Afghanistan, Pakistan and … all the other countries involved

October 20, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have questioned before the value of the “AfPak” label, which implies that an incredibly complicated situation involving many different countries can be reduced to a five-letter word.

Having spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the suicide bomb attack in Iran which Tehran blamed on Jundollah, an ethnic Baluchi, Sunni insurgent group it says has bases in Pakistan,  I’m more inclined than ever to believe the “AfPak” label blinds us to the broader regional context. Analysts argue that Jundollah has been heavily influenced by hardline Sunni sectarian Islamist thinking within Pakistan which is itself the product of 30 years of proxy wars in the region dating back to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan towards the end of the same year.

This Sunni-Shi’ite faultline is showing up in suicide bombings in Iran, while at the same time Sunni Islamist groups continue to challenge the writ of state inside Pakistan even as the Pakistan Army presses ahead with its offensive in South Waziristan, stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.

Such is the power of the Sunni Islamist movement, that Pakistan has been forced to close schools for fear of more bombings in its heartland in response to its military offensive in South Waziristan.

So what is the response on the “Af” side of the “AfPak” strategists? After intense diplomatic efforts, President Hamid Karzai has agreed to a second-round run-off in a disputed election. Allegations of electoral fraud had undermined Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan, and delayed a decision by President Barack Obama on whether to send more troops to the region.

But how many people believe that a second-round run-off on Nov. 7 will change the dynamics of a region which is getting more, rather than less, unstable by the day? (That is not to say a run-off is a bad idea, but rather that it may be overrated in its significance).

In the meantime India is becoming increasingly worried about instability in neighbouring Pakistan. But it is in a difficult position in working out how to respond, since it wants action against the Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for last year’s attack on Mumbai. Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of the few militant groups which is not believed to have been involved in attacking targets within Pakistan, potentially pushing it down the priority list for an army already fighting in South Waziristan and facing an assault in the country’s heartland from Punjab-based groups.

In my 25 years of journalism, I’ve rarely seen a situation move so quickly.  I’d like to think there is someone in power who is not only keeping pace, but keeping ahead.

In the meantime, here are some articles worth reading:

Steve Coll makes a compelling argument for U.S. commitment to Afghanistan in an article reproduced by Foreign Policy

Shuja Nawaz, also writing at Foreign Policy, argues that the Pakistan Army deserves more support and equipment in its offensive in South Waziristan (read on to the bit where he writes about Frontier Corps scouts having to go out in open-toed sandals).

Andrew Exum has done us all a favour by arguing that comparisons with Vietnam depend entirely on how you view the history of that war (it’s hard enough to make sense of what is happening now, so maybe Vietnam analogies need to be consigned to the same cyber-dustbin as the AfPak label?)

And last, but not least, look at Reuters new Afghan Journal blog, combining the insights of our team of journalists on the ground with news from around the world.

(Photos: Presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran; British soldier in Afghanistan)


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FIRST hAMID kARSAI is a bold faced guy for he me fraud in the elections and has permitted the killing of his people and secondly, Iran has its own right to develope atomic energy for electric generation.Whos gonna blame the american goverment for its never ending armamentistic nuclear carreer?

Posted by alexis | Report as abusive

Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan, is daring. With political pressure and history pushing against his actions, he has made a commitment that may pay off substantially if executed successfully. Dinesh Sharma does into greater detail on the significance of Obama’s quest at

Posted by Dersu Ouzala | Report as abusive

In the top photo, all 3 look so sweet and innocent like 3 school children skipping along to their class.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

the pakistani offensive is certainly daring, but i have to wonder how pushing the taliban fighters out of waziristan will affect the troops in afghanistan who already have their hands full. as mentioned in this video ( the move was a long time coming, but might not be as helpful in the long run.

Posted by johnfranklin | Report as abusive

When things are getting hot in Africa, Pakistan is the new investment destination for Chinese! How long will the Chinese survive in Talibanistan? 4.stm

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

It is very obvious the attack on iran was propped up by some western power ( very likely CIA).Dividing a group of people into Sunni or Shia is a skilful way employed by Anglo saxons to keep islamic countries perpetually at war amongst themselves,As they keep fighting amongst themselves Oil Barons like Exxon Mobil,Royal Dutch Shell,chevron,halliburton will keep robbing them.

What we are seeing today is rehash of political history of 16th century of portugal,dutch,english,french powers bastar..ising human societies into slaves.All the current crisis is direct result of American Policies.They have turned peaceful moderate societies into extremists.I am sure there is a conspiracy to unsettle iran in the coming days to snatch their nuclear weapons.

With so much disturbance around some mad man is going to do something terrible to India & that to me looks very very likely.

Posted by Vijay | Report as abusive

Thick Black Theory…

An interesting post over at . . ….

Posted by Thick Black Theory | Report as abusive

From numerous international leaders we have heard “Pakistan is the epicenter of terrorism”, now we can see that Pakistan has literally & figuratively become ‘the epicenter of terrorism’. Just like during an earthquake, the seismic waves travel far & wide to create havoc & destruction, we see the seismic waves of terrorism, originating from it’s epicenter (Pakistan) create havoc all around i.e Afghanistan, India, Iran etc. If left unchecked for too long, these seismic waves are bound to travel to far off western & Pacific countries as well.

You have the Pakistani establishment, it’s army & ISI in bed with anti-India groups (LeT, JeM etc), in bed with anti-Afghanistan groups (Afghan Taliban etc) & also in bed with anti-Iran & anti-Shia groups (Jundollah, LeJ etc). If the world is to rid itself of this lethal menace of terrorism, the epicenter i.e the Pakistani army & the poisonous ISI will have to be dismantled & defanged. That’s the only long-lasting solution.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive

Many in Pakistan fail to understand the value of their vote. Agreed we go to the polling stations whenever we are lucky enough to have elections, but having an ink mark on our thumb does not mark the end of our civic duty. When we come out in numbers, those politicians that take Pakistanis for granted are shaken to the core. Those law enforcement agencies carry out their duty with justice. Not only the government, but the army also realizes that it becomes powerless when it is dealing with the nation as one. If we, the people, are able to wield such influence over these powerful institutions by coming together as one unit, lord save the militants if we truly unite as Pakistan. e-the-people/

Posted by AHR | Report as abusive

“Such is the power of the Sunni Islamist movement, that Pakistan has been forced to close schools for fear of more bombings in its heartland in response to its military offensive in South Waziristan.”

Could Wahibi culture be the main cause of this perpetual state of violence?

“Yet Lashkar-e-Taiba is one of the few militant groups which is not believed to have been involved in attacking targets within Pakistan, potentially pushing it down the priority list for an army…”

I sees very little evidence that the LeT is on any priority list of the army or the Pakistani administration – except some cosmetic arrests under duress. This is a mistake of going back to the good/bad terrorist/freedom fighter syndrome. Eventually the same monster will surface with drastic consequences to attack its sponsors as history repeats itself. That is the hallmark of terrorist organisations – they have no compunction on being ruthless on their own benefactors once they gain enough power. An asset turns to a migraine overnight.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

“(That is not to say a run-off is a bad idea, but rather that it may be overrated in its significance)”

This is more true than it sounds. What does one know about Abdullah more than one knew about Karzai before he became the chosen one? The real problems in Afghanistan are the complete absence of choices. It would be par for the course if Abdullah turned up worse than his predecessor.

I think Obama has no room to wait for events to settle in Afghansitan on the political front. They are not going to, meanwhile precious time is being wasted.

I find it most perplexing that a political Commander in Chief (with no military experience) should so openly question the recommendations of his Army Commander and the man on the spot. It is bad policy, bad for morale and shows poor all round experience of matters military. Politicians should fool around in their own political backyard but leave military operations to military commanders, once they have been given a task. The trouble here is obvious – the politicians don’t know what task to set. Hadn’t McCain warned of the problems in trying to learn on the job? He was prophetic.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive


The class is being hoisted by some mulla in some dark secret world of madrassa… The Afghani guy looks as if he knows something more than madrassa gradduated zaharbari jubaan ahmedinijaad and tobacco chewing zardari

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive

Bottom of Hell!

I was tempted to write to him and tell him that we were not at the bottom of hell yet, but we were trying hard to get there.

Or something like, yes, we are at the bottom of the hell but at least the weather is fine. om_our_own_correspondent/8318121.stm

Posted by Sam | Report as abusive

Why are three guys in the picture so happy. Unless somebody just tickled them, there seems to be no reason.

I see you are shifting the gears with this article–using expression like “This Sunni-Shi’ite faultline” and “Such is the power of the Sunni Islamist movement”.


@I sees very little evidence that the LeT is on any priority list of the army or the Pakistani administration ….This is a mistake of going back to the good/bad terrorist/freedom fighter syndrome. Eventually the same monster will surface with drastic consequences to attack its sponsors as history repeats itself. That is the hallmark of terrorist organisations – they have no compunction on being ruthless on their own benefactors once they gain enough power. An asset turns to a migraine overnight.”
– Posted by Dara

Dara: People in Pakistan are believed to have changed their views and are against “certain” terrorists. But this still is “certain terrorists” not all.

Pakistan establishment is not there yet. Pakistan leaders/generals do so far are unwilling to raise their voice against Afghanistan Taliban. S. Waziristan is tough battle but it still is against Pakistan taliban and is the result of Afghanistan Taliban which Pakistan created. But Pakistan so far has been unwilling to have any anti-Afgh-Taliban policy. Same on the other side of the border, Pakistan might have noticed some Punjabi terrorists collaborating with Pak-Taliban in suicide bombings in pak, but Pak is still not ready to believe that LeT/JeM type Org carry the potential to turn against the state. All these terror organizations are not contained in some water tight compartments, they all talk to each other and from West POV, they have links with Al-Qaida.

Until people and the powers do not realize all terrorist/militants unacceptable, terrorism will stay.

can anyone tell me how the weapons get into the hands of terrorists. All I hear is open markets etc, freely available and the loot of the US/NATO ammunition.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

It may be worthwhile to review some history how pakistan army and ISI started this terrorist mess.

The turbulence in Afghanistan started with the overthrow of Shah Zahir by his brother who was later overthrown by the two fighting factions of the Marxists known as Khalq and Parcham. There was a succession of leaders like Taraki and Kamal. Eventually, the Parchams with the help of the soviets staged a coup and placed Najibullah, the head of the secret service, Khad, as the dictator.

When the mujahideen started their insurgency against the soviet protege, they asked for the help of the soviet, which they provided.

The civil war in Afghanistan became more “interesting” when foreign mujahideen, mostly arabs, came in to fight the jihad. But when the americans decided to support the mujhaideen, Paks accepted as a godsend. IT IS A BALD FACED LIE WHEN PAKS PRETEND TO BE INNOCENT VICTIMS.

The war was NOT imposed on Paks, they took it as a hungry man takes to halwa offered on a platter. Far from being a reluctant partner, they insisted that all US aid to the mujahideen be channelled through them and they, in fact, became the command center of the jihad against the soviets and not a mere facilitating party.

Paks not only picked up the bag, they owned it and ran with it. Paks created a special force, called taleban, from the afghan refugees in Pakistan and supported them in all kinds of manner to ensure their victory against other warlords in Afghanistan.

If the Paks had not supported the taleban and left war lords to sort out their problems by themselves, Russians, Iranians and Indians would not have supported the Northern Alliance and Afghanistan would perhaps have saved itself the catastrophe that has befallen it.

The people of whole region is suffering because of the megalomaniac dreams of the pak army. What is the role of the supposedly innocent “moderate” paks in the civilian population and media….they were either smug partners or looked other way as long as the jihadi gun was on the people of neighbouring countries.

In summary, there are no innocent paks- military or civvies.

Posted by Raj | Report as abusive

I like the guy who is soilder and seems to be doing something which is like making Khaini, Indian tobacco… Thanks Myra for posting the guy’s pic… I like the pic… It should get some photography award it says lot of things.

Posted by Rohit | Report as abusive


Your synopsis on the birth of Taliban is on target. I would just like to add that though the Pak Army was in fact the command center of the Jihad, it was done with the full support and knowledge of the Americans. The US aim was predominantly to cut the Soviets to size. Pakistan, on the other hand, was in it to increase its control and influence over Afghanistan and being paid by the US to do it. You scratch my back I scratch yours.

To-day the US is hunting and being hunted by the same Taliban. There is a lesson here for Pakistan – ‘you next.’ What is astonishing is that they don’t seem to fully appreciate it even now.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive


We seem to be in agreement over your terrorist/my asset foolishness that Pakistan seems thrive on and which is now coming back to bite the hand that fed it.

However, I don’t buy into this Afghan Taliban as different from the Pak Taliban. They are both Taliban, with the same agenda – an Islamic state according to their version. There are Afghans and Pakistanis in the Taliban but they are limbs of the same body. Differentiating between them as strategic assets and enemy as is being done now by the Pak establishment is paving the way for even more trouble in future.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

[…] Pakistan: Now or Never? Afghanistan, Pakistan and … all the other countries involved […]

Posted by Pakistan: Now or Never? « Pakistanpal’s Blog | Report as abusive

@VIJAY- u wrote-.All the current crisis is direct result of American Policies. They have turned peaceful moderate societies into extremists. I am sure there is a conspiracy to unsettle iran in the coming days to snatch their nuclear weapons.

You have a point here. Charlie Wilson’s doctrine was like any (american) football coach shouting ‘we need to win at any cost’. Taliban took birth as a result. We can not change history but can learn lessons from same and steer future accordingly. The US donations are huge amounts and PA is building a solid conventional weapons system. The monies as intended should go to welfare, building democracy and education blunting the effect of madarassas. Easily with american monies the PA is creating an army that will be viewed with fear by neighbors like Iran, Afghanistan and central asian countries,all neighbors of Pak. Why should Iran, from this angle, remain complacent and compromise its own security when it is surrounded by sunni militaries armed to the teeth. The blame should be placed at the doorstep of donors, for unregulated ( read irresponsible) shovel feeding of an unstable nation, especially with the prospects of falling into the hands of militants. Its already too late. Auditors from IMF/UN should monitor the utilization of funds, just like the elections are monitored these days, and strings should be attached all the way to every dollar given.


Posted by buddha | Report as abusive


Yes you are right about Pak and Afghanistan Taliban not much different.
________________________________________ ________

buddha:  /us/US-tells-Pak-not-to-use-aid-for-con frontation-against-India/articleshow/515 3988.cms

Quote””On Thursday night, the US Senate voted 68-29 on measures which aim at ensuring that U.S military resources provided to Pakistan are not squandered or diverted to adversely affect the ”balance of power in the region,” an oblique reference to New Delhi’s long standing gripe that Pakistan ends up using U.S military aid to wage war against India.

“””This provision simply ensures that the American peoples’ tax dollars are being used for their intended purpose,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee and co-author of the measure along with Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said. “That fight (against terrorism) is important to our own national security, and we have to ensure that our support for it is not being squandered or diverted,” Menendez added. Neither mentioned India directly.

“Lawmakers were helped in this regard by reported acknowledgement by Pakistan’s former dictator Pervez Musharraf that he had diverted US aid to Pakistan to bulk up against India. ……

“”Pakistan’s subsequent whining about the conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill has in fact begun to now anger Congress. Earlier this week, Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf was reported to have snapped at visiting Pakistan Senator Syed Zafar Ali Shah when he complained about conditions being attached to US aid to Pakistan.

”I KNOW WHY ARE YOU HERE… IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE BILL DON’T TAKE THE MONEY,” an angry Wolf was quoted by a Pakistan journalist as having told Shah.

“Senator John Kerry, co-author of the Kerry-Lugar bill conveyed pretty much the same message more politely during his recent visit to Islamabad, saying PAKISTAN WAS NOT OBLIGED TO TAKE ACCEPT THE MONEY IF IT DID NOT LIKE THE CONDITIONS.

“But inasmuch as the legislation demands scrutiny, there is also enough wiggle room for the administration to conduct policy on its terms.

“For instance, in the matter of end-use restrictions, while the bill enjoins the Secretary of Defence to “establish and carry out a programme to provide for the registration and end-use monitoring of defence articles and defence services transferred to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” it also allows him to “exempt a defence article or defence service from the registration and end-use monitoring requirements if he deems it in the US interest to do so.”

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

When will American journalists wake up?
Have they not learned their lesson after the lies of WMDs? Gulf of Tonkin? The Maine? The list goes on an on.

The Taliban poses absolutely no threat to the United States or anyone else outside of the Afg-Pak-Iran. The Taliban is funded and influenced by Saudi Wahabi extremism. After the Soviet occupation, a vacuum of power existed…the Saudis took this opportunity to create one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history.

Was Bin Laden Saudi or Afghan? Did the Taliban attack us or the Saudis? Did the Taliban not offer to hand over Bin Laden after 9/11 if we offered proof? The Taliban are often angry Afghans whose family members were killed in “precise” air strikes.

Saudi is to blame. Not Afghanistan. Not Iraq. Not Iran. SAUDI. And who holds hands with Saudi? Bush. Who bows to Saudi? Obama.
The United States will not leave Afghanistan nor will it leave Iraq (not a real withdrawal). The US is simply increasing its empire while US citizens suffer without health care.

This war is pointless. The puppet elections are pointless. The US/allies will get what they want: power, control, and the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline.

Posted by Uzayr | Report as abusive

“In my 25 years of journalism, I’ve rarely seen a situation move so quickly. I’d like to think there is someone in power who is not only keeping pace, but keeping ahead.”

Geez…Myra, Myra, Myra…please do not be so naive. Our rulers are blood thirsty incompetents…lying, murdering thieves…I’d think after 25 years you’d finally realize that.

Posted by Bob Bogus | Report as abusive

@Did the Taliban not offer to hand over Bin Laden after 9/11 if we offered proof?”
– Posted by Uzayr

Uzayr: So you believe the above. This is another way of saying f### off. Any way, OBL admits he did.

@The Taliban are often angry Afghans whose family members were killed in “precise” air strikes.
–Could you tell us about those Talibans running wild in Afghanistan under the blessings of Pakistan/Saudis/UAE. Taliban govt doing the same barbaric acts approved by ISI. OBL entered the scene later and that internationalised the regional problem. Then all those shared facilities in E. pakistan for training terrorists for Kashmir and other places. There was no precision strike until 1997 when Taliban was occupying 2/3rd of Afghnistan. Why is it that you are trying to show readers a twisted version?

Nobody comes out of the womb with Kleshnikov sure. I can agree on that much only and nothing else and will not paint a killer as a victim. Regional boss after 1989 has been ISI and they ruined it and now they perhaps are ruing it.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

[…] her aim of bringing in support from Pashtun leaders. Can she hope to turn the page as she wishes? This article written a few days ago asks some interesting questions about the whole region, and whether anyone in […]

Posted by What can Hillary Clinton achieve in Pakistan? « BBC World Have Your Say | Report as abusive

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Posted by Kris Shelvey | Report as abusive