Tag Archives | taliban

Stepping up on Afghanistan

India must use its good offices to ensure that the U.S. and Afghanistan sign a bilateral security agreement.

If the world was in need of a preview of things to come in a post-2014 Afghanistan, it got one on Friday.  A Taliban attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul claimed 21 lives. Those killed included the International Monetary Fund’s chief for Afghanistan, a senior political official at the UN and a British candidate in the upcoming elections for the European parliament.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of many of its citizens as well as those of NATO’s security forces.  But as the New York Times notes, attacks against foreign soft targets have been relatively less frequent.  The Kabul Hotel Inter-Continental was attacked in 2011; U.S. and Indian embassies have been hit in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.  The more recent attacks have involved operations with the use of suicide bombers to breach perimeter security followed by commando-style assaults with the use of RPGs and assault rifles.

The Taliban have historically relied on suicide attacks against Western military targets, but the use of commando-style assaults in and around Kabul may point to a collaboration with Pakistan-sponsored groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, loosely referred to as the “Kabul Attack Network.”

The goal, ultimately, is to weaken the will of the West to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.  The U.S. and NATO winding down operations in Afghanistan will undoubtedly create a perilous security situation in that country.  Afghan president Hamid Karzai has refused to enter into a status of forces agreement with the U.S., even as the Afghan National Army remains ill-equipped to deal with a raging insurgency coupled with terrorist assaults on the capital.

Mr. Karzai is throwing caution to the wind by tying the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to the U.S. facilitating “peace talks” with the Taliban.  He may get neither.  The U.S.’s ability to facilitate a negotiation with the Taliban remains in question, particularly when the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan have been working towards the goal of ensuring a total exit of U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan all along.  Mr. Karzai, whose presidency ends in April 2014, may have little to lose, but the burdens of his action or inaction will be borne by Afghanistan’s future governments.

Meanwhile, anyone in New Delhi still under the delusion that events in Afghanistan have no bearing on the security of India would do well to reach for their history books.  It is precisely the sort of Pakistan-supported, Taliban-operated environment that could prevail in a post-2014 Afghanistan that allowed for India’s surrender of Maulana Masood Azhar (who was languishing in an Indian jail) in Kandahar in exchange for passengers hijacked onboard IC-814 in 1999.

As a result of our capitulation, Azhar returned to Pakistan to regroup members of the terrorist group Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in 2000.  A year later, JeM attacked the Indian parliament, killing 12 civilians.  Our members of parliament, rather miraculously, escaped unharmed.

A similar situation may present itself when the U.S. departs Afghanistan.  Although many of us have called for India to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, or at least play a more active role in training and supplying weapons to Afghan security forces, New Delhi has chosen to only limit its involvement to economy and institution-building.  Laudable endeavors undoubtedly, but insufficient to ensure the security of India and her interests in that country.

India has already rebuffed Mr. Karzai’s request for weaponry during his December 2013 visit.  But if India is disinclined to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, it must, at the very least, ensure that a U.S. security presence remains in the country to prevent it from being engulfed in yet another civil war that could render twelve years of development and progress to naught.

Indeed, India is most uniquely positioned — as a friend to both the U.S. and Afghanistan — to use its good offices to ensure that a version of the BSA agreeable to both Afghanistan and the U.S. is signed.  Almost every other country is viewed with suspicion by either DC or Kabul.  Last week, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan visited India to discuss the furture of Afghanistan.  U.S. intelligence officials also met an Indian delegation led by Joint Intelligence Chief Ajit Lal to urge India’s influence with Mr. Karzai to conclude the BSA.

There is no doubt that India is in the midst of domestic political upheaval.  The economy is sagging and political stewardship is found wanting in almost every aspect of governance.  However, facilitating a status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S. must become a national security priority for India.

A U.S.-Afghanistan BSA cannot prevent attacks such as the one this past Friday, but it may stave off a total collapse of the state to the Taliban.  Ultimately, it is simply not in India’s interests to see Afghanistan relapse into the laboratory of terrorism that it once was under Pakistan’s influence. (And on a separate note, New Delhi’s assistance in facilitating a BSA could also demonstrate that both India and the U.S. are committed to putting the very unseemly squabble over Devyani Khobragade behind them).

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Where is the Difa-e-Pakistan Council?

Why the silence?

It’s been over half a year since we’ve heard from that wonderful consortium of crazy people, the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC).  There haven’t been any news reports of large rallies of the sort held by the DPC last year.  Even when tensions with India mounted in January this year as a result of the killing of Indian troops along the LoC, there was no agitation of the sort one had come to expect from the DPC.

There are some reports that the DPC continues to be active and operating in stealth mode.  We are told that the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Richard Olsen met with DPC’s leader Sami ul-Haq this past month and requested his assistance in DC’s ongoing attempts to negotiate with the Taliban.  The DPC may be working behind the scenes, but the drive to mobilize public sentiment in favor of hardline causes seems to have fizzled out.

Mujahid Hussain’s piece in the Viewpoint potentially offers some clues as to why:

According to well placed reports, it has been decided at a high-level meeting that the Defence of Pakistan Council [Difa-e-Pakistan Council] would not be allowed to hold rallies in major cities of Pakistan as the leaders of the Defence of Pakistan Council are adding to the country’s external problems.

This meeting was held at the Presidency. A high-ranking military representative was also present. However, the military representative remained non-committal during the meeting.Jamat-ud-Dawa, responsible for arranging all the rallies and meetings of the Defence of Pakistan Council, and Jamat’s head, Hafiz Saeed, are known for their extremist views. Given this background, Pakistan is facing disturbing situation at the external front.

However, the powers that be do not want to render the Defence of Pakistan Council ineffective even if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already warned that the Defence of Pakistan Council is harming Pakistan’s interests at external front.

Most likely, a terrified civil government will beg the GHQ and request the military leadership to help rein in the Defence of Pakistan Council. [The Viewpoint]

The DPC’s members themselves have been anything but inconspicuous in the media.  Gen. Hamid Gul lauded Pakistan’s sheltering of Osama bin Laden for almost a decade, Hafiz Saeed, who carries a bounty on his head, used ill-conceived statements by Satish Verma to claim innocence on 26/11 and Maulana Muhammad Ludhianvi is spearheading a pogrom against Pakistan’s minorities

But it appears that the burner has has been reduced from hot to simmer.  The utility of the groups that constitute the DPC hasn’t been forgotten by the powers-that-be in Rawalpindi; yet there appears to be some sort of attempt to check the hitherto unbridled freedom with which the DPC operated.  It is an old game that the generals at GHQ think they have mastered.  The operative word there being “think.”

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On Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report

Nolnah’s Razor: Ascribing incompetence to that which can be adequately explained by malice.

The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which was set up to investigate the May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and his couriers, was “obtained” and published online by al-Jazeera today.  News reports tell us that the 337-page report makes “scathing reading.”

It attributes “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” in Pakistan’s apparent inability to identify that bin Laden was living in a villa located less than a mile away from the Kakul military academy for at least five years and its inability to detect the special forces contingent that traveled from Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Abbottabad to execute the mission to kill or capture bin Laden.

There are a few ways to look at the content and timing of the “leaked” report.  First, the report may be scathing in its criticism of government incompetence, but it barely entertains the possibility that official connivance played a role in bin Laden’s ability to evade U.S. pursuit for ten years.  Official denials don’t really mean much under the circumstances.  For years, Pakistani leaders claimed that bin Laden wasn’t in their country.  Gen. Musharraf claimed bin Laden was dead in 2002.

Pakistan has also, for years, denied that Mullah Omar was living in Pakistan.  Yet, multiple reports suggest that he is living in Quetta and under the protection of the ISI.  The truth will most likely be revealed once the U.S. and its allies leave Afghanistan in 2014, following which Mullah Omar will emerge triumphantly from parts unknown.

Of course, most people in India are accustomed to hearing how persons of interest to them — Dawood Ibrahim, for example — are most certainly not living in Pakistan.  For those of us on this side of the barbed-wire fence, the incompetence defense stretches credulity.

There are other interesting parts to the report.  On page 337, it concludes (emphasis added):

But finally, no honest assessment of the situation can escape the conclusion that those individuals who wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making bear the primary responsibility for creating the national circumstances and environment in which the May 2, 2011 incident occurred.  It is unnecessary to specifically name them because it is obvious who they are.  It may be politically unrealistic to suggest “punishments” from them.  But as honourable men, they ought to do honourable thing, including submitting a formal apology to the nation for their dereliction of duty.  It will be for the people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections to pass collective political judgement on them. [al-Jazeera]

The last sentence of the concluding paragraph of the report is curious.  It apportions blame to those who “wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making,” but concludes by saying that it was for the people of Pakistan to pass a collective judgement on them in the elections.  Great, but Pakistanis don’t get to vote for their COAS or DG-ISI.  But they do cast votes on their civilian leadership.  From where this blogger is standing, the blame being apportioned here almost certainly targets Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP, rather than the Pakistani military establishment.

The other items for consideration pertaining to the release of the report are the timing and source of the alleged leak.  The leak occurs at a time when the U.S. is trying to negotiate an honorable exit from Afghanistan with the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Qatar. That the report was leaked by al-Jazeera, a news agency fully owned by the al-Thani family, which, as it happens, also rules Qatar may not be a coincidence.

This “leak” could effectively mean two things.  If the U.S. is sufficiently encouraged by the momentum and direction of the talks, it may be well-disposed towards bailing out the Pakistani military establishment from the embarrassment it has had to endure since 2011.  The discrete leak of a document via a news agency owned by a U.S. ally, which blames incompetence rather than connivance (the lesser of  two evils) while also criticizing a now mostly-irrelevant and ousted political party works well under such circumstances.

If, on the other hand, things aren’t going so well in Doha, the release of a classified report may have been viewed as necessary by some to coax Pakistan into action.  It will, of course, embarrass and anger the Pakistani military establishment.  More importantly, it will also most certainly complicate relations between Pakistan and Qatar.

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No withdrawal syndrome

India still has the ability to ensure that its interests in Afghanistan are protected after 2014.

The U.S., with eyes set on a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, is attempting to engage the Taliban in peace talks in Doha, Qatar.  The talks are being brokered by the military establishment in Pakistan, much to the chagrin of Hamid Karzai.  Indeed, two of the most recent attempts to engage with the Taliban were scuttled because Mr. Karzai took offense to the Taliban claiming it represented the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”  Mr. Karzai apparently read the riot act to folks in DC, which was enough to call off talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, albeit temporarily.

If a preview was needed on what a post-NATO environment might look like in Afghanistan, the world got one on Monday.  The Taliban launched a suicide attack near the presidential palace and the offices of the CIA in Kabul.  But the U.S., for its part, now says it is unsure as to whether it even considers the Taliban to be a terrorist organization.

The irony should not be lost on us that it was the U.S. that was in no mood for negotiation (“Bring ‘em on,” he said) when it launched a massive assault on Afghanistan in 2001; twelve years on, it is the Taliban that appears disinterested in working out compromises while the U.S. is engaged in nimble pussyfooting.

With the U.S. and NATO forces leaving in 2014, Hamid Karzai’s regime will be losing its security guarantor.  The Afghan National Army (ANA) is ill-trained and faces attrition and ethnic disunity.  It will be incapable of completely taking over security operations from NATO after 2014.  Therefore, deal or no deal with the U.S., when Mullah Omar and his faithful followers return to Afghanistan, the country will be plunged into yet another bloody and protracted civil war that will most likely leave the Taliban in a position of advantage.  Pakistan’s perfidy is bearing fruit.

For India, instability in Afghanistan will affect not only its infrastructure and exploration projects in that country, but could also have an impact on India’s domestic security.  Few in India have forgotten the Pakistan-engineered hijacking of IC-814 in 1999 to Kandahar that compelled India to release Maulana Masood Azhar (who later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed) and Omar Sheikh (now sentenced to death for his role in the killing of Daniel Pearl) in exchange for Indian hostages.

Pakistan has continued to exploit the instability in Afghanistan to engineer attacks against Indian interests in Kabul; the 2008 and 2009 Indian embassy bombings come to mind.  It is very possible, therefore, that there will be a qualitative and quantitative escalation in attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan once the U.S. and its allies leave.

It is to the backdrop of these developments that the newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began a tour of India and the Middle East.  In India apparently, he was given a frosty reception. Mr. Kerry is said to have addressed a largely empty India Habitat Center on Sunday.  We are told many in New Delhi are upset at the U.S. “abandoning Afghanistan” and negotiating compromises with the Taliban.  New Delhi is “livid” at John Kerry the “opportunist,” one report said.

But surely, the U.S.’s attempts to extricate itself from a messy situation in Afghanistan are the rational actions of a country that deems its exit from the region to be in line with its national interests.  How does one justify India’s apparent anger at the U.S.?  For over a decade, the U.S. has been the dominant guarantor of security in Afghanistan.  Chinese and Indian investment projects in Afghanistan have benefited greatly by the security provided by NATO.  Yet, neither India nor China has contributed significantly to providing security in Afghanistan.

Calls have been made in the past for India to deploy its troops and assist in the effort to secure Afghanistan.  In a 2010 article in Pragati, I made the case for India to provide training and equipment to the ANA in a more meaningful manner.  But apart from training a few army and police officers and supplying helicopters to the ANA, we have largely avoided accepting security-related responsibilities in Afghanistan for fear of exacerbating Pakistan’s pathological insecurities.

Indeed, even Mr. Karzai’s apparent last-ditch attempt to request Indian assistance in securing Afghanistan was dealt with great hesitance in New Delhi.  The free ride is now at an end; the U.S. and its allies are pursuing courses of action that they believe are in line with their national interests; India must do likewise too.

The generals in Rawalpindi are free to believe that they have played the great game with a superpower and that victory now is at hand.  But to draw parallels between the emerging regional environment and that of the 1990s, when Pakistan exerted unchallenged influence over Afghanistan, would be to misread the situation.  First, the U.S.’s exit from Afghanistan will not necessarily translate into Pakistan getting a free hand to do as it pleases in Afghanistan.  The U.S. will still continue to maintain a small, but effective military presence in the region, including a contingent of armed drones.

Second, Pakistan as the source of a potential terror threat to the U.S. homeland will not diminish post 2014.  The U.S. will undoubtedly be aware of this, and as such, is unlikely to wind down capabilities needed to neutralize threats based in Pakistan.  Indeed, recent hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security (coupled with similar hearings in the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2010) on Lashkar-e-Taiba — a Pakistan-supported terrorist group traditionally thought of as being India-focused, but posing no potential threat to the U.S. — points to a recalculation of assumptions on the LeT  in the U.S.

Third, Pakistan’s generals have filled their coffers with money provided as economic aid by the U.S. for over ten years.  But this source of funds will dry up with the U.S.’s departure.  In fact, it is likely that the U.S.’s first-hand experience with Pakistan’s duplicity on terror and nuclear proliferation will invite fresh U.S. sanctions similar to the Pressler Amendment.  Fresh sanctions directed at a country already on economic life-support can be an effective tool in curtailing bad behavior.

And fourth, Pakistan’s towns and cities are facing the consequences of the army’s poor choice of using militants as instruments of foreign policy.  Many have turned their guns on the state and its citizens, while insurgencies rage on in FATA, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.  This doesn’t mean, however, that Pakistan won’t continue to arm terrorist groups focused on India and Afghanistan; but the consequences of a spillover of the conflict from Afghanistan into Pakistan on an overstretched army will not be lost on Rawalpindi either.

Thus, even at this juncture and for all its inaction, India can still ensure that its interests — both in Afghanistan and in India — remain protected.  Old alliances can be renewed and new ones established; covert capabilities and information sharing with the Afghan intelligence apparatus and regional powers can be enhanced.  Closer cooperation with the U.S. amidst a convergence of perceptions on Pakistan could give India new levers with which to manage its relations with its difficult neighbor to the west.  Contrary to popular perception, this game is far from over.

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