Militancy and the regional challenge-By Nasim Zehra

The diplomatic deadlock that had followed the totally justifiable Indian outrage against the deadly attack on its Kabul embassy may have slightly eased after the SAARC Summit. Yet the meetings in Colombo between the Pakistani prime minister and his Indian and Afghan counterparts could not have addressed the growing distrust between Pakistan and its western and eastern neighbours. Together they have pointedly accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, of masterminding the Kabul embassy attack. Pakistan’s repeated call for evidence has prompted Washington to share the text of a telephonic conversation between two Afghans planning the attack and mentioning the ISI’s support in that respect. The Americans also claim that they have in their custody an ISI agent captured operating in Khost. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also requested Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more evidence on the alleged involvement of the ISI in the Kabul bombing.

In Colombo Gilani also met US under-secretary Richard Boucher, the third of the key players on the Afghanistan scene. Boucher again advised Gilani on how best to battle terrorism internally.

More bilateral meetings between Pakistan and its neighbours are on the cards but more such diplomatic exchanges are unlikely to address the more difficult dilemmas related to the growing militancy problem. These dilemmas that cover the regional dimension of militancy have surfaced more clearly in a trilateral response – Delhi, Kabul and Washington – to the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul.

At least five are noteworthy. One, there is a trilateral consensus between Kabul, Delhi and Washington on Islamabad alone being the primary and near-exclusive troublemaker in Afghanistan. While the nature of the functioning of national intelligence workings, some of the ISI’s past track record and the nature of antagonism that prevails between the regional countries means the agency’s involvement cannot be ruled out, but the quick pre-investigation conclusion led by Kabul followed by Delhi and Washington that the ISI alone is behind the bombing illustrates this anti-Pakistan consensus.

Two, the historical Islamabad-Delhi adversarial relations are now comprehensively being played out in Kabul. Delhi, for obvious reasons, is on the ascendance while Islamabad is on the defensive. How Kabul and Delhi conduct their bilateral political, economic and diplomatic relations is the prerogative of the two countries but how the relationship affects the security of Pakistan’s own border and internal security will be of legitimate concern to Pakistan. There is enough evidence available on Delhi’s use of Pakistan’s difficulties in Balochistan, through material support to angry Baloch elements residing in Afghanistan, to destabilise Balochistan. This India-Afghanistan dimensions have to some extent contributed to the emergence of a siege mindset within Pakistan’s security establishment.

The Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies are engaged in undermining Pakistan’s security from two fronts. They are busy using the Baloch card and the militants card, created initially through the blunders of the Pakistani state. Now the intelligence agencies of the two neighbouring countries are effectively exploiting these weaknesses. Distraught Baloch including Sardar Akbar Bugti’s grandson Bramdagh Bugti reside in Afghanistan while Indian funding is made available to various groups. The July 27 Indian military move to establish a forward post on the Pakistani side of the LoC was projected as Pakistan’s going into Indian-held Kashmir. This pincer movement, involving India and Afghanistan together, will only aggravate matters.

Three, while within Pakistan there has been a genuine rethink of a decades-old short-sighted security strategy, evolved in partnership with the US, a similar rethink within other states to deal with the growing problem of militancy is not in evidence. The Washington-led international approach of putting Pakistan alone in the dock flows from deep seated suspicion prejudice and wilful attempts to weaken the security apparatus of a state which the US and others in the region do not entirely trust. This is a convenient position for countries which are unwilling to view their own weaknesses. The fact that while the US and UK generals and men with boots on the ground met in the UK in July, they acknowledge categorically the huge problems with the Karzai regime, but find it difficult to state this publicly. Reports of the London meetings trickle in. They suggest the generals recognise that maybe achieving success is a long haul affair, it will take their staying in Afghanistan for 30 years but know staying that long is not possible. Their national politics will not allow them. Conscious of the remoteness of achieving success they want to leave now.

For the Americans their national politics will not allow them too. But for the UK their “special relationship” with the US will not allow them a hurried exit. The same is true of the Europeans and the Canadians. There is talk among UK generals that they must stay on in Afghanistan as a “US auxiliary”! The Germans, especially their defence professionals, maintain in private that have been wanting a Pakistani way forward on the tribal area issue. They are hesitant to go the starkly blundering US way. From Washington reliable reports indicate that “the generals, they are distressed, and angrier with Karzai than with Pakistan.”

Interestingly beyond the diplomatic niceties and the patronising media blurbs of respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty there is minimal concern for Pakistan’s security concerns. It is time for Pakistan to categorically state: enough of Pakistan bashing, enough of vacuous Kantian moralising in a Hobbesian world, enough of the do-more mantra and enough of partisan analysis, enough of selective perceptions, enough of double standards, in talk and in practice. A world struck by the growing militancy problem in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas has been on the offensive against Pakistan. It’s a long-drawn-out struggle. Gradually there is increase in the application of force because the Swat deal, pushed by the ANP with input from intelligence agencies, has fallen through. In the tribal areas the use of force is now ascendant.

In a purely Hobbesian world of inter-state relations it is naïve of the world to expect Kantian behaviour from a state and a society which is being “pushed to the wall.” Pakistan will play “as clean as the world around it.” This is the reality. Take it or leave it. There is no “going it alone” on the victory dais for any of Pakistan’s neighbours. No matter what anyone’s GDP may be or their nuclear arsenal may boast of, we are in this mess together. The way out lies only in working together; divided we all drown. That is the message of the fast spreading militancy which, with every new subversion move that anyone from the neighborhood induct against the other, gets more and more deadly and uncontrollable. The region will unravel if the governments in the area and those involved outsiders like Washington do not make it a common cause to jointly work to address the causes of growing militancy. The answer lies in a regional solution. We need to give up historical suspicions, the current score-settling and status hang-ups to work to create a more trusting environment within which a more cooperative security approach is evolved. It is a tall order. So is the challenge we face. It’s not one that pygmies can deal with.

The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst


Source: The News, 6/8/2008

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