Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

We need to talk about the Haqqanis

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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.

“Now, I also think it’s important to take a little historical review. If you go on YouTube, you can see Sirajuddin Haqqani with President Reagan at the White House, because during the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States Government, through the CIA, funded jihadis, funded groups like the Haqqanis to cross the border or to, within Afghanistan, be part of the fight to drive the Soviets out and bring down the Soviet Union,” she says.

I have to assume she means Jalaluddin Haqqani, the elderly father who has since passed on much of the leadership of the Haqqani network to his son, Siraj. Yet here is the thing. I cannot find any evidence that Haqqani ever visited the White House. I have asked around among Afghanistan and Pakistan experts. I have skimmed through my copy of Charlie Wilson’s War.  I have asked on Twitter if anyone could show that Haqqani had ever visited the United States. 

from Afghan Journal:

In the U.S.-Pakistan fight, India an anxious spectator

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.

Pakistan’s China Syndrome

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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 “end game” is in Pakistan

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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.

After Kabul attack, pressure remains on Pakistan

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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.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy: is that depth strategic or senseless?

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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:

Taliban talks and Mullah Omar’s Eid message

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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”.

from Afghan Journal:

America in Afghanistan until 2024 ?

The Daily Telegraph  reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 .  That's a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)

Pakistan’s growing democracy

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Pakistani politics can be infuriating, petty, violent and often downright incomprehensible. So it is easy to miss what is actually quite a remarkable transformation in the way it governs itself. For perhaps the first time in its 64 years of existence, Pakistan is trying to figure out in detail how to make democracy work.

In a country traditionally dominated by the centralising authority of the military, the government which took office in 2008 is devolving power to the provinces. It is talking about breaking up Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and traditional recruiting ground of the army, by creating a new Seraiki province in south Punjab. It is extending some political rights into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by reforming the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations, a British colonial-era system designed to control rather than govern the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

When there are no people in Pakistan

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Rarely does a story reveal so much so unintentionally as this month’s article in the New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle reconstructing the May 2 raid by U.S. forces who found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. The article, beautifully written in the genre of Black Hawk Down, purports to tell the inside story of the Navy SEALS on the raid, right down to what they were thinking, or indeed, in the case of one of them, what he had in his pockets.

The problem, as reported initially by The Washington Post, was that Schmidle had not actually spoken to any of the SEALS involved in the raid but relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men. That, along with his failure to disclose this fact in the article, has prompted a vivid debate on Twitter and elsewhere, both about journalistic ethics and the accuracy of the story.

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