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Indo-Pak relations and Afghanistan

By Sameer Rekhi
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Ayesha Siddiqa- a renowned Pakistani political analyst and commentator and author of controversial book 'Military Inc." has reasons to be cynical about the success of the revived Indo-Pak peace process. She has, apparently, analyzed her information, intellect and relevant experience to conclude in her latest article that the Pakistani Army is not in favour of peace talks with India at this juncture. "It stands to reason that there seems hardly any incentive in offering New Delhi any concessions when it appears to have its back to the wall", she says in the backdrop of just concluded Krishna-Qureshi talks in Islamabad. The reason, she alludes to is that the Pak Army, right now, is in a triumphalist mood, even as the US Government has announced phased withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan after July 2011.

As signs of ISAF's (International Security Assistance Force) weariness become more glaring by the day, Washington seems to be much more dependent on Pakistan to do its bidding than ever before. Ever since its birth, Pakistan has always wanted to have proxy hold over Afghan territory and its government. It succeeded in it's designs in the aftermath of the Afghan war, when the USSR forces were defeated and friendly Islamist Taliban Govt. was established in Afghanistan. However, the honeymoon was short lived and 9/11 attacks in the US changed the equation for good. Pakistan is itching to regain its lost proxy hold over Afghanistan.

Astonishing as it is, Pakistan has been able to convince the US and other western nations that Pakistan holds all keys to Kabul and it could broker peace with the "Good Taliban". Especially, after the Istanbul Conference and the London Conference on future of Afghanistan, Pakistan's clout, much to the chagrin of India, has grown considerably in the US and other western stake-holders. It is sensing victory in the form of fulfillment of it's long cherished dream of being close to getting "strategic depth" in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, almost all the planks of Obama administration's Af- Pak policy are seemingly failing, be it is raising of 2.60 lacs strong Afghan National Security Force to eventually take over internal security, containment of Al- Qaeda and terrorism , peace and re-conciliation efforts with so called "Good Taliban", counterinsurgency (COIN) sweep operations in Marjah and shadow of its failure on impending Kandahar operations or legitimization of democratic processes and institutions in Afghanistan.

Much to the dismay of US, Pakistan is still harboring and promoting Afghan Taliban and its co-ordinates. Sections of Pak Army and its intelligence agencies are said to be in close contact with Quetta Shura led by one eyed Mullah Omar-former head of erstwhile Taliban Govt. in Afghanistan, Haqqani network led by Sirajudin Haqani, Hizb-e-Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other Al-Qaeda support groups. Except for issuing routine critical statements every now and then, US can do little to force Pakistan mend its ways. Notably, the Haqqani Network and Hekmatyar group are rabidly anti-Indian and are strongly suspected to have orchestrated, with the help of LeT, two major attacks on or near Indian Embassy in Kabul. They are the real time assets of Pak Army and ISI and have been conditioned and briefed to ensure India's exit from Afghanistan.

Pertinently, if one so called irritant is to be named which pushes Pakistan to nervousness, insecurity and jealousy, it is the Indian presence in and assistance to Afghanistan-a country which is considered by Pakistan as its backyard.

Pakistan wants primacy in Afghanistan at whatever cost-for its strategic depth and calm on its western borders. To this specific end, it has to make the Western governments strongly believe that for safeguarding their strategic interests in the region, honourable exit of their forces and return of peace and order in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to be in the driver's seat.

The US and other countries involved in Afghanistan are un-nerved over the re-grouping of and growing lethal power and co-ordination among the Al-Qaeda friendlies particularly Afghan Taliban. Their initiatives in the public domain as well as COIN (Counter Insurgency) operations are going haywire, even turning counter productive sometimes. They know they are marooned and are frantically looking for ways of getting out with some semblance of respect and honour. Pakistan, with its control on the levers of Afghan Taliban and other groups seems to them as the only recourse . They are willing even to accept its most unreasonable conditions to broker peace.

Pakistan's Army is very close to the US Army. Gen Kayani's visits to US, especially the one in April this year, have had the impact of further cementing relations between the two. Moreover, the offensives launched by Pak Army against Tehreek-e-Taliban and other groups such Mullah Fazal-ur-Rehman's TNSM (Tehreek -e- Nafiz-e-Shariat-e-Mohamadi) in Swat and the large scale loss of its personnel in the operations, have convinced the US that Pakistan is doing the best it can, in the given circumstances.

Gen. Kayani and Gen.Shuja Pasha (ISI Chief), it seems, are assured that the affairs of Afghanistan would have substantial Pakistani say and control once the ISAF forces start leaving the theatre. The sweepstakes are too high than any time now and deft moves are sure to be made by the powers that be in Pakistan. It is in this backdrop that the generals are making frequent trips to Kabul for facilitating secret meeting and parleys between good Afghan Taliban and the Karzai regime.

The prospects of Afghanistan falling in its lap as a reward anytime soon has made Pak Army/ISI quite confident, perceiving itself to be in a much more stronger position to call the strategic shots in the South Asian region. Self patting has already begun in Pakistan power circles claiming vindication of Pak establishment's support for and promotion of Islamist groups as "strategic assets".

In all probability, as reason and experience with Pakistan would suggest, once ISAF troops start moving out, the Taliban groups and their adjuncts and associates like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Toiba, HuJI and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen would be asked to shift focus towards India, in general and Kashmir, in particular. Indications on this account already abound. Illyas Kashmiri-HuJI Commander, Chief of Al-Qaeda operations and Chief of 313 Brigade, while indirectly claiming responsibility for the German Bakery attack in Pune, warned the international community not to send their participants to the 2010 Hockey World Cup, IPL Tournament and Commonwealth Games in India as they could be attacked. .

Therefore, as Siddiqa cogently concludes, the smug Pak Army/ISI have no incentive to talk peace with India as they perceive it to be in a tight spot right now, reduced to an almost non-player in Af-Pak theatre. At the same time, Pakistan perceives itself to be one of the most significant strategic partners of the US currently and not without reasons. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was in Islamabad once again for second round of US-Pak strategic dialogue. At this stage, it would be safe to presume that even if US vigorously pushes for good relations between India and Pakistan, albeit with a strategic intent of easing of tensions and relocation of sufficient Pakistani troops from the Indo-Pak border to the western bad lands bordering Afghanistan, the same is not likely to be pursued by Pakistan Army, the de facto ruler of Pakistan.

This aggressive positioning by Pak Establishment is well demonstrated by increased cross-border infiltration, numerous incidents of border ceasefire violations by Pak Rangers, belligerent posturing by Pakistan's Foreign Minister and nonetheless, a new controversy regarding water-sharing.

There is an urgent need to factor in this geo-political reality in the emerging new narrative of peace and trust building with Pakistan. A two- pronged approach is required. Firstly, as was asserted by the Foreign Minister, Sh. S.M.Krishna, in Kabul, a couple of days back, the international community should be made to understand India's crucial role, it's stakes and commitment towards peace- building and reconstruction in Afghanistan. The US and other dominant players need to understand the consequences of handing over Afghanistan to Pakistan and its proxies, most of whom are terrorist outfits.

Secondly, while dialogue should be persued to cut the ground beneath anti-India Islamist groups, who thrive on continuing Indo-Pak tensions and distrust, strong demand for time-bound action against 26/11 accused and cessation of hostile activities against India should be carefully nuanced in the overall assurance of a desire for permanent peace with a sibling neighbour. This would go a long way in allaying the fears of an India-obssessed Pakistan Army.




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