Pakistan and the Endgame in Afghanistan
By amicus • Nov 9th, 2011 • Category: Lead Story • 3 Comments
After completing the review of America’s ongoing ‘war on terror’ and related situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Barack Obama addressed the nation from West Point, New York, on December 1, 2009, to announce: “.. as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined to send an additional 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.”
In order to comply with the timetable set for starting the withdrawal of American troops, the US Administration stepped up military operations against the Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan and built pressure on Pakistan to do the same in different parts of Federally Administered Tribal Areas where allegedly there were safe havens of the militants.
Although Pakistan opened new fronts against the Taliban in the tribal region, it was selective in choosing its targets. In particular, Pakistan was not prepared to act against the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan and denied the existence of the so-called Quetta Shura. Pakistan’s military establishment regards them as strategic assets to be used to safeguard Pakistan’s interests in post-American Afghanistan. There is divergence of goals in Afghanistan between Pakistan and USA.
The US-Pakistan cooperation received a setback in January 2011 when Raymond Davis, a CIA operative, killed two Pakistanis in Lahore and was caught. The incident exposed some clandestine CIA activities that were in conflict with Pakistan’s national security interests and the Pakistan security establishment decided to impose certain restrictions on the CIA operatives and private contractors hired by the agency.
As if the Raymond Davis Case was not enough, on May 2, 2011, the US Navy Seals conducted an operation in Abbottabad hunting Osama bin Laden. The Abbottabad Operation was highly secret and the Pakistan military establishment was not taken into confidence even at the highest level. At least two US helicopters and a C-130 plane blatantly violated Pakistani airspace to conduct the operation deep inside Pakistani territory.
The Abbottabad Operation led to breakdown of trust between the United States and Pakistan. The US Administration suspected the ISI or some of its officers of harboring Osama bin Laden and other high value targets. On the other side, the Pakistani military establishment was jolted out of its slumber to realize the nature of threats that existed to Pakistan’s status as a sovereign state.
On 22 May terrorists played havoc in the Mehran Base of Pakistan Navy in Karachi, further heightening the sense of insecurity and vulnerability of the armed forces.
All these incidents cast aspersions on the preparedness and ability of Pakistan Armed Forces to defend the country and their own installations. They also raised questions about the costs and benefits of Pakistan’s role in what was essentially an American war.
Pakistan had been cooperating with the United States to the utmost limit commensurate with its security interests. It had allowed the US to use drones at will to attack targets in FATA, which had enabled the US forces to eliminate a number of Al-Qaeda operatives. More than 30,000 Pakistani civilians and 3,500 armed forces personnel had lost their lives in ‘war on terror’. Pakistan’s economy had suffered a loss of nearly $60 billion since 9/11 and here was the United States that did not trust it or adequately compensate it and only demanded that Pakistan should ‘do more’.
Inside Afghanistan, there was a resurgence of the Taliban and, although the US Administration was reluctant to admit, the things were not working as planned. The incompetent and corrupt Karzai regime was not able to expand its writ effectively or strengthen its national security apparatus to the requisite extent. Counter-insurgency (COIN) needed popular support which was not forthcoming.
Notwithstanding the grim scenario, President Obama was determined to go ahead with what he had promised to the American people in his West Point speech of December 1, 2009.
Addressing the nation from White House on June 22, 2011, Obama referred to his West Point speech and recalled that there were clear objectives of the surge: to refocus on Al Qaeda; reverse the Taliban’s momentum; and train Afghan Security Forces to defend their own country, and that American commitment in Afghanistan was not to be open-ended.
Obama also declared that starting next month i.e., July, the American troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan and by the summer of 2012 a total of 33,000 troops would have returned home. He said that after this initial reduction American troops would continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces moved into the lead. He added that American mission would change from combat to support. By 2014, the process of transition would be complete and the Afghan people would be responsible for their security.
Obama claimed that the United States was starting the drawdown from a position of strength. He said that Al Qaeda was under more pressure than at any other time since 9/11 and, working, together with the Pakistan, the Americans had taken out more than half of Al Qaeda’s leadership.
Emphasizing upon the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan, Obama stated that as the United States strengthened the Afghanistan government and security forces, it would join initiatives to reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. “Our position on these talks is clear: they must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of peaceful Afghanistan must break from Al Qaeda, abandon violence, and abide by the Afghan Constitution”, he added.
Obama made it clear that the American goal was to ensure there were no safe havens from which Al Qaeda or its affiliates could launch attacks against American homeland or American allies. He said that the United States would build an enduring partnership with the Afghan people to ensure that it was able to continue targeting terrorists and supporting a sovereign Afghan government. This implied that some American forces would continue to stay in Afghanistan for an indefinite period.
Alleging the presence of terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan, Obama stated: “. . . we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistan government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keeps its commitment.”
While defining these broad features of American plan for endgame in Afghanistan, Obama said that as there would be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of secure peace could be seen in the distance.
Soon after Obama’s speech, there was a marked surge in the Taliban activities in Afghanistan.
On June 28, 2011, there was an attack on Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in which at least ten people were killed. On August 19, at least sixteen people lost their lives and twenty-two were injured in a suicide attack on the British Council in Kabul. On September 10, there was a truck bombing at a NATO outpost in Wardak province that killed four civilians and wounded seventy-seven American troops. On September 13, the militants targeted US Embassy, NATO headquarters and some other high profile installations with rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire and suicide bombings. In the assault which continued for 20 hours sixteen people lost their lives and six NATO troops were wounded.
This was too much for the Americans. The US officials blamed the Haqqani network for these attacks and started brow-beating Pakistan.
On September 15, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the US could take “operational steps” to eliminate the threat emanating from terrorist sanctuaries which he alleged were situated in the Pakistani tribal belt. “I think the message they [Pakistanis] need to know is we’re going to do everything we can to defend our forces.”
US Military Chief Admiral Mike Mullen hurled the accusation during the Congressional hearing: “The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Internal Services Intelligence agency. With ISI support, the Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy.” He claimed: “We also have credible intelligence that they were behind the June 28 attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and a host of other smaller, but effective operations.” He warned: “In choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy, the government of Pakistan – and most especially the Pakistan Army and ISI – jeopardizes not only the prospect of our strategic partnership, but also Pakistan’s opportunity to be a respected nation with legitimate regional influence.”
In an interview to Radio Pakistan, Ambassador Cameron Munter also blamed the Haqqani network for Kabul attack and said: “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop.”
Subsequently US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a long lecture to Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on the possible consequences of Pakistan’s failure to rein in the Haqqanis.
Perhaps the US objective was to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its failure in Afghanistan. The Americans were conveniently forgetting that if the militants had their bases on Pakistani soil, they must have travelled a long distance inside Afghanistan to reach Kabul to carry out the assault without any check on the part of NATO/ISAF.
The US officials were also ignoring the fact that there had been attacks inside Pakistan from across the border with Afghanistan which the NATO/ISAF or the Afghan security forces had failed to prevent.
Implicit in the US posturing was the threat that it could retaliate against Pakistan for its failure to act against the Haqqani network. It could resort to air-raids against alleged targets inside Pakistan or the NATO/ISAF could cross the Durand Line in hot-pursuit of the militants. This obviously created a sense of emergency in Pakistan.
On September 16, Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, while addressing the meeting of NATO Chiefs of Defense in Seville, Spain, stated that Pakistan was committed to struggle against terrorism but it was Pakistan’s sovereign right to formulate its policy “in accordance with its national interests and the wishes of the Pakistani people.”
The situation took yet another nasty turn.
On September 20, a Taliban suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik and a former President of Afghanistan, who was the head of the High Peace Council formed by the Afghanistan Government to work for a political settlement in the country. Reportedly Burhanuddin was working on a plan that included offering amnesty and jobs to Taliban fighters and asylum to Taliban leaders in third countries.
Some quarters in Afghanistan pointed fingers towards Pakistan claiming that the assassin had come from FATA.
In this backdrop, Pakistan Government and the military establishment felt the need to demonstrate national unity and consensus on the Afghanistan policy and a firm resolution to face American threats and challenges to Pakistan’s sovereignty and security.
On September 29, 2011, an All Parties Conference was convened in Islamabad in which the Chief of Army Staff General Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha were also present.
Among other things the APC recognized that there had to be “a new direction and policy with focus on peace and reconciliation.” It called for initiation of dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with “our own people” in the tribal area.
The APC made it clear that defense of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was a sacred duty which should never be compromised. It said that national interests were supreme and should guide Pakistan’s policy and response to all challenges at all times.
The APC rejected the assertions and baseless allegations made [by the United States] against Pakistan. It called them of no substance and derogatory to a partnership approach. The APC declared: “The Pakistani nation affirms its full solidarity and support for the armed forces of Pakistan in defeating any threat to national security.”
The message was loud and clear to the United States: This time Pakistan had decided to show spine.
The Haqqanis were not Pakistan’s headache; they had done no harm to Pakistan; if they were involved in attacks against the occupational forces in Afghanistan, it was their problem.
If the United States opted for any military adventurism inside FATA or stopped aid, Pakistan could withdraw from the so-called American war on terror; it could bring to a halt nearly 75% of supplies to the NATO/ISAF that passed through its territory. If the United States sought Pakistan’s continued cooperation, it had to take Pakistan’s legitimate interests and security concerns into consideration.
Perhaps the United States had not expected Pakistan to take a tough stand. It understood that if Pakistan withdrew its cooperation, the Afghan tangle would become far more difficult to resolve. It was essential to have Pakistan on board for the timely endgame in Pakistan. As a result the US officials changed their tone.
On September 30, Obama stated that Mullen was expressing “frustration” over alleged safe havens when he referred to the Haqqani network as an arm of Pakistan’s ISI. “The intelligence is not as clear as we might like in terms of what exactly that relationship is”, he added.
In order to sort out Pakistan-United States differences, Clinton visited Pakistan on October 20-21. Although the mantra of terrorist safe havens on Pakistani territory and Pakistan’s responsibility to eliminate them continued, her mission included cooling down of the temperature and improving the US image in the Pakistani media.
Significantly Clinton urged Pakistan to play the role of a peacemaker in Afghanistan. She stated: “We think that Pakistan for a variety of reasons has the capacity to encourage, push, to squeeze . . . terrorists, including the Haqqanis and Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage in the peace process.”
She declared that the United States respected Pakistan’s sovereignty and would not take any unilateral action against the terrorists on Pakistani soil.
On her return home, Clinton clarified that the United States had asked Pakistanis to squeeze the Taliban and the Haqqani network but that did not necessarily mean “overt military action” against them. She also admitted that there were safe havens of the Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan.
As of today certain dimensions of the Afghanistan tangle are clear.
The United States is prepared to negotiate with the Taliban, including the Haqqani network and Mulla Umar-led so-called Quetta Shura, for the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan but insists that these negotiations should be (apparently) led by the Afghanistan Government.
In fact, according to US State Department the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to hold a trilogue with the Taliban and operational details are being worked out.
The United States intends to withdraw the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Its NATO allies are even in greater hurry to wind up their operations. However, the US Administration wants an unspecified number of American troops to stay at selected places, bases and installations in Afghanistan. This is to enable the United States to monitor the situation in Afghanistan and the region as a whole.
Simultaneously, the United States is inclined to give an important role to India in Afghanistan. Due to China factor there is substantial compatibility of the US-India interests in the region.
At present the Taliban are reluctant to negotiate with the American until foreign troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan. Pakistan has some clout over the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban. It can serve as bridge and facilitator between the two but cannot guarantee the success of the negotiations.
The United States should also understand that there cannot be pre-conditions. The Taliban cannot be asked to lay down arms, sever ties with the Al Qaeda or declare respect for the Afghan Constitution before the start of negotiations.
The Haqqani network has declared itself a part of the Taliban. It has asked the Americans to establish contact with Mulla Umar, whom the Taliban regard as the commander of the faithful (Amir-ul Momineen). It has rejected previous overtures of the United States for talks on the suspicion that they aimed at creating fissures and divisions among the Taliban.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, it considers Afghanistan, particularly its Pashtun-dominated southern and eastern parts, as of vital interest.
Pakistan believes that India is aspiring to have a foothold and say in Afghanistan which is not commensurate with what it rightly deserves. There are reports that India plans to train Afghan forces and have some military contingents and advisors permanently stationed in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan-India strategic alliance with provision for cooperation in the field of defense is a nightmare for Pakistan.
India can ask for extension of proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline to its territory. It can also aspire to have transit trade facilities across Pakistani territory to Afghanistan and beyond. But a permanent Indian military presence in Afghanistan is an unacceptable security risk for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s claim for a say in Afghanistan’s future is based on solid grounds. No other country has so close ethnic affinity with Afghanistan as Pakistan. Not only is the Afghanistan-Pakistan border long and porous, traditionally there has been free movement of Pashtun tribesmen across it. Since independence, Pakistan has provided transit trade facilities to Afghanistan. There are still nearly three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. India’s interests in Afghanistan do not match Pakistan’s legitimate claims.
There are irrefutable evidences of Indian interference in Pakistan’ Baluchistan province and FATA. The Indian consulates on the Afghanistan side of the Durand Line are responsible for master-minding several terror attacks inside Pakistan. They support Baloch insurgents to destabilize the province. If Pakistan’s security concerns about post-American Afghanistan are not addressed now, it would have no option other to use militant organizations to target Indian interests in Afghanistan and the peace in the region would remain elusive.
It is heartening that Clinton has shown understanding of Pakistan’s position and complexity of the situation.
On October 27, she told the Congress Committee on Foreign Affairs: “There is no solution in the region without Pakistan and no stable future in the region without a partnership.”
She insisted that the US aid to Pakistan should not be made conditional on disbanding of Lashkar-i-Taiba and that the real game-changer in the region would be a stronger relationship between Pakistan and India.
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” . . . Winston Churchill.
Tagged as: FATA, Haqqani Network, Hillary Clinton, Lashkar-i-Taiba, War on Terror