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Pakistan sets ground rules for AfPak policy – by M K Bhadrakumar

Natural law brings AfPak crashing
By M K Bhadrakumar

Be it a baseball struck in a neighborhood sandlot game or in high-wire diplomacy, an elementary principle of physics holds good – what goes up must come down. In a way, the sheer dynamics of the nosedive of the United States’ AfPak diplomacy in the four weeks since the London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 can be attributed to gravitational pulls.

Earth’s gravity does not permit animated suspension, and US’s AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke has found it difficult to keep up the entente cordiale worked out in the British capital. United States President Barack Obama may need to act faster than he would have thought.

The US’s AfPak special representative Richard Holbrooke has run into head wind almost simultaneously in four key capitals in and around the Hindu Kush – Islamabad, Kabul, Tehran and New Delhi.

Holbrooke no doubt achieved spectacular success in London, by rushing an agenda of “reintegration” and reconciliation of the Afghan Taliban through the assembled gathering of statesmen. The gathering included such inveterate critics of the doctrine of the “good Taliban” as India, China and Russia. But Holbrooke kept the lot together. That was probably the finest hour of AfPak diplomacy.

Pakistan sets ground rules
But did he force the pace? No sooner had the crowd dispersed from London, than AfPak diplomacy began unraveling. First, Pakistan went ahead and “captured” the Taliban’s deputy head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The funny thing is that Baradar was shaping up as a key interlocutor for AfPak diplomacy. The Mullah or his men were darting in and out of the Persian Gulf oasis towns having secret rendezvous with American envoys. Call it Track II or whatever, but a track was being cleared for the US’s reconciliation with the Taliban’s Quetta shura – its top leadership organ.

Or, at least, that was how Washington assessed the situation. Of course, these goings on were completely in the know of Pakistan. But there was a crucial difference: they were not being conducted through Pakistani mediation. So, Pakistan just nabbed Baradar. The dilemma facing AfPak diplomacy today is: how do you negotiate when you don’t have an interlocutor? A kind of recess is developing in the AfPak diplomatic calendar.

Pakistan’s message is straightforward: any negotiations with the Taliban ought to be conducted through the proper channel, namely, Pakistan’s ISI. Actually, it is not too much to demand. Pakistan committed a great deal of resources to stop the Taliban disintegrating through some of their darkest days between 2001 and 2004. Islamabad cannot be expected to just roll over and let the Americans inherit the crown jewels (“strategic assets”) when the hour of glory is nearing.

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  • New dimensions of counter-terrorism —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

    A major shift has taken place in the disposition of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies towards the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban in January-February 2010. Some of the well known Afghan Taliban leaders and TTP activists have been arrested in different cities, especially from Karachi

    Pakistan has gone a long way in countering terrorism over the last one year. Its civilian government and the military top brass are in harmony on dealing effectively with the Taliban and other groups that are directly challenging the writ of the Pakistani state.

    The army authorities have shown greater determination to deal firmly with Islamic militants despite periodic pressures generated on the security personnel by Islamic parties and orthodox Islamic clerics who question the legitimacy of these operations and accuse the Pakistani civilian and military authorities of fighting against Pakistanis at the behest of the US.

    Pakistan’s counter-terrorism security operations, 2009-2010, have four major features. First, the Swat/Malakand operation initiated on April 26, 2009, was the first successful attempt by the Pakistan Army, the Air Force and the paramilitary forces to dislodge the Taliban from a vast territory. The security operation in South Waziristan was launched in mid-October and by the end of December the security forces had knocked the Taliban out of most of South Waziristan. This was a major loss for the TTP that used South Waziristan as its headquarters and provided military training to its fighters as well as to the activists of some militant groups from mainland Pakistan. It had also developed elaborate facilities for training suicide bombers. As the spring season sets in, the Pakistani military will step up its activities to establish its control on the rest of South Waziristan.

    Second, the army and its affiliates are now fighting the TTP activists and other militant groups that have created enclaves in other tribal agencies. The focus is on Khyber, Orakzai, Mohmand, Kurram and Bajaur Agencies. There have been pitched battles between the security forces and different militant groups in these Agencies where the militants had established vast underground security networks and training centres and collected weapons. The security forces have made considerable gains but the militant challenge continues to be formidable.

    Third, the intelligence agencies have discovered strong linkages between various militant groups in Punjab and the TTP. Invariably, the former acted as facilitators for the suicide bombers in the urban areas and their activists got training in the tribal areas. Pakistan’s security agencies arrested a large number of the activists of the Punjab-based militant groups in order to weaken their linkages with the TTP. This partly disrupted the terrorism chain that linked Punjab with the tribal areas.

    Fourth, a major shift has taken place in the disposition of the Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies towards the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban in January-February 2010. Some of the well known Afghan Taliban leaders and TTP activists have been arrested in different cities, especially from Karachi. According to one source, more than half of the Quetta Shura has been arrested in February-March. The media reported the arrest of Mullah Omar’s son-in-law from Karachi on March 3. This is a major revision of Pakistan’s policy because until recently its security authorities denied any significant presence of the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.

    Pakistan’s tough approach towards the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban is the product of the down-to-earth analysis of the growing Taliban threat by Pakistan’s security authorities and the increased interaction between the top brass of the Pakistan Army and the US military authorities dealing with this region during the last six months. This interaction was backed up by active diplomatic interaction between the two countries.

    Until 2009, the army top brass were not fully convinced that they should opt for a full-fledged and sustained security operation against the local Taliban. The civilian authorities were also divided on this. However, the army authorities were alarmed by the ability of the Taliban to control most of Swat and their refusal to moderate their ways even after the NWFP government agreed to implement the Shariah-based judicial system in Swat. The Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) of Sufi Muhammad showed greater defiance and the Taliban began to expand their domain to the adjoining areas. The spectre of the Taliban advancing into mainland Pakistan emboldened the hard-line Islamic clerics and groups in the cities who began to harass women and others in the name of Islam. Furthermore, several terrorist attacks in Lahore and other cities in February-April of last year created a crisis of credibility for the government.

    The fear of losing credibility in the face of the Taliban onslaught led the civilian government and the army to put their foot down vis-à-vis the Taliban and other militant elements. Their counter-terrorism operations strengthened their resolve to dislodge the Taliban because they faced tough resistance from the Taliban and the army and the paramilitary forces lost over 200 personnel in Swat/Malakand and the tribal areas in 2009. They also realised that the Taliban had created a strong military infrastructure with tunnels, weapons storage and training areas in South Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal areas. The army also discovered some evidence of foreign support to the Pakistani Taliban. Also, the Taliban-backed suicide attacks during October-December of last year, in various cities, especially in Peshawar, convinced the security authorities that the Taliban want chaos and anarchy in Pakistan.

    The Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies are now taking action against the Pakistan-based Afghan Taliban because they found out that the Afghan Taliban were helping the Pakistani Taliban in their fight against Pakistan. The military wants to convey a clear message to the Afghan Taliban that if they help those fighting the Pakistan Army, then Pakistan’s security authorities have the capacity to make their life difficult. Further, the Pakistan Army and intelligence authorities want to tell the Afghan Taliban that they cannot be allowed to threaten Pakistan’s interests in the tribal areas and Afghanistan.

    These arrests are also meant to help the US because Pakistan wants the current US-led NATO operation to succeed in Afghanistan. Pakistan cannot afford to let the Afghan Taliban capture power in Kabul, although it would like more effective Pashtun representation in the Kabul government, including accommodation of the Taliban that are willing to give up the military option.

    Pakistan’s cooperation with the current US policy in Afghanistan is based on the assumption that the US military authorities in the region recognise Pakistan’s security sensitivities about India’s role in Afghanistan and India’s pressure on the eastern border. The other consideration is that the US would contribute to upgrading Pakistan’s capacity to fight the Taliban in the tribal areas. If these understandings persist, Pakistan is expected to continue with the current counter-terrorism policy.

    Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst\story_7-3-2010_pg3_2

  • In the fight against religious extremists, the use of military force should be the first and not the last option, says Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen who also believes that the Pak-Afghan border area will play a key role in the larger war against terrorism.

    In an address to the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth on Friday, the admiral noted that America has been at war continuously over the last nine years against a syndicate of Muslim extremists, led by Al Qaeda and supported by a host of both state and non-state actors.

    Admiral Mullen, as the military chief, advised two US administrations on this war and this experience forced him to conclude that that “military power should not, maybe cannot, be the last resort” of the state. “Sometimes, the military, because of its unique flexibility and speed, may be the first, best tool to use,” he said,

    But, he warned, “It should never be the only tool.”

    The US military chief, however, also conceded that America’s foreign policy was “still too dominated by the military”.

    Mullen said it was important to reduce the trust deficit which had increased manifold after the White House imposed certain sanctions on Islamabad in 1990s.

    “If you don’t trust each other we are not going to work together well,” he said.

    Use of force should not be last option, says Mullen
    By Anwar Iqbal
    Sunday, 07 Mar, 2010,-says-mullen-730-rs-06