Warring allies —Talat Masood

The government should seriously consider creating a dedicated organisational structure in the Cabinet Division to deal exclusively with the insurgency in the tribal belt and the NWFP, which would coordinate with different agencies and all major stakeholders
Pakistan’s relations with the United States and Afghanistan once again came under severe strain when precision guided bombs and missiles struck in Mohmand Agency, killing 12 Frontier Corps personnel and wounding several others. To make matters worse, President Karzai made that quixotic threat of sending his army to capture or kill Pakistani Taliban leaders.

Several interpretations were given to these happenings. The border skirmish could well have been a case of an unmarked international boundary, disputed between Pakistan and Afghanistan, being grossly mismanaged at the operational level. Or was it a deliberate attempt on the part of Washington to give a clear signal to Pakistan that we no longer trust the Pakistani military, especially the Frontier Corps? Was this a means of conveying US displeasure with the peace talks with militants?

President Karzai too could not have spoken without Washington’s blessings. All indications are that Washington is orchestrating the policy of ensuring that Pakistan reverses its policy or face de-stabilisation. Such wide differences in policy on combating insurgency between key allies, coupled with lack of mutual trust, are indeed a matter of great concern that could have far reaching implications for regional and global security.

Americans are highly sceptical about peace agreements. They refer to past experiences of 2005 and 2007 wherein the militants took full advantage of peace accords to consolidate and expand their influence in FATA and the NWFP, and developed enhanced capabilities of launching cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan maintains that these agreements are being negotiated from a position of strength. The army is not being withdrawn but being re-deployed so that it is not in a provocative posture that invades the privacy of conservative tribal culture. In any case exclusive reliance on military instrument has only enhanced the power of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal belt and adjoining areas. The presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil and Pakistan Army’s supportive role have given rise to a strong nationalist impulse in the Pashtun belt that strengthens the militant support base.

Political dialogue accompanied by economic development and selective use of force should be the best option for combating these militants. Peace agreements will provide the tactical or strategic pause for the government to regain control incrementally and provide a means to isolate diehard militants. Islamabad also maintains that these are our own people and a civilian democratic government cannot disregard the sensitivities of the population as an imperial power like the United States can afford to do.

There is another major area of difference. Pakistan feels that American and NATO forces are not addressing the real problems in Afghanistan that have given Taliban the strength to dominate several provinces in the south of the country and are the root cause of militancy. There has been an exponential increase in poppy cultivation, making Afghanistan the world’s largest opium producer (97 percent) and a major source of financing for militants and warlords.

Moreover, no effort has been made to strengthen state structures in South, South-East and South-West Afghanistan. The international community has given scant attention to the repatriation and rehabilitation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan, and the refugee situation remains a source of potential militancy and instability. On the contrary, the blame is being placed on Pakistan for all these problems.

Besides, by relying heavily on airpower and less on ground operations, US and ISAF forces push the militants to the Pakistani side, and then expect that we will fight their war with all its attendant fallout, including collateral damage.

The State Department and the Pentagon also blame Pakistan for inaction and for turning a blind eye to the safe havens that straddle the Pak-Afghan border. Members of the US Congress and many think tanks have been questioning the purpose of providing US largesse in the form of military or even economic assistance if Pakistan is not willing or prepared to engage with the militants military.

This circular argument runs between the two allies, with the militants as the main beneficiaries of the blame game, despite enormous sacrifices made both by our military and civilian population.

Clearly, all this indicates that there is an urgent need for the civilian government to have a national counterinsurgency policy that has the approval of Parliament, and an organisation that exercises effective control over its implementation.

The policy should be comprehensive, covering political, economic, social and military aspects so that root causes of insurgency are addressed. The past practice of policy emanating from the military and intelligence agencies should cease, although their input should be a valuable resource.

The government should seriously consider creating a dedicated organisational structure in the Cabinet Division to deal exclusively with the insurgency in the tribal belt and the NWFP, which would coordinate with different agencies and all major stakeholders. It should be the focal point for conducting, coordinating and implementing policy decisions. Coordination both at the policy and implementation level is critical between all stakeholders, the Centre, the NWFP, the military, Ministry of Interior and the intelligence agencies.

Equally important is to take the US and NATO in confidence and address their concerns, otherwise Pakistan’s efforts at fighting insurgency will not succeed. Pakistan has to ensure that the US, Afghanistan and NATO countries operating in Afghanistan are brought on board. Unless all external stakeholders — especially Afghanistan — do not share the same vision, cooperate at every level and enjoy mutual trust, the policy is doomed to failure.

Despite being the sole superpower, the United States, when faced with fighting asymmetrical warfare or imposing its will in this part of the world, should have learnt by now that there are limits to its power. Sheer military might is not enough to achieve political and strategic objectives. Despite its overwhelming military superiority, the US has not been able to suppress the revitalised Taliban that today control wide swathes of territory in many parts of Afghanistan.

What is needed is a serious attempt at bringing change in policy and attitudes that harmonises with the social and political milieu and lays the foundation for regional peace and stability in the long run.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at talat@comsats.net.pk

Daily Times, 26/6/2008

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