Prospects of Peace and Security in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Introduction

First Afghanistan and now Pakistan are the victims of fragmentation brought on by entities who at one time or another have been given space to germinate. Now the tree has assumed such an over powering shade that it is preventing the growth of peace and happiness for more than a billion and half inhabitants who live in South Asia. The recent condemnable attack on Mumbai which claimed the lives of more than 180 innocent persons underlines the dangers confronting countries of the region. The attack indicates the rapidly declining security situation and the sub-continental reach of the terrorists who operate from amongst our midst. It is immaterial whether the planners of this tragedy were operating from Pakistan or whether they are part of global terrorist organizations. What is shocking is that such dastardly acts can take place from regions which have such a heavy presence of intelligence and security apparatus. The forces that have been unleashed in Northern South Asia carry within them the germs which could trigger de-stabilization and war as far away as India, Central Asia, Russia and China. It has already threatened Europe and the US.

This paper briefly attempts to highlight approaches which in the medium term would set the trend for attaining relative peace. The attainment of long term peace may be difficult under the existing circumstances which are a throw-back to the days of neo-Imperialism of the 1960s; it is clear that as long as interference driven by the need to shape events is not stopped, security and peace will elude this region. It is tragic that many of the wise and most intelligent minds amongst us have forgotten the lessons of the last Afghan War which the West fought against the USSR from 1979-1989.  In this war about 2 million Afghans tragically perished and Afghanistan was transformed from what was once a peaceful society to a Kalashnikov culture. Afghanistan became the abode of heavily armed atavistic militants, warlords,opium czars, and a place where women were oppressed and where Islam was used as a cover for every form of brutality.[1]  

A comparison that must not be lost sight of is the close parallel between the Afghan war against the USSR and the current fight between the Taliban and the US and NATO forces. Both these wars were the creation of processes linked to the global system of power play and shifts in that system in the post Cold War period. It is feared that as long as there is manipulation of events by external forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the so-called Long War will not stop.

Despite the presence of state of the art militaries and the use of huge amount of funds the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is worse than it was last year. According to a UN survey the security situation in Afghanistan in 2007 deteriorated by more than 25% as compared with 2006. More foreign troops were killed in 2007 than in the previous four years put together![2]

Global aspects

            It is not possible for peace to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan unless decision making affecting the war is internalized by the two nations. Both the nations, to different degrees, are no longer independent agents while formulating their internal and external policies. In the case of Afghanistan one is saddened by the lament of President Hamid Karzai, who said recently that if he had the authority he would put a stop to the aerial bombing which has caused so many casualties of innocent persons under the euphemism of collateral death.[3] Secondly, he has little authority to discuss peace with the Taliban without the concurrence of the Allies in Afghanistan; this prevents him from bringing to the discussion table any concrete proposals  the foremost demand of the militant Taliban would be a timeline for the departure of foreign troops. This is a matter that will be decided in capitals other than Kabul!

           It is clear that the US has decided to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan by about 6,000 more soldiers in the first phase. Will this surge reduce the influence of the Taliban? I am afraid that the increase of allied forces inside Afghanistan will further heighten the intensity of the war and more lives will be lost – both Afghan and foreign forces. It is also likely that by next September, the war in this region would begin to endanger the stability of Pakistan and there would be loss of complete control over Fata and increasingly in NWFP. The likely pattern to emerge will be reminiscent of the Vietnam War. Moreover, the support of the people for the war will decline since to them it would appear to be a war fought by foreigners for their own interest. This perception can only change if the authority and direction over decisions are left with the countries fighting it. It lends legitimacy which is crucial in counter insurgencies. The people must see and know that this war is being fought in their interest. For this to occur there must be an alteration in the attitude of the policy making elite in the US. It is unfortunate for peace and security when such brilliant strategists as Zbigniew Brzezinski argue that, (T)he three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and to maintain security dependence amongst vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected and to keep the barbarians from coming together.[4]

           Incidentally these were the same barbarians who were welcomed by President Reagan in the White House in the 1980s and eulogized in most glowing terms as freedom fighters and declared to be the moral equivalent of our own Founding Fathers.[5]  It is the children of the same Afghans who are today fighting the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and their facsimile in Pakistan who have made the Afghan cause their own. Clearly international politics and pressure of great powers played a major role in the destruction of Afghanistan in the first Afghan War against the USSR. In the present war too the same is likely to be repeated but this time it may involve the de-stabilization of Pakistan too. If that happens the whole region’s future will be jeopardized. 

Ethnic dimensions

Secondly, the war being fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan has an ethnic dimension which is related to issues of identity. The seeds of the Pushtun anger lie in the design of the US invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban represent the Pushtun majority; the Pushtun with 42% of the population are the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan. However, the US relied totally on the support of the Northern Alliance a collection of non Pushtun ethnic groups for defeating the Taliban in November 2001. Secondly, this fight was not without its dark side when during the siege of Kunduz in Northern Afghanistan more than 4000 Taliban prisoners of war who were incarcerated in Qala i Jhangi were killed by aerial bombing carried out in support of Rashid Dostum;[6] it is a mute point whether these Pushtun prisoners were a threat at all after they were disarmed?

Another feature of the destruction of the Taliban in November 2001 was the death of about 3000 persons from Pakistan who had gone to support the Taliban. They were mostly from the tribal areas and Malakand Agency of Pakistan. They were led by Maulvi Sufi Mohammad from Malakand who is leading the struggle for Nifaz e Shariat Muhammadi and his son in law, Mullah Fazlullah who is the leader of the group fighting the military in Swat. There were also some other fighters representing the Kashmiri Mujahideen groups. This force was defeated and suffered heavy causalities latter its leader Sufi Mohammad was arrested by the government and was imprisoned for more than five years.

Both Abdullah Mahsud and Nek Mohammad Wazir who raised the flag of revolt against the Pakistani military in South Waziristan in 2004 were veterans of the war with the US in Afghanistan; Abdullah Mahsud who is now dead had also remained a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. It is thus not surprising that the Pakistani tribal areas and Malakand which contains Swat are regions where the fiercest fighting is taking place today. Secondly, the close association of the Pakistani militants with the Taliban and al-Qaeda was forged in Afghanistan; its two branches one of which is in the tribal areas of Pakistan and the other in Southern Punjab (Kashmiri Mujahideen) are now independent and challenging the Pakistani state as well as implementing their own regional agendas in India.  It will help our understanding of the situation in Pakistan if we examine in depth the reasons for rise of militancy within Pakistan.

Rise of Militancy

          FATA was exposed to militancy in the 1980s when this area was used for weapon storage and training of militants to fight Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Most tribesmen were not actively involved in the fighting against the Soviets, although they supported Afghan resistance. However, the tribal equilibrium and internal tribal security situation aggravated when the arms and drug culture penetrated this region as a result of the war in Afghanistan. According to one expert, US $ 66 billion worth of weaponry was pumped into Afghanistan and the region from 1978 1992.[7] This included FATA and NWFP. Presence of so many weapons was bond to cause de-stabilization in any event.

            Since 1992 the different Mujahideen groups began fighting against each other for taking over power in Afghanistan. FATA remained relatively quiet but internally its social cohesion was eroding rapidly because the dynamics of tribal equilibrium which was adversely affected by the gun and drug culture. Even during the years of the Taliban rule (1994 – 2001) the tribal areas were not the primary source of militancy. These areas had linkages with the Taliban movement  as a transit route and a limited source of supply of manpower  but could not be described as the breeding ground of the Taliban movement.

        Militancy in the tribal areas and Afghanistan increased after the US invasion of Afghanistan in October-November 2001 which overthrew the Taliban government. This intervention which caused many collateral deaths mostly of the Pukhtuns at the hands of the Northern Alliance as discussed before is the primary cause for fuelling militancy. This created sympathy for the Taliban cause. Feelings against the Allies were inflamed more when he US refused to accept the surrender of the Taliban forces in the north and instead handed their fate over to their enemies the Uzbeks and Tajiks of the Northern Alliance.[8] It has set in motion a chain of events that in the Pukhtun honour driven society of Fata can only be redeemed through revenge or restitution, this is the main reason that the Taliban are not willing to hold talks with the Afghan government.

        Another set of events fuelled militancy in the tribal areas. First was the escape of militant groups from Afghanistan following their ouster after the October 2001 attack by US forces, and it included the Al-Qaeda which subsequently re-grouped in Pakistan gaining support and volunteers from amongst the Wazir and Mahsud tribes in Waziristan. The second factor responsible for adding to militancy was the rise of local militants who mimicked the Afghan Taliban’s philosophy. They included mostly those tribesmen who had gone to Afghanistan to fight along with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance and foreign forces. Local tribal hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan also took to greater activism in reaction to the US attack on Afghanistan. The Kashmiri Mujahideen who were fighting in Kashmir shifted their focus and began re-engaging with this group of militants in FATA in 2005.[9] Thus we find that all the elements discontented with US role in Afghanistan created a strong militant fighting group which sent some fighters to support the Taliban in Afghanistan and also began challenging the state in Pakistan which is now causing state failure.

        The Pakistan based Islamic parties supported these groups in the tribal areas because they were equally opposed to American military action and presence in Afghanistan. This support was provided in the shape of protection from security surveillance because the NWFP government of that period was sympathetic towards them. Thus favourable conditions were prevalent for the growth of militancy in NWFP and FATA. The presence of belief-driven transnational fighters and organisations like the al-Qaeda and the Uzbek IUM strongly channelized this militancy towards violence against Pakistan. Their intent has been to establish an Islamic Emirate. Their most recent attempt to achieve such an outcome was attempted in August 2008 in Bajaur Agency.[10] It is only a matter of time when such a declaration is announced in some part of tribal areas. 

        One of the priorities of the US security policy in the war on terrorism has been to defeat the transnational belief-driven fighters led by Al-Qaeda and IUM. These warriors who are imbued with strong beliefs consider both the US intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support to US as an abomination; they view both the US and Pakistan as religious enemies with whom there cannot be any settlement.

        The complex situation witnessed today in tribal areas is a cause of concern since there is a rapid take over of the leadership of the militant groups by the trans-national belief driven core. In Bajaur, Mohmand, South and North Waziristan as well as parts of Orakzai Agency these fighters have obtained dominance and the conventional method of tribal control through collective responsibility has collapsed. They are now attempting to create a Pakistani franchise of the al-Qaeda under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It is thus evident that in such a situation no purely civilian approach by itself will be enough to regain control.[11]

To deal with this burgeoning insurgency as well as to deny the creation of sanctuaries and safe havens in tribal areas, Pakistan was urged by the US to induct the military into the tribal areas in October 2002. Serious consequences resulted after the introduction of the military which created its own negative dynamics that upset the administrative structure in tribal areas and weakened the writ of the state.

Societal dynamics in Pakistan

          The militants have developed deep roots in Pakistani society through an absence of long term policies by the government to counteract negative trends and the growth of unregulated militant organizations. The militants who took part in the Kashmir Jihad have now joined the militants because they were looking for an alternate cause. There is now a constant supply of volunteers to FATA based groups from NWFP, the Punjab, and even Sindh.[12] The militants operate in Pakistani mainland and many have links with other such groups.

        As the government has been unable to mobilise public support for its counter-insurgency policy due to a divided national attitude, the widely shared perception at the peoples level is that Pakistan’s support and role in the on-going global war on terrorism is not in Pakistan’s interest. A large number of leaders of public opinion and political activists blame Pakistan for playing the American game in return for some economic aid which barely reaches the common man. It is also thought that that Pakistan Army is thus used in the killing of its own people at the behest of the U.S. 86% of Pakistani say that the goal of US actions are to weaken the Islamic world. 84% say that the US is a bigger threat than al-Qaeda and the Taliban. 89% oppose Pakistan’s cooperation with the US on the War on Terrorism.[13] Such interpretation by the people of Pakistan regarding the war, represents a major weakness of Pakistani policy to build public support for a major foreign and domestic policy matter. It is mostly due to a lack of clarity of policy and absence of a robust communication strategy that this has happened.

        Pakistan’s official circles are divided about the implications of the rise of militancy for Pakistani state and society. Initially, the official circles were not perturbed by the militant activities because the latter were concentrated in Afghanistan. As the militants began to target Pakistani territory for suicide attacks and by bomb blasts in 2007-2008, many people became conscious of the threat. Other argued that the suicide attacks was a retaliation against Pakistan’s involvement in the US sponsored war on terrorism, especially Pakistan’s security operations in the tribal areas.  It appears that such views also run deep in powerful security circles adversely affecting their capacity to deal seriously with the militants challenge. This problem is further compounded when the ordinary soldiers are exposed to a constant barrage of evangelicalism preached by Islamic hardliners and by most of the prayer leaders at the mosque pulpit on Fridays.

       The absence of credible popular support for Pakistan Government’s participation in the global War on Terrorism and the divided official and non-official disposition towards the militant Islamic groups is the major reason for Pakistan’s inability to pursue counter insurgency with full commitment. This also gives ample space to the militants and other groups to pursue their partisan ideological agenda.

       On the strategic front, the Pakistan government faces another dilemma. The inability of the security forces to control militant activities in FATA and Swat give these groups a feeling of ascendancy while the security forces are perceived to be retreating, if not failing. As long as this perception persists, the militants and other Islamic groups will neither accommodate the government nor stop their efforts to expand their domain to the settled areas or dispatch suicide bombers to Pakistani cities. The recent operations in Bajaur against the militants although causing immense human suffering has dented the gains made by the militants so far and encouraged the communities to come out and challenge them; the state must regulate these initiatives however to prevent a blow-back latter.

      On the other hand as long as the Pakistani civilian and army authorities fail to assert their authority in the tribal areas and do not demonstrate that they have the capability to retaliate if the militants directly take on the government, no credible agreement will be possible between the militant and the government. Therefore, the government has to establish deterrence and authority in the tribal areas and show effectively that it has the capacity to contain the militants, only then the latter would feel the need of reaching an adjustment with the Pakistan government.

As the narrative indicates the militant groups are firmly established today in most tribal agencies with a strong spill-over into the adjoining districts of NWFP. Though several groups are engaged in militancy in the tribal areas, the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) is the strongest and largest organisation determined to fight against American/NATO troops and the Karzai government in Afghanistan in collaboration with their counterparts in Afghanistan. They also targetPakistan’s state symbols, institutions and personnel because they view the Pakistani government as an obstacle to their transnational ideological agenda of fighting Americans and establishing their hegemony in the region. Some important perspectives on the militancy are as follows:

  1. a) The rise of militancy in FATA can at least partly be explained with reference to growing dysfunctionality of Pakistani administrative structure there. The administration is unable to supply the goods and services that lead to the creation of legitimacy for the state and thus to generate voluntary loyalty. Political legitimacy is secured when the state is able to deliver security, justice; political empowerment and socio-economic development especially the means of livelihood The Pakistan Government continues to lag in the delivery of services in these sectors, causing alienation amongst the people of FATA who are now attracted towards militancy and the associated movement that appears more functional and transparent in dealing with local issues and problems. It also provides some degree of empowerment to the former disenfranchised population in FATA composed mostly of the poor.
  2. b) Security is a broad concept which includes keeping a watchful eye on all those interventions or permissions which the government gives and which can in the long run lead to challenging the writ of the state. FATA was negatively affected by many policy decisions that were taken by the federal government many years ago. The problem with administrative decision-making, concerning any matter connected with religion either directly or indirectly, is that its negative effects become visible after many years, when the social landscape has been modified. The distance between cause and effect makes us casual in our decisions. When the state acts against consequences created by poor decisions of the past it pays a heavy financial cost and also losses its stock of legitimacy.
  3. c) The rise of militancy in FATA can be attributed to many decisions of the past concerning security. At the time of those decisions the effects were not visible. However, after years the effects became plain and they shifted the perceptions of society to the right. For example the espousal of Jihad against the USSR in Afghanistan created the al-Qaeda and finally the Taliban. Another such decision was President Ziaul Haq’s encouragement to some religious groups to act as a foil to Iranian influence in Pakistan. This brought the Salafist influence into society and has created a sectarian nightmare between the Sunnis and the Shias.
  4. d) It can be said that decisions made by Pakistan concerning the Afghan policy (1978-92) and her subsequent support to the Taliban government in Kabul (1996 2001) was largely responsible for converting the Pakistani general public’s mind into a radical mould. Subsequent events like the tragedy witnessed in the Red Mosque and Jamia Hafza was waiting to happen.
  5. e) Massive and indiscriminate use of force in battles against the militants has led to huge collateral damage. This was caused by the use of air force, gunship helicopters and long range artillery without calculating its impact on innocent people who were not aligned with the militants. Therefore, the physical and mental traumas caused by such a policy provided fresh volunteers for fighting against the state.
  6. f) Thus it is apparent that the existing Pakistani military doctrine requires re-examination for handling the militancy in its many facets. A nationally accepted counter-insurgency approach based on close civil military cooperation aimed at stabilization and rehabilitation of FATA is a crying need to reduce the backlash arising out of collateral damage.
  7. g) The continued presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan and their military operations in Pushtun-majority areas in Afghanistan are viewed as a major challenge by militant groups. Most militant groups argue that if resistance against the Soviet troops (foreign troops) was justified in the 1980s how is the current resistance against foreign troops (US and NATO) wrong or unjustified?
  8. h) Another cause of alienation of the Pukhtuns is their poor representation in the Karzai government although they account for 42-45% of Afghanistan’s population and form its largest ethnic group yet they are sparsely represented in the corridors of power.
  9. i) The difficulty facing the Afghan government in eradicating poppy cultivation has provided the militants a source of ready funds. They obtain more than US $ 100 million annually as taxes from poppy cultivation.[14] The conversion of Afghanistan into a narco state in the presence of ISAF troops can only point to serious shortcoming within the allied war strategy in Afghanistan. Poppy cultivation finances militancy in Afghanistan which has a spill over effect onPakistan.
  10. j) The anti-American dimension of the militant movement also has an ideological Islamic transnational dynamic of an all out war against the West and its allies who are viewed as the enemies of Islam. This is popularly received by the masses in Pakistan.
  11. k) Pakistan’s efforts to tame the militants are hampered by lack of clarity amongst Pakistani society about whether they should consider militants heroes or villains. This ambiguity causes a lack of support for official policy and therefore creates a divided mind amongst Pakistan’s decision making elite.

Key Questions

       Briefly stated four key questions have to be answered immediately and clearly if the government wants to establish a semblance of order and stability in the tribal areas and contain militancy in the rest of Pakistan.

  1. a) Are the militants a foreign and security policy asset or liability? As long as they are considered as an asset for example for purpose of strategic depth, there will always be a lingering ambivalence in policy?
  2. b) What will be the consequences of the fight against the militants without establishing a national consensus through a series of actions including formulation of a comprehensive counter insurgency policy?
  3. c) Can the Government ignore at the cost of its credibility the need to adopt a transparent approach to the nature of its relations with the United States? Should the Government not inform the Parliament and the people about various types of economic and military assistance it gets from the US and the type of assistance it offers in return to the US?
  4. d) Can the Government continue to ignore the need to have more comprehensive civil-military coordination so that planned stabilization and reconstruction operations are undertaken in areas cleared of militancy to prevent a relapse?

Recommendations

      From the discussion above the following recommendations are proposed to increase the prospects of peace and security in the region; at the moment they are not looking good.

  1. The Allies should review the policy of troop surge proposed for Afghanistan. It will be a dangerous escalation and will raise the tempo of war and increase deaths. Given the Pushtun context in which these will occur they will cause an escalation in attacks; foreign casualties will rise and will get the US stuck in a quagmire; it is only a matter of time before the quarantine on ground to air missile weakens. If that happens then the current situation will deteriorate further.
  2. The US must develop a Pushtun Policy to engage them. The bad blood created in the past must be cleared and alternate solutions to the Afghan problem sought
  3. Pakistan must have a greater leadership role in conducting the war and initiating a positive intervention through the Pushtuns so that it could shift the centre of gravity from the killing fields to the negotiating table.
  4. Pakistan and Afghanistan must once for resolve the Durand Line issue and usher a period of peace and trade.
  5. The Kashmir issue must be settled so that problems between India and Pakistan are ended and the regional countries can help one another.
  6. A regional conference of countries affected by the war may be summoned to create a comprehensive regional framework for peace and cooperation
  7. Afghanistan and Pakistan must increase trade links and also initiate a wider Track II approach amongst the civil societies.
  8. Regional trade between India-Pakistan-Afghanistan must be encouraged
  9. Pakistan must begin societal transformation to clean up the societal distortions and introduce a counter-insurgency to deal with the galloping insurgency.

[1] H. Sidky, War, Changing Patterns of Warfare, State Collapse, and Terrorism, and Transnational Violence in Afghanistan: 1978-2001, Modern Asian Studies 41, 4 (2007).

[2] UN Department of Safety and Security, Afghanistan. Topic Assessment 02/07  Half-Year Review of the Security Situation in Afghanistan.

[3] Brian Cloughley, Afghanistan in a shambles,The News, Dec 9th 2008, (P. 11)

[4] Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives,(P. 40)

[5] Kurt Lobeck, Holy War, Unholy Victory: Eyewitness to the CIA’s Secret War in Afghanistan. 1993, (P. 161)

[6] J. Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, Verso, London, 2003 (P. 105)

[7] Coll, Steve; Ghost Wars, the Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, Penguin Books, London, 2004,  P. 238

[8] Rashid, Ahmed; Descent into Chaos, Viking, New York, 2008, P. 90

[9] Authors knowledge based on interview of NWFP political leaders

[10] Authors interview with officials responsible for FATA

[11] Recently communities have taken up the challenge against militants by raising Lashkars to contest their domination. The government has encouraged such initiatives but they lack support.

[12] Some of the militant leaders of the Swat insurgency belong to Southern Punjab while the leader of the Bajaur militants Qari Ziaur Rehman belongs to Afghanistan.

[13] Figures are reproduced from a Robert Dreyfuss article, Obama’s Afghan Dilemma, The Nation, Dec 3 2008, and available at

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20081222/dreyfuss?rel=hp_picks                     

[14] Rubin, Barnett; Marines Stuck Protecting Opium in Helmand, a paper dated May 8th, 2008.

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