is no military solution"
"US pressure is
certainly due, but so are sweeteners
It may only be a coincidence but some see a connection between President Obama's new Afghan policy that announced a surge in US troops by about 30,000 in Afghanistan and the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The much awaited policy announcement used the term "Afghan" instead of the de-hyphenated and much debated AfPak policy of the president in March this year. Then too the US troops were doubled -- from 30,000 to 60,000.
The recent statement has come at a crucial time and therefore has implications for Pakistan, the United States itself and the entire region apart from Afghanistan, of course. The truth is that the United States and the Nato forces are badly stuck in Afghanistan. And it is more likely that the implications of this policy on the US will decide the future course for almost every stakeholding country in the region.
To begin with, the persistent resistance offered by the Taliban has put into question the utility of a ground war. The US president has already made the exit strategy clear whereby the US troops start withdrawing from Afghanistan by July 2011. The assumption here is that by that time the Nato forces would have trained the Afghan military forces and civilian structures to take control of the country as they leave. This is easier said than done. The Western forces are operating in an environment of insurgency. They have been unable to train the Afghan forces in the last eight years and there is little chance the insurgency would end in the next eighteen months.
So why make such hurried policy statements? There is a sense that US engagement in Afghanistan is going to be an important issue in the congressional election due next year. If they are able to gain control of big cities as a consequence of this troops surge, the administration may be able to sell this as victory to the democratic voters and win the elections. It may also want to preempt the anti-war demonstrations by the left-leaning democrat voters.
This indeed is a short-term scenario. The problems in Afghanistan are far more complicated. What does the future look like? Whether there is a military solution alone or do the Taliban need to be brought on the negotiating table is an important question. How do the different actors engage with Taliban is what is going to decide the future course. Here comes the role of Pakistan. The Pakistani military, it is generally assumed, is looking at a scenario where the Nato forces have withdrawn and it may then have to, if not actually like to, deal with Taliban in the driving seat.
Reminiscent as this is of the 1990s, this looks like a dangerous proposition. The challenges ahead for the region, in particular Pakistan, form a part of today's Special Report.
Prospects & challenges
The success of the US mission is dependent to a large extent on Pakistan's cooperation
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
Pakistan faces even more difficult days, now that President Barack Obama has decided to escalate the war in Afghanistan by deploying 30,000 additional troops in one more desperate attempt to defeat the stubborn Taliban and other smaller resistance groups.
It has suffered a lot from the fallout of the 30-year old Afghan conflict, more so during the past eight years following the US invasion of Afghanistan. Additional foreign troops in Afghanistan would mean more fighting, causing death and destruction, displacement and further radicalisation of the Afghan people, particularly the Pashtuns. Pakistan's border areas, overwhelmingly inhabited by Pashtun tribes and already destabilised, would also be affected and radicalised, thus contributing to the unrest prevailing in the region.
Since the days of the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, the US has been allowed a free hand to carry out drone attacks in the country's tribal areas, violate its airspace with impunity and on occasions insist on influencing even its domestic policies. As if that wasn't enough, the US according to sections of the American media is now considering expansion of its covert and not-so-covert operations in Pakistan under President Barack Obama's new Af-Pak strategy.
The present democratically elected government seems to be even more spineless than that of General Musharraf in resisting the US dictates. After the installation of the PPP-led coalition government in Pakistan, the attacks by the US drones in the tribal areas have increased. In fact, one of the missile strikes by the pilotless US aircraft even targetted a place in Bannu district. And the so-called 'red line' was crossed in September 2008 when US ground forces barged into Pakistani territory near Angoor Adda in South Waziristan, attacked three houses and killed more than 20 people, including women and children. All this was done in the name of fighting terror, and in 'hot pursuit' of militants who had crossed the Pak-Afghan border. Though there has been no such incident since then, it doesn't mean that this cannot happen again. Who among Pakistan's ruling elite would dare stand up to America, more so if it insists that it is using its right of 'hot pursuit' to get fighters attacking its soldiers in neighbouring Afghanistan?
It is said President Obama didn't say much about Pakistan in his keenly-awaited policy address to cadets at the West Point military academy. He devoted much of his speech to Afghanistan, the real theatre of war where 68,000 US and 42,000 Nato forces are already deployed and another 37,000 Western soldiers would be in place by next summer as part of a major military move to defeat the Taliban, destroy al-Qaeda, enhance the security capabilities of the Afghan national army and police and stabilise the country. However, the matters concerning Pakistan were left unsaid, apparently due to the fact that the US has conveniently made secret deals with the past and the present Pakistani rulers to gain access to the country while pursuing its hunt for militants who could threaten its security. Ideally, the US as an established democracy and Pakistan, which one could refer to as an aspiring democracy due to its failed attempts since independence to strengthen democratic rule, should be doing business openly and honestly. But in this imperfect world, it suits Washington and Islamabad to cut quiet and secret deals while managing their affairs. This serves Washington's purpose all right.
In Pakistan's case, the military dictators are able to prolong their rule by doing America's bidding while the country's weak democratic rulers believe they can overcome their vulnerability by moving closer to the US.
Like the Bush administration, the new one under Obama too has publicly admitted that the US cannot succeed without Pakistan's cooperation. In fact, Pakistan under Musharraf facilitated the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in late 2001 and made it less costly in terms of human and material cost for the Americans to remove the Taliban from power and to diminish the strength of al-Qaeda. Last week, retired Lt General Shahid Aziz revealed how General Musharraf handed over the control of the Pakistani airbases of Jacobabad and Pasni to the US military without telling his corps commanders and didn't mind when the American soldiers disallowed Pakistan's troops from entering the Jacobabad airbase. More such disclosures could surface and throw light on the doings of a General who allegedly allowed violation of Pakistan's sovereignty on a number of occasions and even ventured to wrongly claim that the drone attack carried out by the US drones killing 83 students and teachers of a madrassa in Bajaur was undertaken by the Pakistan Army. His claim was followed by a suicide bombing at a military training centre at Dargai in Malakand Agency and the revengeful killing of 42 young soldiers-recruits.
The US has been a frequent and major aid-giver to Pakistan, but most of the assistance in recent years has been military. For the first time in years, non-military assistance amounting to $7.5 billion is being given to Islamabad over a period of five years under the Kerry-Lugar Bill. But such is the mistrust between the two countries that even this generous help is viewed with suspicion not only by the common people but also by the military, Pakistan's most powerful institution.
The US authorities were hoping this assistance meant for the social sectors would help bring down the strong anti-America sentiment prevalent in Pakistan. This is not likely to happen due to a host of factors, the major one being the general discontent with the US policies towards the Islamic world, particularly its blind support for Israel, its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and its interference in the affairs of Muslim countries.
Confronted with the prospect of defeat in Afghanistan as conceded by the US military commander General Stanley McChrystal while pressing his case for deployment of additional 40,000 troops, the Obama administration is now working overtime to seek greater cooperation from Pakistan in avoiding such an eventuality. It wants Islamabad to continue its military operations against the Pakistani Taliban and extend the action to those tribal and settled areas where the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda members are believed to be hiding. Though there has been no sighting of Osama bin Laden for the past eight years after the fall of the Taliban regime, the US officialdom somehow believes he is hiding in Pakistan. And US generals and diplomats have repeatedly said that al-Qaeda cannot be defeated unless bin Laden is killed or captured. Pakistan's role would be crucial in getting the al-Qaeda head even though nobody knows his whereabouts.
The US is keen that military operation is undertaken in North Waziristan, Orakzai and Kurram tribal regions and the so-called Quetta Shura of Afghan Taliban in Balochistan is dismantled. It would like more Pakistani troops to be moved from the border with India to the western boundary with Afghanistan and more checkpoints to be set up to prevent infiltration of militants across the Durand Line to attack US-led coalition forces.
Another US worry is the security of the Nato supplies passing through Pakistan via the Torkham and Chaman border crossings to Afghanistan. Up to 80 per cent of these supplies meant for the 106,000 US and Nato forces are sent through Pakistan despite Washington's recent agreement with Russia and some of the Central Asian countries to use the northern route to Kabul to ferry non-lethal goods. The quantum of supplies would increase when more US and Nato troops are deployed and a greater number of Afghan soldiers and cops are recruited and trained as they too would have to be provided arms and ammunition for training and use. The Nato supply convoys through Pakistan have come under increased attacks in recent months and greater resources would be needed to protect the supply lines and compensate Islamabad.
It is, therefore, obvious that the success of the US mission is dependent to a large extent on Pakistan's cooperation. The US is offering carrots and using the stick to seek Pakistan's help in achieving its objectives. But it seems the Americans have still not found the right formula to get wholehearted cooperation from Pakistan and win the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is Resident Editor of The News in Peshawar. His email is email@example.com
By Waqar Gillani
"…actually a reaction to the policy"
Central Secretary Information, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman)
The United States' new policy on Afghanistan does not serve the interests of Pakistan. Even the Pakistan government has not been taken into confidence. The policy shall have a deep and negative effect on Pakistan. If you notice the post-December 2 announcement scenario, there has been an increase in incidents of violence in Pakistan, which is actually a reaction to the policy. If there is more war in Afghanistan, there will be more violence here. The parliament has called for its supremacy and respect of the sovereignty of the country, through a resolution that was passed in the Lower House. However, the resolution has not been implemented yet. The best thing is that Pakistan should watch its own interest and not be treated like a slave. Pakistan's Foreign Office has also expressed reservations on the policy, but no explanation has been given from the American administration side. Instead of putting pressure on Pakistan, the US should treat it on the basis of equality. If the US claims that it is giving aid to Pakistan, it should also remember that the Pakistan Army has objected to the conditions put on Kerry-Lugar aid.
"(It) has serious implications for Pakistan"
Chairman PML-N and member of the Senate
Additional American troops in Afghanistan will create problems for Pakistan. The US should have taken the Pakistan government into confidence before forging its policy. To take only one person in confidence, as they did with Pervez Musharraf, is not acceptable. This policy has serious implications for Pakistan. Once the US adds to troops in Afghanistan, the militants will run towards Pakistan for shelter. The Pak-Afghan border is very long and a number of militants and ammunition supply are coming in through the border. Our party will press the ruling coalition to take up the policy in the parliament. We also intend to raise the issue in the Senate in its upcoming session (due on Dec 15).
"…a continuation of the "do more" policy and K-L Bill"
Kamal Ali Agha
Central Secretary Information, PML-Q
The new Afghan policy will create difficulties for Pakistan. It's a continuation of the "do more" policy as well as the Kerry-Lugar Bill. If one should listen to the speech of the US President Obama, one finds that the policy is designed to step up pressure on Pakistan. For this the US also offered a strengthened partnership to Pakistan. The US has even started saying that al-Qaeda leadership is in Pakistan. The problem is not going to be solved here. Even the ruling Pakistan People's Party is not supporting it wholeheartedly. We will take up the matter in the regular session of the Upper and Lower houses of the parliament. We think that Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has failed in getting a clarification from the Obama administration. Our party has clearly stated that the government has completely failed in safeguarding state's sovereignty. The rulers are just following what America is saying.
"There are clear contradictions…"
Omer Sarfraz Cheema
Central Secretary Information, PTI
Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf has always maintained that war is no solution to this issue. PTI has also been demanding that American and Nato forces should leave this region for the sake of peace. This policy is not acceptable to us at all as it will only impact negatively. …America has given a deadline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and has, reportedly, started negotiating with Taliban also, which means it has admitted its defeat. But, it is constantly pressing Pakistan to "do more". There are clear contradictions in the US policy. Pakistan should have its own national policy and it should not take dictation from the external forces. PTI stands against this war on terror. The war has caused immense loss to Pakistan. Our party chairman (Imran Khan) has offered to mediate between Taliban and the government and has volunteered to meet the Taliban leadership.
"(It) will give two crucial and tough years to Pakistan"
Central leader, Jamaat i Islami, MNA
The Afghan policy of George Bush regime has failed and the same will be the fate of this new policy given by the Obama administration. …America has failed to achieve its targets. Pakistan, being the partner of US, has become the biggest victim of the war on terror. Drone attacks are violating the country's sovereignty and killing civilians. Unfortunately, the government has become a puppet. We are of the view that the policy will give two crucial and tough years to Pakistan and the incidents of violence will increase. The policy is meant to put more pressure on Pakistan, but, unfortunately, the government does not seem to realise this. …The solution lies in saying 'no' to America. Pakistan should immediately stop playing the role of a front-line state (of America) in the war on terror. According to the National Assembly resolution, there should be no compromise on the sovereignty of Pakistan. Most importantly, Pakistan will have to frame new, homemade foreign and internal policies.
--Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador to Afghanistan
By Delawar Jan
The News on Sunday: Do you think the troops surge will put an end to the Afghan war?
Rustam Shah Mohmand: No, but it can definitely further complicate matters in Afghanistan.
In the beginning, I think, the US will be able to hold sway of and stabilise big cities like Mazar-e-Sharif, Ghazni, Hirat, Jalalabad and others. But conflict in the surroundings of cities will go unabated. In my opinion, the US will increase aerial bombings which will cause an increase in collateral damage. This strategy will aim at building pressure on insurgents and other stakeholders to talk to the US. Secondly, the Americans will use dollars to buy the loyalties of important people involved in the resistance. Thirdly, they will bypass Kabul and establish direct contacts with the provinces and warlords which, I think, will cause tension between the central government and the US.
This policy will continue for year and half -- till 2010 congressional elections in the US. Since they would have brought some stability to cities, the democrats will try to convince the American nation that their Afghan policy is working. They may win election on the basis of this temporary success. So this policy is more US people-specific instead of exploring a solution to Afghan war.
TNS: Will they meet the June 2011 deadline for withdrawal?
RSM: That is meaningless. It's only a psychological tactic. They cannot control Afghanistan in such a short time -- a year or so. They may pull, for example, some 5,000 troops out of 100,000 to beguile the Americans and the world. It will take them another ten years.
TNS: What will be Taliban's strategy regarding countering the US forces?
RSM: They have said again and again that their fight will continue till the withdrawal of foreign troops. They will utilise their limited resources to fight back in the northern and western Afghanistan. All Taliban groups remained allegiant to Mullah Omar over the years and that is their strength.
TNS: What will be the implications of the new strategy for Pakistan?
RSM: Though people are expressing apprehensions regarding the troops surge, I am convinced it will have no adverse impact on us. The Afghan fighters are not coming to this side of the border.
TNS: Some people also fear that the battlefield might be shifted to Pakistan, especially keeping in view of the US allegations that Pakistan harbours Taliban groups?
RSM: There is no need for it. We are already doing a lot for them. Pakistan army is an active partner (in the war on terror). Pakistan has also allowed drones to take off from our bases and strike within our borders.
TNS: Will the troops surge result in amassing support for Taliban in Pakistan?
RSM: No. We are not fighting the Afghan war. The Afghans are leading their own insurgency. Taliban have no regular army. They are paying no salaries. Common people are fighting the US aside from doing their businesses and jobs. You can see there, for instance, that a man takes part in war and then comes back to run his shop. As far as the Pakistani Taliban are concerned, the Afghan Taliban have already disowned them. They don't call them Taliban.
TNS: Will the new strategy affect the reconstruction process?
RSM: A lot of reconstruction work has already been done in Kabul and outside of it. Roads, power stations, schools and colleges have been built but all this did not produce the desired results because of a lack of human resource. Majority of skilled, trained and educated persons left Afghanistan due to war and have been living in the West and Asian countries since. And if the war intensifies, it will affect reconstruction as NGOs and UN agencies will halt their operations and flee the fighting. The war will also cause damage to existing infrastructure.
TNS: If, as you said, the new strategy will not end the war, what solution do you have in mind for the Afghan situation?
RSM: There is no military solution. Only negotiations will end this war.
Each Taliban group has its own strengths and interests, but all of them have only one goal -- to oust the US and the Nato forces from Afghanistan
By Shafiq Ahmad
As per Obama's new strategy, the war is shifting to Pakistani territory because the US administration believes that top al-Qaeda leadership is hiding in "safe sanctuaries" in the tribal areas as well as Balochistan. However, the US strategy has so far failed, as missile attacks from drone aircraft have yet to flush Osama bin Laden and his close aides out of their hiding. Such attacks have been widely condemned by Islamabad and the general public in Pakistan as a large number of innocent people have also been killed. There are some reports that majority of the suicide bombers are relatives of those civilians killed in these drone attacks.
So far none of the Taliban groups has made any statement about the new US war strategy or Obama administration's announcement to spike troops' level in Afghanistan. Earlier, when Obama had made his intentions public, Maulvi Nazir, Taliban commander of Wazir tribe in South Waziristan, reacted in the following words: "We are waiting for this!"
There are several splinter groups of Taliban in the tribal areas -- some of them are so-called pro-government while the others are not known to the public. Each group has its own strengths and interests, but all of them have only one agenda -- to oust the US and the Nato forces from Afghanistan.
Taliban can broadly be divided into four major categories. The first category comprises those that are attacking Pakistani security forces and law-enforcement agencies, and are involved in most of the attacks in the country. But this category of Taliban is apparently no more interested in fighting against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.
The second category of Taliban has no role in fighting against the Pakistani security forces, but is concentrating on ousting the US and the Nato forces from Afghanistan. The third category comprises Arab militants that have links with al-Qaeda, while the fourth group is composed of Central Asian militants including Uzbeks and Chechens.
The first category of this group is led by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), now headed by Hakimullah Mehsud. The TTP in recent years got the support of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan led by Tahir Yeldoshev and other Central Asian Republic fighters, mainly Chechens; Shaheen Group of Commander Asmatullah Shaheen belonging to the Frontier Region of Tank; Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Ghazi Force. And these are mainly responsible for suicide attacks on the security forces and important government installations throughout the country. Most of the members of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan and Ghazi Force are from the Punjab.
The TTP is mainly based in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan, where the Pakistan army has launched a military operation against them. The army claims to have killed hundreds of militants and forced thousands of others to escape. The TTP has supporters in other tribal regions as well.
Last year, the Pakistan government attempted to create groups within the Taliban with the purpose of splitting them. The government supported Malik Turkistan Bhittani in the Frontier Region of Tank and Abdullah Mehsud Group led by Misbahuddin known as Toofan Mehsud. However, the government has not been able to achieve desired results.
The second category of the Taliban group is led by Muqami Tehrik-i-Taliban, which is headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who belongs to the Wazir tribal area of North Waziristan. This group has the support of Mauvi Nazir, the Taliban commander of Wazir tribal area of South Waziristan; Sadiq Noor, militant commander of Dawar area of North Waziristan and al-Qaeda linked Arab fighters. Although Ilyas Kashmiri, al-Qaeda's so-called 313 brigade head, also had presence in North Waziristan besides the support of his Punjabi militants, he has not been seen since September this year. According to unconfirmed reports, he was killed in a US drone attack the same month. But so far there are no official words to confirm his death.
Abu Okash has his own group in the North Waziristan. According to the tribal sources, Abu Okash is Iraqi but studied in a madrassa in Multan. He is also very fluent in Saraiki language and has supporters from the Saraiki belt of Southern Punjab. However, these sources say, he has been banished from the area, negating rumour that he was hiding there.
Sources in North Waziristan say Afghan commander Sirajuddin Haqqani has influence over most of the Taliban groups and, in particular, has close links with Hafiz Gul Bahadar. He played an important role in the unification of Taliban in the tribal regions. Haqqani, who is second to Mulla Omar in the Afghan Taliban hierarchy and the operation commander of the four provinces of Afghanistan including Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Ningarhar, pushed these Taliban groups a few months before the killing of dreaded Baitullah Mehusd, to form Ittehad-i-Mujahideen Islam.
Orakzai has become the main hub of Taliban and there are several militant groups, but all of them have links with the TTP. Zakiur Group, led by Qari Zakiur Rehman; Sakhi Group, headed by Commander Sakhi; and Arif Group of Arif Afridi are smaller groups in Orakzai. Tariq Group is considered the most powerful in lower areas of Orakzai. Led by Commander Tariq Afridi, who belongs to Darra Adamkhel, the group is involved in many attacks on the Pakistani security forces. Tariq Group also claimed responsibility for kidnapping and slaughtering Polish engineer Piotr Stanczak earlier this year.
However, the TTP mainly supports Fidayeen-e-Islam or Farooqi Group headed by Aslam Farooqi who has recently been appointed as general secretary of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, NWFP. Aslam Farooqi was appointed head of Fidayeen-e-Islam by Qari Hussain Mehsud, the master trainer of suicide bombers and the first cousin of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud.
Tribal sources say Qari Hussain Mehsud was a leader of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi who spent many years in the southern Punjab and was involved in a number of attacks on Shia religious leaders and Imambargahs. In fact, Qari Hussain is the main link between the TTP and the anti-Shia militant outfits -- Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan -- and he also has strong links with other Punjabi Taliban, according to tribal sources.
Ghazi Force, named after Ghazi Abdul Rasheed, the brother of Red Mosque leader Maulana Abdullah Aziz, also has presence in this small and poor tribal region. Sources say the Ghazi force runs terror training camps in Orakzai and has conducted several suicide attacks in Islamabad. The group is led by Maulana Niaz Raheem, former student of the Red Mosque.
The Kurram tribal region, which faced the worst sectarianism in the last two years, has two groups of Taliban -- one of them is headed by Maulvi Rafiuddin, who was arrested by the security forces a few years ago. This group has a strong presence in the Sunni area of Kurram Agency and has the support of the TTP chief, Hakimullah Mehsud.
Another group, known as Haydari Taliban and led by Abdur Rehman, was established by the Shia community of Kurram Agency. This group has supporters among Shia population areas, including Parachinar, headquarters of the tribal region.
There is a small presence of TTP fighters in Khyber Agency where, presently, a military operation is underway against different militant groups. This tribal land has three main groups including the fearsome Lashkar-i-Islam of Mangal Bagh who has established his fiefdom in Bara tehsil and so far been involved in many incidents of kidnapping in Peshawar and attacks on law-enforcement agencies. But the Mangal Bagh men have been fighting mainly against the Ansarul Islam group of Mehboob-ur-Rehman for the last several years over the differences of religious thoughts. Mehboob Group has a strong presence in the Terrah tehsil, whereas Abdullah Azam Group has some presence in the Landi Kotal tehsil of the tribal region.
The TTP supports Omar Khalid, who still has a presence in Safi, Ambar, Khwaizai, Baizai and Pandyalay tehsils of the Mohmand tribal region despite last year's military operation against his fighters.
The TTP also has its main commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad in Bajaur tribal region. In addition to TTP, this tribal land has two more major groups -- Ismail Group, led by Dr Ismail Khan, and Zaki Group of Afghan militant Zakiur Rehman. It is still not known whether Zakiur Rehman has any direct link with the Afghan Taliban supreme commander Mulla Omar, but majority of this group fighters are from Afghanistan.
A small group of Jaish-e-Mohammad headed by Waliur Rehman has its own activity in the tribal region.
The role of regional players in the war-torn Afghanistan
By Ather Naqvi
Regional state actors are engaged in an interesting interplay of foreign policy decisions and their execution, when it comes to Afghanistan. Over the years, especially after 9/11, India, among others, has shown its willingness to exercise influence over Kabul and in not just helping out in efforts of reconstruction and governance.
Reportedly, Afghanistan receives the largest chunk of aid India offers to any country in the world. The bomb blasts, targeting the Indian embassy early this year in Kabul, point to a situation which is both complicated and precarious. A considerable addition to the number of Pakistan troops on the eastern Afghan border, which is most likely, will certainly mean an added strain on Pakistan security forces fighting militancy on the Pak-Afghan border. What is that likely to unfold for India and other regional countries? Would that be an opportunity to put pressure on an already overburdened US ally -- Pakistan?
While the Indian government has been saying that a stable Pakistan is in India's own interest, how it can avoid falling into a blame-game trap with its neighbour in the most critical of times, only time will tell. For now, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Washington and India's getting closer to the US as its "key ally" in the region could have a meaningful bearing on not just Afghanistan but its crises-hit eastern neighbour, too.
Dr Farooq Hasnat, a scholar at Middle East Institute, Washington D C, agrees: "It is now clear that the Obama administration wants to give a bigger share to India in Afghanistan affairs in terms of economy and security related issues but that would not sit well with other regional players, especially Pakistan, which is taking the brunt of the war on terror."
Hasnat believes the situation will have become messier by the time the US troops leave Afghanistan, "I doubt if the Nato or the US forces will be able to clear the mess in the given timeframe. And if they leave an unfinished business it will be more troublesome for Pakistan."
According to Hasnat, since "Iran has only a limited role in Afghanistan, with pockets of influence and support in Herat and elsewhere, India and China may have bigger stakes".
China is certainly not oblivious to what is happening beyond its backyard. The development of the Ainak Copper Mine is stated to be the largest single foreign direct investment in Afghanistan's history. China is also in the process of constructing a $500 million electric plant and a railway link between Tajikistan and Pakistan. Will China step in to protect its investment in Afghanistan? This is also critical since the Sunni Taliban have posed a threat to China's South Western Province of Xinjiang. Given this backdrop, Afghanistan holds an important strategic position for China in the region for its security issues and vast natural resources.
Hasnat wonders if China will be able to tap the natural resources in Afghanistan, "Looking for natural resources is not cost-effective in many cases. The cost of exploring a natural resource may run higher than actually tapping a resource," he says, adding "We can see why Russia has opted the policy of 'wait and see'."
Iran has dismissed US President Obama's Afghanistan package as no real change, terming it as a continuation of Bush's policies. Iran's outright rejection of the policies comes at a time when Iran is locked in a bitter dispute with the US over its nuclear programme and the US's alleged role in fomenting a popular uprising during and after the Iranian presidential elections. Considering the level of tension between the two countries, Iran's role in the volatile Afghanistan may not be as pleasing for the US as it may have desired.
Russia may have healed its wounds it received in Afghanistan while fighting its way out from a country it had attacked for warm waters in the 1980s, but it is not unmindful of the stakes it still has in its backyard -- a place where the United States looks determined to play the great game, as it is sometimes called, sitting on the world's largest oil reserves in the Central Asian states and the Caspian Sea. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan or a situation that spins out of control is a threat to the Kremlin's position in Central Asia and Afghanistan by extension. More so as the Russians are having to confront militants from Chechnya, Dagestan, and Central Asia. Understandably, since the situation has drastically changed after 9/11, Russia does not have the choice of pitting a northern alliance against the Taliban. It is not in a position to safeguard its economic interest either due to a tough competition among the regional powers for a foothold in the region.
Moeed Yusuf, Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, and Fellow at Frederick Pardee Center, Boston University, believes Barack Obama's troops surge may not make matters easy. "President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy is likely to exacerbate regional power play. His decision to provide a time-bound commitment will encourage the anti-US actors to galvanise and reinvigorate their efforts to hasten America's retreat. The regional countries will also go into overdrive to lay their claims on various Afghan factions. The outcome will be an Afghanistan in turmoil; the Afghan people shall suffer yet again."
And that, according to Yusuf, may make matters critical for Pakistan, "The US decision to begin a pull-out in 18 months creates a perverse incentive for Pakistan, i.e. since the surge's success means greater militant infiltration into Pakistan, Islamabad has little incentive to fully support the US.
"On the contrary, a sub-optimal surge would mean that come 2011 and the US will be forced to seek Pakistan's help in negotiating with the Taliban. Islamabad will thus remain lukewarm about the surge and let events in Afghanistan take their course. Fraught with danger and suffering from shortsightedness, Pakistan's hope would be an eventual US-Taliban truce leading to an amenable Pushtun-led government. Saudi Arabia may also wink at Pakistan in support of this policy."
Moeed says Russia and Iran will not see eye to eye on Afghanistan because their interests will be pitted against Pakistan. "Russia sees its absence from Afghanistan as being tantamount to a carte blanche to Central Asian Republics (CARs) to gain a monopoly over energy transit from the country. Iran, on the other hand, loses its sphere of influence if the Taliban force their way in again. Moreover, it loses economically if the CAR-Afghanistan-Gwadar energy shipment link takes off. In essence, ideally both Russia and Iran want to see the Taliban marginalised. However, since Moscow and Tehran lack a genuinely popular partner in Afghanistan, both are likely to keep channels open with the government in power while simultaneously backing the anti-Taliban forces, elements of the so-called Northern Alliance being the most obvious choice. The US could have partnered Iran against the Taliban but that could not happen for other reasons."
Moeed maintains that the US withdrawal will not be good news for India, "Were a pro-Pakistan government to take control of Kabul, India is likely to see a reversal in fortunes in Afghanistan. A greater stake for Pakistan implies that the Indian presence will be challenged. At the very least, the Indian goal of bypassing Pakistan to reach South Asia will remain unfulfilled despite Iranian and Russian support. Much of the recent investment in the uneconomical, circuitous trade routes through Iran will constitute a sunk cost."
Moeed maintains that it will not be a smooth sailing for Pakistan, "At the cost of being simplistic, Pakistan's interests diverge substantially from the other players in the field. Pakistan's natural advantage of having an influential partner in the Taliban and its geographical affinity gives it an edge over others. However, it is unrealistic to expect a return to the 1990s -- some would argue that is not even desirable -- not only because the Taliban have matured over time and will not be amenable to blatant manipulation but also because Russia, Iran, and India see the costs of allowing a total Pakistani domination over Afghanistan as prohibitive. In fact, the Taliban could, with some sophistication, even begin to play various regional actors."
sweeteners such as…"
--Ahmed Rashid, noted political analyst and author of books such as Descent Into Chaos (2008) and The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002)
The News on Sunday: What are the implications of US President Barack Obama's announcement of a troops surge in Afghanistan for Pakistan?
Ahmed Rashid: President Obama mentioned Pakistan at least 25 times in his speech, but failed to offer any clue as to what the US political strategy will be. A publicly stated political strategy that tries to persuade the Pakistan military -- which is now in the driving seat of a policy towards Afghanistan -- to deal with the Afghan Taliban on its soil is essential if the US deadline of July 2011 for the start of its troops pullout from Afghanistan is to be met.
Instead, there have been a series of media leaks that relate to what military strategy the US will pursue, such as expanding the drone missile attacks to Balochistan where the Afghan Taliban leadership is based, extending CIA activities across Pakistan and even the possibility of US Special Forces being used inside Pakistan with or without the permission of the government. Some of these actions may well fuel anti-westernism in Pakistan and endanger the elected civilian government.
TNS: So, does that mean that the Pakistan government will remain under pressure?
AR: The US pressure is certainly going to be there, but so are sweeteners, such as the $1.5 billion aid package a year for the next five years and $2 billion a year for the army. But as Obama said there are no blank cheques. Still, all this does not constitute a political strategy for the US, or one that addresses at least some of the security concerns of Pakistan of which the largest is India.
TNS: How do you think the Pakistan military sees the situation?
AR: Pakistan is probably the only US ally in the world that has not endorsed the Obama plan. It is because the Pakistan military sees things differently; that the US will abandon the region anyway after 2011 and will prioritise on its domestic issues; it is better to keep the Afghan Taliban as a reserve to recapture Kabul rather than allow a civil war or unholy mess to develop on Pakistan's doorstep in Afghanistan; that the Indian presence must at all costs be eliminated from Afghanistan -- all this while maintaining a modicum of a relationship with the US.
The military may be wrong on several counts, not least that the Afghan Taliban will be unacceptable to most Afghans, including the Pashtun population from where they draw their major support, or to Afghanistan's other neighbours who in the event of the above scenario will gang up to support non-Pashtun warlords and plunge Afghanistan into a new civil war. As in the 1990s, Pakistan will be left isolated and accused of abetting Islamic extremism in the region. Moreover, the Pakistani Taliban are closely tied to their Afghan brothers and the policy of trying to differentiate between them has proved disastrous for Pakistan.
TNS: What can the US do now to come out of the situation it finds itself in?
AR: The US needs to articulate a political strategy that draws India and Pakistan in line with its plans and, despite Indian objections, puts pressure on New Delhi to be more accommodating towards Pakistan while at the same time the US bolsters support for the elected government.
TNS: You are sometimes dubbed as President Obama's advisor. How do you respond to this?
AR: There is no truth in that. I have met President Barack Obama but that does not mean I advise him on Afghanistan policy issues.
-- Ather Naqvi