PAKISTAN’S REGIONAL ROLE TODAY WITH AFGHANISTAN AND INDIA POST MUMBAI

By Dr. Humayun Khan

It is one of the strange quirks of history that the remote and desolate region around Pakistan and Afghanistan should, from time to time, play such an important role in international affairs. From the early Aryan invasions of the sub-continent, to the conquests of Alexander the Great, to the Mongol hordes and the Moghul emperors, to the Great Game between Tsarist Russia and Imperial Britain and, in our own time, to the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the Western world, and now, to the so-called war on terror, this area has been at the forefront of the world’s concerns. At one time, its importance lay in the fact that it was the gateway to the riches of India. Then it became the point of conflict between imperial interests. Today, I suppose the main reason for its importance is its geo-strategic location, both in terms of global military strategy and in the context of access to the oil reserves of Central Asia. Unfortunately, all these characteristics are now totally overshadowed by its reputation of being the source of international terror. For poor countries, a crucial geo-strategic location is very much a mixed blessing. It may enhance their importance but, at the same time, it attracts intervention by stronger powers which have their own interests to advance. In the process, the weaker countries, on whose soil the action takes place, have to bear all the consequences, often including death and destruction on a large scale. If, added to this is the ire, the vengeance and the full might of the world’s sole superpower, poor, innocent people are the first to suffer.


I have been asked to speak on the role of my own country, Pakistan, in the current crisis that grips the region, particularly in the context of our relations with Afghanistan and India. The point of reference is the terrorist attack in Mumbai, in September 2008, which led to a suspension of what was expected to be an uninterruptible dialogue between the two neighbours. That incident was, in fact, an offshoot of the situation in Afghanistan, which arose out of the 9/11 attack on the US in 2001. So, any meaningful analysis would have to start from there. But, of course, you are all familiar with what has been happening in the last nine years, as a consequence of 9/11 and I need not go too far back into the full history of that time. May I, therefore, use as my time reference the Mumbai affair only as far as Pakistan’s dealings with India are concerned. For Afghanistan, I would like to take up the narrative from President Obama’s speech at West Point some months ago. As you know, that was when he announced the surge of 30,000 more troops and also the plan to start withdrawals in June 2011. It was after that speech that people started talking about the end-game in Afghanistan, and interest was aroused as to who would play what part in the process.


If I am to take the role of Pakistan as the focus of my analysis, I must speak briefly about that country’s relations with the other actors on the scene. So do allow me to say a few words about our relations with Afghanistan, India and the United States. I will also have to touch briefly on the internal situation in Pakistan, particularly the tribal areas on our North Western border, which are so much in the news these days, because Pakistan’s capacity to deal with such a serious crisis might well be open to question.




Relations with Afghanistan.


Ever since 1947, when Pakistan came into existence, relations with Afghanistan have

never been totally satisfactory. Afghanistan was the one country that opposed the entry of the newly independent State to the United Nations. Its reason for this was that the Durand Line, which defined the international border between British India and Afghanistan was, in its view, no longer valid, and that the Pushtun lands were rightfully theirs. The animosity was further deepened by the demand of some Pushtun leaders in Pakistan, who formed the Congress Government in the NWFP, that in the referendum of 1947 to decide whether the province should join India or Pakistan, a third option of an independent Pushtoonistan should also be available. The Pakistan government viewed this as an act of treason and resented deeply the Afghan support for the idea. Though the basic, mutual ill-will was there, there was never any physical incursion into Pakistan territory by the Afghans, but they did sponsor rebel activity in the tribal areas, with varying degrees of intensity. The animosity between the two countries remained a constant, though there were ups and downs. Once, in the 1950’s, relations between the two had improved to the extent that there was even talk of a confederation. Again, during the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 the Afghans assured us that they would not create additional problems on our Western border. Basic differences over the boundary, however, persisted. Just before the communist revolution in Afghanistan, Sardar Daud seemed to be ready to resolve the dispute, but he was overthrown. Since then, as you know, Afghanistan has remained in continuous turmoil and new bases for mistrust between the two countries have arisen. In 1978, Pakistan was prepared to do business with Taraki’s communist regime, but the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979 changed the whole scenario. Pakistan became a frontline State, committed to helping the Afghan people regain their sovereignty. It organised the Mujahideen resistance and led the diplomatic campaign which finally forced the Soviets to withdraw in 1989. Pakistan also hosted three million Afghan refugees for nearly ten years. One would have expected that the Afghans would now be so beholden to Pakistan that all past differences would be forgotten. Unfortunately, this did not happen and, for this, I put the blame largely on Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, we should have ceased further interference and let the Afghans decide their own future. Instead, we decided, at the instigation of our chief intelligence agency, the ISI, that we would try to install a government of our choosing in Kabul. In this we not only failed, but we set off a prolonged civil war which finally resulted in the Taliban takeover in the mid-nineties. Again, we made the mistake of supporting the Taliban regime, which, as you know, drew international odium and was also not popular within Afghanistan. All this led to a deep resentment against Pakistan, particularly among educated Afghans, and instead of being seen as their benefactors, we became perhaps the most hated country as far as they were concerned.


In this sense, the terrorist attack of 11 September, 2001, made the situation worse, because we reversed our policy and supported the US war on terror, which soon became a war on the Taliban, who were not, in fact, the terrorists. The stationing of US and NATO troops in the country after a short but devastating attack evoked strong anti-West feelings and Pakistan was now seen as a stooge of the Americans. These feelings were further aggravated when we agreed to the US request to take military action against Taliban elements in our own tribal areas. We have, through all these developments, tried to maintain a reasonably friendly relationship with the US- supported Karzai regime but, in the process, have fallen, so to speak, between two stools. Karzai is unhappy with us because he believes we are purposely harbouring some of his Taliban opponents, while most Afghans see us toeing the American line and cracking down on what they consider as freedom fighters.


Relations with India.


This is a subject on which I need not go into any detail because we are all familiar with it. For 63 years, the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan has been characterised by suspicion and mistrust, resulting not only in three armed conflicts, but an alarming persistence in following irrational policies by both sides. The result is there for all to see. Valuable and scarce resources have been wasted on unproductive uses and the

main task of tackling poverty, illiteracy and disease has been given second place. Six years ago, after a number of false starts, it looked as though we had finally found our way, when it was agreed that we would enter into a composite dialogue and try to resolve all our differences through peaceful negotiations. This process was going well, even though no breakthroughs were achieved, and there was a general belief that both countries had discarded the follies of the past. And then came the horrendous terrorist attack in Mumbai. It was soon established that the perpetrators of this crime had links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a religious extremist organisation based in Pakistan. India promptly suspended the composite dialogue, which had raised so many hopes. It rigidly maintained this stand for eighteen months, insisting that Pakistan must first take firm action against the Head of the Lashkar, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and others involved in the Mumbai carnage. Pakistan did in fact arrest the Hafiz- he was later released by the Court- and put on trial seven of his followers who were directly connected with the Mumbai incident. The Indians were not satisfied with the actions we took and the stalemate continued until the two Prime Ministers met at a summit of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) last April and agreed, not to resume the full composite dialogue, but to talk at the Foreign Minister level and try to remove, what was termed, the ‘trust deficit’. The two Foreign Ministers are due to meet in Islamabad on the 15th of July.


Relations with the United States


From its earliest days, Pakistan decided that an alliance with a powerful country would, somehow, mitigate the threat to its security by a hostile neighbour, India, and so it cast its lot with the United States of America. It was fortunate in that the Americans were following, throughout the 1950s, the Dulles doctrine of containment and encirclement of communism, both Soviet and Chinese. They welcomed Pakistan as a partner in the CENTO and SEATO pacts and also entered into a Mutual Defence Agreement in 1954. Massive economic and defence assistance flowed in and Pakistan was able to build up its armed forces to a high level of competence. On the economic front, Pakistan became a model developing country, with high rates of growth throughout the 1950s and 60s. But there was a twist in the tail. US defence support was meant only to counter communist aggression and not Indian. To Pakistan’s extreme disappointment, the Americans remained strictly neutral during the 1965 Indo-Pak war and stopped military supplies to both countries. The other problem, not apparent at the time, was that the good performance of Pakistan was under the military regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who had struck the first blow against democracy. The Americans gave him their full support and helped him build the Pakistan army into a formidable force which was to dominate the country’s life from then on. Quite understandably, the US was pursuing its own national interest and was willing to materially reward Pakistan for supporting that interest, regardless of the consequences for that country. This has remained the theme of the US-Pak relations ever since. In the 1980s, it needed Pakistan to embarrass and humiliate the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Lavish material rewards were provided and full support was given to the military regime of Gen Zia ul Haq. Again, in 2001, Pakistan was seen as a vital partner in the war on terror. This time, the rewards were accompanied by the threat that if Pakistan was not “with us”, it would face serious consequences. The new military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, readily succumbed and was soon hailed as a ‘tight friend’ of George Bush and given all support. Through all this, however, the US was never in doubt that the most important country in the region was India, and it was with India that it should build a long-term strategic relationship. This was initiated by Clinton when relations with Pakistan were going through a bad spell and today, that relationship includes nuclear cooperation, even though it was India which first brought weapons of mass destruction to the region. But terrorism is still the main US concern, so, for the last nine years, Washington has also nourished the relationship with Pakistan and the Obama administration has declared that it should be given a long-term, strategic colour. There are not many in Pakistan who believe this and even the most pro-Western elements accept that the US would like to keep its friendship with both countries, but if it came to an unavoidable choice, and times were normal, Pakistan would run a poor second. The common man is convinced that we are of value to the US only in the context of the war on terror and that our bilateral relationship is “event-based”. What is more, the public perception in Pakistan is that the West is fighting against Islam and that the Americans always seem to support military regimes or corrupt civilian ones. Thus we have a very awkward situation where, obviously, American goodwill and assistance are indispensable and have repeatedly rescued us in critical times, yet the country is seized with violent anti-American sentiments. With the centres of Al-Qaeda

and the Taliban now located in the regions near the Pak-Afghan border, many Pakistanis believe that, in spite of our cooperation in fighting these forces, the Americans would not hesitate to turn on Pakistan, should they decide that the threat to their homeland security continues to emanate from there. The frequent drone attacks on our tribal areas are seen as tangible evidence of this.


The Internal Political Situation in Pakistan.


It has become a common habit in Pakistan to blame all our ills on others. If it is not the CIA, it is the Indian agency RAW or the Israeli MOSSAD. But any honest Pakistanis knows that most of our problems are of our own making. No government in Pakistan has left with good grace and no government is remembered with anything approaching satisfaction, leave alone pride. In 63 years we have not been able to address some of the fundamental issues of statehood. We have been unable to devise a stable relationship between the Centre and the Provinces, to define the role of religion in the state, to ensure civilian control of the armed forces, to consolidate and further build permanent institutions like an independent judiciary, a neutral and professional bureaucracy, or an impartial Election Commission. Worse still, poverty has not decreased, the social sectors, particularly education are in an abysmal state, the economy remains fragile and the cancer of corruption now extends to the highest levels. The law and order situation across the country, quite apart from the deadly threat of terrorism, is totally out of control and good governance does not seem to be a priority. Small wonder therefore, that there is a growing degree of polarisation and of alienation between the ruling elites and the common man and this is rapidly turning into a sense of despair. It is this, more than anything else, that attracts young people to extremism and violence. They become easy targets for those whose objectives are to undermine the society, they have to study in madrassahs where they are taught hatred, they have no jobs, no access to quick justice. Now I know that these are common phenomena in many countries, but in my own, they have reached crisis proportions. Though basically, I retain a faith in the potential, particularly the human potential, that Pakistan has to become a progressive, moderate democracy, I fear that this will not be possible unless there is a radical change in the outlook of the ruling elites. At the moment, we are going through the worst of times, with every decent Pakistani literally ashamed of the leaders he himself has elected. The army has intervened four times. Despite early promise, each time, the military ruler has left a sad legacy, but sadder still, the elected governments in between have, if anything, proved to be worse. Presently, Pakistan is faced with internal problems of unprecedented magnitude. There is a virtual insurrection in Balochistan, an open one in the tribal areas of the Frontier. Law and order has broken down, inflation is out of control, citizens swelter in the heat because of power shut-downs. If Pakistan is to play a key role in the region in the coming months, it is going to require a high quality of governance. There are no signs of this on the horizon.


Pakistan’s Role in the Region, including India and Afghanistan


I said at the beginning that if we are to look at Pakistan’s role in the immediate future of the region, we must take into account the constraints under which it has to operate. That is why I have taken so much of your time in recounting both the internal and the external environment. Let us now look at the present situation. On the Indo-Pakistan front, I honestly believe that India was not well- advised to break off the peaceful dialogue because of the Mumbai incident. Indeed, it is at times like these that channels of communication must be kept open. India knows such actions are not part of Pakistan’s official policy and that the non-state actors responsible are enemies of both countries and of the idea of peace between them. This is a problem we should handle jointly. We should cooperate with each other in sharing intelligence and devising joint anti-terror mechanisms. The broader objective of friendly relations should not be made hostage to the single issue of Mumbai. At the same time. I believe Pakistan must take stronger and more speedy action against elements which are responsible for the crime. This is necessary, not only to convince India of our bona fides, but also to defeat the terrorism of which we ourselves are the biggest victims. I fear that, in the forthcoming Foreign Ministers’ meeting, the Indians are going to insist that the first step in removing mistrust is for Pakistan to take effective action against the Lashkar and its leader. Pakistan must take some steps to convince the Indians that it will do so.


The major issue in the region in the coming months is going to be the unfolding of events in Afghanistan. As I see the latest developments in Obama’s policy, as reflected in his West Point speech, he has come to the conclusion that no solution can be reached by force alone. It is now nearly nine years since US and NATO forces entered that country under authorisation by the UN. This, in itself, distinguishes it from the Soviet intervention of Christmas 1979. Otherwise, the parallels are striking. The Soviet operation lasted nine years. At its peak it involved 150,000 troops. It failed to defeat the mujahideen. It was costlier in terms of casualties and a little less expensive in monetary terms. The Western forces will reach the figure of 130,000 when the surge is complete. The Taliban have not been defeated, in fact the number of insurgents has grown. While the Soviets chose to withdraw their troops without trying to establish a stable regime in Kabul, they continued their support for Najibullah, but he could not last more than a couple of years and the country plunged into civil war thereafter. The Americans do not just want to withdraw. They want to help establish a stable regime in Kabul which would have popular support and also be capable of handling rebel activity and effectively building up the economy. If I am not mistaken, the Obama administration believes that a final and more intense military push will weaken the resolve of the Taliban. This, together with inducements for leaders on the ground and the foot-soldiers, will make them more amenable to negotiations. So far, a major military operation has been launched in Helmand, but it has not achieved the desired objective. The next one, planned for Kandahar, is running into difficulties at the planning stage. Parallel to this, efforts to initiate negotiations have met with little success. Karzai recently convened a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of elders and they endorsed the call for reconciliation. But the Jirga lacked credibility because the participants were selected by Karzai. No opposition parties participated, because Karzai is seen as an American puppet.


On the other side of the border, in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the army has completed three successful military campaigns in Swat, South Waziristan and the Orakzai agency against the Taliban. Successful in the sense that control of these areas has been wrested from the Taliban, but not in the sense that Taliban leaders have been killed or captured. Most of them have sought refuge in North Waziristan, where the army had struck a deal with the Taliban that they would not take part in the fighting in other tribal agencies. Now, the Americans are pressing for a major operation in North Waziristan also, and they have stepped up their own drone attacks in the area. The disclosure that the Times Square bomber had been trained in North Waziristan – not very well trained as it turned – has elicited some strong statements out of Washington with Hilary Clinton speaking of severe consequences if Pakistan territory is used for planning terror strikes in the US. As against this, the American military establishment has established a good rapport with Gen Kayani, the Pakistan army chief and words of praise have come out from Admiral Mullen, Gen. Petraeus and Gen McCrystal. My own assessment is that they will not lean too hard on Pakistan to start a major military

operation in North Waziristan immediately. They will leave the timing to Gen Kayani who, in the meanwhile, may launch limited search and destroy forays.


It is clear that negotiations among all sides in Afghanistan will be necessary. This would include the hard core Taliban. For the moment they are not willing to come to the table, because they do not accept Karzai and because they feel that foreign forces must first withdraw. The Western coalition partners, despite the growing demand in their countries to pull forces out, see this as a sort of failure and want to stick around until a certain degree of reconciliation is first achieved. The Americans are also hoping that Pakistan will put its full weight behind the reconciliation process and urge Afghan Taliban leaders living there to enter into negotiations. In return for this, they are prepared to grant Pakistan a major role in working out a final settlement and limiting the role of India.


For the moment, neither part of the two-pronged strategy seems to be working. Stepped up military action in Afghanistan is not having the desired effect and negotiations are not getting off the ground. It is a complex situation and there are no easy answers, but I think the way forward is not impossible to find. The emphasis has to shift more or less fully to the political, rather than the military aspects. Karzai is not the ideal person to play the central role in bringing about a transition. He has been constitutionally elected but that election lacks conviction. His position should not be strengthened by holding the parliamentary elections this autumn while he is in power. Instead, a conference of all Afghan parties, including the hardcore Taliban should be convened under neutral auspices, say the UN or the OIC. This body could be charged with forming an interim government, which could then organise parliamentary elections within three to six months. Alongside this, an international conference of all the countries bordering Afghanistan, plus the US and NATO countries, Russia, China , India and Saudi Arabia should be convened by the UN and all participants should subscribe to a guarantee of non-interference in Afghan affairs and pledge their support for the government freely elected by the Afghans themselves. The time table for the start of withdrawals should not be delayed and full withdrawal of Western forces should come once the newly elected government is in place. If that government has difficulties in the initial stages, perhaps a UN peacekeeping force drawn from disinterested Muslim countries could see it through the early stages.


What role can Pakistan play in these developments? First of all, we have to realise that, even if things in Afghanistan are settled, this will not be the end of Pakistan’s problems. Although the origins of terrorist activity in the tribal areas of Pakistan can be traced to the Afghan situation, it has now acquired a momentum of its own and in many ways it is potentially a far more dangerous animal than the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan is a much larger country and a nuclear power and a serious destabilisation of Pakistan would have far-reaching consequences for the region and for the world. The answer to this is not to threaten Pakistan that it will face dire consequences if it does not neutralise al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but to help it in this task. After all, Pakistan has been the chief victim of terrorism. Our army has lost three times the number of men as all the other coalition forces put together. The number of innocent civilians killed runs into the tens of thousands. Investment in our country has virtually stopped. Are we, despite all this, to become the next target in the fight against terrorism, which is likely to go on. Or are we to be supported in fighting this menace. And when I speak of support, I do not mean support for military dictators or for corrupt civilians. It is the people of Pakistan that need help, both against internal and external dangers. At the same time, I believe that Pakistan itself must pull itself up by the bootstraps. We must learn to play a role in the region which is commensurate with our capabilities. If we want to punch above our weight, we must first develop the internal cohesion and strength that this requires. We must learn to live in peace with our neighbours and join them in bringing to South Asia, which will soon hold a quarter of the world’s population, the stability and the prosperity that it craves. Afghanistan is now a part of South Asia, it is a full-fledged member of SAARC. India is the leading nation in South Asia. We should all three work together to achieve the common goals that our entire region cherishes. To devote our energies to preventing India and Afghanistan from developing good relations would defeat this purpose


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©Jules Stewart 2008