Archive for the ‘Afghanistan & Taliban’ Category

The article below is an excellent illustration of the schizophrenic view of Pakistani military towards Islamic fundamentalism. Rather than rejecting Islamic extremism as an ideology and abandoning use of religiously inspired militias as proxies, Pak policy makers still believe they can distinguish between “good and bad” Taliban. The former are those who are prepared to do Pakistan’s bidding while keeping their terrorist and terrifying activities outside Pakistan. In this category are erstwhile Afghan Taliban allies and current Pakistani militants waging “jihad” in Kashmir. The latter consist of fundamentalists who are against Pakistani state and want to establish “Sharia” in the country. It is against this group that Pak army is currently engaged in an all-out war in NWFP.

In my opinion, Pakistani Establishment’s thinking is deeply flawed. Extremism – especially of the Islamic kind – cannot be state managed and the state must abandon its use as state policy.

[Strategic miscalculations; DAWN; Cyril Almeida; 11 Sep, 2009; Copy and Paste]

The security states security environment had changed irreversibly. The question was, did we have the wherewithal and nous to adjust to a new reality? Events to date suggest that while for years we did not, the more recent record is a mixed bag of success and failure. We needed to do two things. Recognise that the time of non-state actors, terrorists, militants, call them what you will, as a policy instrument in pursuing our security agenda had passed. And recognise that the old model of exerting influence in Afghanistan had to be dismantled.

But we came up against a familiar foe: ourselves. Or more precisely, the ability of the security establishment to perhaps correctly identify all the dots but then proceed to connect them wrongly. Bushs America made it easy for us; for years the Americans were satisfied if we netted Al Qaeda types for them, leaving them to focus on Iraq and bungle the post-war phase in Afghanistan. If we did eventually wake up to the dangers posed by militants who mixed and matched groups and networks for tactical purposes while trying to stitch together a common strategic aim, we only did so after they, quite literally, blew up in our face.

For those who have followed the arc of militancy and are not ideologically wedded to a state of denial, it was apparent in the 90s that the tail was preparing to wag the dog. Al Qaedas ideologues, fervent proponents of a militant transnational Islamic agenda and rabid sectarians to boot, were harnessing those we thought were, if not quite in our harness, unlikely to harm our agenda. The first savage wake-up call to our somnambulist security policymakers in the army high command came with the attacks on Musharraf in December 2003. The second came with the orgy of violence unleashed since 2007.

Admittedly, we had helped create a mess of such epic proportions that perhaps we could not help but cherry-pick from among the militants. The Laskhar-i-Taiba, for example, has eschewed attacks inside Pakistan and its leadership remains amenable to listening with a sympathetic ear to some of the security establishments concerns. Decapitate its leadership, however, and you run the risk of splintering the group and untethering its more rabid elements. Better then to start with the worst offenders  the Al Qaeda types, Baitullahs, Fazlullahs, etc than to take on everyone at the same time.

But eight years is a long time, and its a measure of how poorly we have fared that retaking control of Swat is regarded as a “victory”. Victory, properly, morally defined, should be the security of the people of this country, security from the threat of suicide bombings and fidayeen attacks, security from the risk of abductions to finance a war machine in Fata, security from the ravages of all-to-easily available drugs, security from other states needing to pump billions of dollars into the country to fight a war against elements living among us, security from the world regarding us as a danger to ourselves and a menace to everyone else.

That’s not to say we should be all warm and cuddly and just walk away from Afghanistan and ask nothing of India. We have a legitimate interest in ensuring a dispensation in Afghanistan in the long term that is reasonably amicable towards us, and it is a reality that not every combination which could emerge fits that description. And setting aside cockamamie ideas of parity with India here, there are genuine concerns that India is unwilling to conclude a peace that involves meaningful give and take and a live-and-let-each-other-grow outcome.

But there is a nagging sense that we remain hostage to the past, a pre-9/11 framework in which we regard what has become a millstone around our necks as a still-viable bargaining chip in a high-stakes game. Fine, well think about pulling the plug on our policies of old and work harder with you to shut down the militant networks, but can we also talk about what you can offer us in Afghanistan and on India, we seem to be saying to the world.

The problem is, the security establishment seems unaware that it may perhaps have connected the dots wrongly. It is so sure of Pakistan\s centrality, so convinced that the Americans will not be able to engineer the outcome they desire in Afghanistan, so ready to pooh-pooh the idea that we could possibly ever be on a slippery slope towards truly losing our internal sovereignty, so sure it is playing its cards right.

But consider this: what if the Americans do succeed in Afghanistan? Succeed not in the sense of eliminating Al Qaeda or defeating the Taliban with a surge of troops as everyone seems to be debating nowadays, but succeed in a $20bn plan to build Afghanistan’s army into a force of a quarter million troops trained and equipped primarily to fight a counter-insurgency. What if the Americans do take that plan off the drawing board, implement it and then walk away from Afghanistan with everything else remaining the same i.e. Pakistan still dreaming of its importance, the competing strategic interests of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries still unresolved and India growing ever more friendly with Afghanistan and leery of engaging Pakistan?

Would that not be the ultimate two-front nightmare come true, the very nightmare that contributed partly to us vying to be the predominant outside influence in Afghanistan? To be sure, the Americans will not create an army that could be a match for our conventional forces, but whats to stop a future Afghan government from building its armys conventional strength with help from other eager countries? Where will that leave us? Checkmated? Perhaps not, but at the very least our security policymakers will be patting themselves on the back less and holding their heads more.

The original article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/cyril-almeida-strategic-miscalculations-199


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I believe that despite its various flaws, “democracy” is the best governance system around. It encourages accountability, responsibility and transparency in a government. In addition, it provides the public with a means to bring about a change in leadership and policies in a periodic and peaceful manner.

That being said: (a) there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to democracy; (b) democracy is an organic and evolutionary process, heavily influenced by history, culture, politics and society of a people; and (c) democracy – of any kind – cannot be imposed from without.

I believe Western-style democracy cannot work in present-day Afghanistan on account of its age-old tribal culture and the deep local resentment against its American patrons as an occupation force.

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My take on America’s role and presence in Afghanistan is different from the conventional view.

Initially, the US wanted to attack and destroy Al Qaeda leadership that was based in Afghanistan at the time of 9-11. This was a natural consequence of its desire to eliminate a national security threat, exact revenge for the killings in the US, and demonstrate “shock and awe” as a deterrent to future potential aggressors. These purposes could have been fulfilled by a short-term military campaign involving aerial strikes and on-the-grounds operations. (Fundamentally missing from this strategy though was US failure to realize Al Qaeda’s potential to morph from an organization into an ideology that would survive and inspire others long after every then known Al Qaeda associate had been killed and captured. But that is another story.)

The US modified its objectives – erroneously, in my opinion – to prevent another 9-11 from Afghanistan by helping rebuild the country, installing a pro-Western puppet government, instituting progressive social and political reforms, and maintaining permanent military presence. Part of American thinking was influenced by other strategic considerations, such as:

  1. complete encirclement of Iran to increase pressure on anti-US regime and improve options for potential military operations against the country. (Remember, one of the neo-con goals at that time was to “remake” Middle East?)
  2. secure friendly territory that would allow construction of gas/oil pipelines from energy-rich Central Asia to Arabian sea (but bypassing Iran and Russia)
  3. strengthen presence in Central Asia in keeping with US-led NATO doctrine to encircle Russia (Remember, extension of NATO membership to formerly Eastern block countries, potential membership offer to Ukraine, and deployment of missile shield in Eastern Europe?)
  4. proximity to Pakistan to mount operations for securing of its nuclear arsenal, widely considered to be the greatest threat to the West

The central flaw in the above-noted thinking was US failure to appreciate: (a) Afghan history of successfully resisting and repelling foreign invasions and influences; (b) the anomalous nature of Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan. (These were “Arabs” who came to fight Soviet Union during its attempted occupation and in many case could not go back to their native countries); and (c) lack of any Afghan role (other than hosting Arabs as guests in keeping with their tribal culture) in 9-11. In other words, after a military campaign to destroy and/or dispel “Afghan Arabs”, there was almost no chance of any future organized gathering of Arabs in Afghanistan. Bin Laden himself talked of Yemen (on account of its mountainous terrain and an “honor” based culture) as a potential future home of Al Qaeda after its dislocation from Afghanistan. Parts of East Africa, especially Somalia, were a distant second option.

Regarding what the United States should do now, I believe it should end all foreign presence in Afghanistan, restrict Pakistan from reviving and supporting Taliban, allow local groups to fight out among themselves, and cut a deal with whoever emerges victorious. The deal would be simple: monetary assistance (ie. bribes) and peace (ie. no US bombings) in exchange for lack of presence of anti-US Arab groups on Afghan soil.

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Contrary to popular perception, I do not believe that Soviet Union (SU) “invaded” Afghanistan. Rather, SU was “invited” by the Communist Party of Afghanistan to “help” restore law and order soon after it had seized power. I am not 100% sure, but I believe Afghan Communist Party had also executed a defense or cooperation treaty (ie. a bi-lateral, state-level agreement) with SU. So, a formal request to SU for assistance was in keeping with the treaty, not to mention communist leanings of the party in power.

Now, it is worth keeping the following in mind about pre-SU invasion Afghanistan:

  1. the country had entered a period of extreme instability starting in early 70s with a coup against its hereditary king, Zahir Shah (who was deposed when he was traveling in Europe)
  2. following the coup – orchestrated by Zahir Shah’s cousin, Daoud Khan – the new government never succeeded in consolidating power. A major reason for this failure was the radical change wrought by its efforts to make Afghanistan a “republic” in place of a “kingdom”
  3. Afghanistan had always been a very weak state with no vestige of central authority outside the main cities. According to my father – who vacationed there in late 60s (and had a very good time) – the countryside was governed by local tribal culture and there was no state police or tax collection
  4. the people were Muslim (with Shias a minority, but dominant in Western Afghanistan) and practiced a Sufi (ie. mystic, syncretic and tolerant) form of Islam. As proof my father talked about Kabul’s dance clubs, a drinking culture, and heavy presence of Jews and Sikhs in commerce. (My father speaks Pushto despite being an ethnic Punjabi)

With the above backdrop, the following factors conspired to radicalize Afghanistan and launch a bloody civil war:

  1. the overthrow of Daoud Khan by Marxists in 1978 on account of his pro-West policies followed by an attempt by Marxists to dismantle the foundations of tribal society. For example, Communists made a mistake by stating that there was no God. (Remember, this was a Muslim country with a low literacy rate and local village Mullah was the most learned man)
  2. massive displacement of people to neighboring Iran and Pakistan on account of ensuing domestic turmoil
  3. American desire to exact a revenge from SU for bloodying its nose in Vietnam
  4. Islam surfacing as a natural rallying cry for exiled Afghan to fight the Godless regime and its Godless SU patrons
  5. a deliberate decision by Pak intelligence agencies to sideline moderate exiled Afghan groups in favor of Islamic radicals for arms, training, and funding patronage

Coming to present-day Afghanistan, I see absolutely no chance of implementation of a Western-inspired “democratic” government and “progressive” policies. This is for the simple reason that Afghans have a long history of forcefully rejecting invaders and foreign influences. In addition, radical Islamic groups – originally funded by CIA and Saudi Arabia, trained by Pak military, and patronized by Pak intelligence agencies – have strengthened themselves with a booming heroin trade and will fight to reverse any Western reforms. With American withdrawal, local Afghan groups will fight out among themselves and the country will be broken up into fiefdoms run by warlords with Islamist leanings and tribal affiliations. The difference will be that an entire new generation of people who have never known anything except poverty, misery, and killings would have come into age and be faced with a dismal future… fueling still more radicalization.

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The article below makes an impassioned plea for Pakistan to change its notorious “strategic depth” doctrine towards Afghanistan and rather focus on development of its own internal resources via adequate investment in education and healthcare.

I believe sponsorship of Taliban in Afghanistan has been a catastrophic blunder on part of Pak Establishment. Not only has it rooted extremism in Afghanistan (and in the process made life hell for its inhabitants), it has destabilized and regressed Pakistan itself on account of the mullah-jihad-sharia nexus required to support Taliban. Even with American presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to play its double game with respect to Taliban… in the hope of utilizing these “assets” at an appropriate time against India.

[It is within us; DAWN; Kamran Shafi; 9 Feb, 2010; Copy and Paste]

There has been a veritable raft of statements from the chief of army staff in the very recent past on “strategic depth” for Pakistan in Afghanistan. Variously: “we want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it”; “if Afghanistan is peaceful, stable and friendly, we have our strategic depth because our western border is secure”; and “our strategic paradigm needs to be fully realised”. Inexplicably he also said that “it would be a cause of worry for Pakistan if Afghanistan’s projected army developed the potential to take on Pakistan”.

The Afghan army’s “projected” development (woefully inadequate five years after it started, mark) and whether that development can be a danger to Pakistan with its half-a-million strong army and a powerful air force when Afghanistan has no air force at all at the present time, to say nothing of our bomb, we shall come to later. Let us for the moment look at “strategic depth”. Now then, whilst matters as critical as strategic depth, especially in other, foreign countries, are best discussed in their minutiae in closed confabulations of elected political leaders, diplomats and military experts, let us look at the many hurdles in the way of the generals wishes coming true.

While the Afghans can heave a sigh of relief that Pakistan will not take over their country to gain strategic depth, how can Afghanistan ever become peaceful, and stable, and friendly towards Pakistan when the likes of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani father-son team, well known as friends of our very own security establishment, run around that country spreading havoc from Ghazni to Kunar to Paktia? How can Afghanistan become friendly towards Pakistan when there is continuing ambivalence in wholeheartedly targeting the Taliban leadership, both Afghan and Pakistani, which as we well know are closely allied? How possibly can Afghanistan call Pakistan a friend when senior Pakistani army officers refer to these people, its enemies, as “assets”?

On another tack, how can the ultimate leaders of groups that also attack innocent Pakistanis in Peshawar and Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi be the strategic assets of our brass hats? How can Afghanistan consider Pakistan a friend when the Quetta shura of the Afghan Taliban which has now been outed by no less a personage than the minister of defence, is not even touched let alone degraded to an extent that it will cease being a threat to Afghanistan? When its leaders openly defy government authority and do as they will in Balochistan, extending their murderous tentacles into Iran too? Unless, of course, it is still the case that our great strategists feel that the Taliban, both the Pakistan and Afghan variety, are the only ones who can ensure a peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan.

If so, they have very bad memories, for they do not have to look very far back into Afghanistans sorry history to see how badly this, for want of a better word, scheme, failed so very miserably the last time around, with the Afghan people facing untold tribulations at the hands of a backward and medieval regime. How possibly can the Afghans see Pakistan as a friend when they see that their tormentors and the Pakistani security establishment are still friends? No sirs, no, Afghanistan will never consider Pakistan a friend unless those who have made mindless statements about the Taliban being assets retract those statements in totality and without reservation. And far more than that take stringent action against all of the terrorists without exception.

As for the Afghan national security forces, the army and police, developing to the point that they can “take on” Pakistan, those two forces are slated to rise to 171,600 men for the army and 134,000 for the police by the year 2011. Both the projected numbers fly in the face of the views of independent observers and analysts trained to make such projections who say unreservedly that let alone the non-availability of suitable manpower, the mere costs of maintaining such numbers are way above the capacity of the Afghan government. Empirical evidence also shows that fully 40 per cent of present recruits came out positive when tested for drugs. So much for the Afghan forces ever being able to take on Pakistan.

As to our strategic paradigm(s) being realised by other people, I can only say that whingeing will get us nowhere because no one owes us anything at all. We Pakistanis are the only ones who can, and should, realise what those paradigms are, and how we can best achieve them. We have to understand that the best strategic depth is that which comes from within our own country, from within ourselves. That the best strategic depth is that which comes from within our own people. All of us have to understand that instead of looking beyond our borders, a literate, healthy and happy populace that lives in peace and tranquillity is the best strategic depth any country can possibly have. This, of course, cannot be, given the state of the country as it is today with completely skewed national imperatives, and a state whose writ is eroding by the day.

For, how can Pakistan educate its children in halfway decent schools; or give its people halfway decent healthcare and housing when only three per cent of the budget goes to the social sector? How can the people feel at peace when the mainstream press carries photographs of private, mark, anti-aircraft guns deployed in a cotton field in Sindh? Instead of looking towards others it is time we sat up and took notice of the dire situation we are in. And jolly well did something about it.

The original article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/13+kamran-shafi-it-is-within-us-920-za-01

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