Regional Security 101 — Ejaz Haider


Afghanistan, if it wants good neighbourly relations with Pakistan, must not punch above its weight. While it is free to have relations with any state, it is joined at the hip with Pakistan more than with any other state

The Americans have decided to play hardball with Pakistan. See the chronology of events:

July 7: A bomb outside the Indian embassy in Kabul kills some 60 people including India’s defence attaché, a brigadier. Kabul accuses Pakistan of sponsoring the attack. The Indian National Security Advisor, M K Narayanan, points a direct finger at the ISI and says the agency “must be destroyed”.

July 12: Adm Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comes to Pakistan on a sudden visit. The same day, we now know, CIA’s deputy director Stephen R Kappes travels to Pakistan and joins Mullen in his straight talk with Pakistani officials including the prime minister, the president, the army chief, the Pakistani chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director-general ISI.

July 26: On the eve of his departure to the United States on the first official visit, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani signs a notification under Rule 3 (3) of the Rules of Business, 1973, approving the placement of ISI and IB under the overall control of the Interior Ministry.

Later that day Mr Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the ruling PPP, gives a media interview and calls the step “historic” stressing that now no one will say the ISI is not under civilian control.

July 27: The earlier notification is reversed through a hurriedly drafted press release. The release regrets the misinterpretation of the earlier notification and promises to clarify matters through a detailed notification which remains stillborn.

July 30: Just a day before the Pakistani delegation is to return, a US newspaper, The New York Times, is fed a leak about Kappes’ visit to Pakistan earlier in the month and what was discussed.

One unnamed US official, according to the story, told the NYT, “It was a very pointed message saying, ‘Look, we know there’s a connection, not just with [Taliban leader Jalaluddin] Haqqani but also with other bad guys and ISI, and we think you could do more and we want you to do more about it.’”

The same day CIA chief Michael V Hayden meets with Prime Minister Gilani and reportedly gives him evidence of ISI’s involvement with jihadi outfits and insists that the agency be leashed.

July 31: Prime Minister Gilani’s Advisor on Interior, Rehman Malik, speaks to the media in Washington: “The time has come for us to reveal the facts and tell the world how outside forces are creating troubles in Pakistan…India wants to destabilise FATA. What India and [Afghan President] Mr Karzai are doing must stop. They must stop this. They must stop this.” He confirms his being on the record.

The same day, in a perfect tango move, a first for this government, Prime Minister Gilani hits back at the US while speaking at a joint meeting of two think-tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Middle East Institute: “If we are not able to control them [Taliban], you are not able to control them [either],” he said.

Let’s connect the dots.

It should be clear that the Americans are ignoring the evidence of Indian activities against Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan but are ready to act when they find the evidence (or are given it) of Pakistan’s involvement inside Afghanistan against either Afghan or Indian interests.

There are two obvious reasons: one, if Pakistan were to act to checkmate Indian perfidy, of necessity it has no other proxies but the ones the US, the current Afghan government and also other western governments consider as a threat to them.

Two, America thinks it is in its interest to (a) continue on the current path of thickening its partnership with India and (b) to cleanse this area, Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal belt, of what it considers Islamist extremist groups. It will not allow Pakistan, as far as it can, to use some combination of these elements to check India and force Kabul to fall in line and prevent India from fishing in Balochistan and FATA.

Mr Malik’s statement is important in so far as he has also mentioned a steady stream of other foreigners — Uzbeks and Chechens — coming into FATA. At least these two nationalities have to take an overland route through Afghanistan to reach Pakistan’s tribal areas. The west-east movement of hostile elements into Pakistan is as much a problem for Islamabad as the east-west movement across the Durand Line is for Kabul.

Washington must realise that it cannot do two things simultaneously. It cannot hope for Pakistan to help it stabilise Afghanistan while India remains unchecked in that country. (If some evidence is to be believed, Russia may also be fishing in the troubled Afghan waters by inducting weapon systems like shoulder-fired SAMs and linking up with Afghan drug cartels through Russian and Eastern European mafia groups.) Also, America cannot ignore its own failure in controlling Afghanistan and increasing the capacity of Mr Karzai’s government to be effective.

As for Pakistan’s links with the Haqqani network, it was Mr Karzai who wanted Mr Haqqani to become the prime minister of Afghanistan. In the intricate game of controlling insurgencies and checkmating multiple actors, states do not have the luxury of taking a neat, linear course. If that weren’t so, the Americans at one time would not have approached Haqqani after he voiced his opposition to Mullah Omar; also the Americans would not be playing ball with a bevy of rascals inside Afghanistan to prevent the pot from boiling over.

So yes, Pakistan has had links with the Taliban and other such groups and still does. But anyone who knows what it means to fight an irregular war against a protean enemy and in an environment full of interested actors also knows that nothing can be gained without such linkages. In fact the issue is not linkages but the lack thereof which can throw up the bigger problem of embedding assets and acquiring effective intelligence. But that is another topic.

Here’s the summary of Regional Security 101 for all actors.

America should focus on stabilising Afghanistan and do so keeping in view Pakistani sensibilities. It cannot hope to get full Pakistani cooperation if it is seen as biased towards the Kabul-Delhi nexus against Pakistan.

Afghanistan, if it wants good neighbourly relations with Pakistan, must not punch above its weight. While it is free to have relations with any state, it is joined at the hip with Pakistan more than with any other state. It simply cannot afford to ignore the facts of history, geography and economics.

India should remember that it cannot stay wedded on the surface to the normalisation process but decide to keep Pakistan’s western borders simmering. New Delhi hopes to keep the Pakistan army stuck there and force Islamabad through international pressure and internal security threats to lose its (Pakistan’s) bargaining edge against India over time. It might appear a smart strategy but ignores not only Pakistan’s ability to survive it but also its capacity to strike back.

Finally, Pakistan needs to have a debate on what our foreign and security policy parameters are and how and through what means they can be achieved. It is all too well to play such games but we must be very clear on what the strategic objectives are and what kind of tactical and sub-strategic moves are likely to gain for us those strategic objectives.

Ejaz Haider is Consulting Editor of The Friday Times and Op-Ed Editor of Daily Times. He can be reached at sapper@dailytimes.com.pk

Courtesy: Daily Times, 2/8/2008

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