Tag Archives: Pakistan

Ally or not Ally

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 01

The US-Pakistan relations seem to be well on its way of eventual demise after an ISAF airstrike across the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week. In reaction, Pakistan has blocked the NATO supply from Torkham and Chaman, asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan and announced to boycott the Bonn Conference next week.

Earlier in May when the SEALs killed Osama bin Ladin in military town of Abottabad, Pakistani officials demanded the US to vacate Shamsi, but this time with the deadline of December 11, the US is reportedly preparing to leave the base. CIA ran the drone operations from there targeting militants in the tribal areas. However, the base is no longer in use as it ceased in April, and the closure will not affect militarily.

Blockade of the NATO supply route might continue for weeks given the extreme Pakistani reaction. Currently, only 48 percent of NATO supplies come through Pakistan, and 52 percent through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The US plan is to transit 75 percent of all non-lethal supplies through the NDN. And 30 percent of the supplies, mostly lethal weapons, come by air through Pakistani airspace. They have not placed restrictions of overflights.

Prime Minister Gilani rejected a personal request by President Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday, saying if Afghanistan officially condemned the ISAF airstrike, Islamabad might reconsider the boycott decision on the Bonn II. There is a fuss about this boycott in the international media, calling it a blow to the entire process. The question is what if the ISAF strike had not happened and Pakistan was in Bonn? Would it make the chances of a breakthrough in the peace process with Taliban more plausible? Of course not! The fact that Pakistan has significant influence over the Taliban leaders makes it an important player in the process, but there was no progress in the US efforts to persuade Pakistani military in this regard. Both countries have contrary objectives for the endgame in Afghanistan. Pakistani military is against long-term presence of US troops beyond 2014, which will be approved in a US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, supported by a Traditional Loya Jirga recently.

Though reconciliation with the Taliban was high on the agenda of Bonn Conference, no breakthrough was expected. Pakistan’s support and cooperation is indeed vital, as the Afghan Government or the US cannot approach militant leaders who are hiding in Pakistan. Rawalpindi has significant influence on the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura. But they have not indicated to cooperate on this, and mere participation in Bonn will not ensure that.

The conference is not a debate forum to last for days. Agenda and decisions are taken behind the scenes following the Istanbul Summit. Pakistan gains nothing by boycotting a German-hosted and Afghan-chaired conference attended by representatives of about 90 countries to make pledges on the arrangements of post-2014 Afghanistan. Pakistan would rather isolate itself further with this boycott. Instead they could use the forum to raise their concerns.

Let me come back to the airstrike that caused the final blow to a relations based on lies and deceit between two so-called allies. There are conflicting and disputed reports based on claims from both sides. Pakistani military say the airstrike was unprovoked. While ISAF and Afghan officials say they received fire from the Pakistani side first. If there was no firing from the Pakistani side of the border, either insurgents or from the check posts, it would be beyond understanding why Afghan and ISAF commandos would ask for air support. Pentagon has appointed an Air Force Brigadier to investigate the incident. ISAF has said all future engagements on Durand Line have to be approved from their Headquarters in Kabul.

But such incidents are inevitable in future if militant incursions continued from across the border. Militants come to fight in Afghanistan and when the US troops chase, they retreat on the other side. It’s a daily business for them to move back and forth on the border.

Top Pakistani military officials have said they have “no expectation” from the ISAF inquiry. And it is expected that Islamabad will make further blowing decisions to reduce cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan after a joint session of parliament.

Now what?

The closure of Shamsi airbase does not debilitate overall drone operations, as it is based in Afghanistan. It’s likely that the supply routes will be restored. But the US should now increase focus on the Northern Distribution Network.

It is time for the US and Pakistan to put the game of distrust and deceit aside, get honest to each other and put their options clear on the table. There are two scenarios. Pakistan might continue the supply blockade and cease the limited intelligence and military cooperation with NATO. And eventually reduce ties with the US. In this case, we should expect increased suicide bombings in Kabul, and mass incursions of militants from across the border. In scenario two, if the US does not get tough on Rawalpindi, it will be business as usual after more concessions to tone down their overreaction. Pakistani Defense Minister said yesterday the supply routes will be restored if NATO apologizes.

If Pakistan decides to officially uncover the reality of this relation and cease their limited cooperation in the war on terror, the US should stop the military aid—$20 billion since 2001–and strengthen civilian supremacy in Pakistan. A small part of the military aid that the US gives to Pakistan Army could raise a Special Border Force in Afghanistan enough to be deployed all over the Durand Line to fight militant incursions. If insurgents have no Jihadi recruits, and weapon supply from across the border, it will not take long to wipe out the terrorists.

The ‘peace plan’ suggested by Pakistani military for the endgame in Afghanistan is simply not acceptable for Afghans and the international community. They want a big share in power for Haqqanis and Quetta Shura saying militants represent Pashtuns. Pakistan’s main objective is full withdrawal of US troops. They are against the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement that allows presence of US troops long beyond 2014. Pakistani military has its reasons. They fear US military intervention from Afghanistan against their nuclear capabilities.

It’s time for both countries to stop lies and deceit and decide they are allies or not. The US should ensure Pakistani military that their presence in Afghanistan is not a threat. Washington should offer Rawalpindi a vital role in the peace process with Taliban exclusive among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan should persuade the Taliban to come to table talks and give up violence and help the US and Afghanistan to eliminate those who continue terror. Similarly, the US and Afghanistan should assure Pakistan about their legitimate security and strategic concerns on the endgame in Afghanistan. But for this, General Kayani would have to compromise his current ‘peace plan’.

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Istanbul Summit and the end-game in Afghanistan

My Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Nov 02

Leaders and top representatives from 14 regional countries and 13 western countries involved in Afghanistan are attending the Istanbul Summit today. The US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cancelled her participation at the last minute due to her mother’s illness, who passed away on Monday night. Iran, which has not attended the previous such summits about Afghanistan, has sent their Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Fatullahi. India was excluded from previous Turkish-hosted summits due to Pakistan’s opposition, but this time Foreign Minister Krishna is also attending. Representatives from other ‘regional countries’ include China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The Afghan delegation led by President Karzai left Kabul on Monday. Yesterday there was a trilateral meeting among Turkish President Abdullah Gul, President Karzai and President Zardari. General Kayani and Gen Karimi also met. It’s the first meeting between Afghan and Pakistani leaders after a new wave of allegations started following the death of former Peace Council Chief Burhanuddin Rabbani. President Karzai raised the issue of his assassination and cross- border rocket attacks with his Pakistani counterpart, which was also discussed by Gen Karimi.

The Afghan delegation which was supposed to visit Pakistan for investigation of Rabbani’s assassination has not gone yet due to cold behavior from Islamabad. Despite public statements from Pakistani Foreign Office and their Embassy in Kabul to support such an investigation, members of the delegation were denied visa in Kabul.

The issue of rocket-attacks might not have been what their Turk hosts wanted the leaders from both sides to discuss, and build confidence. Istanbul is also encouraging Afghanistan and Pakistan to sign new cooperation agreements during the sidelines of this summit, including proposals for joint military exercises. After the trilateral meeting on Monday, the only achievement seemed to be an agreement of ‘cooperation’ between Afghanistan and Pakistan about the investigation of Rabbani’s assassination.

Many hopes are tied to this important summit ahead of the decisive Bonn Conference on December 05. But what objectives the meeting in Istanbul can produce are uncertain. The US and NATO sponsors of the summit want a regional structure for security and economic cooperation to assure non-interference in Afghanistan and support for the transition process, reconciliation and development of Afghan economy. But Pakistan, China and Russia are against such a new forum.

The conference is being called “Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia”. The outcome intended by the US and NATO sponsors include a unanimous agreement on establishment of a regional cooperation structure. But it’s less likely to expect a joint declaration and decision on this agreed by the participants.

To summarize the purpose of range of meetings recently in Kabul and other capitals for a broad support on this proposal, the US wants to ensure greater involvement of regional countries with the end-game, where Pakistan is not going to have a monopolization of political solution and role in the process of reconciliation ahead of 2014 transition.

This process of establishing a mechanism to ensure regional support for Afghanistan is part of President Obama’s larger revision of his Afghan strategy, that includes mounting the military pressure on the Haqqani Network, but also offering them the option of talks.

Recently the CIA drone strikes targeted hideouts in Miran Shah, capital of the notorious terrorist hub in North Waziristan, which was avoided previously. Besides this, the US military has increased deployment along the border in Eastern Afghanistan to mount the military pressure against the Haqqanis. The drone attacks are not based on intelligence sharing between the US and Pakistani intelligence agencies, which is in a deadlock, but due to the arrest of a senior Haqqani Network commander, Mali Khan, who was arrested by NATO forces recently. The death of Jan Baz Zadran in Miran Shah in a recent drone strike has been a blow to the Haqqani Network

However, under the revised Obama strategy, Pakistan has been offered important role in ‘negotiations’ after curbing their support to insurgents. But the US military officials say drone strikes will continue aggressively. The hit at Miram Shah has been a message to Pakistan for what the the alternative is. A meeting of the US National Security Council a couple of weeks ago has also reportedly discussed a possible US raid in Waziristan to attack Haqqani Network elements. It seems the options have been put down for Rawalpindi very clearly; kill the Haqqani Network commanders, help the US to kill them, or persuade them for negotiations.

However, as a report on the New York Times yesterday said, it’s easy for Haqqani’s, who make frequent travels around Islamabad and Rawalpindi, to go to other cities, where CIA drones cannot reach them. And the game will continue.

The Istanbul Summit’s agenda of regional cooperation and support for the end-game in Afghanistan will only produce the desired objectives when the primary players, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban and the US make their terms and conditions clear. If the Obama Administration persuades Pakistan to play honest, end their support for the Afghan insurgents, pressurize militants to come on negotiation table, there won’t be the need of a regional structure and headaches such as the agenda of Istanbul Summit. Otherwise, if Rawalpindi, which has already opposed the proposals being discussed today in Istanbul, continues the same game they have been playing for the last ten years, no positive outcomes of such summits should be expected.

Another important factor that seems to be totally out of considerations is essence of the support of Afghan society for the so-called ‘political settlement’. No matter what unanimous support and cooperation of regional countries and international players are assured, ignoring the domestic stakeholders of the conflict in Afghanistan is no good. If the US and NATO fails to recognize and understand this, even the unanimous regional support cannot produce a desired ‘end-game’ in Afghanistan, but another era of crisis and chaos.

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The Af-Pak Commission and Prospects

My Outlook op-ed on April 24.

All the talks in Kabul are about “Pakistani demands from Afghanistan” in the recent high-profile visit from Rawalpindi and Islamabad to the Palace in Kabul. The “demands” include; Pakistan should be consulted on the Afghan Security Forces affairs of Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, National Directorate of Security—Afghan intelligence agency—and any strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US or NATO. Furthermore, recruitment of Pakistani cadres in the Afghan Government institutions, share in the Afghan mines and development projects, implementation of Pakistani strategies by future Afghan governments and the most important of all—for Pakistan—closure of Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

Media reports say that all these demands have been handed over to President Karzai by Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the recent visit accompanying him the top brass of Pakistan’s military establishment, Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI Chief Lt.-Gen Shuja Pasha. It’s very unusual that the power trio from Pakistan come to Kabul all together, including key members of the civilian Government in Islamabad.

However, the above “demands” are not true as leaked in media with all details, but there have been talks and “demands” of the sort. What the Government should know is that the surprise influx of the Pakistani delegation to Kabul is not a change in strategy because of the efforts of President Karzai, who had been asking for inclusion of the top Pakistani military officials in the Af-Pak Commission, the establishment of which was agreed long ago, but the decision makers in Rawalpindi were not part of it. ISI Chief Pasha was in the US recently for talks with American military and CIA officials after the recent spat between the two “allies of the war on terror”. The relations were particularly bitter after the case of Raymond Davis, CIA-related American who was arrested in Lahore, and the CIA drone attacks on the terrorist sanctuaries in Waziristan and other tribal areas.

The context of above demands are after the “acceptance” of President Karzai’s request to Pakistan for inclusion of the military and intelligence officials in the Af-Pak Commission headed by the executives of both the countries. And this acceptance came as a surprise after the visits of ISI Chief to the US, France and Turkey, with failed results of the talks to cool down ISI-CIA spat. All the recent developments are as a result of the deterioration of Pak-US relations.

The likes of above demands show the lens through which Pakistani military establishment eyes Afghanistan and claims a “strategic depth”. The prospects of success with the new commission that include executives, top military and intelligence officials of both countries are as murky as previous such commissions. Expectations of both sides are in contrast, and there are differences. President Karzai has been calling the US and NATO to “target the roots and sanctuaries of militants across the border” since long ago. His latest statement on this was recently in a speech after the attack on Kandahar Police Chief. But not only Pakistan Army has been denying the Afghan and US demands for military operation in North Waziristan—the hub of Al-Qaeda and Afghan militants including the Haqqani Network—also the delegation in Kabul even did not admit any militant sanctuary in North Waziristan.

President Karzai thinks his efforts to talk with Taliban will only succeed when the military-intelligence establishment of Pakistan supports it and helps bring the militants on table talks. But the question is, if Pakistani military do not admit any sanctuary in North Waziristan, or ties with Haqqani Network, how successful the commission will be? Without a military operation to hunt down Al-Qaeda and other militants in North Waziristan, there are no prospects of success. The militant groups who are beyond the influence and control of Pakistani army/intelligence, like the different factions of Pakistani Taliban who are involved in sending suicide bombers to Afghanistan, makes it more improbable.

We also know that the former Taliban officials, like Mutawakil and Mullah Zaeef, who have been making headlines of the talks about talks with the Taliban, are staunch anti-Pakistan, and against any role of Pakistani intelligence or army in the talks. This is not something to help the process of persuading the Kandahari faction and Quetta Shura of Taliban leadership and second-level militant commanders.

The most important aspect of any prospect is that all Taliban and other militants have been saying to take part in any talks only when all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, and we know this is not going to happen. Insurgents are taking the calls of talks from the Afghan Government and willingness of the US as a victory and becoming more radical in their stance and bloody in attacks, as has proved by the recent suicide bombings on Afghan security forces in the last couple of weeks, which Taliban has called a spring start, warning of a “summer spectacular” ahead.

An Af-Pak “cooperation” which is based on the deterioration of relations between the US and Pakistan is not going to make any success. And President Karzai should know that the surprise change is not because of his efforts, which he thinks, but the relations of Pakistan Army with the US.

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