Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

"The Taliban had like many rogue regimes, acted in bad faith.  They had engaged not to compromise, but to buy time. They had made many promises, but did not keep a single one. The Taliban refused to isolate, let alone, expel Bin Laden , and al Qaeda metastasized," says Rubin. The Sept 11 attacks were plotted at a time when U.S. engagement with the Taliban was in full swing. 

Defining Pakistan

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binoria girlsHistorian Manan Ahmed has a must-read column up at The National on a strengthening grassroots conservative Islamist ideology in Pakistani society, encouraged, he says, by the political thinking of the likes of TV host Zaid Hamid.

“A new narrative is ascendant in Pakistan. It is in the writings of major Urdu-language newspaper columnists, who purport to marshal anecdotal or textual evidence on its behalf. It is on television, where the hosts of religious and political talk shows polish it with slick production values.

Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

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mehsudAccording to the Los Angeles Times, a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment. It quotes U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials as saying that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

“U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan’s remote regions,” the newspaper says. “But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda.”

Pakistan: winning over Tehran and Kabul

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iran pakistanAccording to the Iranian foreign minister, quoted by Press TV, this week’s visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad was related to plans for a trilateral summit between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The relationship between the three countries and potential influence on Afghanistan gets a lot less attention than the strained ties between India and Pakistan. But it’s worth watching closely for the way it can shape the regional competition for influence in Afghanistan ahead of an expected drawdown of U.S. troops in 2011.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Kabul this week, and shortly afterwards Karzai flew to Islamabad.

from Tales from the Trail:

Is Holbrooke’s “bulldozer” style working?

Dubbed the "bulldozer" for his tough guy tactics in Balkan negotiations, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been making waves in South Asia recently.

holbrookeU.S. embassies in New Delhi and Kabul have been scrambling over the past week to deal with local fallout from statements made by Washington's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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

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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.

Keeping Kashmir secret

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srinagar cricketAccording to Richard Holbrooke, there is a place in the world so secret, so taboo, that even the special envoy of the most powerful country in the world dare not speak its name.

Here is what he said at a briefing earlier this week,  according to the State Department transcript:

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