Monday, April 15, 2013

In Afghan peace, the Pakistan factor

The Hindu
In Pakistan these days, a strange kind of schizophrenia is afoot, as the excitement over completing five, fulsome years of democratic rule competes with a growing tension with Afghanistan. Over the past couple of weeks, Pakistani officials and Afghan leaders have accused each other of fomenting terrorism, disturbingly raising the pitch and dropping all pretence of good neighbourly relations. According to the Afghans, the Pakistani military in late March indulged in unprovoked shelling and illegal construction along the Durand Line in the eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan — which Pakistan denies — which has so angered Kabul that it has cancelled its offer to train some of its military personnel in Pakistan.
War of words
An accompanying war of words has since claimed the air between the two neighbours. An unnamed Pakistani official told Reuters that the “biggest impediment to the (Afghan) peace process is Karzai. In trying to look like a saviour, he is taking Afghanistan straight to hell.” The Afghan Foreign Ministry made its anger known through a statement. “This demonstrates the interfering but delusional tendency of some in Pakistan who choose to ignore Afghanistan’s sovereignty...and continue to want control in Afghanistan through armed proxies,” it said. About the same time, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), told its Supreme Court that the Afghan government was providing “strong support” to several anti-Pakistan terrorist groups, including the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Clearly, as the clock moves inexorably towards the drawdown by the U.S. and international troops in April 2014, exactly a year from now, questions about the kind of role Pakistan can — and should play — in the region, lie at the heart of the escalating tension between the Afghan and Pakistan leadership. The Afghans argue that the Pakistanis have done little since the 9/11 incidents to eliminate terrorist havens and safe spaces inside their country, which the Taliban brazenly uses as sanctuary to mount attacks inside Afghanistan and then return home to Pakistan. But Pakistan continues to demand a position of primacy in the Pakistan-Afghan relationship, citing its front line state status as well as deep ethnic, civilisational and religious links between Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line. For years after September 11, as Afghanistan and the international community sought to rebuild that country, Afghanistan’s leaders held their tongue about what they really felt the Pakistani “deep state” was up to. Karzai, in fact, even moved out his former outspoken intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh because he realised that Saleh had gone too far in his public criticism about the Pakistani army and ISI using the Haqqani network of terrorists and other Taliban to foment trouble in Afghanistan. And that his comments were beginning to impact the relationship between Kabul’s chief sponsor, the U.S., and Pakistan. But Pakistan refused to back off. So when Karzai’s new intelligence chief Asadullah Khalid barely survived a suicide attempt in early December, a furious Karzai announced that “this man, who came in the name of a guest, came from Pakistan.” What really infuriates the Afghans is that Pakistan continues to treat their country as a weak-willed state with a ragtag security and police force that is totally corrupted from within. Even if serious trouble breaks out between the various Afghan ethnic groups after the Americans leave, a Karzai adviser said on the condition of anonymity, it will be a totally different situation from the time the Soviets left in 1989. “Afghanistan is a new country today, but the only one who doesn’t seem to have recognised it is Pakistan,” he said. “When the Taliban took over in the mid-1990s, the Pakistanis were only one in three countries in the world who supported them. They believe that when the Americans leave in 2014, they will return to being the most influential in Afghanistan through their control of the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The reality is totally different,” he added. Karzai’s supporters say he remains deeply upset by Pakistan’s refusal, in the decade since September 11, to act against hardline Afghan Taliban leaders living in Pakistan, in Quetta or Miramshah or elsewhere. Instead, the Pakistanis instigated the Americans to open direct talks with the Taliban, while the Americans, never very fond of Karzai, kept telling him to settle with Pakistan. Both initiatives sought to undermine him, Karzai felt. The last straw came in February during the London peace talks when the Pakistani side pushed Karzai to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement, on the lines that Kabul had signed with Delhi in 2011. The document, in fact, had been given to the Afghan Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rassoul, during a visit to Islamabad in November 2012 by his charming counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, throwing the suave Afghan off-balance. It had not been on the agenda of their talks, but Rassoul took the paper back home with him.
For constructive role
It turned out that the Pakistanis wanted a special relationship to be institutionalised with Afghanistan, code language for prioritising Pakistan in its affairs. They demanded the sidelining of India (“not even a Muslim country,” the Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammed Sadiq, had dismissively told former Taliban leader, Musa Hotak, during Ramzan celebrations last year) and discussed the offer to train some Afghan army personnel in Pakistan. Both sides promised to get their clerics to hold a conference in which suicide bombings would be condemned as un-Islamic. Within weeks, a top Pakistani cleric was justifying the actions of the suicide bomber and refusing to attend such a conference. “We want Pakistan to play a similar constructive role and secure the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, just as India has done. We don’t want a relationship that breeds violence and hatred. Afghanistan will protect its partnership with India at any cost,” Shaida Abdali, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, told this reporter. “As for Pakistan’s remarks that President Karzai has become an obstacle to a peace settlement...Yes, he is an obstacle to a foreign-owned and foreign-led peace settlement, not to an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led one,” Abdali added. An Afghan-watcher in Islamabad pointed out that Zardari is fully aware that his own “establishment” continues to use terrorists to promote its interests in Afghanistan, but cannot do much about it. He agreed that Zardari’s influence, even at the end of five years in power, hardly extended to security and the foreign policy towards India, leave alone Afghanistan. Meanwhile, as U.S. troops begin to draw down from Afghanistan, all eyes are focused on what the region will do to keep a civil warlike situation at bay. Karzai is said to be extremely keen that India supply military equipment to Afghanistan as well as substantially increase the numbers of security forces being trained by New Delhi, in line with the SPA signed with Kabul in 2011. But the truth is that India remains extremely hesitant. Some talk has also begun of a realignment of forces between Russia, Iran and India to both train and fund the equipping of the nascent Afghan security forces. The Americans have begun secret parleys with Iran in the hope that it will support the new Afghanistan’s interests. Moscow remains deeply worried. Only the Chinese still want to deal on their own. “We will not allow anyone to undermine the Afghan state, not the Taliban, the Pakistanis, the Americans or anyone other foreigner. In fact, we have decided to talk to the Taliban, in Bagram prison or outside, those who are willing to join the political process...There are many, including those in the Quetta shura willing to reconcile. We are tired of war. And we are determined to create a new country,” Abdali said.

Karzai Orders Removal Of Pakistani Border Gate
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi has accused Pakistan of violating “international norms” by installing a border gate and checkpoint along a disputed border line between the two countries. Azimi told reporters on April 15 that Kabul will consider "all options" to remove the installations. In a national security council meeting on April 15, Karzai instructed his ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs to take "immediate action" to see the removal of the installations along the British-drawn Durand Line. Karzai also sought clarification from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan on whether it assisted Pakistan in the building of the installations. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi said of the new border gate that it was erected without coordination with Kabul. "Establishing a gate or any other construction must be in conformity of both sides," Azimi said. "Without conformity, establishing a gate on the Durand Line and inside Afghanistan is against all international norms and it's against all the roles and relations of both sides." He added: "We have all options at hand to remove this [Durand Line] gate and protect Afghanistan's sovereignty." Pakistan views the Durand Line -- established by British India and the Kingdom of Afghanistan in 1893 -- as an international border. Kabul, however, has consistently refused to recognize the Durand Line, a boundary that cuts through the ethnic Pashtun heartland. The United States also considers the Durand Line the modern-day border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The arrival of the British in northern India in the 19th century posed a major challenge to the Afghan and Turkic powers that had dominated the subcontinent for centuries. After losing a major war to the Afghans in 1842, the British eventually captured parts of Afghanistan and formally annexed them through an arbitrary treaty in 1879. Their forces occupied Kabul at the time. The contentious 1893 treaty between Afghan King Amir Abdur Rahman and Mortimer Durand, the foreign secretary of British India, formalized the areas under the control of the two governments.

Polio vaccination campaign restarts in Balochistan

The three-day anti-polio vaccination campaign resumed across Balochistan on Monday amidst tight security. The campaign had been suspended due to a poor law and order situation across the province. During the polio immunisation drive held between April 15 to April 17, health workers and volunteers would administer polio vaccine drops to children under five in 30 districts of Balochistan. Talking to repoters, Dr Anwar said that at least 1.5 million children would be vaccinated against the crippling disease of poliomyelitis during the campaign. He said that vaccine had already been provided to the concerned authorities in 30 districts of the province.

Pakistan: PM directs for addressing security concerns of Asfandyar Wali Khan

Radio Pakistan
Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has directed Interior Minister and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to address security concerns of ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan. He gave these directives on media reports that ANP Chief has approached the Election Commission for beefing up his security. The Prime Minister said that the caretaker government will provide adequate security to political parties enabling the contesting candidates to participate in general elections. He said that the government is constantly monitoring the situation and is in touch with the relevant authorities to ensure peace in the run up to the general elections.

Losing Pakistan: An Insider's Look at How the US Deals With Its Ally

One evening in June 2009, Richard Holbrooke paid a visit to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari at the presidential palace in Islamabad. It was one of his first visits to the region as the Obama Administration’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that role, Holbrooke — who died in December 2010 — wanted to broaden and deepen engagement with the country many had come to see as the most dangerous place in the world. And Zardari had his own ideas about how Washington could help. “Pakistan is like AIG,” Zardari told Holbrooke, comparing his country to the U.S. insurance giant that was bailed out in 2008. “Too big to fail.” Washington, Zardari keenly recalled, had given AIG “$100 billion. You should give Pakistan the same,” Zardari said. Holbrooke smiled throughout the meeting.Sitting with Holbrooke was Vali Nasr, then his senior adviser. Nasr recalls the episode in his new book, The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, a searing critique of how the Obama Administration has been too timid to transform American foreign policy. Holbrooke, writes Nasr, was troubled by Zardari’s display of dependence on the U.S. and the sense of entitlement that went with it. “Holbrooke didn’t like the image of Pakistan holding a gun to its own head as it shook down America for aid,” writes Nasr, now dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Holbrooke did agree, however, with Zardari that Pakistan was important and the U.S. had a long-term interest in its stability. For the next year and a half, Holbrooke and his team pursued a policy of diplomatic engagement with Pakistan. It went beyond the traditional approach narrowly based on security concerns. The idea was to try and address Pakistan’s strategic calculus — an ambitious target that may have underestimated how far Pakistan was willing to go without changing its ways. “What Holbrooke wanted,” Nasr tells TIME in an interview, “was to engage big and try and change the course of this country and its relationship with Washington once and for all.” But from the very start, President Barack Obama and the White House never really bought into the idea. “The White House tolerated Holbrooke’s approach for a while,” Nasr writes in the book, “but in the end decided that a policy of coercion and confrontation would better achieve our goals in Pakistan.” Washington was less interested in working with Pakistan, Nasr says, than pressuring it into compliance. That strategy, he says, has failed. And now, he warns, the U.S. risks pivoting away from the region at the cost of abandoning vital interests that remain there. “When you look at Pakistan today,” says Nasr, “it is nuclear-armed, in near conflict with India, has a dangerous civil war with its own extremists, is now subject to one of the most brutal terrorism campaigns against its population, that is now coming apart along sectarian lines.” If the U.S. does not maintain influence in Pakistan, he says, it won’t be able to have a positive impact on the direction of the country. “Looking at it from an American perspective,” Nasr says, “we’re just going to be basically saying, ‘We’re going to sit on the sideline and look at this roller coaster go off this rail.’”Holbrooke’s approach was ambitious. A strategic dialogue was established between the two countries. Nonmilitary aid was tripled. Washington began to reach out to civilian centers in Pakistan for the first time. “There was a discussion on energy and electricity and water and women,” says Nasr. “These were ways of laying out for Pakistan a longer road map with the U.S., and alternately trying to put on the table for Pakistan interests that would gradually wean it away from its strategic outlook and bring it in a new direction.” There would be no quick fix. It was a longer strategy aimed at slowly undoing decades of alienation and mistrust. In the first two years, Nasr insists that there were rewards. The U.S. got more intelligence cooperation, he details in the book. “More agents, more listening posts, and even visas for the deep-cover CIA operatives who found [Osama] bin Laden.” Long-strained relations between Islamabad and Kabul improved enough for it to help U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis also finally moved against the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, in military offensives that helped the war across the border. “The Pakistanis didn’t cooperate 100%,” says Nasr. “But they did cooperate 50%.” But the Obama Administration didn’t have the patience to stick with it. As Nasr acknowledges, there was a rival school of thought that said, “It was too difficult, too time-consuming and wouldn’t work anyway.” When Holbrooke died, their view won out. Nasr resigned from the State Department soon after. In 2011, three major incidents brought the relationship crashing to its lowest-point ever: a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, allegedly killed two people in Lahore; U.S. Navy Seals carried out a raid to get Osama bin Laden without informing the Pakistanis; and toward the end of the year, 26 Pakistani troops were killed in a cross-border incident. The security relationship, Nasr says, worked better when there were other efforts alongside it. “The Pakistanis said, ‘O.K., you have security interests. We have economic interests and we have civilian interests,’” recalls Nasr. “We always got much further with the Pakistanis in those first two years when the conversation was not just about drones and terrorists, but it was also about energy and water.” The CIA and the Pentagon saw the benefits of the cooperation, Nasr notes in his book. But at the same time, he writes, they applied constant pressure that “threatened to break up the relationship.” At one point, Holbrooke turned to him, shaking his head, and said: “Watch them [the CIA] ruin this relationship. And when it is ruined, they are going to say, ‘We told you, You can’t work with Pakistan!’ We never learn.”