$500m for ‘Safe Exit’ from Afghanistan’s Unforgiving HistoryJanuary 30, 2010
“Those who do not learn from history, are condemned to repeat it” -George Santana
Dan Qayyum | Editor, PKKH
After 9 years of maintaining an expensive presence on Afghan soil, thousands of lives and billions wasted in aid and reconstruction efforts, not to forget bribes to warlords and drug barons, the US and its allies have come up with a real gem of an idea – trying to buy themselves a safe exit from the Afghan mess for a cool $500m.
The world leaders gathered at the Afghanistan Conference in London seem to have realised the only hope left is to save face and exit Afghanistan with some dignity intact. Their offer of cash to the Taliban, laughable as it is, is a last ditch effort to save Hamid Karzai’s government by attempting to buy out his only real opposition in Afghanistan.
Taliban today control 33 out of 34 provinces of Afghanistan and are under no pressure to negotiate with the ‘Governor of Kabul’ – as he’s mockingly called in Afghanistan due to his rule being limited to parts of the Afghan capital. The momentum is with the Taliban and they are in a position to dictate terms. Therefore the plan to rope in ‘moderate’ elements of the Taliban by promises of cash and power is a non-starter.
The decision reached at the conference to invite Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to mediate with the Taliban and Kabul’s Government seems to have little point, even though it confirms what Pakistan has been saying for years – that there will not be a solution to the Afghan problem until the Taliban – who represent Afghanistan’s Pashtun majority – are ignored.
Good Taliban / Bad Taliban
Pakistan Army’s policy of differentiating between various Taliban factions and militant groups found no takers in Western capitals up until the recent past. Pakistan Army had been widely criticised for selectively targeting only those militant outfits which attacked Pakistan, namely the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and has always rejected US demands to act against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami and the Haqqani network – both of which the US alleges are based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region and are actively fighting against the US & NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Not only have Gulbuddin and Haqqani’s men never acted against Pakistan, the Pakistan Army also regards them as future power brokers in the post-US Afghanistan.
The Taliban leader in Afghanistan, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is also ready to break with his al-Qaida allies in order to make peace in the country, according to the former Pakistani intelligence officer who trained him.
Brigadier Sultan Amir Tarar (known as Colonel Imam), a retired officer with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, said: “The moment he gets control, the first target will be the al-Qaida people. He wants peace in the country, he doesn’t want adventure. He has had enough of that.”
Pakistan has legitimate interests to protect in the region beyond its borders, and is justified in pursuing those interests through means it deems necessary. The US and NATO will not stay in the region much longer – Pakistan has no other option than to support the Afghan Taliban in order to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used by its arch-rival India to destabilize Pakistan.
As Ahmed Quraishi notes:
In 2001, Pakistan gave the ultimate strategic sacrifice by ditching a friendly government in Afghanistan and help American occupy that country. We let the Americans install a government of their choice in Kabul and saw them push the terrorists inside Pakistan instead of finishing them off on the Afghan soil. We suffered billions of dollars in undocumented losses, way beyond the pittance in American aid. And what did we get? Insurgencies, terrorism and economic collapse. On top of it, India has blocked Pakistan’s water, effectively declaring a water war. This same hostile India is firmly establishing its presence near our borders in Afghanistan. And then the Americans have the audacity to come and berate us for having a soft corner for freedom fighters in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Even if we don’t want to do it, what choice do we have? If we sympathize with the Afghan Taliban or with Kashmiri groups that antagonize India, there is a legitimate reason for it. Pakistan can’t be expected to drop its legitimate interests just because US or India wants so.
Washington’s permission to India to set up a military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan along Pakistan’s borders is widely seen as the latest US back-stabbing after Pakistan’s u-turn on its own Taliban policy. Western analysts and senior government officials have confirmed India’s involvement in terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, as well as channeling funds and arms to Pakistani terrorist outfits including the TTP through corrupt Afghan warlords. A destabilized Pakistan helps India’s case against Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, which it demands be neutralized in face of what it calls a ‘serious Taliban takeover threat’.
In reality however, the TTP are being wiped out at the hands of Pakistan’s armed forces with even the US and NATO stunned at the efficiency and success of the army operations against TTP militants in Swat and South Waziristan.
For the first time in 8 years, Pakistan now has the upper hand and has started to dictate terms to the US, starting last week with the rejection of US request to extend the operation to North Waziristan. Anticipating an imminent turnaround in Pakistan’s Afghan policy and fearing the US supply lines into Afghanistan may come under pressure, the US has immediately sought to pacify the Pakistan Armed Forces with promises to deliver 12 ‘unarmed’ shadow drones – which was rejected as Pakistan already has superior UAVs.
This turnaround by the Pakistan Army couldn’t have come at a worse time for the US and NATO forces – with the recent attacks on CIA’s Chapman outpost in Khost, a failed civilian government incharge, an incompetent Afghan army, and with 30,000 US troops on their way to what many now realise is a lost cause.
The biggest sign yet of the reversal of fortunes comes with a simple but symbolic ‘Are you with us or against us?’ from an senior Pakistan Army official to Secretary Robert Gates. Pakistan Army also made it clear to the US Secretary of Defence that Pakistan will actively oppose any plans that include India’s presence in Afghanistan, which it sees as unacceptable.
Keeping India Out Of Afghanistan
Pakistan has successfully mobilised the defunct six-plus-two talks formula to counter the US pressure regarding giving India a “greater role” in warn-torn Afghanistan’s rehabilitation.
Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours – Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the US, met last week in Turkey to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and to take stock of measures for the restoration of peace in the country. The original “six-plus-two” also included Russia, but in the new set up Moscow representation has been replaced by the United Kingdom.
Diplomatic sources said Pakistan had been lobbying for the renewal of talks among Afghanistan’s neighbours in order to foil Indian designs of gaining a foothold on Afghan soil.
Pakistan believes India is not an immediate neighbour of Afghanistan and therefore should have limited role in the country.
Turkey was asked to convene the meeting, as it enjoys the backing and trust of Pakistan and is accepted as a neutral party for promoting a common approach to the conflict. The conference urged regional players to work together in order to stabilise Afghanistan and the region.
The revival of the talks group came at a crucial juncture – two days before the London Conference attended by 50 nations to discuss the Afghan issue and deliberate on measures to help the war-ravaged nation. The organisers of the London Conference, like the US, had been trying to convince Pakistan on accepting the greater Indian role in Afghanistan.
India appears to be the biggest loser from the London conference. Not only has Pakistan succesfully managed to keep it out of key decision-making, but has also offered to help train 300,000 Afghan Police and Army personnel within the next 2 years – a role that India had been whoring itself out for.
Participants of the London Conference also rejected India’s assertion that there were ‘no degrees of Talibanism – all factions must be fought and destroyed’. India often bundles the Kashmiri militant groups within this classification, in an attempt to discredit the legitimate Kashmiri freedom struggle. New Delhi has even gone to the extent of alleging the presence of Afghan Taliban in Indian occupied Kashmir – which was rejected outright by its own Armed forces, causing massive embarassment.
On the other hand, it is Pakistan that seems to have come out of this conference with its head held high. Not only does the world accept the need for bringing Afghan Taliban into the political frame – a long-standing demand of the Pakistan Army – Pakistan has also been requested to assist in brokering the deal which the US and NATO believe will allow them a safe exit.
Any attempt to ‘buy out’ a group of ideologues, who by any description are not much more than a ragtag army of lightly armed Mujahideen, shows the desperation of the US and its allies and their utter ignorance in understanding the mindset of their nemesis. The United States of America will become the latest in a long line of empires and superpowers who have been buried under Afghanistan’s mountains and dusty plains. Billions haven’t been able to save them, another 500m won’t do the trick either.
وَلَا تَهِنُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَنتُمُ الْأَعْلَوْنَ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ
“And be not infirm, and be not grieving, and you shall have the upper hand if you are believers. (3:139)”
Dan Qayyum is part of Islamabad based thinktank ‘BridgeHead Institute’.