Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently concluded visit to Pakistan has left us none the wiser about how the United States and its allies will end the Afghan war. In her public comments, she spoke of action ”over the next days and weeks – not months and years, but days and weeks”. She promised the United States would tackle Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan in response to a long-standing Pakistani complaint that Washington had neglected the region when it decided to concentrate its forces in population centres in southern Afghanistan in 2010 (remember “government in a box”?).
She called, in return, for cooperation on the Pakistani side of the border to ”squeeze these terrorists so that they cannot attack and kill any Pakistani, any Afghan, any American, or anyone.” Between the two countries, they would tackle the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban.
But squeeze them to what end? To weaken all but the hard-core leadership of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network so that they agree to lay down arms and rejoin the political process in Afghanistan? Or to entice them into serious negotiations through which they might be offered a share of power in Kabul, or accommodated in a “soft partition” of Afghanistan (an idea deeply unpopular among Afghans) which leaves them in control of the south and the east?
As Pakistani columnist Ejaz Haider wrote in Pakistan Today just before Clinton arrived, the current U.S. policy looks a bit like the dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. “‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ asked Alice. ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”
In his book “Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination“, an edited collection of his Chapati Mystery blog, historian Manan Ahmed complained about the United States’ past support for former president Pervez Musharraf, and its refusal, at the time to trust Pakistan with democracy. In an entry written in 2007, he described Pakistan as the “the not yet nation” - a country for which democracy might be a good thing in the long run, but was in American eyes not yet ready.
“We fear the multitudes on two fronts. One is that we conceive of them as masses without politics – forever hostage to gross religious and ideological provocations. Masses which do not constitute a body politic or act with an interest in self-preservation or self-growth. Faced with that absence of reason, we are forced to support native royals to do the job (from Egypt to Pakistan). We justify it by stressing that we may not like these dictators but we know that if we did not have them, the masses would instantly betray us to the very forces of extremism that we seek to destroy,” he wrote.
from Afghan Journal:
Last month driving up Afghanistan's magnificent Panjshir valley, you couldn't help thinking if the resurgent Taliban would ever be able to break its defences, both natural and from the Tajik-dominated populace. With its jagged cliffs and plunging valleys, Panjshir has been largely out of bounds for the Taliban, whether during the civil war or in the past 10 years when it has expanded a deadly insurgency against western and Afghan forces across the country. But on Saturday, the insurgents struck, carrying out a suicide bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base housing U.S. and Afghan troops and officials.
They were halted outside the base, but according to the provincial deputy governor they succeeded in killing two civilians and wounding two guards when they detonated their explosives. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the first suicide bombing in a decade was a message to Western forces that they were not secure anywhere in the country. They said the bombers came from within Panjshir, which if true would worry people even more because that would suggest the penetration was deeper and there could be more attacks.
In a question and answer session last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about how the United States would balance its need to work with Pakistan while also putting it under pressure to end its alleged support for the Haqqani network.
Her answer, according to the State Department transcript, was to remind her audience that the United States had also played a role in creating the mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
from Afghan Journal:
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.
At the height of Pakistan’s crisis in relations with the United States, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani reminded his Chinese guest of the words he had used to describe its relationship with China. ”Pak-China friendship is higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey.” In a press release issued by the prime minister’s office during a visit to Islamabad by Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu, Gilani also promised China that “‘your friends are our friends, your enemies are our enemies and your security is our security.”
It was language designed to show that even after Admiral Mike Mullen’s assertion that the Afghan militant Haqqani network was effectively a proxy of the Pakistan army, China – Pakistan’s “all weather friend” – stood at its side. The Pakistan media enthusiastically played up Meng’s visit, jumping on a relatively small offer of financial help and a dreamed-of defence pact with China to build up hopes of Chinese support.
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.
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.
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:
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”.