October 30, 2011

Pakistan plays a double game


Treating Taliban with kid gloves and making a show of hunting them down with the US is counter-productive. Islamabad cannot win this way.

Pakistan’s military acted with speed to return to the Indian military a helicopter that had inadvertently crossed the Line of Control on October 23. Almost immediately thereafter, New Delhi’s ‘candle-light vigil brigade’ jumped to the conclusion that there had been a ‘change of heart’ in Pakistan’s hard-boiled military. South Block is also abuzz with the talk of new Pakistani ‘concessions’ on trade, forgetting that, even before Pakistan’s Minister of Commerce arrived in Delhi, he had promised that Pakistan would grant India the ‘most favoured nation’ treatment, which it is in any case obliged to grant under its World Trade Organisation and South Asia Free Trade Agreement commitments. This did not happen and we are now told that it will happen “very soon”. Let us wait and see what transpires, instead of jumping with joy prematurely, merely because Islamabad seeks to fulfill commitments made, but not honoured.

With around 2,00,000 troops deployed along the Durand Line and the US breathing down his neck, General Parvez Ashfaq Kayani realizes that this is not the time to allow his protégés in the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba to stage 26/11 type strikes on India. This may force a politically weakened Government in India, for once, to respond strongly. So, for the present, India should realistically expect that, while we will hear sweet noises of friendship and trade from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, General Kayani and his corps commanders will carry on ‘bleeding’ us in manner that inconveniences, but does not infuriate, us. Given its disinclination to yield to American pressures for reining in its protégés like Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army is hardly likely to give up using Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed and Maulana Masood Azhar against India.

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to New Delhi on October 4 signalled a new turn in the geopolitics of India’s western AfPak neighbourhood. New Delhi and Kabul had announced in May that they were finalising the text of a strategic partnership agreement. The assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani by the Taliban appears to have triggered a sense of urgency for concluding this agreement, during the New Delhi Summit. Apart from the security dimensions of the India-Afghanistan relationship, the visit also signalled the Indian interest in investing in the minerals sector of Afghanistan’s national economy. A consortium of Indian firms is bidding for the development of the Hajigak Iron Ore Mines in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province. The project would involve the development of the mines, construction of a railroad for transhipping the iron ore and the construction of a steel plant.

Barely a fortnight later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her frustration and anger when a Pakistani journalist claimed that Pakistan was also a “victim” of the kind of terrorism that the US faced in Afghanistan. Alluding to Pakistani support for terrorist outfits like the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and the Lashkar, she retorted, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard for them to bite only your neighbour.”

Ms Clinton’s comments came after the ISI-backed Haqqani Network attacked a US Army post, wounding 77 US soldiers, and thereafter rained bullets on the US Embassy in Kabul, last month. While soothing words were also said about the US and Pakistan working together for promoting dialogue with the Taliban and its Haqqani affiliates, the US-Pakistan relationship remains strained, with the Americans insisting that they reserve the right to attack “safe havens” in Pakistan.

These developments are taking place at a time when Taliban elements are freely crossing the Durand Line and violence and terrorism are increasing rapidly across the disputed border. On the Pakistani side, virtually the entire North West Frontier Province, now called Pakhtunkhwa, and the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan are under de facto Taliban control. This is a region where films and music are banned, girls prevented from going to school, barber shops and video parlours are closed and growing beards and wearing burqas are mandatory. A similar situation prevails across the Durand Line in southern Afghanistan. For all practical purposes, the Durand Line exists today in name only, with a huge belt from Kandahar to Attock on the banks of the River Indus, fast becoming an area where the writ of the Pakistan Government is at best nominal.

The Durand Line became the ‘frontier line’ between British-ruled India and Afghanistan in 1893, after the then Amir, Amanullah Khan, was compelled to accept a peace treaty with the British. But, the flames of Pashtun nationalism could not be extinguished. No Afghan ruler ever accepted the legitimacy of the division of historical and traditional Pashtun homelands. In November 1944, the Afghans urged the British that Pashtun tribal areas under British rule should be given the choice of independence or reuniting with their ‘motherland.’ They also urged the British that Afghanistan should be given a ‘corridor’ to the sea through Baluchistan. The Afghan National Assembly passed a resolution in July 1949, rejecting all “unequal” treaties signed with the British and denouncing the description of the Durand Line as the International Frontier with Pakistan. The Afghan Government also staunchly opposed the grant of a UN membership to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s actions have now resulted in the entire Pashtun belt, from Kandahar to Attock, becoming a virtually Taliban run ‘Pakhtunistan.’ India has to carefully monitor these developments. Even if the drawdown in the American military results in the Afghan Government losing control of Pashtun-dominated areas close to the Durand Line, a combination of Afghan Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbekistan will never again accept Taliban rule, given their bitter memories of Talibani atrocities between 1997 and 2001. They will receive strong support from Russia, Iran, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours and even the US.

Unable to expand northwards, the Taliban may be forced to concentrate their ambitions on ruling an Islamic Emirate extending Southwards into Pakistan, extending the control they already exercise.

A potent mixture of Pashtun nationalism and Islamic zeal could seek a return to historical Pashtun domination over Punjab. Historically, the only occasion when the rulers of Punjab have prevailed over the Pashtuns was when Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa commanded Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s forces. General Kayani evidently realises that he is no Hari Singh Nalwa, and has thus far avoided taking on the Taliban and its affiliates. But he will find that, in the long run, running with the Taliban hare while hunting with the American hound, is not a sustainable strategy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

India got to think for her security and no one elses that borders/surrounds india and make india totally safe from all directions/omnidirection.