24 March 2012

"Pakistan on the brink: the future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan" by Ahmed Rashid

Ahmed Rashid, rebel (who organized uprisings against Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan governments) turned journalist (20 years with Daily Telegraph out of Lahore), provides a balanced analysis of the end game scenario in the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan imbroglio.  You dont need to have read his previous masterpieces ("Taliban" and "Descent into Chaos").  You can read any chapter at random.  I had to read the entire book in one go.  Quite an engaging analysis.

United States is in a logjam.  US has to exit Afghanistan soon.  Popular support for the war has decreased.  The adventure is a drain on national purse at the time of recession.  In order to make elegant exit US needs a legitimate government acceptable to various ethnic groups in Afghanistan that is capable of enforcing law and order.  The bets US made on (a) armed force (b) friendly Afghan government (c) animosity with Taliban and (d) trusting Pakistan to support its war efforts in destroying Al Qaeda are all not working.  Throwing money into Afghanistan or Pakistan did not work either.  Can US exit Pakistan elegantly?  Or will it just “switch off the lights” and make for the door unmindful of the post exit mess?

Afghanistan is in a logjam.  It is an ethnically divided society where Pashtuns (the majority) and non-Pashtuns (Tajiks, Uzbeks etc) do not get along well.  The current government came to power in a sham election with insufficient representation for the majority Pashtun; and is very corrupt.  The Afghan army is not well balanced (disproportionately low number of Pashtuns); is weak and suffers high desertion.  Government maintains rule with the help of US led forces.  In the last ten years, thanks to US money, the non-Pashtuns have gotten rich; and the Pashtuns have remained poor.  97% of the economy depends on international military spending.  When US exits, Afghanistan will slip into a deep recession.

Afghan Taliban is in a logjam.  They are Afghan nationalists; not global jihadists.  Their only fault was supporting Al Qaeda.  They are willing to talk and participate in the Afghan government.  However, they were removed from power by US army and are residing in Pakistan based sanctuaries under the control of Pakistan’s ISI.  ISI pressured them to launch fresh insurgencies against US army from Pakistan (providing them money, ammunition and training).  They suffer US retaliation.  It has become a war of US drones v Taliban IEDs.  Both are losing.  Germany and Qatar organized clandestine peace talks between Taliban and US without the knowledge of Pakistan.  This has stalled.  Taliban paid a price for their friendship with Al Qaeda; and are paying a price for their friendship with Pakistan.  US is interested in fighting them; Pakistan is not.

Pakistani Taliban are not in a logjam.  The group was born when Afghan Taliban started recruiting from Pakistan Pashtuns to provide manpower support.  They were joined by militants from Kashmir (who found life boring after Pakistan made a temporary truce with India to deal with the mess in Afghan border) and by militants from Punjab, Sind and other provinces.  Pakistani Taliban killed more than 1,000 traditional tribal leaders friendly to Pakistan State.  They see Pakistan State as an enemy (for having provided tacit support to US drone attacks) and pursue terrorism within Pakistan (with a sophisticated, educated and urban edge thanks to their Punjab/Sind brethren).  Their aim is to establish an Islamic caliphate ignoring political borders.  Pakistan is interested in fighting them; US is not.

Haqqani network is not in a logjam.  Jalaluddin Haqqani's network enjoys Pakistan's support; is held in high esteem by both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban; is a friend of Al Qaeda; and is clear about inimical interests against US.  US is unable to defeat the network since US is unable to pursue the network’s warriors into Pakistani soil.  US is keen to fight them; Pakistan is not.

Al Qaeda is not in a logjam.  They are global jihadists.  They inherited all training camps for militants in Afghanistan from the Taliban.  They provided inspiration, training and equipment to a multitude of radical youth (some from US/Europe).  Their leader Osama bin Laden was killed.  However, they have morphed into a network of tiny cells and can cause damage if they are provided a place to stay.  Pakistan, under pressure from US, has been “outing” Al Qaeda leaders.  However, Pakistan are unable to explain whether bin Laden’s residence near Pakistan’s capital is due to culpability or incompetence.  Mystery remains.

Pakistan is in a logjam. 
  1. Pakistan is continuing to be dominated by its army.  Civil government is weak, corrupt and powerless. Democracy is made difficult since all parties, other than PPP, are ethnic or regional.  Punjab (thanks to constituting 60% of population) dominates civil service and army and others feel underprivileged.
  2. Pakistan political elite have failed to create a national identity that unifies the country.  The army’s anti-India security paradigm has filled the void to define national identity making the army the most important component of governance.
  3. Army commandeers 30% of Pakistan budget, 70% of all aid and has grown to be an empire of tax free industries and real estate with motivation and ability to exercise power over defense and foreign policy.
  4. Pakistan army has been using proxy forces (tribals and jihadists) to achieve security objectives.  Pakistan army used proxies in its attempts to liberate Kashmir in 1947 and 1965; to subdue secession in 1971; to evict (this time with success) Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1988; and to unleash insurgency in Kashmir in 1989.  Pakistan sees Afghan Taliban as a very useful proxy to retain influence in Afghanistan and an assortment of militant outfits as very useful to bleed India in Kashmir.  However, these initiatives have created the 40,000 strong Pakistani Taliban, which is not under state control and is attempting to destroy Pakistan state itself.
  5. Pakistan, in attempting to secure a strategic depth against India has destabilized Afghanistan by supporting one ethnic group (Pashtuns) and antagonizing other groups.  Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state that is neither too weak (to be dominated by inimical interests) nor too strong (to threaten Pakistan’s borders and claim sovereignty over Pashtuns in Pakistan).  Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state where Pashtuns dominate.  Pakistan is dreaming of an Afghan state where Iran will not have influence over the Shias (Iran has invested significantly into nation building in Afghanistan) and India over Tajiks/Uzbeks (India has invested significantly into nation building; 50% of goods leaving for India now use roads to Iran and bypass Karachi).  Pakistan is an impediment to Afghan stability; and therefore to Pakistan’s stability.
  6. Pakistan army and civil government have been feeding popular opinion with false narratives against US, Israel and India whipping up paranoia about the very existence of Pakistan being at stake.  This prevents evolution of a good choice of policies for Pakistan.
  7. Pakistan can no longer depend upon US as a hedge against India.  Nor can Pakistan rely on China for monetary support.  China is not known to give cash; nor is China comfortable with terrorism as state policy.
It would take a confident President, a wise General and a compassionate Mullah to break the logjams and bring stability and end to the “New Great Game”.  Until then, everyone would suffer in each other's duplicity.

Ahmed Rashid provides an excellent insight into the tapestry of interlinked and conflicting motivations; an insight reinforced by personal knowledge of and discussions with Obama, Karzai, and Musharraf.

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