By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
Pakistan-Afghanistan relations have remained frosty ever since Pakistan came into being. King Zahir Shah, Dawood, Taraqi, Hafiz Amin, Dr Najibullah and Babrak Karmal remained friendly to former Soviet Union and India and hostile towards Pakistan owing to self created dispute over Durand Line and Pakhtunistan stunt. A change came in the attitudes of Afghan rulers when USSR forcibly occupied Afghanistan in December 1979. In Afghanistan’s hour of crisis, Pakistan came to its rescue and played a key role in pushing out Soviet forces. It also housed five million Afghan refugees for decades.
Pakistan enjoyed best of relations with the Taliban during their rule from 1996 till 2001. The Taliban under Mulla Omar had remained cross with India not because of Pakistan’s instigation but because India had fully supported Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and later had extended support to Afghans Northern Alliance (NA) and had not recognized Omar’s regime. The Taliban were hostile to USA since the latter after using them against the Soviets had abandoned them and subsequently ousted them from power and occupied their country. They maintained very cordial relations with Pakistan throughout their rule, but after their forceful ouster in November 2001 they carried a deep grudge against Pakistan under Gen Musharraf who had betrayed them by joining hands with their tormentors.
Non-Pashtun NA heavy Afghan regime under Pashtun President Hamid Karzai installed by Washington is at war with the Taliban and has also maintained an antagonistic posture against Pakistan despite the latter recognizing it and extending complete support. Although of late Karzai has expressed his keenness to mend fences with Pakistan and develop brotherly relations so as to live as peaceful neighbors, most NA members of his government are pro-India and anti-Pakistan. The latter together with USA helped India in making deep inroads in all the departments of Afghanistan. India has made rapid gains in the fields of economics, intelligence, culture and education in particular and is now aiming at bringing Afghan National Army (ANA) under the influence of Indian military. Afghanistan is important to India since it is a gateway to riches of Central Asia. It also enables India to encircle Pakistan.
Despite Pakistan helping Karzai in winning presidential election in 2004 and in development works in whatever way it could afford, Afghan regime responded negatively. In concert with India, it has been harming Pakistan through covert war. NA warlords holding key appointments are involved in clandestine operations in FATA, Malakand, Swat and Balochistan and even now when there is thaw in Pak-Afghan relations they are stoking militancy in Kurram, Mohmand and Khyber agencies. Cases of unprovoked shelling by ANA on Pakistani border posts keep recurring. Latest violation was on 27 April in South Waziristan (SW).
Ruling regime in Kabul has also been involved in negative propaganda against Pakistan and in making false allegations that Pak Army linked with Taliban was facilitating cross border terrorism in Afghanistan. Pumped by USA and India, Karzai has been issuing highly acrimonious statements. At one stage, Karzai threatened to dispatch Afghan troops to Waziristan to knockout militant sanctuaries since in his view Pak Army was either unwilling or incapable of doing it. He had also been prodding US military to take the plunge into FATA. While condemning Pakistan, he was all praise for India.
It is now an established fact that Karzai was party to the gory game plan chalked out by USA-India-Israel-UK to destabilize, denuclearize and balkanize Pakistan. Balkanization plan involved making Balochistan and FATA independent and then integrating Pashtun regions with Afghanistan in line with bogey of Greater Pakhtunistan. He had given a blank cheque to the four foreign agencies based in Kabul to make full use of Afghan soil for the accomplishment of stated objectives. His ministry of interior, ministry of defence and RAAM helped RAW in establishing training centres. Under the garb of road project, arms, ammunition, explosives and instructors were brought in from India to train, arm and launch saboteurs into contiguous FATA and Balochistan and later into Swat. India was given full facilities to establish Pak specific consulates in southern and eastern Afghanistan as well as cultural centres to poison the minds of Afghan youth against Pakistan.
The Afghan government has still not restrained India from its cross border terrorism nor has it put checks on RAW infested Indian consulates focused on Pakistan. It is humanly impossible for RAW to continue with its nefarious activities unnoticed by Afghan government and US military. This practice is going on despite the fact that USA, Afghanistan and India are singing peace songs and Karzai is giving assurances that under no circumstance he would allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorism against Pakistan. Some bad hats in his regime are on the quiet playing the Indian game.
Karzai would never have extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan if he had been in control of affairs. Because of his all round poor performance, he is unpopular among Pashtuns who regard him as a puppet of USA as well as non-Pashtuns who suspect him of promoting cause of the Pashtuns. He won last election by the skin of his teeth. The US too is not happy with him since he could neither help in taming the Taliban nor in winning over moderate Pashtuns. The Taliban do not trust him and have rejected his offers of truce, reconciliation and power sharing. They hold him responsible for the bloodshed of Pashtuns. Despite Karazi’s friendly overtures to Taliban, his non-Pashtun ministers and officials are still at odds with Taliban and at ease with India and welcome US efforts to make India a key country in Afghan affairs after the departure of ISAF.
Not only the Taliban have gained considerable influence over nearly 80% of Afghan territory, the US led coalition forces on whom Karzai regime had wholly relied upon have started to show signs of weariness. Ten-year long fighting under highly dangerous circumstances without achieving any results has disheartened them and has given rise to command problems particularly after revision of withdrawal date from July 2011 to end 2014. Combat troops as well as their home folk want an end to this futile war and early return.
Exit from Afghanistan is dependent upon blunting Taliban’s striking capability and bringing them to the negotiating table on US terms and upon visible improvement of operational preparedness of ANA comprising 97% non-Pashtuns, which at the moment is not fit enough to take on Taliban independently. Time has started to tick and security situation is out of control of Karzai as well as US-NATO despite troop surges. Recent jail break in Kandahar has given a big blow to Gen Petraeus claims that his forces are making gains against Taliban in Northern Afghanistan and in Helmand. Most of jail breakers are Taliban commanders and are likely to give fillip to raids and ambushes during this summer. Cases of ANA soldiers killing ISAF soldiers are on the increase.
It is under such worrying conditions that Karzai had been compelled to seek assistance from Pakistan. He knows that out of all the players, Pakistan is the only country which still exerts better influence over Taliban. Presence of Haqqani network under Siraj in North Waziristan and some members of Taliban Shura in Quetta region together with friendly terms with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir have helped in maintaining this link.
Had Pakistan not been in contact with Taliban, today there would have been none to approach them. Without taking Taliban on board, Afghan imbroglio cannot be solved. It is only when Taliban agree to some sort of political settlement that foreign troops can hope to depart. This linkage with Taliban has enhanced the importance of Pakistan in the eyes of both USA and Karzai regime, which till April 2009 was seen as a liability and part of the problem. The scenario changed after Pak Army dismantled fortified bases of militants in Bajaur, Swat and SW in 2009 and turned the tide.
The next big change occurred in January 2010 when heavily attended London conference agreed upon the plan to negotiate and recon ciliate with Taliban. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are also in contact with Taliban, each jockeying for influence in Afghanistan in post America era. China has already generated substantial economic activity in Afghanistan and because of its geographical contiguity and economic resurgence; it is better poised to win the economic race in the future.
Had the US played a straight game and not come out with impractical conditions, and had refrained from using force, by now some sort of breakthrough could have been found. US-India double dealing and effort to keep Pakistan out backfired. Petraeus and Panetta’s scheme to work out a three-tier scheme of drawing a cleavage between Taliban and al-Qaeda, dividing Taliban and isolating hard line Taliban has proved counter productive. This strategy is making things difficult for Karzai. During the last Lisbon conference in November 2010, he expressed his resentment over use of excessive force resulting in heavy civilian casualties. Not only he was snubbed by Obama, he is no more consulted on future actions. Already nurturing a grudge against the US that it had manipulated last presidential elections to weaken his authority, Obama’s rebuff further angered Karzai.
Karzai is now desperately trying to find a way out with the help of Pakistan. He once whispered into the ears of Zardari and later Kayani that since the US were not interested in making Afghanistan peaceful in the near future and had plans to make permanent military bases; it would be in common interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together for an early solution. He lamented America’s imperial designs against both Afghanistan and Pakistan. This heart-to-heart talk leaked out and when PM Gilani along with Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha made a return call to Kabul on 16 April at a time when Pak-US relations had hit rock bottom. Disturbed by this sudden development, a story was hurriedly invented by Wall Street Journal that Gilani tried to convince Karzai to break off ties with Washington and forge a new alignment with Pakistan and China to solve Afghan tangle and rebuild Afghan economy. China factor was purposely added since it pinches USA the most. Spin doctors white washed the actual part of the story about Gen Pasha producing hard evidence of RAW and CIA’s involvement in Balochistan.
Matter doesn’t end here. The US is terribly annoyed with Pakistan for its alleged links with Haqqani network. Exasperated Mike Mullen caught in a blind alley has come out with a brilliant revelation that ISI’s link with Haqqani network is age-old. Clueless about his next move and how to pullout 152000 ISAF troops from the quagmire, he and Petraeus have found an easy way to hide their bungling by making Pakistan a scapegoat. List of their blunders is very long and is not hidden from the world. Magnitude of their slip-ups is so huge that it is not possible to conceal them and put the entire blame on Pakistan whose performance is extraordinary.
It is alright for USA and Karzai to make contacts with Taliban whom they have been bleeding mercilessly but not for Pakistan. It is alright for Pakistan to cooperate with a usurper who has no business to be in Afghanistan and to impose its brand of democracy. Pakistan’s contacts with Afghan Taliban, who were ruling the country better than the current regime, are considered sinful. The US doesn’t want Pakistan to solve Afghan tangle but to help USA in forcing Taliban to accept its terms. Taliban are a reality that cannot be wished away. The US has lost the war and its departure time is approaching fast. Pentagon and CIA are trying to mislead Obama administration and the world about illusive gains. Concocted stories are being fed to blame Pakistan for their imperial blunders but no sincere effort is contemplated to put an end to Afghan agony.
Pakistan-Afghanistan share 2,250 KMs long border. Both share centuries old history, and are culturally, religiously and ethnically linked. Despite the hiccups in relations, they are natural allies and their destinies are tied to each other. Pakistan staked its security for the sake of freeing Afghanistan from the clutches of former Soviet Union. It is still hosting 2.7 Afghan refugees and despite hostility of the current regime, Pakistan has not retaliated to harm Afghanistan’s interests. On the other hand, both America and India are unnatural allies of Afghanistan since they have vested interests and have imposed their cultural and economic influence after occupying the country. Hence their influence in Afghanistan is a passing phenomenon and will fade away after occupation forces quit.
Rather than clinging to an unreliable and waning empire which has ill intentions against both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the two Muslim neighbors should chalk out their independent strategy which suits both and not USA or India. Gen Petraeus is trying hard to rekindle Karzai’s old flame for USA and keep him away from Pakistan. Karzai will sink for good if he tries to hoodwink Pakistan to regain confidence of USA. He and his colleagues must wake up to the reality that the US aided by India is the chief source of conflict. As long as foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan, both Afghanistan and Pakistan will keep bleeding. Gen Kayani and Lt Gen Pasha have made up their minds to stand up to US high-handed policies. While the people are with them, the politicians should also collectively put their weight behind them since coming two-three months are crucial for Pakistan.