Afghan war spilling over the Durand Line? | BY M. Ziauddin


Afghan war spilling over the Durand Line?

THE public spat between President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Tashkant on Friday and that too in front of the delegations attending the international conference on “Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities” has verbalized rather explicitly the degree of distrust that exists between the two close neighbours.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan had entered a tentative patch as Islamabad felt rather uncomfortable with the level of intimacy that was being seen developing between Kabul and New Delhi during President Hamid Karzai’s tenure.

On his part Karzai was highly critical of Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to the fleeing Haqqanis—a formidable faction of Afghan Taliban—in the border region.

Things took a turn for the worse when Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) started sending suicide bombing missions to Pakistan from its safe havens in Afghanistan provided by President Ashraf Ghani who had in the meanwhile replaced Karzai in Kabul.

The political Afghanistan that rose on the shoulders of the invading US and NATO troops was also wary of Pakistan’s openly expressed desire of seeking the so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan (vis-à-vis India) for which Islamabad needed a friendly (alias a puppet) regime in Kabul.

Pakistan was left fending for itself in the aftermath of the 1989 Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan which had in the meanwhile descended into a bloody civil-war as the US (CIA in fact) had walked away without even so much as a formal goodbye to the ISI with whose active cooperation it had waged the so-called successful ‘Islamic jihad’ against the ‘infidel’—the occupy-ing Soviet troops.

As a consequence, all through the decade of 1990s Pakistan was seen suffering on multiple fronts. It was burdened with two ten-year long low intensity wars—one on the side of Afghan Taliban against the Northern Alliance and the other in support of Jihad in the Indian occupied Kashmir.

During the decade Pakistan was also one of the most sanctioned countries in the world after Libya—sanctioned for crossing the nuclear red-line, followed by getting sanctioned for nuclear testing and then sanctioned for Kargil misadventure and finally for the military coup staged by General Musharraf.

When 9/11 happened and the US invaded Af-ghanistan, with the active cooperation of Paki-stan, the re-embraced non- NATO ally, looking for Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda, Islama-bad in its strategic interest decided to prepare a plan ‘B’ in case the US once again walked away leaving Pakistan to fend for itself in the after-math of another unfinished disaster. And that is exactly what happened when US decided to end its so-called forever war in early 2020.

President General Ziaul Haq had no plan ‘B’ because he thought none of the two super pow-ers engaged in what had looked like a war of attrition would concede defeat and dollars would continue to keep flowing into our coffers.

Also, the growing friendship between the US and India on the one hand and India and Af-ghanistan on the other, made it ever more neces-sary for Pakistan to remain on the right side of the enemy of its enemy.

Therefore, the decision to provide sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban in the North and South Waziristan and Balochistan.

In the decade of 2000 Pakistan paid a heavy price in men and material when the TTP unleashed a terror war against the country for supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan. It was too costly a war in terms of money if one calcu-lated the amounts spent on Rah-i-Raast, Zarb-i-Azb and Raddul Fasaad campaigns.

Both the US and Kabul have tried on numer-ous occasions over the last 20 years to scapegoat Pakistan for their respective failures to defeat the Afghan Taliban comprehensively.

But the blame for what is happening currently in Afghanistan rests squarely on US shoulders as it negotiated its pullout, conceding too much to the Taliban. It was also wrong to bypass the Af-ghan government and negotiate directly with the Taliban.

But most importantly, the post-Taliban politi-cal system in Afghanistan and power balance was too rickety to be of any use in warding off the eventuality. Under the 2001 Bonn Agree-ment the former mujahedeen commanders blamed for civil war massacres were effectively rehabilitated.

With a few exceptions, the metrics of aid be-came about the volumes of expenditure rather than effect, fuelling vast corruption. Aid pro-grammes were mostly led by those who appar-ently did not either understand or like business. The traditional route of an entrepreneur with a good idea of borrowing money and starting a business was lost in the focus on easy money, where entrepreneurial talents were diverted from creating new enterprises to cynically tap-ping the more than $100 billion in soft donor money that flowed into Afghanistan.

Between 2001 and 2019, two million men and women from abroad served in Afghanistan, and more than $2 trillion was expended, an extraor-dinary, once-in-a-generation commitment of resources to a poor country.

With the lack of a clear-cut strategy the US goal morphed from regime change to nation-building. The US wanted to build up an Afghan government that could weather external inter-ference or internal crisis without the indefinite presence of international forces.

But you cannot build lasting stability if your army is corrupt, your government is subordi-nated to warlords, the population feels that they are victimised and excluded from power and when elections are marred by massive cheating.

So, once the state was seen as predatory in terms of corruption and human rights, it created space for the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan increasingly became a casualty of the complex relationship between the West and Pakistan, complicated by the Paki-stani-Indian relationship which was further compounded by the direction of US–Iran and US–Russia relations.

Since the withdrawal of foreign troops began from Afghanistan in early May and Taliban were seen recapturing almost 85% of the country-side, as if from a pre-planned cue, Pakistan began suffering from a growing number of terrorism incidents.

On July 14 a coach carrying passengers to an under-construction tunnel site of the 4,300-megawatt Dasu hydropower project fell into a ravine in the Upper Kohistan area after an explo-sion. Nine Chinese nationals and four locals were killed and 28 others sustained injuries.

The Chinese construction giant, which is exe-cuting the Dasu project has suspended work on the dam project site for the time being as investi-gation gets under way and; the alleged kidnap-ping incident in Islamabad involving the daugh-ter of Afghan ambassador is also being investi-gated.

The Chinese government understandably too outraged at the bloody incident has reacted by cancelling a scheduled meeting of the Joint Con-sultative Committee (JCC) on CPEC.

Never before has one seen such a troublingly sharp reaction from the Chinese government to killings of its citizens in Pakistan in a terror incident. Things look worryingly hazardous for Pakistan and Pakistanis in the days ahead requiring extra vigi-lance.

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