh the benefits," it said. In the meantime, talks with the Afghan Taliban in order to try to reach a political settlement  appear to be going nowhere and are unlikely to become any easier after the attack on Kabul.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s Afghan policy: is that depth strategic or senseless?

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At a conference earlier this year, someone made an argument, convincingly I thought, against the use of the expression "the end-game in Afghanistan".  Afghanistan as a country and the people in it will not come to an end when western forces leave, and nor is their future a game.  I was reminded of that comment reading a report published at the end of last month called "Pakistan, the United States , and the End Game in Afghanistan; Perceptions of Pakistan's Foreign Policy Elite." 

The report, produced jointly by the Jinnah Institute and the United States Institute of Peace, summarises in one place what has until now been largely the subject of background briefings about what Pakistan wants in Afghanistan. The report's authors, who have also written a shorter summary of its findings, identify three main objectives which the "elite" considered necessary in Afghanistan:

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks and Mullah Omar’s Eid message

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Since reading Mullah Omar's lengthy Eid message on his view of Afghanistan's future, I have been trying to work out, without success, what it means for prospects of talks with the Taliban. It is a piece of evidence without context, available to anyone to bolster whatever argument they care to submit.

Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid described the message from the Afghan Taliban leader as "the longest and by far the most forward-looking political message he has ever sent".

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