THE PAK-AFGHAN TANGLE
By Brig Samson S Sharaf
The tangle is complicated and confusing. Who backs who is a riddle difficult to answer? As the deadline for a tactical but not strategic withdrawal of NATO-ISAF begins next year, the local trajectories of violence as predicted in these columns become clearer. The loyalties of actors involved in these crisscross; difficult to evaluate; who supports whom; and who attacks who?
Afghan Mujahedeen were created by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto against Sardar Daud. Arab Fighters later Al Qaeda was provided by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya and USA. Afghan Taliban backed by Pakistan did not support Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda mauled by Afghan Taliban left Afghanistan for Sudan then moved back on invitation of President Rabbani on C130 aircrafts. In 1996, USA rejected the Pak-Afghan roadmap for stability. Iran, Turkey and Russia supported Dostam (once a Taliban), in massacre of Taliban at Mazar Sharif. Sectarian outfits of Pakistan joined the Afghan conflict backed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as move to counter Iranian/Russian influence. Russia, Iran, Turkey and France supported Ahmad Shah Masood. Al Qaeda Killed Masood in 2001. 9/11 was carried out by Al Qaeda with no Afghan or Pakistani involvement. The actors were Arabs or migrants to West. The plan was devised in Hamburg Germany. In 2001, the offer to hand over Osama Bin Laden was rejected. Taliban were lumped with Al Qaeda. Iran, India, Russia and USA sponsored Hamid Karzai, (a once Taliban) to become the President of Afghanistan. Afghanistan was invaded under UN umbrella. Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and Hizb e Islami melted into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan to continue the resistance. Abdullah Mehsud a feared fighter was arrested by Dostum forces in Afghanistan and handed over to Americans. In 2004, he was released from Camp Delta and joined hands with Bait Ullah for organising TTP. He was killed by security forces in an encounter near Zhob, Pakistan. TTP began providing sanctuaries to foreign militants aligned with Al Qaeda and fell out with Maulvi Nazir group who opposed it. Both Bait Ulllah and Maulvi Nazir were killed by drone strikes. Haqqani group maintains links with TTP and foreign militants not backed by Mullah Omar. Swat Taliban are supported by Afghan and Indian intelligence. FazalUllah the Amir of TTP operates exclusively against Pakistan from bases in Kunar Afghanistan. NATO and ISAF forces have failed to stop his activities or arrest him. Heated arguments between General Pasha and Panetta indicate his employment against Pakistan as a counter to Haqqani Group. Yet Haqqani Group and TTP cooperate over foreign militants in North Waziristan. Though Pakistan provided unstinted support to USA, it resisted parting ways with Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Group. Pakistan detained some Afghan Taliban leaders as leverage and set some free this year to push peace negotiations. USA insists that Haqqani group is linked to Al Qaeda and a veritable arm of ISI. Pakistan has supported USA in tracking, arresting and killing Al Qaeda leadership but closed curtains on Haqqani group. Fate of Haqqani group rests in its cooperation with Mullah Omar and Pakistan. Yet a flare-up can undo it. Though Pakistan feels it has stakes in Afghanistan, it is downgraded by cooperation of Northern Alliance with USA, UK, Iran, Turkey, Russia, India and France. Iran’s acrimony with USA is ideological and the two have cooperated in matters relating to Afghanistan. This minimises Pakistan’s leverage.
So what do we make of this confusion? Pakistan’s unstinted support has been undone by compulsions of the home-grown dimensions. Preservation of strategic leverage prevented Pakistan from capitalizing on the US presence in Afghanistan. Pakistan failed to control neither the militancy nor its spread to urban centres.
In this sour cooperation, Pakistan had the military logic but not the political argument. Having delayed the inevitable, Pakistan is faced with the threat of a long drawn conflict whose fate lies in Strategic Dialogue with USA in the shadow of Strategic Afghan-US Bilateral Agreement. In a worst case, Pakistan could be sucked into another cycle of intense operations lacking civilian management capacity obvious in the recently stalled Peace Talks. The only leverage Pakistan now has is facilitating Afghan Peace. But the prelude is either to pacify TTP through negotiations or defeat it militarily.
All Peace talks have firewalls. Once the operational control is completely handed over to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and the US led forces thin out with stay behind parties and imbedded contractors, the futility of following a flawed policy by all will become visible. It is more important for US to engage the Afghan Taliban on the side of Peace. This will divide TTP and its ability to disrupt both Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there are elements to resist this. Pakistan may have to pay heavier for joining a conflict few in Pakistan had courage to own.
In case peace negotiations with TTP do not jump start (seems most likely), Pakistan will have no choice but to pacify some militant groups and use force with political and military precision against others. Pakistan will have to fight on an empty stomach and later expose those within, who orchestrated Pakistan’s economic meltdown.
But this conflict cannot be won on a military plan. It must flow from a political strategy that synergises all three elements of the state, provides leadership and mobilises public opinion. This leads to my oft RANT of a National Counter Terrorism Policy while the US led coalition is still in Afghanistan.
Not only does this article answers my five questions raised in US Retrograde from Afghanistan (Nation 14 April 2013), but also reduces the time span from twelve to six months. Pakistan Army must seal, contain and eliminate terrorists in the area with military precision in case variants of peace fail.
But a new question has arisen. Who assassinated Dr. Naseer Ud Din Haqqani in suburbs of Islamabad?
Pakistan paid a price in blood and money for preserving this organisation prized by Pashtuns and Mullah Omar. After successful Swat Operations, Pakistan could have moved simultaneously in North and South Waziristan with NATO-ISAF-Afghan forces holding the anvil and crippled TTP beyond recovery. But Pakistan chose not to annoy the Haqqani group, Afghan Taliban and local Pashtuns to the chagrin of USA. How could it volte face on many years of perseverance?
At the heels of killing Hakim Ullah Mehsud, USA by killing Haqqani would not jeopardise its dialogue with Afghan Taliban. Yet in the murky world of intelligence wars, the incident can be used to frame a virtually leaderless TTP or Pakistan. It has the potential to rip Pakistan-Afghan Taliban relationship and deprive Pakistan any leverage in a post war Afghanistan. However, it runs risk of closing the doors on Afghan Dialogue and opening more to violence.
Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Intelligence are the only who stand to gain from this incident. They could recoil the Haqqani Group, exert pressure on Mullah Omar, exploit TTP and with Indian support open a new wave of conflict inside Pakistan. This is an assertion and needs to be investigated. Maybe we will then know who killed Benazir Bhutto.