Diplomatic bargaining at the edge — I —Prof. Ijaz Khan

Prof. Ijaz Khan is an academic and active commentator at various discussion forums, mailing groups and social networks. He is associated with Peshawar University and is Chairman, Department of International Relations.  He annotates on US Af-Pak policy, Pakistan Afghan policy and its implications on the region and the people living in it. Here’s first part of his take on the current row of overheated bargaining between US and Pakistan and Pakistan wishlist in post US withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan.(ali arqam)

The conflict in the Af-Pak region has entered a new phase, which may be termed the pre-2014 phase. This phase is currently witnessing a serious row between the US and Pakistan, supposedly allies in the ‘war against terrorism’. All parties want to influence the outcome in 2014 so that the post-2014 situation best meets its perceived interests. To influence that outcome Pakistan and the US are pursuing policies that appear to be at odds. Both also consider the behaviour of the other to be vital for achievement of its goal. So they are using various means to influence each other’s behaviour. The current row between the two allies can be explained as an overheated diplomatic bargaining.

President Obama announced disengagement from active combat in Afghanistan by 2014, thus the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. This was announced along with a plan to enable the US to do so after succeeding in Afghanistan and not losing the war there. The plan was based on the US’s increased action at different levels: one was an increased military action through increased military presence, the so-called ‘surge policy’, and two, raising of the Afghan Army and a viable governance system. The strategy also includes peeling away as much of the Taliban as possible through negotiations. The purpose is to strengthen the Afghan government in relation to the Taliban resistance. The US does not intend to abandon Afghanistan, as it does not want a repeat of the 1990s when Afghanistan became a safe haven for terrorists from all over the world, especially Al-Qaeda.

Given adjustments for language, style and rhetoric, Pakistan’s Afghan policy has continuously been guided by two considerations: security threat perceptions from India and the question of the Durand Line. It was hosting most of the mujahideen leaders of the 1980s since the early 1970s or becoming a front-line state in the 1980s against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan or the half-cooked ideas of ‘strategic depth’ in the 1990s leading to the rise of the Taliban. Pakistan appeared to have taken a U-turn after 9/11. However, that perception soon proved wrong by what Ahmad Rashid called a ‘double U-turn’. Pakistan has been playing the role of a broker between the US and the Taliban even before 9/11. After 9/11, Pakistan — while announcing support for the US — tried its best to salvage whatever was left of its Afghan policy that banked on a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Pakistan tried to bridge the gap between the Taliban and the US, with the aim of saving the Taliban from any military action against them. It continued its diplomatic relations with their government in Kabul to the very end. However, when the US attacked and dislodged the Taliban government, Pakistan adjusted its policy accordingly. Since then its policy has aimed to get a government in Kabul in which it will have a strong say and Indian influence will be minimum. For that end, Pakistan has been acting against the Taliban with a policy that will limit them but not eliminate them. Pakistan also wishes to see a complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, however only after meeting Pakistan’s concerns. Pakistan now wants to limit Afghanistan’s military capability as well, so a recent Pakistan foreign policy elite study proposed limiting of the Afghan Army.

Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have been quite complex. It is like you construct a canal to direct the flow of water over whose flow you do not have much control. You stop the Taliban from acting where you do not want them to and shut your eyes when they act where you want them to. Whether Pakistan controls some of them and to what extent is debatable, however, it finds their defeat unless Pakistan’s concerns are met as not desirable. Its actions or inaction against them must be understood in this background. It is this policy that angers and frustrates the US.

The US is also facing a dilemma. It is aware of Pakistan’s position and its role. It also knows how vital that role is for the current phase of the Afghan imbroglio. Admiral (retd) Mullen’s as well as other statements, including those from the White House itself, clearly establish that the US has not been able to make Pakistan act the way it wants to with a policy that can largely be described as that of carrots and the threat of use of sticks.

With 2014 approaching fast, the US’s choices are getting limited. The American leadership seems to be getting convinced that carrots are not convincing enough and neither are the threats. Pakistani policy makers know that the US will bend over backwards as much as possible to avoid materialising of the threats — to avoid the use of sticks. They bank on US calculations that it must not entangle itself in a country bigger than both Afghanistan and Iraq put together. This does not mean that Pakistan is a match for the US militarily. Even the Pakistani establishment knows that. This means the US would need much more troops afterwards and still much more resources. Pakistan cannot be just hit, destroyed and left for the extremists to take over. If the US ever decides to hit decisively against Pakistan then it has to commit for a much longer, bigger and direct commitment than it can be worth in terms of interests — security or economic, both immediate or strategic. This is what emboldens Pakistan and pushes it to bargain hard.

Read the 2nd part here..

Courtesy: Dailytimes


Amrullah Saleh’s interview on his resignation

I wonder how many people in the US know (or care) what a huge setback this is for the war in Afghanistan. Certainly at least as significant as Karzai’s rigging of the elections which caused so much international handwringing. but the resignation of Saleh and Atmar has taken place with hardly any publicity, possibly because the US doesn’t really mind and because Saleh – with his outspoken views against the ISI – would almost certainly have had to have been moved out of the way for any US attempt at reconciliation with the Taliban brokered by the ISI.


Reuters) – The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service quit after seeing himself as an obstacle to President Hamid Karzai’s plan to reach out to insurgents for talks, he said on Monday, a day after his resignation.

Amrullah Saleh — for six years a key figure in the anti-Taliban fight as head of the National Directorate for Security — said Karzai had already lost faith in his security forces before an attack on a peace conference last week.

Saleh resigned on Monday along with Hanif Atmar, who controlled the police as interior minister. Karzai’s office said the two top security officials had quit because of lapses that led to an insurgent attack on last week’s peace meeting.

In an interview at his home in the Afghan capital, Saleh described plans to negotiate with insurgents as a “disgrace”, and said one of the main reasons he had quit was because Karzai had ordered a review of Taliban prisoners in detention.
Continue reading

a few videos

Man Kunto Maula

laa fataa illaa Ali
laa saif illaa zulfiqaar

King of the brave,
lion of God,
[and] strength of God.
There is no one like Ali [and]
there is no sword like Zulfiqaar*.

* Zulfiqaar was the sword of Ali presented to him by Muhammad.

Ali imaam-e-manasto manam Ghulaam-e-Ali
hazaar jaan-e-giraamii fidaa-e-naam-e-Ali

Ali is the master of all, I am the slave of Ali
thousands life are to be sacrificed for Ali.

man kunto maulaa
fa haaza Aliun maulaa

To whom I am the master
Ali is the master.

Note: A famous tradition (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad. Ali was his cousin and son-in-law.

daaraa dil daaraa dil daar-e-daanii
tum tum taa naa naa naanaa, naanaa naanaa re
yaalaalii yaalaalii yaalaa, yaalaa yaalaa

Mystical chants sung by Sufis without any specific meaning.

In some versions, Nusrat has also recited the following stanza:

Ali shaah-e-mardaaN imaamun kabiiraa
ke baadasht nabii shud bashirush naziiraa

Ali is the king of the brave and the great leader
because after the Prophet there is Ali.

Lyrics: Amir Khusro

Ustad Muhammad Umar (Rubab) and Ustad Zakir Hussain (Tabla):

From the Smithsonian website:

Zakir Hussain and Ustad Mohammad Omar met only on the morning of the show and they did not speak the same language. This proved to be no barrier to their music making; Ustad Mohammad Omar and Zakir Hussain spoke with their instruments, weaving a graceful tapestry of sound. The concert was so well received that recordings of it were bootlegged around the world for years thereafter.

The nightingale’s torment…


Post by takhalus
Rahman Baba was a famous 17th century Pashtun poet and sufi, nicknamed the nightingale of Peshawar. A symbol of Pashtun culture and poetry, his contribution to Pashtun culture was acknowledged by the provincial government which constructed a mazar near Peshawar city in his honour.

Writer William Dalrymple wrote about the mystic nature of Rahman Baba in this article back in 2004:

Last autumn I visited a Sufi shrine just outside Peshawar in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. Rahman Baba was a 17th-century mystic poet, and his tomb has for centuries been a place where musicians and poets have gathered. A friend who lived nearby in the 1980s advised me to go on a Thursday night when great crowds of Pathans would sing mystical love songs to their saint by the light of the moon.
“What can we do?” he replied. “We pray that right will overpower wrong. But our way is pacifist. We love. We never fight. When these Arabs come here I don’t know what to do.”

I asked the guardian of the shrine what had happened to the musicians.

“My family have been singing here for generations,” he told me. “But now these Arab madrasa students come here and create trouble. They tell us that what we do is wrong. Sometimes arguments break out – even fist fights and brawls.

“Before the Afghan war there was nothing like this. It only began when Reagan and the Saudis starting sending jihadis to Peshawar. Before that the Pushtuns here loved Sufism. Now trouble happens more and more frequently.”

A prophetic comment, as yesterday morning the shrine was bombed by militants, according to the dailytimes

Locals said the administration had also been warned before the attack to stop women from visiting the shrine.

While he would not have recognised the explosives used, Rahman Baba would have recognised this attempt by the masters of religiosity to destroy his philosophy. After all.. he was targetted by the mullahs of his time..he wrote

“I couldn’t find peace in my search for him. It became unlawful for me to be careless in my religion.”

…and sadly so it had again…rest in peace, Rahman Baba.

P.S the systematic targetting of Pashtun culture in NWFP and FATA is something which I shall be writing about another time.

An Afghan reporter in Garmser

Massoud Husseini, an Afghan reporter, goes on an embed with the US Marines1 to see what Garmser, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, looked like after the US Marines operation there.2 It seems that he was pissed off by the Marines and they were pissed off by him but it’s an interesting report to read mainly because I’ve never read anything by an Afghan reporterembedded with the US military.

1 Husseini, Massoud. Garmser: Ghost city after U.S. military operation. Kabul Weekly. May 21, 2008.
2 U.S. Marines launch Afghan operation. CNN. April 28, 2008.

Afghanistan Unveils Ambitious Development Plan

This NPR report 1 by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson describes the difficulty the Afghan government faces in getting international funding for its $50 billion strategy to rebuild the nation. Western officials are wary of simply handing over funds to the Afghan government due to allegations of corruption and mismanagement. An illustration:

Yet how some Afghan contractors hired by the ministry spend international aid money raises serious questions. For example, one contractor in Kandahar province recently agreed to pay $100,000 to a local Taliban commander to ensure his men would leave the project alone.

The builder claims he and other contractors have no choice but to cut such deals to protect their projects in high-risk areas such as Kandahar.

He allowed NPR to listen to, but not tape, his negotiations by speakerphone with the Taliban leader. He also sent the Taliban commander a copy of the contract to prove he wasn’t making more on the project than claimed.

1 Nelson, Soraya Sarhaddi. “Afghanistan Unveils Ambitious Development Plan”. NPR. May 21, 2008.

NWFP news

Baitullah Mehsud talked to reporters on Saturday1 and denied his involvement in the Benazir Bhutto assassination and the kidnapping of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
Zardari talked about a “difference of opinion” between Pakistan and the US on how to deal with active militants in the area2:

“There is a position in America which (Democratic presidential front-runner Barack) Obama holds that if they have actionable intelligence, they should have a right to strike,” Zardari said.

“We disagree with that position and we just want to make sure that if there is actionable intelligence available, then we will strike. That’s where there is a difference of opinion. That’s something I’d like to work upon,” he told PTI in an interview.

This column3 in The Post by Musa Khan Jalalzai discusses the impact of the increase in violence in Pakistan on the security of Afghanistan. According to him, the fighting in Waziristan and Kurram agency have compelled thousands of people to flee from those regions to either Afghanistan or Punjab.

This column4 in The News by Khalid Aziz is from May 19, but it has a lot of interesting insights into the situation. He argues that the Pakistan government needs to develop a more holistic counter insurgency strategy like the US or India and that by 2006, the Pakistan military was certain that there was no purely military solution to the problem in the tribal areas. He contrasts the negotiations in Swat, which are taking place step by step, with the military’s unilateral actions in Waziristan which have resulted in the release of many prisoners without a written agreement being signed. About Swat, he has this to say:

The former Wali of Swat had built an elaborate system of governance based on cooptation of religious scholars in the judicial system. He was a wise statesman; he employed the religious scholars for dispute resolution and as consultants to the normal Swat courts. It was ensured that cases were disposed quickly through summary proceedings. Redressal of wrong was quick and the process was comparatively cheap.

The people of Swat lost all this, when the state was merged. During the negotiations, the militants requested to be helped in getting a quick and a cheap dispute resolution system more in tune with their past experience and were thus willing to adopt the 1999 Adal Regulation, which is already on the statute books.
Unfortunately, there is a large gap in the civil-military relationship in Pakistan. Once this is recognized and steps taken to reduce it, Pakistani society would be able to develop a COIN strategy. Existence of such a framework would not only better manage the insurgency but will also permit Pakistan’s allies to recognize the local issues and act collaboratively.

Today, unfortunately the policies of Pakistan and her allies play into the hands of the militants. The future does not lie in acrimony and accusations but in developing a robust strategy which looks at insurgency regionally. There is still time for them to withdraw from the precipice and the deal with the problems holistically. Islamabad must not commit the folly of ignoring the equally important life and death struggle arising from the raging insurgency because it is dealing with other matters.

1 “No link with BB murder, Ambassador’s kidnapping: Baitullah”. Online International News Network. May 24, 2008.
2 “Pak, US differ on tackling militants in tribal belt: Zardari”. The Hindu. May 24, 2008.
3 Jalalzai, Musa Khan. “Pak-Afghan security situation — I”. The Post. May 24, 2008.
4 Aziz, Khalid. “The march of folly”. The News. May 19, 2008.

Zeenia Satti on the future of US policy in NWFP

There are two op-eds by Zeenia Satti in the Pakistani press — one in The Dawn1 and one in the News.2 The best order to read them is probably Dawn first, the News second. Her Dawn op-ed summarizes the causes of the current crisis, arguing that it is largely the consequence of Operation Enduring Freedom on the NWFP. She argues that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border should have been sealed before OEF, that modern technology has made it possible to seal the border,and that now it is too late because “As a direct consequence of this oversight, instead of decimating terrorism in Afghanistan, an expanded regional version of it has been created and Pakistan has been engulfed in it.”

The key argument of her op-ed in the News is that there is a very strong chance of massive US-led airstrikes on FATA and that the federal government, distracted by the post-election political maneuverings, is completely ignoring this possibility. The consequences of such airstrikes will be devastating to Pakistan’s security. Additionally, she is skeptical that Pakistan can unilaterally negotiate peace with the Taliban.

As Damadola exemplifies, Pakistan’s peace deal with the militants in FATA is meaningless if Islamabad cannot ensure the security of FATA against US aerial attacks. Removing its forces from the area means nothing if a much larger force, allied with Pakistan, is going to strike with far more lethal weapons instead. Troop withdrawal in such a situation in fact jeopardizes Pakistan’s sovereignty. The situation calls for Pakistan to approach the matter of peace in FATA in a multilateral manner through engaging General McNeil, General Patreus and Hamid Karzai, along with Baitullah Mehsud and the Taliban representatives in a multilateral process that satisfies NATO as well.

Satti had a much longer article in Energy Bulletin3 in February in which she presents several scenarios concerning Pakistan’s long-term future. One such scenario presented in the article clarifies her position on why US airstrikes in NWFP present such a threat to Pakistan’s future:

Scenario two could plausibly entail heavy bombardment of Pakistani tribal areas by the U.S forces, causing a flood of internal migration, which will also mean the spread of militants into the Pakistani mainland. This could provide the U.S with a reason to lead an international demand, possibly through the U.N Security Council, for Pakistan’s denuclearization.

In all of these articles, she stresses the fact that it is unlikely that the Frontier Corps, with its strong ethnic links to the Taliban militants, will be able to successfully neutralize the Taliban. On this issue, she has the following to say:

The operation against tribal militants is a Catch 22 for Pakistan’s military. The Frontier Corps, due to its ethnic affinity with the Taliban, has no faith in this battle, hence it is unfit for the purpose. The deployment of Punjabi battalions, or overt military collaboration between the U.S and Pakistan, will be perceived as a genocide and could lead to a Mukti Bahini-like insurgency for Pakistan’s military in the NWFP and Baluchistan, augmented by the street mood in the rest of the country where economic grievance is widespread. Under the postulated circumstances, Pakistan military’s strategic capacity to resist U.S led international demand to relinquish its nuclear arsenal will decrease by the day.

1 Satti, Zeenia. (May 21, 2008). Will Fata’s truce succeed?. The Dawn.
2 Satti, Zeenia. (May 21, 2008). Peace that unleashes war. The News.
3 Satti, Zeenia. (February 11, 2008). Pakistan problem: Washington’s perspective. Energy Bulletin.

Syed Saleem Shehzad in Damadola

An even better account of a trip to Damadola after the missile strikes is that of Syed Saleem Shehzad in today’s Asia Times1 The Bajaur Agency borders Kunar Province which is of significance to the US because it is likely that Osama Bin Ladin and Zawahiri are or were in hiding in the forests of Kunar or Nooristan. Shehzad explains why the region is also of strategic significance to the Taliban:

Unlike in Helmand province, in Kunar the Taliban do not independently run districts. However, among the craggy outcrops and lush green forests, they have established safe havens and also have the support of large sections of the population. This allows the Taliban to maintain an edge against the American forces in the area by launching daily attacks on their bases, as well as those of the Afghan National Army and intelligence centers.

Kunar and Nooristan provinces also serve as the start of a natural route up to the northeastern province of Kapisa, from where, ultimately, the Taliban hope to enter into Kabul.

All regional intelligence agencies are certain that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still in this area. The US considers it pivotal for the success of the “war on terror”. The Taliban on the other hand have built all their resources all around this region.

And neither side wants to give up ground.

In January 2008, Shehzad also reported2 on the recently completed US base in Kunar (on the Afghan side).

KARACHI – Another piece of the United States’ regional jigsaw is in place with the completion of a military base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Pakistani intelligence quarters have confirmed to Asia Times Online that the base, on a mountain top in Ghakhi Pass overlooking Pakistan, is now operational. (This correspondent visited the area last July and could clearly see construction underway.[…]

1Shehzad, Syed Saleem. (May 22, 2008). Ducking and diving under B-52s . Asia Times.
2Shehzad, Syed Saleem. (January 30, 2008). US homes in on militants in Pakistan. Asia Times..

Lore and Peace

If you’re frustrated by the lack of news from Afghanistan, you might want to read this four-page article1 in The Age by Brendan Nicholson about the latest news from the Australian troops in Afghanistan. The most interesting part of the article to me was Nicholson’s coverage of Australian Defence Force head Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston’s visit to Islamabad.

Covering the visit, I was standing outside the Serena Hotel in Islamabad’s diplomatic enclave when two Pakistani officers approached.
They offered me a lift to the airport and we followed Houston’s well-guarded convoy as it wove through the streets towards the local air force base.
For 20 minutes the officers dissected Pakistan’s situation. They were convinced that the war in Afghanistan would last 15 to 20 years and there could be no military solution.
They rejected suggestions their country was encouraging the Taliban, saying they had paid a heavy price with 1200 soldiers killed in counter-terrorism operations.

[Houston] has also warned NATO that Australia is not providing an open cheque and Australia will not be sending more troops until NATO members increase their contributions.

In Oruzgan Province, the Australians are working with a much larger Dutch force that provides air and artillery support. The Dutch are likely to pull out most of their forces in 2010 and a key issue is what happens if Australia is asked to increase its force to fill that gap. It may have to deploy its new attack helicopters, if they are ready by then, jet fighter-bombers and a force similar to the 550-strong group that is about to be withdrawn from Iraq.

1Nicholson, Brendan. (May 19, 2008). “Lore and Piece”. The Age