Principle stakeholders in Afghanistan confused

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Fighting in Afghanistan and in Pakistan is continuing for over a decade with no end in sight. The US military allied with forces of 48 countries are combating with resistance forces in Afghanistan, while 147000 security forces are fighting the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and affiliated militant groups in FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Frontier Corps is battling insurgents in Balochistan. Since the US has been unable to accomplish any of its objectives in Afghanistan and Mullah Omar led resistance forces are not giving in, it is being judged as a loser. War on terror has become cancerous for USA since it has emasculated it militarily, economically, politically, socially and diplomatically. In line with drawdown plan, thinning out of US troops has commenced and apparently December 2014 should see all foreign troops out of Afghanistan.

The endgame has unfolded and time is running out fast but at this critical stage, all the six principle stakeholders; the US, Afghan regime, Afghan Taliban, TTP, Pakistan and India are in a state of confusion and none is clear as to how this phase would terminate and who would benefit. Each player is desirous of grabbing the biggest piece of cake. Differing perceptions and apprehensions have led to widening of trust deficit between the players. Growing antagonism between USA and Pakistan has bred tension and made the situation grim.

The US priding in its strength wanted to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and in the region through use of overt and covert force backed by propaganda. When this strategy didn’t make progress and became too expensive to pursue, the US as an after thought belatedly stepped up efforts on the diplomatic front. To win over moderate Afghan Taliban, the US pursued policy of carrot and stick simultaneously. Repelling strategies failing to deliver has left the US policy makers utterly confused and flabbergasted.

It took USA and its strategic partners India and Israel five years to create TTP in December 2007. Purpose behind this creation was to denigrate Taliban freedom movement in Afghanistan and also discredit and emasculate Pak Army and ISI. The US kept supporting TTP for the achievement of its nefarious objectives against Pakistan till the arrest of Faisal Shehzad in Times Square case in New York and attack on CIA base in Khost in which Hakimullah Mehsud was involved. The US had otherwise got dejected with TTP for not living up to its expectations. This double game is proving costly for USA. Instead of blaming itself and correcting the wrongs, the arrogant US leadership is blaming Pakistan for the mess it created.

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Egotism is coming in the way of US leadership and it is still sticking to its failed strategy. While it presses Pakistan to convert its defeat into victory in Afghanistan, it is now seeing Pakistan as a target on the premise that it has stopped pursuing the US regional interests at the cost of its own security interests. Gary Akerman stated that Pakistan is not America’s partner, not part of its team, and both are on opposite sides of the fence and both have different enemies. He added that Pakistan’s self-defined interests no more overlap with US interests. 

Afghan Taliban as well as Northern Alliance leaders do not trust Hamid Karzai, former viewing him a stooge of Washington and the latter suspecting him more inclined towards Pashtuns. The US also sees him as a liability but since it has no other alternative, it is reluctantly carrying on with him. Dejected Karzai has almost given up negotiating with Taliban leaders and has jumped to the conclusion that since Islamabad controls Taliban, key to successful political settlement rests with Pakistan and none else. He is also placing hopes in Istanbul Conference hosted by Turkish President, not realizing that minus Taliban no effort can succeed.

TTP aligned with Afghan Taliban view Pak Army a mercenary army of USA fighting war for dollars and hence considers its fight against it fair. In the endgame, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are in a state of confusion. On one hand, Pakistan as a member of the US coalition fighting war on terror is providing logistics to NATO in Afghanistan. Its security forces are launching one operation after another against CIA-RAW supported TTP and al-Qaeda and have played a key role in weakening al-Qaeda and dismantling established bases of TTP in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan.

On the other hand, Pakistan is defying US pressure to launch a military operation in NW where allegedly Haqqani network is based. Abbottabad incident became the watershed which strained Pak-US relations. Pakistan is also vociferously condemning drone attacks in FATA. Pakistan’s changed stance has confused Pakistani Taliban and many among them might be contemplating review of their impression about Pak Army. This puzzlement has tapered the inflow of anti-Pakistan recruits and suicide bombers of TTP.      

Pakistan has no imperial designs against any neighbor including Afghanistan. It had selfishly hpw joined war on terror to save itself from the wrath of USA. Pakistan views TTP militants and groups affiliated with them as anti-Pakistan and terrorists and fight them with tenacity. Pakistan however doesn’t consider Afghan Taliban engaged in freedom struggle in Afghanistan as terrorists. It doesn’t provide them sanctuaries or assist them in conducting attacks from its soil, but also doesn’t make extra efforts to block them since its hands are full in combating local terrorists and cannot possibly seal 1400 miles long Pak-Afghan porous border. It also foresees Taliban recapturing power in Afghanistan, who in its view would be less dangerous than anti-Pakistan and pro-India Northern Alliance led Afghan regime bounded in Indo-Afghan strategic partnership and backed by USA, Israel and the west.

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India that has invested over $2 billion in Afghanistan to recapture its lost space is viewing the endgame with trepidation. Rising power of Taliban and cobwebs in Afghan Army and Police are matters of concern and it foresees that in the absence of ISAF, Afghan security forces wouldn’t be able to resist Taliban. It is worried that Indo-US-Israel game plan of denuclearizing Pakistan has boomeranged. India is also fearful that once Afghanistan gets stabilized, Pakistan will also get more stable and Occupied Kashmir and possibly India would become restive. Not knowing which side the wind will blow in coming three years, it is striving hard to convince Washington to delay ISAF’s departure till 2018 and has also extended an olive branch towards Pakistan.

With these varying backgrounds, stakeholders in the region must reconcile with certain hard ground realities.

Taliban of all hues in Afghanistan and Pakistan are on one frequency and are seized with singular objective of pushing out alien forces led by USA from Afghanistan and emasculating their collaborators. Their unity will remain intact till the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Afghan Taliban including Haqqanis, Hizb-e-Islami, TTP and its affiliates like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish Muhammad, Sipah Sihaba are desirous of implementing extremist Sharia on the pattern of Kharjis and Salfis. They would remain wedded to this dream.

Support to TTP by foreign agencies, use of Afghan soil by RAW-RAAM-Mossad combine against Pakistan and establishment of CIA outposts in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan deflected USA from its mission of fighting and defeating terrorism and allowed Taliban to wrest initiative and gain an upper edge. It also widened trust deficit among allies and Pakistan has become the chief victim.

TTP got disarrayed since its leadership pursued its agenda on US supplied dollars and equipment and defied golden principles of Islam by resorting to kidnappings for ransom, slaughtering captives, destroying schools, mosques and shrines and brainwashing tender aged boys to become suicide bombers. This is notwithstanding that Blackwater and other foreign agents deliberately indulged in these activities to defame Islam.                                          

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Pakistan may be having influence over Afghan Taliban, but to say it exercises control over them is far from truth. Pakistan didn’t have control over them even during hey days of 1996-2001.

Pakistan has become relevant to Afghan Taliban despite betraying them because of obtaining environment and not because of bonds of friendship. This relevancy may turn into irrelevancy once Taliban regain power in Kabul.

India describes Afghanistan as its extended neighbor and has claimed that Afghanistan is in its sphere of influence. It is allergic to inclusion of Pakistan and exclusion of India in reconciliation process and is desirous of playing a key role in peace process. Using its clout, it snuggled into Istanbul Conference on 2 November despite Pakistan’s reservations.

While the US is bent upon making India the key player in Afghanistan after its departure, Pakistan is rightly averse to this thinking since it cannot afford to have hostile India in the east and Indian influenced Afghanistan in the west. 

Pakistan will get stabilized only when Afghanistan becomes peaceful and India stops meddling into Pakistan’s internal affairs. 

In current timeframe the US and NATO, Afghan Taliban, Afghan regime and Pakistani Taliban are suffering and are losers. India and Israel involved only in sabotage and subversion against Pakistan with the help of their intelligence agencies are gainers. The two would also stand among losers once the war ends. Afghan Taliban would eventually emerge as lone victors since time is in their favor.

The US and Pakistan that were on one page at the start of war on terror are now at a tangent and are in disharmony. However, Pakistan will remain relevant to USA for times to come since it provides the best jumping off point at Gwadar to envisaged energy corridor from Central Asia through Afghanistan to Indian Ocean and beyond.

Extraction of oil, gas and other mineral resources from Central Asia and Caspian Sea region and operationalization of envisaged energy corridor would materialize only when Afghanistan acting as the vital bridge gets stabilized and Balochistan gets stable and Pakistan cooperates. It may take another decade and that too when all foreign troops exit completely and all neighbors and near neighbors stop outsmarting each other. Given the deep-seated geo-economic interests of imperialist powers, this seems a pipedream