Monday, April 7, 2008

The 3 factors inhibiting Afghan peace

Calling the Afghan insurgency the "Taliban resurgence" is an attempt to shift the blame on Pakistan. Calling all the Afghan insurgents "Taliban" is a brazen attempt to nullify a popular uprising against foreign occupation. As an analogy it is like calling the Cherokee, Lakota, Shawnee, Pawnee, Chickashe, Choctow etc as "Indians".

Pakistan's western front Tuesday, April 08, 2008 Zeenia Satti

Three factors jeopardized Pakistan's security on the western front.

a) Musharraf allowed military action against Afghanistan from Pakistan's soil without first sealing its western border.

b) NATO failed to reconstruct Afghanistan, which rendered its occupation illegitimate and produced an inevitable domestic insurgency for end to occupation.

c) During the war that followed, the Taliban's vengeance, Washington's displeasure with Pakistan's nuclear weapons, Indo-Afghan irredentist claims over Pakistan's territory, each found FATA to be an easy conduit of furtherance of their respective designs. Furthermore, the Musharraf regime's domestic legitimacy gap rendered it vulnerable to a myriad of political and military onslaughts, producing an international uproar, often orchestrated, that Pakistan was a failed state and a dangerous nation.

The three factors cited above will overwhelm Islamabad unless it changes its western-front policy. Musharraf cites Washington's threat of bombing Pakistan into the stone age as the reason for his Afghan policy turnabout in 2001. Pakistan's participation in the post-9/11 Afghan war on Washington's terms has taken it close to the brink of disaster. Paradoxically, this very position has equipped Islamabad with the bargaining chips vis a vis the US that it did not possess soon after 9/11. The rapidly decreasing support in the US for Bush's war in Iraq would end entirely if Iraq's insurgents started launching terrorist attacks inside American cities. By the same token, due to countrywide terror attacks, Pakistan's capacity to win greater US acceptance for a more nationalist policy regarding the "war on terror" is now increased.

The strategic context of the Afghan insurgency has been misrepresented by Washington. It states that the Taliban are regrouping in FATA and launching attacks in Afghanistan, thus frustrating ISAF's reconstruction efforts. The western media's scrutiny of Afghan insurgent battles, on the other hand, reveals that the insurgency is spread all over Afghanistan and appears to be without a centralized head. It stems from local hatred due to high civilian casualty rate and disproportionate use of force by US troops in Afghanistan. The fact that acceptable levels of security, prosperity and political identity have not been provided to the Afghans during their six-year-long occupation has augmented local antagonism. This is the strategic context of the Afghan insurgency. It is not cross border terrorism. For as long as the strategic context remains, insurgency will dominate the Afghan scene regardless of FATA's assistance. Furthermore, it will be sustained by tactical, small unit leadership, even if Pak army decimates the Taliban altogether.

The US has chosen to call Afghan insurgency the "Taliban resurgence" in order to shift the blame to Pakistan. The only centralized feature of the insurgency is its target; i.e. NATO troops and the Karzai regime. The terror on Pakistani soil may be the centralized work of the Taliban. The same cannot be said of suicide attacks in Afghanistan. It can be concluded that warlord politics in Afghanistan has been replaced by widespread insurgency against western occupation. Because a unified Afghanistan exists as the final reference point of political identity, it could inspire networking amongst insurgents. In calling the insurgents "Taliban" the US is turning away from the agonizing truth. For strategic clarity, the Afghan insurgents have to be de linked from one particular entity and named what they were named during the Soviet Afghan war; i.e. Afghan Mujahideen. The argument that ISAF and Karzai are unable to provide prosperity because of the insurgency is mooted by the time line of the insurgency. It rose slowly as a response to occupied mismanagement. Up to 2004, there was no insurgency.

On Pakistan's front, Washington and Karzai have jeered at Musharraf's every offer of securing the border. Land mines were dismissed on grounds that they were immoral. Barbed wiring was opposed on grounds that it will divide the Pushtun nation! The second objection is tantamount to telling Pakistan "heads you lose, tales we win". The only option presented to Pakistan is internecine warfare on its Pushtun lands, which will turn Pakistan's first line of defence on its western border, the Pushtuns, squarely against Islamabad and render the eastern border insecure due to military's preoccupation with the west. Pakistan need not discuss its border security with Afghanistan or Washington. It needs to decide this matter in its own vital interest, which lies in halting border fluidity on the western front and changing FATA's administrative environment in which crime functions with impunity.

The roughly 800-mile extended Afghan-FATA border has become a conduit of destabilization of Pakistan. Washington's global war on terror should be a campaign against all terrorists, not just those actively targeting the US On this point, Pakistan should elicit Washington's cooperation for its nationalist policy on the "war on terror", which it must implement with the same firmness that Turkey has recently shown on its border with Iraq. This policy should rest on FATA's administrative amalgamation in to NWFP and the physical sealing of Pak-Afghan border, in that order.

State's writ must prevail in FATA. We no longer live in the strategic environment that necessitates parity of force. Terror strikes all over Pakistan and 9/11 testify to the fact that a state's conventional power and its nuclear weapons are of no consequence in dealing with manoeuvre warfare. In such a milieu, an accessory of the nature of FATA and an open border with a restive state under occupation are strategic blunders Pakistan can ill afford. Not only is latest weaponry in abundant supply in FATA, the resurgence of Afghan drug trade under U.S occupation means lethal drugs and black money too is in abundant supply. Pakistani society, including FATA's population, should not be left exposed to this sinister combination. Incremental administrative changes in FATA will not solve the problem. Fundamental reorientation in the nation's best interest is required.

The writer is energy consultant and analyst of energy geopolitics based in Washington DC. Email: zeenia.satti@

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