The moving story of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the CIA

March 10, 2008

I just came across a feature on Salon.com headlined Killing ourselves in Afghanistan which I’d recommend to anyone interested in U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Writer MatthewCole has collected evidence which he says shows that some of the $10 billion given in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 9/11 has been used to fund Taliban militants killing American and other troops in Afghanistan. “In part because of Pakistani help, the Taliban have made a steady comeback and American and Afghan casualties are at their highest annual levels since the war began,” he writes. “Islamabad has denied complicity and Washington has maintained official silence, but the double-dealing is not surprising. It’s just the continuation of the Pakistani government’s former alliance with the Taliban, which was itself an outgrowth of a decades-old Pakistani policy of trying to exert control over the internal affairs of its chaotic neighbor.”

U.S. soldier near Afghanistan-Pakistan border/Ahmad Masood

Cole quotes European and American analysts as saying thatPakistan stepped up aid to the insurgents in 2004 because the administration led by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf saw that U.S. forces were achieving no better than a stalemate in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s stronghold. “The Pakistanis stepped into the resulting power vacuum by aiding the Taliban.”

As any journalist who has ever tried to write about this part of the world will know, establishing the truth is nearly impossible, and much of Cole’s evidence will no doubt be challenged, both in Islamabad and elsewhere. But what makes this article interesting reading is the way in which he has tried to put his own experience on the ground together with the CIA perspective on Pakistan.

“The Americans were quickly aware that the Pakistanis had no enthusiasm for fighting the Islamist insurgency,” he writes. “Gary Schroen, a former senior CIA official who led the first U.S. team into Afghanistan days after 9/11 and a former station chief in Islamabad, told me recently that where the Pakistan army does engage in battle against militants, they do so without vigor. ‘The Pakistanis don’t want to fight a counter-insurgency inside their own country,’ he said. “They don’t want to fight against Muslims, they want to fight against India.’ Ultimately, the Americans came to realize that the (Pakistan intelligence agency) ISI was not just avoiding conflict with the insurgents, or shielding them, but actively abetting them.”

That the U.S. administration did nothing about this, he considers “an American foreign-policy debacle”.

Whatever you think about his article, I’d recommend you read through to the end, for it’s only then that you realise that pinning down the relationship between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Taliban is like trying to hit a moving target. Cole says that the Pakistan administration has now turned against many of theIslamist militants,  fearing that they are endangering Pakistan itself:

Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan/file photo by Ahmad Masood

“Of late, however, the foreign-led Taliban factions in the Tribal Areas, the ones believed to shelter al-Qaida’s Arab leadership, have begun focusing more attention on destabilizing Islamabad than Kabul. Now Pakistani intelligence has reason to work with the Americans, at least when it comes to some jihadis, including those known locally as ‘the Arabs’. Many of these insurgents were once aligned with the ISI, but no more,” Cole writes. “The ISI and the Pakistani army are now at war with a powerful, many-tendriled insurgent band they helped to create. The ISI’s history of double-dealing has come back to haunt it.”

Cole’s article does what many journalists aspire to do — “a first writing of history”. It’s already history in the sense that Musharraf is now battling for survival. It’s history because Cole himself says that the attitude of Pakistan has changed. It’s history too in the sense that Pakistan, which for so long looked to Afghanistan to give it strategic depth againstIndia, is now trying to make peace with its much bigger neighbour.

So where does that leave us? As a journalist, who is interested in history, I’d like to know what you think. What did happen after 9/11 and what is happening now?

2 comments

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The election of the development-oriented Awami National Party in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province followed within days by the targeting and roadside bombing of a bride and her wedding party tell the Pakistani story in microcosm.

Writers may be making too much of Pakistan’s seemingly convoluted internal politics and macropolitical relationships in determining cause or motive for terrorism. From the brief insurrection at Lal Masjid to the latest bombing in Lahore, there’s a romantic irrelevance to guerrilla violence that Pakistanis, the most direct of its victims, survivors, and witnesses, cannot overlook. Empowered by having damaged Musharraf’s position through electoral process, the same representative voters should find it that much more difficult to blame the President and Administration (or America or others) for what they’re encountering in late-breaking militant acts.

Moreover, although the importance of President Musharraf’s political survival has been far reduced by the general election, the transfer of responsibility to other elected representatives has not changed the issues, terrorism counting as but one among many, facing the political body in its totality.

As regards terrorism, the coalition government may find its homegrown own and not a few imported Kalashnikov stars closer in behavior than they may wish to western eco-pranksters, rock bands, and such as “Unibomber” Ted Kaczynski or Murrah Federal Building bombers Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh (renegades, loners, moral entrepreneurs, etc.), and they’re going to have to deal with that social phenomenon in scores.

To me America is passing through a very critical phase of its History….It is the worst leadership they are having now…The end result is no secret…. American has given up their support and love for democracy and humanity. I am afraid history will remember Bush Administration only as an initiating agent of down fall for American civilization. The Afghan and Pakistan Policy is an absolute failure for Americans. America can fight and destroy its opponents because it has a huge military and financial power but it can’t win the war because America lacks the moral powers. It is the lesson of History that no war can be won without solid moral grounds. I am afraid Americans are missing this ground and it is a misfortune not only for America but for whole of the world.

Being an ordinary Pakistani it is painful for me that America is responsible for dictatorial role in my country. People of my country also need justice and freedom of expression and they dislike the American support for autocratic role of governance. The double standards of American policy makers has made the country an icon of cruelty and hatred among ordinary masses of Pakistan.

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