The U.S. made it quite clear last week that Pakistan must eliminate militant sanctuaries in order for the U.S.-led coalition to sustain the “progress” it has made against the insurgency – “gains” described as “fragile and reversible” in the White House Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review.
Mushahid Hussain, a prominent Pakistani politician, believes this recent assessment is setting up Pakistan as the fall guy if the U.S. loses this war:
“The strategy review boasts about gains made in Afghanistan, but says that they are ‘fragile and reversible’. What does that mean? We saw what happened in Marjah and Kandahar. The Americans are looking for a scapegoat in Pakistan for a strategy that has failed in Afghanistan.”
The sanctuaries in question lie mainly in North Waziristan which some believe to be the world’s most dangerous place as it is home to the most lethal militant elements operating not just in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan, including the Haqqani network which launches attacks against NATO forces across the border.
Pakistan is not without its dubious motives, although recently Pakistani Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani gave President Obama a 14-page document detailing Pakistan’s strategy. Hussain described the report:
“It was the clearest enunciation in writing of Pakistan’s core national security interests,” says politician Hussain, who has seen the classified document. “It laid out Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan,” he adds, “saying that we seek a stable and peaceful Afghanistan — not necessarily a friendly Afghanistan.”
Time magazine said the suggestion is that Islamabad will settle for less than the restoration of a Taliban-dominated proxy government in Kabul.
Until now, Pakistan has angrily denounced what it sees as a Northern Alliance-dominated regime in Kabul under Indian influence, going so far as to accuse New Delhi of using its consulates in Afghanistan to back armed Baloch separatist groups attacking Pakistan.
General Kayani’s fear of India drives Pakistan’s reluctance to launch operations into North Waziristan, because the Haqqani network is a longstanding ally of Pakistani intelligence and viewed as a potent anti-Indian asset once NATO leaves.
More troubling is the reality that Pakistan’s security establishment seeks to be the principal interlocutor in any Afghan political deal. Talat Masood, a retired general was quoted as saying:
“The Pakistani military leadership would prefer some sort of an understanding with Haqqani, so he can share some power in a post-withdrawal government. But Washington doesn’t want to speak to the Haqqanis, deeming them irreconcilables.” Yet U.S. officials have told their Pakistani counterparts that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar isn’t interested in talking to the Americans. “Mullah Mohammad Omar is believed to be supremely confident of his chances,” says Masood. “If he is willing to talk, it would be to the Pakistanis.” And that’s where Pakistan senses an opportunity to help the U.S. end the war.
Pakistan’s double-dealing doesn’t diminish from the fact that the U.S. is playing a blame game, as a senior Pakistani security official told Azhar Abbas, the managing director of GEO News:
“Some people in the establishment are of the view since the Americans are losing the war in Afghanistan, they are trying to shift the blame on Pakistan in order to use it as a scapegoat. It is quite obvious now that the US is fast losing its grip in Afghanistan. It is easy for them to sell the story back home that they are losing the war because of Pakistan.”
Others believe the U.S. has only itself to blame and finds it convenient to point to caves in North Waziristan as the culprit. The U.S. fails to comprehend that their drone campaign is actually causing more militants than it is killing – not to mention one-third of casualties of drone strikes are civilians.
Pakistani officials perceive a fundamental division in U.S. foreign policy between use of force and use of diplomacy and are concerned that in the post-Holbrooke era the balance is shifting towards force. Complicating matters, Mr. Abbas wrote that one western diplomat told him it would be very hard politically for Obama to go against the advice of General David Petraeus, his commander on the ground.
According to Rafia Zakaria in Dawn.com, the U.S. failure to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan has more to do with the non-existence of a viable Afghan state to which control of the country can be ceded rather than Pakistani safe havens. Mr. Zakaria writes:
This dismal reality has been whetted by the turn from nation-building to counter-insurgency that came along with the election of President Obama. The fact that no state actually exists in Afghanistan directly questions the importance of cross-border sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Jessica Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace supports Mr. Zakaria’s premise, saying:
“Our [American] strategy is we increase the force, the Taliban gets weaker. And then we put more effort into building an Afghan army, and Karzai gets stronger. The actual reality on the ground is the reverse. For nine years now, the Taliban has gotten stronger, and Karzai’s state, for good reasons, has gotten weaker.”
U.S. intelligence assessments refute Petraeus’s claims of military progress and have reported that the Taliban now have a serious presence in the north and west. Zakaria points out:
With the Taliban having perfectly viable hiding places within Afghanistan itself, a place where US/Nato forces operate, one wonders at the utility or necessity of cross-border refuges whose elimination is considered so crucial by US officials.
Zakaria also underlines how Obama’s “safe havens” argument exposes a broken strategic paradigm because looking at borders and sanctuaries suggests that there is a geographic core to the agendas of groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban which can be eliminated if only the territory was controlled and refuges destroyed:
This myth, erected on the inability to invest in promoting ideological responses to terror, pretends that other competing terrorist hideouts in places such as Yemen and Somalia can similarly be eliminated by a hodgepodge arsenal of drone attacks and covert assassinations.
Pepe Escobar in Asia Times Online also suggests that the U.S. is to blame for leaving the Afghan people stuck between the Taliban and the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai. Afghans despise the U.S. for allowing their occupied country to be controlled by gangsters.
Mr. Escobar does have a valid point. The facts the U.S. inserted a crooked, weak, illegitimate and over-centralized puppet regime against the will of the Afghan people and decided to fund and empower warlords to supposedly “maintain security”, are two of the biggest reasons for the current state of affairs, which have little to do with Pakistani safe havens.
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