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Old Monday, January 25, 2016
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Default January 24th, 2016

Who wants peace in Pakistan?

IN his final State of the Union address, US President Obama predicted a decade of instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Af-Pak was always a bad construct for policy formulation. There are obvious security linkages between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the circumstances and prospects of the two countries are significantly different.

Predicting continued instability in Afghanistan is an easy call. The Kabul government is beset by internal division and an insurgency that has momentum. Given the preconditions posed by Kabul, the recently created quadrilateral forum will find it difficult to get the Afghan Taliban to the table let alone secure an agreement for peace. A turbulent and fractured Afghanistan is the most likely prospect for the foreseeable future.

Pakistan is a different story. It has undertaken a massive and comprehensive counterterrorism campaign targeting the TTP, sectarian groups and political gangs. Action has now been taken also against a rogue pro-Kashmiri organisation. Terrorist and criminal violence has been dramatically reduced.

There are several external drivers of violence that need to be neutralised.
Unfortunately, as illustrated by the assault on the Charsadda university, it is premature to celebrate. To break the back of terrorism in Pakistan, the kinetic campaign will need to be continued for a considerable period and the social, economic and other components of the National Action Plan fully implemented.

However, national actions will not be sufficient to defeat terrorism. There are several external drivers of violence that need to be neutralised.

The TTP is the self-confessed culprit in the Charsadda terrorist attack. With 180,000 troops deployed on its western borders, Pakistan has crushed or chased out most of the TTP militants from most of its territory. Small groups hide ‘in the open’, in inaccessible valleys or in Afghan refugee camps. However, the major threat arises from the infiltration of TTP terrorists from their safe havens in Afghanistan.

While Pakistan has offered to help in promoting reconciliation between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, there is little evidence of reciprocal action by Kabul to eliminate the TTP safe havens or to control cross-border infiltration. Kabul has refused to even revive the coordination mechanisms for border monitoring that were created with the US-Nato command.

Certain circles in Kabul, such as the National Directorate of Intelligence, are known to have collaborated with the TTP and sponsored Baloch insurgents to destabilise Pakistan. They were also responsible for scuttling the Murree talks and then blaming Pakistan for escalated insurgent attacks from Kabul to Kunduz. Now, they are asking Pakistan to attack the Afghan Taliban unless they agree to come to the negotiating table. This would bring Afghanistan’s war to Pakistan.

Islamabad must reassert its demand for action against the TTP by Kabul and its international patrons. If such cooperation is not forthcoming, Pakistan will need to consider unilateral actions to eliminate the TTP safe havens in Afghanistan. Peace and security within Pakistan is also influenced by the policies and actions of several other external powers.

Historically, the US has contributed, wittingly or unwittingly, to Pakistan’s destabilisation since the anti-Soviet Afghan war. The rump US-Nato force in Afghanistan is essential to prop up the tottering Kabul government. Obama is wisely averse to resuming a larger military role in Afghanistan. A Republican president, however, may be more adventurist, especially if driven by the misplaced desire to counter China’s growing influence and interests in the region. In this context, it is relevant to evaluate whether the US shares China’s vision that peace and prosperity can be promoted in Pakistan and the region through the implementation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India’s policies are more predictable. It has openly opposed the CPEC enterprise and is chary of China’s growing role in the region. Notwithstanding the Lahore embrace and the likely resumption of the Comprehensive Dialogue, India remains the godfather of anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan and can be expected to continue to encourage and support them in their use of the TTP and Baloch dissidents to spread mischief and turmoil in Pakistan. Since Pakistan is now constrained from playing the ‘Kashmir card’, it cannot hope to neutralise India’s subversive activities on the negotiating table; they will have to be defeated through direct action against the militants and muscular diplomacy with Kabul and its patrons.

Given Pakistan’s denominational composition, Iran’s policies will have an impact on Pakistan’s internal stability. Following its nuclear agreement with the major powers and the removal of international sanctions, Iran can be expected to remain on good behaviour on issues which do not affect its core interests. Tehran’s priorities are to retain its dominant influence in Syria, Iraq and the Levant; neutralise Saudi-led Sunni strategies, and maximise the economic benefits flowing from the lifting of sanctions. Iran can benefit from CPEC connectivity and closer linkages with China. However, Iran has a strategic relationship with India. A US-India-Iran axis is improbable, but not inconceivable. Pakistan needs to engage Iran and ensure that it does not try to play the sectarian card in Pakistan or attempt to forestall Pakistan’s emergence as China’s strategic link to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

The GCC states have been Pakistan’s closest friends and benefactors. Relations were unfortunately frayed by the clumsy manner in which Pakistan spurned the Arab coalition that has intervened in Yemen. Since then, Pakistan has mended fences with Saudi Arabia. Similar conciliation with the UAE is outstanding. Some have conjectured that the UAE would consider Gwadar’s role in CPEC as a threat to Dubai’s commercial pre-eminence. In further exchanges with the GCC states, Pakistan should reassure them that CPEC will add, not detract, from their prosperity. But Islamabad’s first priority should be to secure an effective end to the flow of funds to sectarian and extremist groups from certain Gulf states.

It is only through such full-spectrum diplomacy, defence and deterrence that Pakistan can prove Obama wrong and achieve the peace and stability which is indispensable to implement the CPEC, realise rapid growth and emerge as Asia’s newest economic ‘Tiger’.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Who wants peace in Pakistan?
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2016
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Old Wednesday, February 10, 2016
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Default Feb 7, 2017

World disorder

HENRY Kissinger’s last book World Order could more aptly have been entitled ‘World Disorder’. As he observes, there has never been a ‘world order’. Today, in a globalised world, as disparate civilisations meet in the midst of a historic transition from Western domination to multipolarity, constructing a world order has become an existential compulsion. However, the challenges in the way of achieving this are complex and daunting.

Asian drama

The most significant evolution under way is the multifaceted relationship between a powerful yet anxious America and a rising China. The Greek historian, Thucydides, posited the inevitability of conflict between a ruling and a rising power. Kissinger lists 15 such instances in history of which 10 led to conflict.

Hopefully, given the significant interdependence between the US and China and their convergence of interest on myriad regional and global issues, such as climate change and sustainable development, they will be able to avoid the Thucydides trap.

However, the points of friction and rivalry are growing: the US-led alliances around China’s periphery; US intervention in China’s maritime disputes; the emerging Sino-US naval rivalry; competing trade pacts and development institutions. The ‘muscular’ rhetoric of US Republican candidates is matched by a Beijing leadership which is no longer willing to ‘hide’ China’s strength or tolerate challenges to its vital interests. A Cold War looms over Asia.

Russian reassertion

This Asian Cold War may well be accompanied by a revived one in Europe.

The Western- engineered ouster of the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime crossed Putin’s red line. Moscow’s response, including the takeover of Crimea and “protection” of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, was predictable.

Today, the Muslim world needs its own version of a Westphalian peace.
Putin is unlikely to be cowed by economic punishment. Historically, the Russians have a high threshold for suffering. Confrontation will yield actions like Moscow’s intervention in Syria. The US will quadruple military spending in Europe and deploy a full brigade on Russia’s borders, provoking Moscow without changing the military balance. Unless the more measured approach of German and French leaders avoids a mutually debilitating confrontation, tensions could lead to a conflict by accident or miscalculation.

European disarray

Apart from the confrontation with Russia, Europe faces economic stagnation; massive migration and political division.

After almost a decade, Europe remains mired in economic stagnation. The common currency, which was supposed to integrate Europe into a robust economic area, has instead constrained the ability of its weaker economies to revive growth. Greece may yet be forced to leave the eurozone. The economic recession, the failure to integrate minorities and the large Muslim influx have led to the sharp rise of racial discrimination and neo-fascist parties in Europe. The schism between West and East Europe has become more visible. Resistance is growing to European institutions, and to the very idea of the European Union. Britain will shortly hold a referendum whether to stay in the EU.

Many Europeans see economic salvation in a closer relationship with China. Inevitably, this will require normalisation with Russia and weaken the transatlantic ties with the US. Europe’s strategic role is no longer clear.

Muslim chaos

The numerous internal and inter-state conflicts raging across the Muslim world today signify the final collapse of the West’s colonial legacy. Within the Muslim world, the forces of the status quo, of the modernisers, and ‘Islamists’ are vying for supremacy. The most extreme among them seek to impose their vision by force and violence. Each of these three competing forces often overlap and are themselves divided into factions and subgroups.

The past and on-going involvement of foreign powers has intensified, complicated and prolonged the internal struggles within Islamic countries.

The revival of the geopolitical rivalry between Shia Iran, and its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies and other Sunni powers, like Turkey, has intensified Muslim conflicts militarily and strengthened ideologically motivated groups on both sides.

In many ways, Islam’s wars today resemble the Thirty Years War in 17th-century Europe. That war was ended by the negotiated Peace of Westphalia, constructed through a balance of European powers and agreement to allow each power to impose its own religious order within its territory. Today, the Muslim world needs its own version of a Westphalian peace which accommodates the essential interests of the major Islamic states and builds a new post-colonial regional security order within the Muslim world. Reliance on external powers will not produce sustainable peace in the Islamic world.

Modern complexities

Solutions to the world’s concurrent conflicts are made more difficult by the nature of modern combat. Today, the military capabilities of the major and some minor powers are enormous. Since this makes direct conflict between these powers unthinkable, most conflicts now are a combination of conventional, clandestine and irregular warfare. The calculus of military strength and the determination of victory or defeat is more complex. It is impossible to reach political settlements when the warring parties are unclear if and when they are winning or losing.

Most of the conflicts around the world, domestic and inter-state, are the direct or indirect consequence of either injustice or poverty. Despite the United Nations Charter and numerous international prescriptions, injustice against the weak remains the global norm. An effective and impartial mechanism to ensure the just resolution of disputes is a critical prerequisite for the settlement of current and future conflicts.

The technology and capital are now available to end world poverty and remove the most pervasive cause of conflict. Unfortunately, greed stands in the way. The world is more unequal today than ever before in history. Half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1pc of its population.

Constructing a world order, and preventing global chaos, will not prove possible unless the major powers can be persuaded to fully support and facilitate the endeavours of the United Nations and other impartial mechanisms to address and overcome the enormous challenges to security and development.

The next UN secretary general must lead the way in addressing these challenges.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: World disorder
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2016
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Old Sunday, February 21, 2016
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Default Feb 21st, 2016

The next UN secretary general

BY the end of 2016, when Ban Ki-moon’s second term ends, the UN General Assembly will appoint the next secretary general “upon the recommendation of the Security Council”.

The UN Charter describes the secretary general as the “chief administrative officer” of the world organisation who also performs “such other functions” as are assigned to him by the UNGA, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. Importantly, the secretary general has the authority “to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Over the years, the UN secretary general has come to personify the world organisation. His role, pronouncements and actions reflect directly on the image and credibility of the UN. He is expected to promote the lofty principles and purposes of the UN Charter. Often, he has been described as the “secular pope”. The best secretaries general have been those able to act independently of the influence of the major powers.

A secretary general must not be beholden to one or more of the permanent members.
The UN’s non-permanent members have consistently complained of their virtual marginalisation in the secretary general’s appointment. The Security Council, in informal consultations, agrees on one candidate and ‘recommends’ his appointment to the General Assembly which has virtually no option but to approve the recommendation. In fact, the Security Council’s critical consultations take place in closed quarters among the five permanent members, each of whom has the right to veto a candidate.

In 2006, the Asian countries unanimously claimed the secretary general’s post. This was agreed in principle by all except the US. The story is that at a bilateral lunch, the US ambassador, John Bolton, asked his Chinese counterpart: which Asian candidate was acceptable to China. The latter replied that China could accept any of the five Asians. Bolton responded the US would veto all except Ban Ki-moon. That was how the current secretary general was selected. He has been loyal to his benefactors.

This is reflected in the UN’s Western-oriented priorities over the last decade: terrorism, non-proliferation, human rights, climate change. Issues that are difficult for the West, the Arab-Israeli dispute, foreign interventions in the Muslim world, development assistance, have been pushed to the sidelines. All major UN departments and agencies are headed by representatives of Western powers. Today, it is the real pope, rather than the secular pope, who speaks truth to power and advocates the rights of the downtrodden.

In response to calls for greater transparency in the secretary general’s election, it has been agreed that this year, candidates for the post will be interviewed in the UNGA. It is unlikely this will change the outcome. In the final analysis, the Security Council will again submit one name (not two or more as desired by reform advocates) which the UNGA will be hard put to reject.

Among the UN’s five regional groupings, the East Europeans have never provided a secretary general and have claimed the post this time. Several East European candidates have entered the field, including an ex-president of Slovenia and two Bulgarian women — an EU commissioner and the present director general, Unesco.

But East Europe no longer exists as a political group since all its members, except Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, have joined or are in the process of joining Nato or EU or both. As a permanent member, Russia cannot be a candidate. Belarus and Ukraine would be unacceptable. Thus politically an East European candidate will in fact be a candidate from a West-dominated Europe.

Since East is now West, a number of West European candidates have also entered the race. Among them, Portugal’s former prime minister Gutierrez and Helen Clark, former New Zealand prime minister. The New York Times has endorsed Chancellor Merkel for the post. But, since Germany (like Japan, India and Brazil) aspires to a permanent Security Council seat, would this disqualify her for the secretary general’s post?

Several Latin Americans also feel they are eligible since their group last held the post 20 years ago. The new foreign minister of Argentina; the foreign minister of Chile (and ex-chairman of the Benazir Bhutto assassination inquiry commission), even the serving Chilean president may be candidates.

There is a strong move within the UN in favour of a female secretary general since all have been males hitherto. Thus the emergence of several women candidates. However, this politically correct consideration will not weigh decisively with the permanent members when deciding which candidate best serves their interests.

The historical record shows that candidates who enter the field early seldom succeed. Most successful candidates have emerged from the shadows towards the end of the process. The interview process agreed this year may change this dynamic, especially if a cut-off date for the presentation of candidatures is agreed.

On at least two occasions, the choice has fallen on ‘insider’ candidates. Under-secretary U Thant became acting secretary general after Dag Hammarskjold’s death and was later confirmed in the post. Kofi Annan, under-secretary general for peacekeeping, was sponsored by the US secretary of state when she decided to be rid of an overly independent Boutros-Ghali. This time also, the highly respected deputy secretary general, Jan Eliasson, could emerge as a compromise selection.

To play an effective role, a secretary general must not be beholden to one or more of the permanent members. To this end, it may be best for the incoming secretary general to declare at the outset that he/she will not seek a second term. This would enable him/her to resist the influence of the major powers and play an independent, effective role.

Although the post has been described as the “most impossible job in the world”, an independent, intelligent secretary general possesses the moral authority and institutional capacity to secure much wider and more consistent adherence to the core principles and purposes of the UN Charter and thus restore a semblance of order in a world that is unequal, complex, violent and dangerous.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: The next UN secretary general
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2016
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Old Monday, March 07, 2016
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Default March 6, 2016

Angry America

THE dominant sentiment in America today is anger. Popular anger about lower economic expectations; nationalist anger at the loss of global dominance; anger against President Obama for acknowledging the limits of American power; anger against a dysfunctional political system and corrupt and colourless politicians; anger at immigrants for ‘taking’ American jobs; anger against Muslims presumed to be putative terrorists; anger against China for its ‘cheap’ exports that are seen to have killed American manufacturing; anger against Russia’s Putin for defying American power.

Instead of educating the public about the complex causes of America’s challenges, US politicians, especially the Republicans, have sought to cynically exploit this irrational anger to advance their careers and candidacies. The US media has further fuelled this march towards political extremism and irrationality. Outlandish and ignorant ‘bumper sticker’ slogans have become live themes of political debate in the current US presidential race.

Trump’s atrocious insults and threats, in particular, respond to the basest political instincts visible in America. His success in securing such wide support has virtually legitimised the xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism that exists in America but has been denied so far and kept in check by more thinking leaders like President Obama. Unfortunately, the two other leading Republican candidates, Cruz and Rubio, far from refuting Trump’s offensive postures, have sought to embrace some of his message of anger and hate.

It is frightening — for America’s future and global stability — that Trump has emerged as the Republican front runner, despite the opposition of the leaders of the party. Cruz may be as bad in his religious conservatism and Rubio not much better in reflecting realism and rationality. Thus, no matter which of the three leading Republican candidates emerges as the nominee, extremist and aggressive positions will form the bedrock of the Republican political platform.

If either Trump or Cruz is elected much of the right-wing anger may be reflected in US policies.
American anger is, however, not limited to the right wing. On the Democratic ‘left’ too, there is anger at an economic system that is seen to be ‘stacked’ against the poor, and in which inequality is growing (with 1pc of the population owning 50pc of American assets), hollowing out the middle class which been the backbone of American prosperity. There is anger among the young who can no longer expect, like their parents, to participate in the ‘American dream’; anger against politicians in thrall to Wall Street and special interests; anger among African-Americans at the visible evidence of racial discrimination — with 10pc of adult black males in prison and black youth frequently targeted in police violence.

It is thus that perhaps the only genuine ‘socialist’ in the US Senate, the grandfatherly Bernie Sanders, has emerged, after years of political marginalisation, to pose such a surprisingly strong challenge to the ultimate ‘establishment’ candidate, Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ economic analyses and policy positions are mostly sound. The issue is whether, given the structure of power within the US, he would be able to bring about the radical changes required to induct the equity he advocates into a grossly unequal economic and political system. It is this doubt, rather than disagreement with Sanders’ conclusions and prescriptions, that is likely to draw a larger percentage of Democratic voters to Hillary’s side.

The outcome of the 2016 presidential campaign remains uncertain. The odds are that Hillary Clinton will beat out Sanders for the Democratic nomination. The polls show her winning against Trump by the narrowest of margins. Yet, Trump has so far “defied gravity” and could further mobilise American anger to secure the White House. The Republican Party leadership will do its utmost to avoid nominating Trump and promote Rubio. But they will not be able to stand against a popular tide.

If either Trump or Cruz is elected in November, a large part of the American right-wing anger is likely to become reflected in US policies: a virtual if not real wall against immigrants; officially sanctioned discrimination against Muslims; trade tariffs and other barriers against Chinese goods and investment; revived US military interventions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and perhaps Afghanistan; renewed US sanctions against Iran; aggressive military deployments in the Pacific and the East and South China Seas to ‘contain’ a rising China; anti-Chinese alliances around its periphery; as well as significantly expanded military deployments, including missile defences, in Europe to deter a resurgent Russia.

Hillary Clinton’s presidency would probably display, with some differences, a continuity of the Obama administration’s measured approach to most of the complex challenges — internal and external-confronting the US. Domestically, Clinton would embrace the progressive agenda. Externally, she may be less cautious than Obama.

Clinton would need to accommodate some of the Republican policy positions, especially if the US Congress remains under their control. She could not rule a full four years by executive orders as Obama is doing in his final year in office. Her concessions to the other party would most likely be on foreign rather than domestic policy. She may be inclined to: expand US naval deployments and build political alliances against China; attempt to slow its exports to the US; adopt an interventionist role in the Syrian and other Middle East conflicts; and take a more robust stance against Russia in Europe.

What could make the strategic situation volatile is that China is also in the midst of important transitions, as President Xi Jinping consolidates his political authority on the promise of a Chinese ‘dream’ and seeks to transform the Chinese economy, even as it is slowing, from investment- and export-led growth to one fuelled by domestic consumption.

Aggressive American actions are likely to meet strong ‘nationalistic’ responses from Beijing. Asia could become acutely polarised between the US and Chinese ‘camps’. An Asian Cold War could intensify local and regional conflicts. Revived US interventionism in the Muslim world would spread further chaos and strengthen rather than weaken extremism and terrorism. And, Russia remains unbowed and is likely to push back strongly, especially in Europe, at military and political attempts to contain its resurgent presence on the world stage.

The hope is that Winston Churchill was right in his conclusion that: “You can depend on the Americans to do the right thing, after trying everything else.”

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Angry America
Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016
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Old Sunday, March 20, 2016
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Default March 20th, 2016

Hope over experience

THE launch of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US) is the latest attempt by outsiders to pacify Afghanistan. Like a second marriage, it represents the triumph of hope over experience.

Alexander the Great’s armies languished in Khorasan for a decade. The British Empire failed in three wars to control the Afghans. The Soviet Union withdrew ignominiously after nine bloody years. And, Afghanistan has been America’s longest war.

The QCG, despite its infelicitous name, was a clever device conjured by Pakistan to concentrate the capabilities of the four members and distribute the responsibility to achieve Afghan reconciliation. The exclusion of Iran and Russia, both of which have influence over Afghan events, may have to be rectified if the mechanism becomes operational.

It appears that everyone wants a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, except the Afghans themselves. The Ghani government came into the process with doubts and conditions. The Afghan Taliban have now refused to return to the table. Mere repetition of the mantra of an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process will not bring it any closer to realisation.

The ‘unity government’ in Kabul is anything but united in its commitment to the negotiating process. There are known power brokers who have introduced unrealistic preconditions and deadlines for progress in the peace process. They remain averse to ‘sharing’ power with the Taliban. They resent Pakistan’s influence over Afghan events. They seem to believe that if the talks fail, and insurgency escalates, their foreign patrons will not abandon them. They expect to retain control of their own ethnic regions — and Kabul.

It appears that everyone wants a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, except the Afghans themselves.
For their part, the Taliban have been consistent in their refusal to talk to the Kabul government which they consider a US puppet. They want to talk directly with the Americans. The quadrilateral mechanism sought to square the circle. But the present is a bad time to expect the Taliban to join a dialogue process. Mullah Mansour has yet to consolidate his leadership. Most of his commanders, including those challenging his succession to Mullah Omar’s mantle, believe they are winning the military struggle against Afghan security forces. Several districts fell to the Taliban even before their summer offensive. Mullah Mansour no doubt fears an internal revolt if he agrees to talks which can arrest the Taliban’s momentum.

It is unclear why adviser Sartaj Aziz was so confident in publicly asserting that Islamabad could convince the Taliban to join the talks.

In the endeavour to prove its sincerity to the major powers, Pakistan seems to have created the worst of both worlds for itself. As Sartaj Aziz declared, Pakistan gathered some Taliban leaders to persuade them to return to the negotiating table. This public revelation has enabled Pakistan’s detractors to validate their long-standing allegation that the Taliban are Pakistan’s proxies. During recent Security Council discussions, the Afghan ambassador said that Sartaj Aziz’s statement “speaks volumes for Pakistan’s influence with the Taliban”.

Experience should have advised against such bold assertions. Even at the height of its close relationship with Mullah Omar’s regime, pre- and immediately after 9/11, Pakistan was unable to convince the Taliban to surrender or expel Osama bin Laden. Islamabad was unable even to persuade Mullah Omar not to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. Today, after a decade of cooperation with the US-led war in Afghanistan, Pakistan can hardly expect the Taliban to accept its demand to take a course of action they consider contrary to their military or strategic objectives.

The threat to expel the Taliban leadership from Pakistan’s territory if they do not heed its demand to join the talks, could transform a tactical error into a strategic blunder. This is an empty threat. The Taliban now control vast territories within Afghanistan and no longer need the ‘refuge’ some of their leaders sought in Pakistan after the US military intervention. If Pakistan carries out its threat, it will lose whatever influence it still has with the Taliban and gratuitously add to the list of its enemies in Afghanistan. There are other neighbours, including Iran, which would be happy to enlarge their present and future influence within Afghanistan.

Clearly, Pakistan’s Afghan policies should be guided by its own national interest. Preserving the goodwill of the major powers, particularly China, is essential. But Pakistan’s primary objective should be to eliminate the TTP’s ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan and shut down the ‘western front’ which Indian agencies in collaboration with known elements in Kabul have opened against Pakistan. It is surprising that Islamabad has not imposed a tighter connection between its help in Afghan reconciliation with action by Kabul and its Western patrons against TTP and its cross-border attacks against Pakistan. Equally, Pakistan can and should strongly demand that the Afghan Taliban break all links with TTP.

Pakistan’s calibrated policy must also anticipate the likely denouement of events in Afghanistan. While the effort to promote Afghan reconciliation is propelled by hope, experience indicates that, at least in the near term, this endeavour is unlikely to be successful. Kabul’s security challenges are formidable and once the Taliban launch their summer offensive the survival of the regime could be in question. As the UN secretary general’s special representative stated in the Security Council, for Kabul “survival in 2016” would be an achievement.

Unless an incoming Republican US president, or a muscular Hillary Clinton, decides to launch another military surge in Afghanistan, rather than withdraw the remaining foreign forces, the insurgency will gather force. The Taliban may not be able to conquer Kabul, especially if rump foreign forces remain, but they are likely to gain full control over the east and south of Afghanistan. As in the 1990s, before the advent of Mullah Omar’s Taliban, the country may once again be carved up into rival fiefdoms.

Pakistan’s priority then, as now, will be to insulate itself from the Afghan chaos and eliminate the TTP or at least halt its cross-border attacks against Pakistan. To do so, Pakistan will need friends especially in areas adjacent to its borders. It is not difficult to identify who is likely to control these adjacent areas and ensure that Pakistan enjoys a friendly relationship with them. Unfortunately, in Afghanistan, the lessons of history are seldom learnt; thus, it has a habit of repeating itself.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Hope over experience
Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2016
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Default April 3rd, 2016

India’s Pakistan strategy

INDIA’S ambitions of achieving Great Power status cannot be fully realised unless Pakistan is strategically neutralised. A conventional military defeat of Pakistan has been a costly and unlikely option ever since the latter acquired a credible nuclear deterrence capability. Pakistan has also built a strategic relationship with China which provides it with the capacity to balance, to a considerable extent, India’s larger military and economic capabilities.

India’s need to bring Pakistan to heel has intensified in the context of the emerging Great Power contest in Asia. Pakistan’s incorporation into an Indian sphere of influence would be a grave setback to China’s future role in South, West and Central Asia and the western Indian Ocean. The prospect of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, while India has no land access to the west and Central Asia, has added a new dimension to India’s determination to neutralise Pakistan. India’s strategic goals, if not its methods, are fully supported by the US and its allies.

India has adopted a complex strategy to wear down Pakistan’s resistance. This strategy encompasses: military and political pressure; subversion; terrorism; diplomatic isolation; media and public defamation and cultural domination.

Some elements of India’s comprehensive strategy and actions are now public knowledge, such as Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s boastful speech recalling how Indian agencies eroded the Kashmiri freedom struggle through corruption and intimidation; forecasting the separation of Balochistan; and expressing glee at the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s beheading of Pakistani soldiers in Fata.

India has adopted a complex strategy to wear down Pakistan’s resistance.
India’s strategy has a wide canvas.

One element of the strategy is the attempt, pursued in tandem with the West, to neutralise Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. Thus, the discriminatory Western restraints on equipment and technology transfers to Pakistan and the vigorous US opposition to Pakistan’s deployment of theatre nuclear weapons and long-range missiles which are designed, respectively, to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine and its second-strike capability.

Meanwhile, India maintains military pressure on Pakistan through deployment of advanced weapons systems (ballistic missiles, anti-ballistic missiles etc), expanded offensive deployments, military exercises to refine the capacity for a surprise attack (as envisaged in India’s Cold Start doctrine) and frequent shelling along the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Subversion, involving infiltration, sponsorship and support for dissident or disgruntled groups within Pakistan, is a third element of this strategy. The sponsorship of the Baloch Liberation Army and terrorism in Balochistan and Sindh has now been confirmed by the recent capture and confession of the Indian spy. Disaffected groups in Karachi, rural Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkwa have been encouraged for many years to disrupt peace and security.

Substantial proof has been gathered by Islamabad’s agencies of Indian sponsorship of terrorism against Pakistan through the TTP, in collaboration with Kabul’s National Directorate of Security and certain power brokers. Some of this evidence has been shared with the UN but has not evoked any action so far from the world organisation. An Indian link to the Lahore park atrocity, responsibility for which has claimed by an affiliate of the TTP, cannot be ruled out.

Pakistan’s armed forces are one of the few organised institutions left in the country. Not surprisingly, because of their profession and training, their resistance to Indian domination is robust. Tarnishing the reputation and credibility of the Pakistan Army is an important element of the Indian strategy. Through the Indian and Western media, the Pakistan Army is incessantly accused of doing today what it did yesterday — supporting the Afghan Taliban and the Kashmiri jihadi groups.

The reality is clouded by ‘fifty shades of grey’. Despite old relationships, Pakistan’s security establishment is either confronting some of these Jihadi groups or has little influence over them (the Afghan Taliban). The violent sectarian groups in Punjab are known to have enjoyed in recent years the protection of some politicians rather than the security establishment. Notwithstanding this, the Indian-inspired mantra against the army and the ISI is frequently echoed not only by the Western media but even within Pakistan.

At the opposite end of India’s kinetic actions, is the wide and successful use of its “‘soft power’, epitomised by Bollywood. This song and dance culture has been warmly embraced by large segments of Pakistan’s young and moneyed elite. Over time, this can lead to greater acceptance in Pakistan of India’s political and strategic goals.

Since early days, India has attempted to co-opt Pakistani politicians, by fair means and foul. When out of office, some political leaders have had intimate contacts with the Indians. Shamefully, some of them — excluding the ruling party — are known to have expressed the desire for Indian and other foreign intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Even today, the desire of some of Pakistan’s leaders to ‘normalise’ relations with India at any cost is inexplicable.

India has been able to play on the fears and predilections of Pakistan’s politicians to set the tone and pace of the bilateral relationship. Dialogue is held out as a favour to Pakistan. India’s positions on both substance and process keep hardening with each encounter. Concessions continue to be made by Pakistan on process and substance — to no avail or purpose.

It is high time for Pakistan’s National Defence Council, which includes both the civilian and military leadership, to undertake a frank and in-depth review of India’s objectives and policies towards Pakistan and evolve a coherent and consensual strategy to respond to each of the elements of India’s policies aimed against Pakistan.

To those Americans who disingenuously chide Pakistan for being paranoid about India, I would respond as Trotsky did shortly before being assassinated: “Just because I am paranoid, does not mean I am not persecuted.”

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: India’s Pakistan strategy
Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2016
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The Indo-US alliance

RECENTLY, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter reportedly opened a meeting with senior Pakistani military leaders by declaring: “I must tell you, I am a friend of India.”

The statement, besides being gauche, was superfluous. Carter’s closeness to the Indians is all too evident. The US defence secretary has met four times in the last year with his Indian counterpart, as noted in the joint communiqué issued after his recent visit to India.

The joint communiqué outlines the vast scope and depth of the present and planned Indo-US military relationship; including co-production of advanced defence articles, joint research on advanced jet engines and aircraft carrier technologies, and strategic cooperation on maritime security.

Most significantly, India endorsed the US stand on the South China Sea islands dispute with China by reaffirming “importance of freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea” and vowed support for “a regional security architecture”.

Read more: India, US ‘agree in principle’ to share military logistics

The US alliance with India has obvious and significant negative implications for Pakistan’s security.

The US has opened all military and technology doors to India, and encouraged Israel and other allies to do so as well. For the past eight years, India has been the world’s largest arms importer, buying over $100 billion in weapons each year, two-thirds of which are deployed against Pakistan. Moreover, US military and political support encourages India in its bellicose behaviour towards Pakistan.

It is not merely that Pakistan suffers ‘collateral damage’ from the US arming of India against China. The US has imposed — formally and informally — severe and discriminatory restraints on Pakistan’s acquisition of advanced and dual-use technologies and weapons systems from the US or allied sources.

It opposes Pakistan’s defensive responses to India’s build-up: fissile material production, theatre nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Pressure has even been exerted on China not to transfer advanced weaponry and technologies to Pakistan. Unless this dynamic is changed, Pakistan’s capabilities for conventional defence and nuclear deterrence against India could be significantly eroded.

The latest confirmation of the Indo-US alliance comes at a time when Pakistan’s limited convergence with the US on Afghanistan may be fading. According to Indian press reports, Ashton Carter conveyed to the Indians that the US has given up on Pakistan’s cooperation to stabilise Afghanistan, and wants India to play a larger role there.

The US alliance with India has negative implications for Pakistan’s security.
Worse, the US appears to be encouraging closer ties between India and the GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia, which Modi’s visited recently. There may be an Iranian gambit as well. Given India’s close relations with Iran and informal US-Iranian cooperation against the militant Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, collaboration between the US, India and Iran to ‘stabilise’ Afghanistan cannot be ruled out.

Pakistan must formulate a well-considered and calibrated military and diplomatic response to these adverse developments. Capitulation is not an option. India’s treatment of Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh should be a lesson against acceptance of Indian hegemony.

Pakistan’s military response will have to be defensive, asymmetrical, and designed to preserve the ability to deter and repel a conventional Indian attack, and the credibility of nuclear deterrence.

To break up a large Indian surprise attack (projected by the Cold Start doctrine), Pakistan can multiply its short-range, conventional missile capabilities. Air defence can also be best assured by anti-aircraft and ballistic missile defence systems. On the sea, Pakistan cannot afford expensive aircraft carriers; its defence will have to rely on submarines, large numbers of fast missile boats, and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

To maintain credible nuclear deterrence and dissuade a pre-emptive enemy strike, Pakistan needs to continue to multiply its short, medium and long-range missile capabilities. Ultimately, the deployment of nuclear submarine-based missiles offers the most credible second strike option.

And, so long as India persists in its reported support for the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, and the Balochi Liberation Army, Pakistan would be unwise to give up the option of supporting the legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people for freedom and self-determination.

Pakistan’s diplomacy will have to be dynamic and imaginative.

Strategic cooperation with China will remain critical. Just as the US is willing to share cutting-edge military technologies with India, China should be expected to share its most advanced weapons systems with Pakistan, including nuclear submarines, stealth aircraft, and its anti-aircraft carrier missiles.

Pakistan also needs to do much more to enhance military and diplomatic cooperation with Russia, which is locked in a new Cold War with the US, displeased with India’s embrace of America, and much closer to China. Several Russian weapons systems — the S300 anti-ballistic missile and the SU-31 fighter-bomber — are among the best in class.

In Afghanistan, Pakistan should clearly draw its ‘red lines’: no Indian military presence or use of Afghan territory for subversion against Pakistan. While continuing to support inter-Afghan dialogue, Islamabad should be prepared for a collapse in Kabul and prolonged Afghan chaos. Fostering an understanding with Iran is essential. Pakistan and Iran can cooperatively normalise their respective parts of Baluchistan and stabilise Afghanistan — unless Iran decides to align itself with India.

Rebuilding a close relationship with Saudi Arabia will restrain Indian penetration in the Gulf. This requires full support to the House Of Saud; it does not require participation in hostile operations against Iran.

Pakistan should continue its diplomatic engagement with the US, although there may be rough times ahead in the relationship.

The Sino-US rivalry is likely to get worse in the near future, given the angry and ugly mood in America, and rising nationalist sentiment in China. Eventually, once China acquires comparable military power, and large parts of Eurasia are incorporated into China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ economic community, Washington may come to accept coexistence and cooperation with the new superpower.

It may also come to recognise that Pakistan is a critical country whose cooperation is vital to ensure regional stability in south and west Asia, to prevent nuclear non-proliferation, and to and defeat global terrorism. Perhaps then, Washington will respect Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: The Indo-US alliance
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016
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Power and corruption

MACHIAVELLI’S dictum, ‘Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, has been validated by history and current events.

Corrupt entities collapse eventually. Great empires have been destroyed by corruption. Corrupt leaders have stalled the development of poor nations.

Recent headlines have proclaimed the wide incidence of greed and corruption in developing countries: Brazil, where the president is about to be impeached; South Africa, where the president has survived an investigation into a $30 million improvement of his personal home at state expense; Malaysia, whose prime minister received $600m from an unknown foreign benefactor.

The focus on corruption of Third World leaders masks the unscrupulous behaviour of major capitalist states.
Then there is Egypt, where both the Mubarak and Morsi regimes were ousted on charges of corruption and misuse of power; Nigeria, where oil revenues of hundreds of billions of dollars have disappeared; Turkey, where investigation of the president’s coterie for corruption has been squashed; Russia, where the rule of the oligarchs is decried; India, where financial scandals are reported daily; even China, where the president has instituted a campaign against official corruption.

And, the most egregious instances of official corruption are reported in conflict states: Congo, Libya, and the poster children of US ‘nation-building’, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The focus on corruption of Third World leaders, however, masks the unscrupulous behaviour of the major capitalist states and their double and triple standards. The wealth of these nations has been created not only by the judicious application of capital, labour and technology; but as often due to their coercive ‘control’ of these factors of production in the past and at present. The rapacious exploitation of natural resources and creation of captive markets by colonial powers are the most obvious examples. The structures of world trade and finance continue to be controlled by the US and its friends.

Bank secrecy in Switzerland was created to prevent the Nazis from seizing the assets of German Jews; it then became a haven for dictators, criminals and corrupt officials from around the world. It was dismantled only when the US felt that too many Americans were being enabled to dodge its Internal Revenue Service.

Tax havens were also created by the Western powers, especially Britain, to attract foreign capital and enable their rich and powerful to avoid onerous taxes. The system has been widely emulated. It has been extensively utilised by legitimate businesses and some of the world’s largest corporations to reduce their tax burden; but also by corrupt politicians, officials and criminals in various countries to avoid taxes or hide money.

The OECD and others are attempting to reform the system to prevent tax leakage and money laundering. But these endeavours are unlikely to significantly change the policies of countries which see their ‘tax friendly’ structures as a unique advantage in competing for international capital. The most powerful nation, the US, will reportedly not allow tax ‘shelters’ in states such as Delaware and Nevada to be covered in the OECD’s scheme for reform of tax havens.

The revelations of the Panama Papers have unleashed an outcry in several countries, including Pakistan. The issue is not only one of illegality. The country’s leaders — past and present — must be held to a high standard of probity. An impartial investigation is justified.

However, it would be a pity if this effort is reduced to a political vendetta. This could needlessly destabilise the country just as it is on the verge of attracting sizable foreign and domestic investment and registering a healthy rate of economic growth.

The revived national concern about official corruption should be utilised to address the entire spectrum of challenges arising from the nexus of power and corruption, especially where it impedes Pakistan’s socioeconomic development.

Apart from an investigation into and accountability for known and reported cases of corruption against political leaders and other officials, there are at least three fundamental and interlinked issues which need to be addressed: the taxation system; crony capitalism and economic governance.

The measures for tax reform have been well identified: enforcement of tax obligations and tax collection; widening the tax net, especially through coverage of the retail, services and agricultural sectors; marking and tracking of products to ensure the collection of value added taxes; full and fair collection of customs and excise duties; and, elimination of arbitrary tax exemptions and concessions.

Eliminating crony capitalism is a broader task. It will require the promulgation of adequate laws and regulations to govern economic competition and ensure transparency in economic decision-making, particularly the award of contracts, permits and licences; and the establishment of an impartial and independent economic oversight body composed of experts of known integrity to rapidly review complaints of abuse of power, fraud or corruption in economic decision-making.

The standards of economic governance in the country are abysmal. With notable exceptions, the bureaucracy is either technically and functionally incompetent or corrupt or both. Administrative reforms have failed. It may be better, in certain areas which involve economic and technical decision-making, to create entirely new, modern bureaucratic structures rather than attempt to reform existing ones. Weeding out incompetent or corrupt officials would accelerate the construction of modernised structures. But the demand for efficiency and accountability will have to be accompanied by attractive, ‘market-related’ compensation for a new meritocracy.

For rapid development, Pakistan’s trade and investment regimes will also require modification. Pakistan’s manufactures will revive only if imported goods are not cheaper than domestic products. Investment will come only if the domestic demand in Pakistan for goods and services can be met domestically, not externally. Exports will expand only when Pakistani goods are competitive in price and quality. The Planning Commission should be reconstituted to perform, without political interference, its original function of formulating and implementing strategic economic policies to propel growth and development.

Last, Pakistan should revive its decades-old leadership role in promoting reform of the unequal global economic, trade and financial structures which continue to retard the development of so many developing countries, including Pakistan. This is an agenda on which national consensus can be built and that will advance development and progress in Pakistan.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Power and corruption
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2016
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America’s whipping boy

THE kings of yore often kept a whipping boy who could be used to vent their frustrations on and be blamed for their mistakes and misfortune. Today, America appears to have adopted Pakistan as its favourite whipping boy.

Pakistan’s historically close relationship with the US is on a divergent path due to America’s growing alliance with India designed to contain China’s rising power. This process of divergence is likely to be accelerated by US pressure on Pakistan to do three things: release Shakil Afridi, the doctor recruited by the CIA to take DNA samples from Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout; take military action against the Haqqani network and refrain from deploying theatre nuclear weapons against India.

The demand for Afridi’s release may be designed to secure continued publicity for US ‘success’ in killing Bin Laden and to assure current and potential CIA spies that they will enjoy American ‘protection’. The expectation that Pakistan would override its own judicial system and overlook Afridi’s treasonous behaviour reflects the normal American arrogance. Unfortunately, there are precedents where Pakistan has allowed other traitors to exit the country. Many known foreign agents roam free in Pakistan.

In Afridi’s case, it has become difficult for Pakistan to compromise on its ‘principles’ because of public American coercion. Perhaps some gestures from Washington, such as finally offering a formal apology and adequate compensation for the ‘accidental’ killing of 29 Pakistani soldiers by US gunships in November 2011, may have enabled Afridi’s quiet extraction on ‘humanitarian’ grounds.

The American pressure to take action against the Haqqanis is a more serious issue. The network has become an important component of the Afghan Taliban after Sirajuddin Haqqani was appointed as deputy to Mullah Mansour, the new Taliban leader. President Ashraf Ghani’s declaration that he no longer wants Pakistan to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table but only to attack them is an expression of frustration and desperation. The international consensus remains that a negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban remains the only road to peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s prime minster rightly pointed out during his last visit to Washington, that “Pakistan cannot be asked to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table and kill them at the same time”.

The design seems to be to have Pakistan fight the US and Kabul’s fight against the Haqqanis.
In any event, Pakistan’s Zarb-i-Azb operation has destroyed the infrastructure of the several militant groups which were located in North Waziristan, including the Haqqanis. Most of the group’s fighters and commanders have moved into the adjacent areas of Afghanistan. Some remnants may be holed up in the forests and valleys along the border.

The cross-border flow of fighters, whether Afghan Taliban or Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), can be restricted significantly by fences and other barriers along the Pak-Afghan border. However, Pakistan’s plan to fence the border at certain points has been vigorously opposed by the Kabul government. Nor has Kabul (or the US) been forthcoming in responding to Pakistan’s proposals to establish an effective coordination mechanism to control cross border movements.

The design seems to be to have Pakistan fight the US and Kabul’s fight against the Haqqanis, and if it does not, to blame it for their military reversals and failure to halt the Taliban’s ascendancy in Afghanistan. At the same time, Kabul at least, if not the US, wants to keep the border open, thus enabling the TTP — which is apparently sponsored and supported by Afghan and Indian intelligence — to continue its cross-border attacks in Pakistan from its safe havens in Afghanistan.

It is notable that the areas where the TTP has established safe havens were vacated by the US and Afghan forces just as Pakistan was launching its Zarb-i-Azb operation. Islamabad cannot but conclude that the US demand regarding the Haqqanis not only lacks a coherent political and military rationale, but amounts to a measure of complicity in the Indian design to destabilise Pakistan’s frontier regions.

US pressure on Pakistan to halt the deployment of tactical or theatre nuclear weapons amounts to a pre-emptive strike to prevent Islamabad’s response to India’s Cold Start doctrine which prescribes a sudden and massive attack against Pakistan.

At the recent (and final) US-sponsored nuclear security summit, President Obama admonished India and Pakistan for “moving in the wrong direction” (in their strategic programmes). Yet, the pressure for restraint is applied only against Pakistan. If the desire is to avoid a dangerous nuclear scenario, priority ought to be accorded to addressing the cause of Pakistan’s planned deployment of theatre nuclear weapons: the Indian ‘operationalisation’ of its Cold Start doctrine. Indian strike units have been moved to forward positions and equipped with the capabilities to undertake a rapidly mobilised general offensive against Pakistan.

Pakistan can display restraint on theatre nuclear weapons only if India reverses this process of operationalisation of this aggressive posture. Far from dissuading India, Washington is vying to supply it with all manner of advanced arms and technologies which will inevitably further enhance New Delhi’s capacity for military aggression against Pakistan. The US is thus attempting to prevent a crisis which it is itself helping to create.

In response to the US demarches, Pakistan should clearly outline what steps of restraint and reversal it expects India to take in order to convince Islamabad to hold back from deploying the theatre nuclear weapons. Since the US has intervened on this issue with Pakistan, it can be asked, in the absence of a Pakistan-India dialogue, to secure India’s agreement to such measures of restraint which would be reciprocated by Pakistan.

Despite America’s slings and arrows, Pakistan is obliged to avoid a confrontation with Washington. On the other hand, the US would be ill advised to continue bullying Pakistan into compromising its vital interests. In extremis, even a whipping boy can ‘turn’ on his tormentor.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: America’s whipping boy
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016
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Way of the knife

A RECENT book, Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti, describes the exploits and foibles of America’s clandestine agencies. In their parlance, the US drone attack which killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour was both a decapitation strike against the Afghan Taliban and a swift stab in Pakistan’s back(yard). The message to the Taliban was: talk or be targeted. To Pakistan: force the Taliban to the table or be humiliated.

In terms of the US justification for the strike, Mullah Mansour was not the prime target. He was the one who had authorised the Murree talks in Mullah Omar’s name. His recent resistance to resuming talks was probably due to preoccupation with consolidating his leadership.

The purpose of the US strike may have been to create fresh divisions within the Afghan Taliban by igniting another succession struggle and arresting the momentum of their ‘summer offensive’. This appears to have failed.

The purpose of the US strike may have been to create fresh divisions within the Afghan Taliban.
Another aim may have been to create distrust between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s ISI. Some Taliban leaders have reportedly expressed unhappiness with Pakistan.

Iran is another twist. Apparently, Mullah Mansour was returning from a visit to Iran. Was this the reason for his elimination?

In any case, the possibility of being struck on Pakistani soil will no doubt constrain the Taliban leadership’s movements and limit Pakistan’s ability to interact with them.

The strike also signals US determination to prevent the collapse of the Kabul regime. Protected by its American patron, Kabul is unlikely to offer the Taliban any ‘incentives’ to resume talks as desired by Pakistan.

A logical corollary is that sizable American and allied forces will remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. It is generally expected that, rather than reduce the force to 5,500 as previously planned, 10,000 plus US troops will remain in Afghanistan and a decision regarding future levels would be left to the next administration.

The level of the US military presence in Afghanistan is unlikely to be reduced by Hillary Clinton if she is elected president. Compared to Barack Obama, she has always leaned towards a more robust US posture in various conflicts. Donald Trump may also be inclined to accept the Pentagon’s desire for a larger and longer military role in Afghanistan.

This does not imply an improvement in Afghanistan’s security environment. On the contrary. The Afghan Taliban have rapidly chosen a new leader who, due to his ‘spiritual’ rather than military role, may have better prospects than Mullah Mansour to preserve unity within the group. Their military commander, Sirajuddin Haqqani, will have a freer hand to promote operations. To avenge Mullah Mansour’s termination, the Taliban offensive will be pursued with renewed vigour.

With the Afghan intelligence agency backing splinter Taliban factions (besides the Pakistani Taliban), the existence of numerous rival militias and warlords, and the emergence of the militant Islamic State group, Afghanistan is likely to be engulfed in a Hobbesian ‘war of all against all’.

Pakistan needs to address three interrelated challenges emerging from the Afghan chaos.

One, how to deal with the Afghan Taliban? Pakistan can limit the cross-border movement of the Afghan Taliban (and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan) by fencing parts of the Pakistan-Afghan border. But it cannot afford to fight Kabul and America’s war against the Afghan Taliban. If they joined the TTP in targeting Pakistan, it would gravely jeopardise its security. Nor is Pakistan in a position after the US strike to promote inter-Afghan negotiations. For the present, doing nothing appears to be the only option. When either Kabul or the Afghan Taliban face defeat, or both are locked in a military stalemate, they may be more open to a settlement.

Second, Pakistan’s priority is to defeat the TTP and eliminate its ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan. An article in the last issue of the US Military Times quotes Stephen Biddle, (a former aide to the ex-US commander in Afghanistan, Gen McCrystal), as saying: Afghanistan is a base for destabilising Pakistan, and Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state that has an ongoing civil war involving a witches’ brew of extremists who don’t like us. ... That is the primary US concern.”

But if this is indeed America’s primary concern, it is not reflected in its actions. Sporadic drone and aerial strikes have been conducted against TTP targets. But no effort has been made to eliminate its ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan or to end the support extended to the TTP by Afghan and Indian intelligence. Pakistan must consider all possible options to achieve these objectives, with or without US cooperation.

The third challenge is posed by Washington’s perverse preoccupation with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. In the Military Times article, the danger posed by the TTP and other extremists to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is identified as the “most important factor” in the reassessment of American troop levels in Afghanistan. Even the uninitiated Donald Trump has referred to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as the main reason to maintain a US military presence in Afghanistan.

It is not clear how the US military presence in Afghanistan will serve to avert the ‘danger’ to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Is there substance to the media reports that the US plans to ‘seize’ Pakistan’s weapons in a crisis? Given the size and sophistication of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, how can this be accomplished without Pakistan’s acquiescence, which is unlikely, or without provoking a war with Pakistan? In the aftermath of the Balochistan strike, these questions deserve clear answers from the US.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Source: Way of the knife
Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2016
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