Tag Archives | the Taliban

Patenting the PANIC

You heard it here first.

In response to the WSJ story that Pakistan has asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai to drop his ties with the US, “urging him instead to look to Pakistan—and its Chinese ally—for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the economy”, I tweeted this:

A new multi-lateral organisation in the offing: CAP-N? China-Afghanistan-Pakistan-North Korea.

And prompt came this reply from Harini Calamur:

If you add Iran to that – you can have PANIC [Pakistan-Afghanistan-North Korea-Iran-China]

Fellow INI blogger Nitin Pai soon had the best advice for her:

Patent that!

When PANIC happens, do remember that you heard it here first.

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Three quotes

Just the interesting bits.

First up, the “call-a-spade-a-spade” quote from Paul D. Miller in Foreign Affairs (via Dhruva):

“The Afghans…had the worst of all worlds under the Taliban. They had Somalian anarchy, Haitian poverty, Congolese institutions, Balkan fractiousness, and a North Korean-style government.”

Next, an “academic description of Pakistan” quote from Rory Medcalf at Lowy Interpreter:

Pakistan – this is where a lot of the most troubling global strategic trends converge and meld. These include demographic pressures, an education deficit, religious extremism, dysfunctional urbanisation, ethnic and communal strife, corruption and other failures of governance, terrorist violence, failing infrastructure, vulnerability to natural disasters, water insecurity, disease, and potential for accelerated impacts from climate change. That is not to mention nuclear proliferation, interstate tension and great-power rivalry.

Finally, a dated one. The “ironical supplement” quote from the Pakistan Foreign Office (on Obama’s support for a UNSC seat for India last year):

Pakistan hopes that the United States…will take a moral view and not base itself on any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics.

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Guest Post: Flavours of the season

[Guest blogger, BeeCee weighs in with his observations on the Indian options in Afghanistan.]

Till Obama’s Nobel Prize, Af-Pak strategy of US was definitely the flavour of the season. The theatrics over the Kerry-Lugar bill is merely part strategy and part consequence of the strategy. The trouble with strategic analysis and analysts is that it is more often a case of situating the appreciation rather than the other way around. There has been no dearth of opinions on how to tackle the diminishing US reach in Afghanistan. But what has caught one completely by surprise is the reported support from India for dialogue with the ‘moderate’ Taliban.

I shall not go into an analysis of why the MEA suddenly thinks that US –Pak interests are more important than Indian interests. That is for those who support the move, but I will just try to recapture some of what happened in the past that could be a guide to the future.

  1. Afghanistan now as Vietnam then or Soviet occupied Afghanistan – In Vietnam, as well as in Afghanistan in the 1980s, North Vietnam and Taliban were backed materially and financially by outside powers. Comparing the present situation with those days and an even stronger US/ NATO with an isolated Taliban (even with support from some elements in Pakistan) is merely looking for an excuse to vacate the scene of action.
  2. American difficulties on ground – Nothing new about this. Public memory may be short, but weren’t they in a worse situation when ‘Enduring Freedom’ commenced and it was the Northern Alliance that came to the rescue and overran Afghanistan for them. There was also a lot of pressure from this side of the Durand Line to prevent the NA from taking Kabul and marching on to what they regarded as the ‘real’ Afghan – Pakistan border. If they were not prevented then, we probably wouldn’t be stuck with the present situation. Anybody remembers the panic to evacuate Pakistani military personnel from the cities when the NA marched south?
  3. Co-opting Moderate Taliban – Admittedly, Taliban may be a misnomer for some of the groups who have their own local identity and may have joined up to fight ‘outsiders’. But to call them good or moderate is stretching it a bit too far. Shouldn’t the obvious candidates for co-option be elements in the NA who may be holding back? I may be wrong, but co-opting is done by the stronger of two parties and US/ NATO could have done it when the Taliban was in disarray. Now that the Taliban are on the ascendant, if the two work together, who’s co-opting whom? Most importantly, moderate to US-Pak need not necessarily mean moderate in India’s lexicon.
  4. Indian boots on the ground – In addition to the difficulties in logistics pointed out by comments in PE, proponents may do well to remember Gen. Mathew Ridgeway’s advice to President Eisenhower, “It’s easy getting in, the problem will be getting out”. And would this be a military operation or a MEA and MOD side-show? The Yanks and almost everyone else look at expeditionary operations in a different manner. Even the Japanese changed their defence set up in the recent past to enable overseas operations.
  5. India Training Afghan Army – Aren’t they in greater need of armed local police than an army? An Uzbek in Pashtun territory may be of limited utilty in an insurgency.
  6. Afghan Election Fraud – While not contesting the fraud, isn’t Peter Galbraith getting a little shrill. I admire his father’s (JK Galbraith) writings on economics and other subjects, but didn’t someone in India point out years ago that his close connections to the Bhutto family precluded his being a dispassionate observer in South Asia. While not holding any brief for Karzai, is this part of the build up to co-opt ‘moderate’ Taliban. For India, it may be far better to persuade Karzai and Abdullah to work together than get the Taliban in.

The bottom line is that the US and Pakistan are looking out for their own interests. Who is looking out for India’s interests? The PM seems to have come around to the view that professionals are needed in economic matters because that is a field he understands. Maybe it is time a similar yardstick is applied for matters of national security.

Afterthought – Was it the Nobel Committee’s way of getting back at Obama for refusing to see the Dalai Lama… the only recipient to have added prestige to the prize, rather than the other way around?

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Taliban is Jewish

Pakistan army leaflet in Swat says it.

If this report in the Dawn is to be believed, this is the message contained in the leaflet distributed by Pakistan army during the military campaign in Swat.

The security forces also distributed pamphlets in various areas accusing the Taliban of playing in the hands of anti-Pakistan elements. ‘They are the same as Jewish forces who are against the existence and security of the country and wanted to create disturbance in the region,’ read a leaflet.

Government has planned to provide appropriate source of earning to the Taliban in Swat. But they (Taliban) violated the deal, started displaying weapons, occupied property of local people, started extorting money from the people and arranged forced mirages in the garb of mirage bureau, it said.[Dawn]

Is Taliban an errant child and this strafing a rap on the knuckles from the Pak army, playing the role of a parent? Look at this line from the Pakistan army. We tried to provide them with an ‘appropriate source of earning’ but they didn’t stay in the limits we set for them. Oh, so the kid was supposed to be back home by 11PM, but he didn’t. Thus the punishment. So, it will be back to normal in the family after a couple of days. Nice kid, we love him. Broke some rules, has been punished. All’s well. End of story.

Counterinsurgency is as much an ideological battle — a battle for hearts and minds of the common populace — as it is a military one. However Pakistan army is failing this very basic test. The Taliban is espousing a religious cause and Pakistan army is trying to deflect the attention by labelling them Jewish. Rather, the ideological battle ought to have been defined in clear terms as between the two version of Islam — Pakistan’s and Taliban’s. Perhaps there aren’t two versions of Islam that exist out there. That is why Pakistan army is broadcasting such far-fetched conspiracy theories — Muslim versus Jews; because there is no other way to urge an increasingly radicalised rank and file to take on the extremely radical co-religionist jehadis.

General Ashfaq Kayani has stated that the military operation will continue in Swat till ‘decisive ascendancy’ has been achieved. Physical ascendancy over the jehadis may be possible but what about the moral and ideological ascendancy over the Taliban. Else, as that old cliche goes, you may win the battle but still lose the war. But then, whose war is it anyway?

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Killing the jehadi monster

A team of international hunters needed in AfPak.

One is not sure if the Obama White House follows this website, but it ought to take cognizance of the concluding line of this article.

If we’re worried about Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon, contemplate Lashkar-e-Taiba in command of an entire arsenal.

If the Obama administration believes that buying in the reconcilable Taliban in AfPak can be the basis of a sound strategy, then they could take a look at the happenings in Swat. Or, better still, at the statements by the Taliban spokesperson.

This does not require any response or reaction for this is illogical… The Taliban are united, have one leader, one aim, one policy…I do not know why they are talking about moderate Taliban and what it means? If it means those who are not fighting and are sitting in their homes, then talking to them is meaningless.

And the second prong of that US strategy is believed to be about throwing money at Pakistan. Has the Obama team taken a serious look at the rogues gallery there: a Mr. Ten-per cent democratic dictator; a religious nationalist who as prime minister, pushed a law to establish Sharia; and a military chief who believes the Taliban to be a strategic asset. Give any of them more easy money and you hand a gift-wrapped nuclear arsenal to the jehadis; the freebies for the jehadis include a state to entrench themselves in and an institutionalised army to protect them.

Amidst all this concern for Pakistan and the political crisis there, the CIA Drones continue with their work as usual — killing militants and al Qaeda operatives. These may seem to be conflicting signals from the US towards Pakistan. But perhaps, the Obama administration is continuing with the Bush Plan while it does some loud thinking, and finalises an AfPak strategy. At least, let us optimistically hope that so is the case, if this statement by an US official is to be believed.

“Frankenstein’s monster has taken over the lab and is threatening to move into the kitchen and dining room… But the Pakistanis have not yet decided to kill the monster.”

If the Pakis are unwilling, incapable or afraid of killing the jehadi monster, let the US gang up a team of international hunters and move in to kill the monster. Let’s not wait for the monster to start eating others. By then, it might be too late. The choice is simple — Now or Never!

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Selling “A collapsing Pakistan”

Pakistan’s strategic assault on Obama administration.

John Kerry and Atlantic Council Chairman Chuck Hagel, the co-chairs of the Council’s Pakistan Task Force will release its report on Pakistan — Needed: A Comprehensive U.S. Policy Towards Pakistan — later today. The report:

…calls for an additional $4-5 billion dollars of immediate financial aid for Pakistan to avert an economic meltdown and suggests that Pakistan has the ability to alter its destiny, given this support. If the US and its Atlantic partners do not provide Pakistan with this assistance, the country may be placed on a downward trajectory whose consequences will be dire.

There is nothing new about this Pakistani “holding a gun to my head” approach. But the timing of the release of this report is significant. The White House has ordered as 60-day review of AfPak under Bruce Riedel, while the exhaustive study on the region ordered by General Petraeus is also in progress now.

Meanwhile NYT comes out with a report from Islamabad highlighting the dangers posed by Al Qaeda and how it continues to be a threat. It conveniently misses out on the Taliban – Al Qaeda connection, which tends to convey the impression that the real threat to the US is posed by Al Qaeda and not Taliban. While the heavyweight Pakistani delegation, comprising the Foreign minister, army chief and head of ISI among others, is meeting the officials in the Pentagon and the State department, the Taliban has displayed its large-heartedness by agreeing to an indefinite ceasefire in Swat.

Earlier this month, Richard Holbrooke had clearly identified the two opposing points of view in the Obama administration on trusting the Pak army-ISI to deliver against their own jehadi Frankenstein’s monster. All these indicators now point to a concerted lobbying offensive by the Pakistani establishment to influence Obama administration’s policy over Pakistan: to get more money, conventional military equipment and eventually try for a peaceful settlement with the “good” Taliban, that is, the Taliban that is good for certain sections of the Pakistani establishment.

More than the Zardari government, it is in the interest of the Pakistani army that some kind of negotiated settlement is reached with Taliban. It would not only prevent the sheen going off the myth of professional competence of the most hallowed institution in Pakistan and salvage the Pakistan army’s image; it would  also allow the GHQ to hedge the Taliban as an strategic asset against Afghanistan and India, while placating the increasingly radical rank and file of the Pakistan army by restoring the religious-ideological cord between the Pak army and the jehadis.

Needless to say, it would be a grave mistake on part of the US to differentiate between various types of jehadis and negotiate with “good”  Taliban as a long-term strategy. Even if the US actually negotiates with Taliban for short-term gains (say, a peaceful Presidential elections in Afghanistan), it might only end up emboldening and strengthening the jehadis further. This will entail a greater and bloodier effort when the fight to the finish between the multinational forces and the jehadis actually begins.

Pakistan has clearly demonstrated where it stands in this debate over US policy in the region. An Indian delegation is supposed to be visiting Washington next month. One hopes that they display a similar clarity of thought and steadfastness of purpose while making India’s case about the US policy in AfPak.

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Hand in glove

Another reminder of why Pakistani security forces and jehadis should be considered a singular entity.

Notwithstanding the loud assertions of the apologists for Pakistan and its security forces, it is amply clear that the Pakistani state is well and truly defunct now. Especially when it comes to stopping the jehadi onslaught.

In an amazing piece of news, the Taliban have destroyed a 30 metre long iron bridge at Pak- Afghan highway in Kata Kashta area of tehsil Jamrud, 23 km west of Peshawar, by blowing it up. More amazingly, the bridge was permanently guarded by security forces. The destruction of this bridge has cut the only route for NATO supplies to Afghanistan via the Khyber pass.

Blowing up a heavily guarded, 100 feet long iron bridge is a well-planned and a time consuming exercise. When that demolition is done on an important communication axis by the Taliban, it is ample proof of what most neutral observers have been saying for a long time. It is not that the Pakistani security forces are merely sympathetic to Taliban. It is that Pakistan security forces and jehadis are hand in glove, especially when it comes to dealing with Western countries and India.

Trying to establish degrees of separation between Arab al Qaeda, non-Arab al Qaeda, Afghani Taliban, Pakistani Taliban, Punjabi Islamists, the ISI and the Pakistan army is a diversionary tactics by Pakistan and an exercise in futility for others. Holbrooke, Petraeus and others in their team would do well to treat them as a singular military-jihadi entity while formulating their plans for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

PS — To get a deeper understanding of the current situation in Pakistan, read the latest issue of Pragati. It is a Pakistan special, with contributions from Wilson John, Dhruva Jaishankar, Bernard Haykel, Zoravar Daulat Singh, Richard Gowan and Nitin Pai among others. You can download a pdf copy of the magazine here.

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The Anaconda strategy

General Petraeus coins a new phrase for Afghanistan.

If General David Petraeus would not have been an intellectual-soldier, he would certainly have been a great pitchman. The latest catchphrase from his repertoire encapsulates the new US strategy in Afghanistan.

Petraeus is determined to apply his method to Afghanistan: living among the people, bringing them security, establishing a legitimate government, and creating a viable economy. He calls this the Anaconda strategy. Projected on a screen, the scheme resembles a fat snake nourishing itself from all possible elements, from special forces to propaganda operations to school construction. This will require, he says, “not unity of command with NATO, which isn’t possible, but unity of coordination,” which does not exist yet. “If we have the right ideas,” Petraeus says, “they will let us beat the extremists, who have taken advantage of the fact that we are still prisoners of archaic military methods.”[City Journal]

The article contends “that no American strategic decision gets made these days without hearing Petraeus’s advice”. That need for “unity of coordination” perhaps provides a clue to the official designation given to Richard Holbrooke — Special Coordinator of US policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For the other half of Holbrooke’s designation that clubs Afghanistan and Pakistan together, the British Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup explains the wider picture.

Today the “wider picture” means both countries. “The Taliban movement – and Taliban is now a catch-all phrase for ideologues, criminals, people with tribal grudges, people who are quite simply guns for hire to keep bread on the table – is on both sides of the border. It makes no distinction between one side or the other. Some people move across. Some are based almost exclusively in Pakistan. Some are based exclusively in Afghanistan. It’s impossible to distinguish between those two and actually, in my view, not necessary. The border is not relevant,” he says.[Times]

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Weekend irony: Taliban urge UN to stop Afghan executions

The Taliban did not run shy of dispensing instant justice during its rule in Afghanistan — public executions in stadia were the norm. Here is a video of one such execution at Kabul in 1999. Now, when the boot is on the other foot, this is the official response from the Taliban.

“We strongly request the UN, the EU, the Red Cross and human rights groups to earnestly prevent this barbaric act,” the Taliban said in a statement on their website.[Dawn]

The Taliban must not have had the time to read their George Bernard Shaw:

Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.

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