analysis: Understanding Afghan rage —Rasul Bakhsh Rais

There are many sceptics that doubt the efficacy of negotiating peace with the tribal militants. In my view elected governments have a right to explore alternative solutions to the difficult and stubborn legacies of conflict that Afghanistan and Pakistan face together

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been difficult for obvious reasons. Afghanistan has been in a state of war for more than thirty years; it is still not out of the conflict that started with the American-led invasion. And Kabul has reasons to believe that the violence it has been enduring for decades has much to do with the role of foreign actors, including Islamabad.

It is in this context that we need to examine the outrage that President Hamid Karzai expressed in threatening to attack the houses of suspected Pakistani militants and eliminating them. Karzai’s angry and aggressive tone toward Pakistan is not new; he has quite frequently, on occasions when he could draw international attention, blamed Pakistan for not doing enough to stop the infiltration of militants into Afghanistan.

Some of us may conveniently ignore Afghan threats and warnings and term them empty, frustrated, politically motivated or inspired by the United States and other countries that are engaged in the stabilisation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, we need to objectively analyse why Afghan leaders are becoming increasingly impatient, angry and threatening.

Our media and government often deflect the accusations of the Afghan leaders by telling them that they and their foreign allies have failed to contain the insurgency of the Taliban mainly in the Pashtun region, and that they cannot blame Pakistan for this. Both within Afghanistan and the international coalition partners, much thought has been given to what has gone wrong.

There is the realisation among all stakeholders that priorities in Afghanistan have not been set right. Security and financial resources are inadequate, and the task of nation building in war-torn Afghanistan cannot be carried out smoothly in the face of ethnic divisions and power politics. The international community and observers of the Afghan political and security scene have also rightly blamed the personal and leadership failures of Afghan leaders, including Mr Karzai.

Afghanistan has been in turmoil for the better half of thirty long and painful years, mostly due to the follies and inadequacies of Afghan leaders. Many of them have problems accepting responsibility and are ever ready to blame anyone but themselves.

But the internal problems of Afghanistan — a weak and ineffective state, lack of legitimacy, a poor resource base and infighting among Afghan groups — are not unique or peculiar to Afghanistan. Many other countries also suffer from these. My view is that Afghanistan has been and continues to be a victim of geopolitical aggressiveness of its neighbours, transnational militancy and imperialistic impulses of great and hegemonic powers.

The Afghans have mostly been helpless in the face of interventions—by the Soviet Union, regional neighbours and now the American-led international coalition. A significant group of Afghans has always sided with the dominant international power or powers, while those left out for ideological or other reasons took up arms thus fuelling conflict and violence.

Pakistan has been a key player in Afghanistan during the past three decades, mostly as a friend and supporter of oppositions to the Afghan regime, and now as one of the front-line members of war on terror the objective of which is to eliminate militancy and rehabilitate Afghanistan.

It is precisely Pakistan’s role that has become the subject of discussion and debate in Kabul and in many other capitals. Is the residue of distrust and lack of confidence in our country or failure on our part to fulfil our declared and not-so-declared commitments the reason Afghan leaders and most of their international coalition partners have assumed a threatening posture?

We have an international obligation to restrain militants from crossing over into Afghanistan and fighting on the side of the Taliban forces. Having said this, it is not so easy to contain cross-border militancy that is entangled in a web of Pashtun ethnicity, Islamic nationalism and Jehadic spirit provoked by the presence of American and NATO forces and their war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. History, terrain, undefined borders and the alignment of political and religious groups beyond the nation-state are also complicating factors.

I assume the Afghan leaders and our common international partners understand and appreciate the real complexities of the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands and how the internal security of the two countries has become so interdependent and vulnerable to the same set of forces. If the logic of interdependent security and the state formation process in the borderlands is understood, then by strategic necessity we have to cooperate, be sensitive to each other’s needs and appreciate the vulnerabilities we individually and collectively face.

One plausible reason for Karzai’s outburst against Pakistan last week is the discernible change in Pakistan’s policy towards militant groups in the tribal region from military pressure to negotiating peace deals. Negotiating with the insurgent groups that openly argue that supporting the Afghan Taliban is their religious and national obligation justifiably provokes resistance from regional and international powers that consider this approach as capitulation.

The irony is that the Pakistani population at large is not supportive of Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror or of military operations against its own population in the tribal territory, which they regard primarily as in the American, and not in the Pakistani, interest.

The coalition governments at the centre and the NWFP are not willing to sell the American war and pay a political price. Also there is a realisation that military operations in FATA have damaged national solidarity. The elected leaders with a very strong social base among the Pashtun groups appear to be optimistic that the peace-deals they are negotiating will be concluded only on the condition that the militants drop their weapons and don’t cross over into Afghanistan.

There are many sceptics that doubt the efficacy of negotiating peace with the tribal militants. In my view elected governments have a right to explore alternative solutions to the difficult and stubborn legacies of conflict that Afghanistan and Pakistan face together. The international acceptance of this approach however would depend not on what is on paper but what is really on ground and how it has helped establish peace in our borderlands.

Dr Rasul Baksh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times, 24/6/2008

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