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Thread: All roads leading to Pakistan
06-23-07, 12:15 PM #1jetdawggGuest Free Member
All roads leading to Pakistan
By M K Bhadrakumar
The British ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, told British Broadcasting Corp radio in an interview this week that Britain needs to keep a presence in Afghanistan for several decades. He described Afghanistan as "one of our very highest foreign-policy priorities".
The ambassador singled out three main factors why a long-term British presence becomes unavoidable, namely the fight against terrorism, economic development, and the "task of standing up a government" in Kabul that is "sustainable". In fact, Britain is having an Afghanistan "surge" - increasing its 7,000-strong troop presence by 10%. What makes Afghanistan so special for Britain?
Britain often operates as the "brains trust" of the Anglo-American alliance. The criticality of the Afghan theater was underscored last week when hardly days ahead of the scheduled visit of Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri to Washington, three senior US officials arrived in Islamabad for consultations, namely the chief of the US Central Command Admiral William Fallon, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher.
Washington evidently decided there were matters that were best discussed with President General Pervez Musharraf. The visitors from Washington seemed pleased with their discussions. Meanwhile, the chorus of criticism by the Kabul setup about Pakistan's support of the Taliban insurgency has also noticeably diminished.
President Hamid Karzai is finely attuned to Washington's priorities. He will have pointed out that the six-year war is outgrowing Afghanistan, and he can see Washington's new priorities. He will have noted that all the cacophony about the restoration of democracy in Pakistan isn't impacting on Washington. Clearly, the US administration will not lose sleep if Musharraf keeps on his uniform.
What makes Musharraf an indispensable ally at this point in time? In a nutshell, in the Anglo-American global agenda, larger considerations overlap the day-to-day vicissitudes of the "war on terror". They relate to the "new cold war". Musharraf's stance as an ally can make a big difference. Pakistan, in other words, is regaining the status of a "frontline state" in Anglo-American regional policy. This centrality of Pakistan is comparable to the period under president Zia ul-Haq (1977-88). Militant Islam once again assumes potency in the geopolitics of Central Asia.
The "new cold war" necessitates a robust strategic push by the Western alliance into Central Asia. As German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Wednesday after the European Union foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg, Central Asia has been "like a blind spot in the EU's line of vision". The EU foreign ministers gave approval to the bloc's first-ever strategy toward Central Asia. In recent months, Washington has been keenly goading the EU to do precisely that.
The hullabaloo is not entirely about oil and gas, either. Steinmeier stressed that the EU is adopting a broad strategic view. He said, "Economic links, energy-trading links can be one basis, but it is just one among many. We are also very concerned about political stability in this context, which, as you know, is threatened by instabilities in the southern neighborhood, be it Afghanistan or Iran."
Anglo-American efforts to unite Europe, and to secure a strong European partner in Central Asia, have assumed urgency with the need to pursue a more robust strategic thrust into that region. That the various "ink spots" are interconnected in the Anglo-American strategy may not be obvious, but Fallon's stopover in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, after the visit to Islamabad did reinforce that point. Simply put, Turkmenistan and Pakistan are vital to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in Central Asia. And both countries border Iran.
Again, it is not a mere question of working out the logistics for Western military aircraft flying through Russian airspace to Afghanistan. The fact is Pakistan is uniquely placed - geographically and politically - to affect the outcome of Anglo-American strategy toward Iran and Central Asia. Zia was extremely prescient about such a geopolitical setting.
In recent months, the US media have reported on the role of Pakistani security agencies in enabling covert US operations aimed at destabilizing Iran. If US Vice President Dick Cheney has his way and a US-Iran military confrontation indeed takes place, Pakistan's role becomes of vital importance to Washington.
To quote prominent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in the Los Angeles Times recently, "Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any criticism of him ... No one at Foggy Bottom [Department of State] seems willing to question Cheney's decisions."
Cheney's interests do not usually go beyond oil and the New American Century project. Even making allowance for Rashid's proximity to Karzai or his well-known antipathy toward Musharraf, it is extraordinary that Cheney has developed such a keen interest in Pakistan. Musharraf is well placed to take a leaf out of Zia's life and times. He can ask the White House for a quid pro quo for his role with regard to Iran and the "new cold war".
Indeed, influential figures in the US and Britain have begun arguing lately that Pakistan's legitimate interests in Afghanistan must be accommodated. Former British foreign secretary and defense secretary Malcolm Rifkind recently wrote in The Independent newspaper, "The key will be winning full Pakistani support ... That will not be achieved by threats or exhortations. It needs a more sophisticated approach, one that recognizes legitimate Pakistani concerns and interests. Only then will we make real progress."
Rifkind identified two aspects to Pakistan's "national interests that have been largely ignored by the West". First and foremost, he said, Pakistan's Pashtun-Balochi problem and the entire Taliban phenomenon are also linked to India-Pakistan differences over Kashmir and to wider India-Pakistan relations.
He implied that India manipulated Afghanistan "to see a Pakistan weakened and distracted by frontier problems" on its western border, and under this compulsion, Pakistan "welcomed the Taliban as they were religious fundamentalists, not Pashtun nationalists, and therefore had no claim on Pakistani territory". The solution lies in "encouraging" India to reduce its presence in Afghanistan. Second, Rifkind said, the Kabul government must be made to accept the Durand Line as the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But Musharraf's wish list may not necessarily be so modest. He knows Zia drove a hard bargain in comparable circumstances. Musharraf can flag that the role he is about to play in US regional policy is fraught with risks. It could pitch Pakistan into a standoff with major countries in the region. Conceivably, Musharraf's list would include the establishment of a government in Kabul over which Pakistan has predominant influence. It is not important how he rationalizes such a claim. What matters is how to reconcile Pakistani aspirations with a Western-oriented setup in Kabul. There has to be give-and-take on both sides. But, fortunately for the Anglo-American alliance and for Pakistan, this is within the realm of possibility.
The Taliban are not a monolithic movement. Apart from one or two countries that may doggedly view the Taliban in one-dimensional terms, it is well understood that "Taliban" is a generic word. It refers to a broad range of discontented and dispossessed Afghan people; it includes people who have vested interests; it includes time-servers and opportunists amenable to manipulation by foreigners; it does include elements wedded to violence as a method of political expression; and it no doubt contains a small segment of ideologically committed warriors and a large swath of observant Muslims.
Also, the people who hold power and the people who lead the movement behind the scenes are not necessarily the same. The Taliban have a composite leadership. Besides, a mystique has always been carefully built around the Talibs ever since they came out of the madrassas in Pakistan in the autumn of 1994, which allows shadow plays to be staged in their name, almost ad infinitum. Clearly, this extraordinary set of circumstances poses a challenge and an opportunity for all outside protagonists interested in "finessing" the Taliban.
The Anglo-American camp will remain vigilant, of course, while trusting Pakistani instincts. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is immensely endowed with the expertise to chaff the grain from the husk. Its Afghan cell was highly skilled in playing disparate, freewheeling, unruly, violent, moody and ideologically fired-up elements of the Afghan mujahideen like puppets on a string. It is capable of weaning the Taliban and inserting them into Kabul as a "responsible" stakeholder.
In all likelihood such an effort is on. Hardcore Taliban commanders like Mullah Dadullah may be incrementally eliminated. "Burned-out" figures like Jalaluddin Haqqani may be pulled back from the arena. What is abundantly clear is that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is rising into prominence once again. He was the ISI's favorite proxy during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, and almost until the mid-1990s, when it began viewing the Taliban as a trump card.
The ISI would be justified in putting Hekmatyar on the comeback trail. He has impeccable "jihadi" credentials, yet he is a politician first and last. He has a strong power base among the Ghilzai Pashtun tribes of eastern Afghanistan. He is a ruthless practitioner of power. The curtain has come down on his peers among the original "Peshawar Seven".
The ISI could count on Hekmatyar to build bridges with the Northern Alliance groups and even with the Jamiat-i-Islami leadership that could isolate the erstwhile Shura-e Nazar, which Pakistan regarded with suspicion as "pro-India". The Shura-e Nazar was a federation of military forces led by various mujahideen commanders, mostly from the north and northeast of Afghanistan.
No doubt, Hekmatyar was an unhappy man during his period of exile at the time of Taliban rule from mid-1996 until the end of 2001, when the ISI didn't want him either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan. But he remains profoundly loyal to Islamabad for meticulously plotting his political career ever since he fled Kabul in 1974 for Pakistan as a militant university student. Equally, it is of no mean consequence to the ISI that Hekmatyar has been stridently "anti-Indian".
Above all, Hekmatyar has supporters among top retired Pakistani generals. Musharraf will be a net gainer, too, if the Islamic parties, which kept strong links with Hekmatyar (and the Taliban), especially the Jamaat-i-Islami led by Qazi Hussein Ahmed, do not consort with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on a staunchly nationalistic platform. Washington would see the rationale. After all, the forces of Islam could have strange uses. It all depends on how to harness them.
But how would Washington handle Hekmatyar? Technically, he remains a "terrorist" in the US lexicon. But Hekmatyar's "anti-Americanism" and Washington's antipathy toward him all along have seemed a little too contrived. US intelligence looked away when Zia diverted to Hekmatyar the bulk of the US arms supplies meant for the Afghan mujahideen. Hekmatyar's "Saudi connection" must also be a matter of comfort for Washington.
From Washington's perspective, what might tilt the balance in favor of Hekmatyar is his visceral hatred toward Russia. From all accounts, he was also bitter about his humiliating expulsion by his Iranian hosts in 2002. He could be an eligible figure to hold the fort in Kabul if a "new cold war" really begins.
M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
06-23-07, 12:54 PM #2
06-23-07, 01:22 PM #3jetdawggGuest Free Member
I think that it is a bit unwise to sleep on these people. Britain held this region under it's wraps for a long time. They are getting more and more power in this world and there are plenty of them.
This issue is just coming to surface here but has been brewing under the covers as the MSM will not report this.
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