Pakistan’s strategy on the Taliban; the Kabul and Islamabad views

March 8, 2010

karzai zardariIf you read all the commentary on the arrest by Pakistan of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar  amongst others, there is a very clear distinction between the view from Kabul and the view from Islamabad about what is going on. That is not surprising given the deep distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I’ve noticed it has become particularly acute over the last month or so. The main argument is whether the arrest of Mullah Baradar and others  was meant to undermine a pro-talks faction and replace them with a harder line ISI-backed Taliban, or whether Pakistan is rounding them up in order to keep control over any negotiations on reconciliation with the Taliban. If the latter were true, it would be expecting the United States to address Pakistan’s own security interests, particularly in relation to India, in return for its help in tackling the Afghan Taliban.  

So do read two articles which came out over the last week or so to compare the two quite different views.

In Foreign Policy, Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason argued that the arrest of Mullah Baradar amongst others was a purge by hardliners:

 ”The military and political madness of the AfPak Wonderland has entered a new chapter of folly with the detention of a few Taliban mullahs in Pakistan, most notably Mullah Baradar, once the military strategist of the Quetta Shura, the primary Taliban leadership council headed by Mullah Omar. Like the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon in Alice in Wonderland, this has the Washington establishment dancing the whacked-out Lobster-Quadrille: Instant Afghanistan experts at the White House and pundits at august Beltway institutions like the Brookings Institution are absurdly calling the detentions a “sea change” in Pakistani behavior.

“In fact, it is no such thing. Pakistan has not abandoned overnight its 50-year worship of the totem of “strategic depth,” its cornerstone belief that it must control Afghanistan, or its marriage to the Taliban, and anyone who believes that is indulging in magical thinking. What has happened is, in fact, a purge by Taliban hard-liners of men perceived to be insufficiently reliable, either ethnically or politically, or both. It is well-known that there had been a schism in the Quetta Shura for months, with hard-liner and former Gitmo prisoner Mullah Zakir (aka Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul) coming out on top over Mullah Baradar. Baradar sheltered fellow Popalzai Hamid Karzai in 2001 and possibly saved his life after an errant U.S. bomb in Uruzgan province killed several men on the Special Forces team that was escorting him. Baradar later became a confidant of the president’s  brother, paid CIA informer Ahmed Wali Karzai, and met occasionally with the president himself in the tangled web of Afghan politics.”

Then read Hasan Askari Rizvi in the Daily Times.

“A major shift has taken place in the disposition of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies towards the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban in January-February 2010. Some of the well known Afghan Taliban leaders and TTP activists have been arrested in different cities, especially from Karachi,” he writes.

“Pakistan’s tough approach towards the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban is the product of the down-to-earth analysis of the growing Taliban threat by Pakistan’s security authorities and the increased interaction between the top brass of the Pakistan Army and the US military authorities dealing with this region during the last six months.”

“These arrests are also meant to help the US because Pakistan wants the current US-led NATO operation to succeed in Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot afford to let the Afghan Taliban capture power in Kabul, although it would like more effective Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, including accommodation of the Taliban that are willing to give up the military option.

“Pakistan’s cooperation with the current US policy in Afghanistan is based on the assumption that the US military authorities in the region recognise Pakistan’s security sensitivities about India’s role in Afghanistan and India’s pressure on the eastern border. The other consideration is that the US would contribute to upgrading Pakistan’s capacity to fight the Taliban in the tribal areas. If these understandings persist, Pakistan is expected to continue with the current counter-terrorism policy.”

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said in an interview with the Financial Times that he does not know exactly what is going on:

“Everyone has asked the same question. How do you know? Have we turned a corner? I’m not prepared to make those judgments, and you’ll have to ask the Pakistanis that,” he said. “I’m an agnostic at this point . . . as to whether this was a policy change [by Islamabad] or a serendipitous collection of discrete events.”

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