Beyond Karzai’s tirades- Nasim Zehra

Besieged Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet again launched a tirade against Pakistan, holding the Pakistan army and the intelligence agencies responsible for the latest round of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. On July 14 the desperate president said he had evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the suicide bombing attack on the Indian embassy that tragically left 40 dead and on the Taliban attack on an ISAF post which killed nine US soldiers. Karzai has also called off talks scheduled between the two countries.

This move coincides with India’s claim of ISI involvement in the embassy attack – and it too has pulled out of two-day bilateral talks that were planned between the head of the FIA and his Indian counterpart, the head of the Central Bureau of Investigation. While neither of the two countries have provided any evidence, the movements of militant organizations within Pakistan puts Islamabad in a difficult situation. For example in early June, about 300 fighters of various jihadi groups gathered in Rawalpindi for a secret gathering and agreed to resolve their differences and commit more fighters to Afghanistan. According to a foreign press report quoting Toor Gul, a leader of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, “the message was that the jihad in Kashmir is still continuing but it is not the most important one right now. According to Toor, the groups in attendance included the Al Qaeda-linked Jaish-e-Muhammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

This and other media reports reinforce the claims of US officials including ISAF commanders that the there has been increased cross-border activity especially from Bajaur and Mohamand agencies. Yet the flip side of this is the fact that Pakistan’s own troops are fighting these very groups in various tribal agencies and have in fact suffered many casualties of their own.

The list of problems inside Afghanistan is long and increasing. Karzai’s inability to move beyond Kabul is coupled with the absence of sufficient ISAF troops to deal with the security challenge. Some claim the presence of the troops is a key cause of the civil war, that the financial support required for Afghanistan’s reconstruction is not available, that corruption is rife, that lack of training and equipment of the Afghan law-enforcement agencies leaves much to be desired, and that the increased killing of civilians in ISAF air attacks helps the Taliban win over more recruits to their ranks.

Admittedly the situation in the tribal areas too is a contributing factor. To a lesser extent it continues to serve as the staging and recruiting ground for elements mostly fighting foreign occupation. If it was the Soviets in the eighties, it has been the US and NATO forces post-2001.The kosher and publicly known CIA-led international help received by these groups has now been substituted by multiple clandestine sources of support. It perhaps includes perhaps some elements within Pakistan’s security agencies which have habitually and ideologically found reason to help fight all foreign occupation in Afghanistan. Also in an increasingly post-9/11 volatile and more recently hostile situation they may well be looking for sympathy and support from the tribals and militants in case failure in Afghanistan prompts foreign military action inside Pakistan’s tribal areas and beyond.

If this traditional view of security seeking, through alliance-making with militias and insurgents and through destabilization of potential sources of threat, is true for Pakistan, the same, based on their historical conduct, is indeed true for other countries with a stake in the region. India, the US and Afghanistan continue to harbour deep, historical and institutionalized suspicion towards each other.

There are then the current compulsions that force these countries to take policy measures which result in the worsening of the security situation. As state players in search of security and strength opt for subversion and destabilization, the fires of distrust and destruction are further stoked.

For the US the compulsion to win ‘by any means’ is linked to its failures in Iraq, its Israel-inspired paralysis on Palestine and its inability to apply ‘smart power’ in dealing with Iran. Close to the US election the Bush Administration is heightening its pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’ and increasing missile attacks directly on Pakistani security forces. The past pattern of seeking prior clearance from Pakistani counterparts has changed with the US president having allowed his forces to take unilateral action on ‘actionable intelligence’.

India too has its compulsions. Despite the continuing Pakistan-India bilateral dialogue, with key bilateral issues having remained unresolved, the adversarial mindset persists. For the adversaries Afghanistan has long remained the battleground for influence. Important policy players within the two countries, using overt and covert means, continue to strengthen their influence in Afghanistan. However in the post-9/11 period a combination of US-Indian strategic convergence, the ascendancy of the Northern Alliance in Kabul and the nature of Pakistan’s post-1979 involvement in Afghanistan, has seen Indian influence on the rise in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan mainstream policy thinking and action on Afghanistan that flows from the political government, the presidency, and the army and ISI chiefs, recognizes the many elements that constitute the unusually precarious security situation which engulfs Pakistan, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent India. Under General Pervez Musharraf the post-9/11 ideological reorientation of the top leadership of the army and intelligence agencies also led to a new strategic conclusion; that the defence of the country is a complex factor involving economy, diplomacy and alliances and much less the patronage of armed militias. That policy change was reflected by taking concrete steps to improve relations with India and Afghanistan and also where possible to build trust.

However beneath this obvious policy there is also a subtext to the Pakistan policy, one on which Pakistan’s multiple policy moves are premised. Often this subtext has been conveyed, over the many interactions and fragmented phrases to the Americans. How would a collection of these fragmented phrases, with stated and implied accusations, read? Perhaps something along these lines:

“We have our own security concerns that we acutely worry about; your worries are about your homeland thousands of miles away yet we worry about the here and now , about what appears to be a pincer movement from our eastern and western borders where troubles never end; you are never satisfied with what we do, you demand more from us at the cost of the government alienating itself vis-a-vis its citizens and the armed forces thinning out over a treacherous terrain; you forbid us from dialogue where experience has shown us that force alone will spell disaster; you are simplistic in demanding that we deliver peace while you are not willing to take the minimum sufficient steps needed to establish control at the borders; you acknowledge that greater political representation including that of some sections of the Taliban is required for putting Afghanistan on the peace track; while your charge-sheet against Pakistan increases; our security concerns are always dismissed and never addressed; we are unclear about your intentions towards Pakistan and you must know if you do not trust us we trust you even less; you expect us to use unadulterated force against our own people resulting in the fire of civil war engulfing us all across nationally; your policy prescription will comprehensively extend the zone of crisis and chaos from Iraq Afghanistan to our own country. This is unacceptable. Are you our friend or our foe?”

Unless these questions are not addressed there can be no peace and progress in Afghanistan, no calm in the tribal areas and no end to the bloody battles erupting in pockets throughout Pakistan, no sustainable victories for Delhi in Afghanistan or in Jammu and Kashmir and defeat for the so-called US-led war on terrorism. This subtext, located in the official and unofficial agitated Pakistani mind, seeks wise answers to legitimate questions. They are legitimate because they raise the issues, which unless addressed along with the issues raised by Kabul, Delhi and Washington, will continue to block the return of peace and security in a region in which bloody anarchy is fast spreading.

Certainly President Karzai’s accusatory outburst provides no solution. Less so does his and Delhi’s move to cancel planned dialogues with Pakistan.

The onus now is on the US to cool Mr Karzai’s temperature and encourage a trilateral dialogue under the aegis of the Trilateral Border Commission. Also Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral dialogue must resume at the earliest. The scheduled mini jirga is particularly important to get the trust-building process back on track.

Meanwhile the elected government’s major failure to take necessary steps to create a national consensus on Pakistan’s own policy to tackle its growing internal security crisis, its relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan’s participation in US-led “global war on terrorism”. Except for the April 13 meeting where the army chief gave a presentation to all coalition leaders, the government has not initiated a comprehensive policy debate among the coalition members or in the National Assembly. The government without any delay must initiate such a debate in a joint session of parliament in which in-camera briefing must be given to the members by all the institutions constitutionally mandated to enforce the writ of the state and managing our diplomatic and security relations. This must be an immediate priority for the prime minister instead of the many planned foreign trips.

Email: nasimzehra@hotmail.com

Source: the News, 16/7/2008

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