Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
In November 2014, the new President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, made his maiden visit to Pakistan, one that is being projected as a “breakthrough” in the bilateral relations between the two countries. Only recently, the renowned international research organization – the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report on the need for Pakistan to reset its relationship with Afghanistan.
Today, after Ghani’s visit, is the Pak-Afghan relationship ready for a reset?
The visit of the new Afghan President to Pakistan was undertaken after a thorough homework by both sides. Ghani’s Pakistan visit was preceded by multiple visits from Pakistan to Afghanistan at the highest levels over recent weeks, that included the visits of the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) (November 2014), the Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (November 2014) and the Pakistani National Security Advisor (October 2014).
In return, the Afghan President received a red carpet welcome by Pakistan and had extensive discussions with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the COAS, and his Pakistani counterpart, Mamnoon Hussain. It is possible, there is a better expectation and even a euphoria within Pakistan about the new Afghan President; Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, was not liked by many within the establishment. During Karzai’s period, bilateral relations between the two countries had hit a low, with accusations and counter-accusations. As a result, Pakistan now sees the new President from a different perspective. The fact that he had hosted the aforementioned Pakistani officians within two months of assuming office also highlights the Afghan response.
The joint discussions during the visit, though did not make any major breakthrough, touched upon two crucial aspects. First was on increasing the Kabul-Islamabad economic engagement; both countries agreed to expand trade relations and have set a target of 5 billion dollars by 2017. Both sides also agreed to work on joint projects on infrastructure. In that context, the recent developments on an electricity grid linking Pakistan with Central Asia via Afghanistan – the CASA 1000 – holds new opportunities for both countries.
Second, the joint discussions also focussed on Afghanistan’s security forces receiving military training from Pakistan. The same was discussed when Pakistan’s COAS visited Afghanistan in November, during which he was reported to have volunteered to provide military training to the Afghan troops. Though Pakistan had offered the same earlier as well, Karzai was hesitant to accept, as, at that time, there was deep distrust in Kabul towards Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Given the nature of civil-military relations within Pakistan, the offer to train Afghan security forces should have come from the establishment and not from the prime minister. What does the acceptance of military training by Pakistan mean for Afghanistan? Is there a greater trust in Kabul vis-à-vis the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi?
The above would also imply that there is an understanding between both sides on militant sanctuaries on either sides of the Durand Line. Karzai was apprehensive of the Pakistani establishment’s support to the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network; and the latter was suspicious of former’s support to the Pakistani Taliban, especially Mullah Fazlullah. The fact that the joint discussions avoided discussing this issue in public does hint towards an understanding between the new leaderships in Kabul, and Islamabad.
These are good news for Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.
Is the Afghan-Pakistan Relationship Ready for a Reset? Much will depend on three key issues: First, the establishment in Pakistan and its linkages with the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network. The top leadership may have decided to reset the relationship, but does the entire structure, down to the operative in the field, perceive Afghanistan in the same way? The reported “sections” or “cells” within the establishment and their role whether in orchestrating a political conspiracy (as has been the case during the recent political protests by Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan) or clandestinely supporting the multiple Taliban franchises have been reported sufficiently by the media within Pakistan itself.
Second, will the multiple franchisees of the Taliban – the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) factions – agree to such a reset? How does one interpret the suicide bomb during the last week of November in Afghanistan’s Paktika province that killed over 50 people during a volleyball match? And another attack on a British vehicle and foreign guest house in Kabul, killing six?
Finally, what would Pakistan expect from Afghanistan in return for the reset? And will Afghanistan be able to deliver the same? For example, what if the government in Kabul is unable to control its own provinces in eastern Afghanistan where the TTP finds sanctuary? And what if Islamabad expects Kabul to reduce the Indian footprint in Afghanistan?
The reset in bilateral relations should be welcome. It is timely and imperative. However, it is not going to be an easy task.
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
The recent International Crisis Group (ICG) report on the Af-Pak region, following its excellent previous reports on the same subject, now addresses a crucial question: Can Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan be reset?
The report focuses on three issues towards a reset: political imperatives, economic opportunities and constraints, and finally, Afghan refugees in Pakistan. This critique discusses the issues further.
What Shapes Pakistan’s Afghan Policy?
According to the report, Pakistan’s “Afghan policy is still shaped by the ‘baggage of the past’, namely the propensity to interfere in Afghanistan.” This has been the crux of Pakistan’s Kabul predicament and the related problems within Afghanistan.
Despite multiple debates in the public and within policy circles, including the Parliament, within Pakistan, there has been no credible alternate narrative on Afghanistan that is visible and convincing. To an extent, there is a widespread understanding and acceptance within civil society that there has to be a change in Islamabad’s approach towards Kabul but this change is yet to be enunciated formally as a doctrine, and implemented at the ground level.
Until there is an alternate narrative and a new Afghan doctrine, the strategic community and civil society will be lulled by its own thinking of change, instead of actual change aimed at ‘new’ relations. Else, as shall be subsequently explained, it will be back to the old actors pursuing the same policies, using the same old actors and trump cards (or the proxies, as the report refers to).
Who Shapes Pakistan’s Afghan Policy?
This is an equally important question that the report discusses under “civil-military relations.” If Islamabad has to really reset its relations with Afghanistan, then there has to be a reset within Pakistan in terms of who formulates its Afghan policy.
The Establishment - the military and the ISI - are bound to be conservative and averse to risks in taking bold new steps and completely changing the policy outlook towards Afghanistan (and India as well). The ICG report hints about the inability of the Parliament to produce a coherent document/doctrine that would be seen as a viable alternative plan. If there are serious capacity problems within the Parliament along with delicate civil-military relations further complicating foreign policy decision-making by the elected leaders, there is little reset likely to happen in terms of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan.
The real and hard question is whether both the Sharifs (the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff) are in sync in terms of Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan. Or, is the civilian Sharif under the shadow of the khakis and has only limited influence in shaping an independent policy towards Afghanistan (and also vis–à–vis India)?
In the absence of a credible alternative narrative, the media debate is likely to influence and shape the civil society’s thinking. If the media debates are well informed, without biases and not “planted’, then it is bound to create a new narrative. However, if the media debate is influenced by ‘embedded’ and partisan inputs supporting the primary arguments of select State and non-State actors, there is little that the civil society can do in terms of advancing a new narrative.
Perhaps it is because of the above two factors, the failure of Parliament and the civil society to produce a strong alternate narrative, despite an intention to change Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan, that it has not transformed into a tangible doctrine. Or perhaps, those institutions that actually formulate and implement Pakistan’s foreign policy are stronger in resisting the change.
Unless the ‘intention to change’ becomes ‘evident in action’, resetting Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan will stay on paper and as an idea.
...And Through What Strategies?
This should be the third related question along with ‘what shapes’ and ‘who shapes’ Pakistan’s Afghan relations. The report talks about Pakistan’s proxies and its own version of a Monroe Doctrine vis-a-vis Afghanistan; both will remain a crucial problem in resetting relations.
Of the four sets of non-State actors criss-crossing the Durand Line – the Afghan Taliban, Huqqani Network, TTP and other Pakistani groups (such as the Lashkar, Jaish, Punjabi Taliban) - any action by Pakistan supporting one and opposing another is less likely to yield positive responses. If the Pakistani Taliban provides sanctuary for their Afghan counterparts within FATA and KP, it is only natural that the latter extends the same to the former in Khost, Nuristan and other provinces across the Durand Line.
Fighting the TTP but supporting the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network is unlikely help Pakistan to reset its relations with Afghanistan. There seems to be an illusion within Pakistan that their security forces are fighting the Taliban and hence the problem is being addressed. However, until there is a realisation that Pakistan’s counter-terrorism approach is selective and counter-productive to its own larger national interests, the possibility of resetting Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan (and India) will remain a far cry.
As the attack on the Wagah post in Pakistan would highlight, today the militants based in Pakistan are no more the proxies of the Establishment. The non-State actors in Pakistan are clear and know what they want. Do the State actors have the same clarity?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
D Suba Chandran Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)
Will the new political arrangement (President and a Chief Executive Officer) in Afghanistan work, and more importantly, deliver? Though it looks simple in paper, given the recent history between the two contenders – Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah – will the power-sharing deal help Afghanistan stabilise?
One Country, Two Executives
The understanding simply means that there would be two Executives for Afghanistan – the President (Ashraf Ghani) and a Chief Executive Officer (either Abdullah Abdullah, or someone nominated by him). It does solve the electoral dispute that had been raging between the two contenders and threatening to derail the political process. However, will the arrangement address the challenges facing Afghanistan?
The first set of challenges includes providing a coherent administration, better governance and addressing the looming economic crisis. One will have all the powers entrusted by the Constitution, while the other is yet to have a legal sanction – either via a Grand Jirga or the Parliament.
Also, the situation in the Afghan power structure is not as simple as two leaders trying to share power. It involves two sets of diverse groups attempting to share power and run a country, with the divide running across the ethnic lines. Neither side is monolithic; both leaders will have to address their constituencies, that not only involve respective communities – be it the Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras – but also power leaders including provincial governors, warlords and even military officials within the Afghan National Army.
The Shifting American Focus towards Iraq
The agreement is primarily due to the US’ pressure. And that poses the second challenge for the new Afghan arrangement. How seriously committed will the US be, once the new Afghan structure is in place? Undoubtedly, the multiple visits by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and his constant dialogue with both parties have ensured that the electoral process has not been completely wasted. Abdullah was ready to leave the process and pursue a different political path. Thanks to Kerry, the two contestants could be brought together.
Will the US and Kerry have the same time and patience to continue their engagement with Afghanistan? The farewell speech is likely to leave a bad note in the Obama administration and the larger American nation. The US’ Ambassador to Afghanistan James B. Cunningham’s, remarks to outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s speech on 23 September will echo the larger American sentiment – ungrateful and ungracious. The new Afghan government have to work closely with the US government, and also address the prevailing sentiment about corruption and mis-governance, resulting in siphoning off the American tax payers’ money.
However, there are two positives for the US, as Karzai’s term ends. The US does not have to deal with him anymore and that should be a huge relief; the past year has been extremely bad and upsetting for the US. Second, the new president has already signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US, followed by a similar one with the NATO.
Also, as it happened a decade ago, the US’s attention has been already diverted to Iraq. The airstrikes-only approach means the US needs to work harder to stitch a collation in the region and get regional boots on the ground. The return of the US to West Asia to destroy the Islamic State (IS) also means allocating considerable funds to train the Syrian opposition and augment the Iraqi security forces. Both – the diplomatic engagement in West Asia and raising local forces to fight the IS means less diplomatic time and financial resources for Afghanistan.
The third major challenge would be the resurgence of the Taliban, and their supporters across the Durand Line. Despite multiple efforts, negotiations with the Taliban have not succeeded until today. Moving ahead, the reasons behind the failure would factor heavily in the new government.
There is no evidence at the ground level to prove that the Taliban infrastructure is destroyed. While the al Qaeda network in Pakistan has been substantially neutralised, the Taliban network across the Durand Line remains intact, and has in fact expanded further. The recent announcement that the Pakistani Taliban in Punjab would fight in Afghanistan underlines the Afghan Taliban’s strategic depth in the West. Mullah Omar has silently reversed the idea of “Strategic Depth” in the Af-Pak map; today the Afghan Taliban has enough safe havens, support structures and human resources deep inside Pakistan.
The new Afghan government with two executives would find it difficult to deal with such a complicated network that enjoys continuous support from across the Durand Line.
It’s the Economy, Stupid
The economic situation and the human development indicators have been transformed dramatically over the last decade. There are more schools, roads, transmission lines etc., than has ever been in the history of Afghanistan. The Afghan economy is evolving slowly but steadily, as are the country’s government structures and non-governmental institutions.
Herein lies the challenge. The above needs to be protected and expanded further, for which the new government would need strong financial support. Afghanistan is yet to become a regional economy and the much touted Heart of Asia. Though structures exist, there are no funds to support and finance the infrastructure and human resources that have been created during the last decade.
Securing what has been created so far itself will be a big challenge for the new president.
It appears that the biggest threat to democracy in Pakistan is its democratic leadership, that too the elected ones. Ongoing developments in Islamabad clearly highlight the problem – all in the name of democracy and revolution, but through un-constitutional and violent means.
One can discount the politics of Tahirul Qadri; he is a “visiting” politician with a Canadian passport, whose politics and love for democracy and revolution in Pakistan is seasonal. How then must one describe Imran Khan’s politics? And Nawaz Sharif’s response (or the lack of it)?
Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI) is no-longer amateurs; they have been in politics for over a decade; partaken in elections, and after the 2013 polls, have even formed a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Why is he trying to wreck the political process?
One explanation could be his patience quotient. Perhaps, he now believes that his time has come to become the next prime minister of Pakistan. He appears to be on a ‘now or never’ approach and is unwilling to make any compromise. There has been a pattern to his demands since the beginning of this episode; what started as a rigging issue (in the 2013 general election in select constituencies) with a demand for recount of votes has slowly evolved into nothing but the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
One is unsure, whether Imran Khan would agree to Sharif stepping down at this moment. He would like nothing short of him being appointed as the next prime minister. This is politics of opportunism.
The second explanation could be the lack of intra-party democracy within the PTI and Khan’s leadership qualities to listen to dissent. Is there a consensus within the PTI in terms of pursuing a democratic approach to dethrone an elected government through sheer blackmail? The differences between Khan and his party President, Javed Hashmi, is a case in point. According to a Dawn news report, “He (Hashmi) said the core committee had unanimously decided not to march on the Prime Minister House, but Mr Khan bypassed the decision after receiving a message from ‘somewhere’ at a time when negotiators from the two sides were about to finalise an agreement.”
Personalised politics has been the bane of the politics in the sub-continent. Even within the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is now at the receiving end, and those outside the crisis – the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan People’s Party –have been driven by their leaders, with less or no consideration for their “core-committees.” To rephrase Louis XIV of France, many leaders believe and act with the same sentiment – “I’m the Party.”
The third explanation could be the space provided by Nawaz Sharif’s response, or the lack of it. As the prime minister and leader of the Parliament, armed with constitutional support, Sharif failed to evolve a coherent strategy from day one to deal with Khan’s threats. In retrospect, it appears that former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari dealt with Khan and Qadri better, politically, by engaging them. Sharif seems to have isolated himself and avoided taking any decision. He appeared to be willing to abdicate the decision-making process to the Supreme Court, the parliament and later to the military, hoping that somehow the crisis would get resolved on its own.
A final explanation for Khan’s offensive is perhaps, he is playing to a script written elsewhere by the Establishment. A section – both in Pakistan and outside consider that Khan and Qadri are only playing a match that has been already fixed by the military. Two reasons could be projected supporting this explanation: first, Khan’s decision, almost after a year, to realize that 2013 election has been rigged; and second, Qadri would return to Pakistan to launch a revolution, and then join hands with Imran Khan.
Whatever be the reasons, the real question today (as on 1 September, 2014), is what next for Pakistan? The above explanations would easily explain what is in store. If the political leaders – ruling and opposition – would prefer not to play by democratic rules, remain opportunist and decide to blackmail the system with few thousand followers, it is setting a dangerous trend to the future of political process in Pakistan. Even if Sharif is dislodged and Khan made prime minister, it would be easier for the PML-N to return the favour.
Second, a section believes, that in fact a, coup has already taken place with the military striking a deal with Sharif that the Parliament would not interfere in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy towards US, Afghanistan and India. Soft coup, as it is referred to, the military wants a political process led by democratically elected leaders, but the decision making, retained by the former. Of course, the Parliament can deal with mundane matters of the State, discuss, debate and even legislate, but the main issues would be silently dealt with by the military.
Whether the military would take over as result of the present crisis, is immaterial. The democrats have already done enough damage to democracy in Pakistan.
Mullah Fazlullah: Challenges to the “Eliminate or Extradite” Approach
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
Hundreds of militants have been killed ever since the military in Pakistan launched an offensive against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in June 2014. There have also been numerous reports that ever since the military operations began, there has been an exodus of militants and civilians from the FATA into Afghanistan cutting across the Durand Line.
As a headline in one of the leading news papers read, Pakistan today wants Afghanistan to either “extradite” Mullah Fazlullah, the leader of the TTP, or “eliminate” him. Will such an approach with Afghanistan succeed, given the large-scale differences between Kabul and Islamabad?
After innumerable deliberations within Pakistan and the chimera of a dialogue with the TTP, the military operations have begun only now. But the harsh reality for Pakistan is: there are no similar operations from the other side of the Durand Line, or even a basic security template in Afghanistan to deal with those who are currently crossing the border between the two.
General Asim Saleem Bajwa, in one of his Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) briefings in early July commented that “the leader of the TTP Mullah Fazlullah is sitting across the border in Kunar or Nuristan and Afghanistan needs to do something about it.” Perhaps he is, and perhaps Afghanistan should do something about it.
Is Fazlullah a priority for Kabul?
Despite complaints from Pakistan, the Afghan government could not deal with Pakistani militants who have been hiding in Paktia, Paktika, Kunar and Nuristan provinces adjoining the Durand Line. Perhaps, they were not the priority for the present Afghan government that is facing the exit of the US troops, national and provincial elections, and more importantly, its own security threats from the Afghan Taliban and its affiliates including the Haqqani Network.
Though a section within Pakistan believes that Kabul in fact colludes with Fazlullah (along with India and the US of course), it is a farfetched proposition. Fazlullah may not be a priority for Afghanistan, as Hafiz Saeed and Mullah Omar are not for Pakistan.
The politics of “trump cards” and “not our problem” approach have been played so far and will continue to play a crucial role in the role neighbours’ perceptions and subsequent actions against militancy and terrorism.
Across the Durand: Trust Deficit and Militancy
Second, there has been a huge trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan in terms of providing support to militancy. Kabul has repeatedly complained that the roots and bases of Taliban militancy in Afghanistan are inside Pakistan; in particular, the Pakistani military’s reluctance to go after Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network was viewed that way not only by the Afghan government, but also the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) leadership.
Similarly, a section within Pakistan even believes that the Afghan government secretly supports the TTP. Inherent tensions over the Durand Line between the two countries and the recent border clashes have created a huge gap between the Islamabad and Kabul. An added disadvantage for Pakistan is – many in Afghanistan do not trust Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), even if they find the political leadership sincere; and since the days of jihad against the Soviets, the Afghans believe that the ISI abused the relationship and would like to control Afghanistan rather than cooperating with them.
Neutralising the TTP: Is Pakistan Serious Now?
Islamabad and Rawalpindi, have, until recently, been reluctant to go after even the Pakistani Taliban. Islamabad (under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif now, and President Asif Ali Zardari earlier) had been attempting to initiate a dialogue with the TTP, as has been pointed out by the former Director General of the ISPR in a recent interview to the BBC, and Rawalpindi was hesitant to engage the militants through military operations. According to Maj Gen Athar Abbas, “it had been decided in principle that preparations for the operation would take place between 2010 and 2011, and that it would be launched in 2011 to rid North Waziristan of extremists once and for all... He (Gen Kayani) was very reluctant when it came to the North Waziristan operation. Kayani thought the decision to launch the operation would reflect on his personality and people would take it as his personal decision, which is why he kept delaying the operation.”
Given the reluctance within the political and military leadership in Pakistan to go against even the TTP, it would be a Herculean task to convince them to neutralise the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network.
Will Afghanistan prevent the movement of the TTP within its soil without a quid pro quo? Even if it wants to pursue the TTP in its border provinces, does Kabul have enough firepower to undertake a parallel operation across the Durand Line? No doubt, the militants belonging to the Afghan Taliban, or the TTP or the al Qaeda – are a threat to the entire region. But until now, despite the pressure from its own public, the leadership in Pakistan has not realised it.
This will pose a huge challenge for Pakistan to achieve any substantial success in Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Taliban after Afghan Elections: Spring Offensive or the Last Stand?
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
A series of attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan during May 2014 resulted in a few media-persons calling it a Spring Offensive. Is it really a calculated and well planned offensive by the Taliban? Or is it merely the Last Stand of a terrorist organisation arising out of desperation and conceived over a fear of losing relevance in any future Afghan political framework?
Neither Spring, Nor Offensive; Mere Desperation After failing to disrupt the first round of the successful presidential elections in Afghanistan – that were held all over the country on 5 April – a section reported the Taliban’s plans to launch a massive surge. True, there were few attacks during the last month; for example, according to news reports, 18 people were killed in three attacks in Jalalabad, Ghazni and Helmand provinces. Later, on 23 May, there was a high profile attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat.
Except for those three coordinated assaults in the provinces and the attack on Indian Consulate in Herat, there have been no serious threats from the Taliban that challenge the Afghan security forces. A closer look into those three assaults would even reveal them as regular guerrilla attacks, using the classic sneaking in and opening fire strategy, than an open challenge or a military duel. Many in India suspect that the attack on its Consulate in Herat was in fact carried out by the proxies of Pakistan with an objective to scuttle Nawaz Sharif’s proposed visit to India to partake in the recently-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony.
It is entirely possible that the two sets of attacks in May were carried out by two different factions of the Afghan Taliban for two different objectives – the first set of attacks on the three provinces by the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar to prove their relevance, and the attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat by the Haqqani Network, having been instigated by their masters from elsewhere in Pakistan.
Perhaps, what one sees in Afghanistan is not a surge by the Taliban but a desperate last attempt to make themselves relevant in Afghanistan’s post-election political framework, using violence as a strategy.
Post-election Political Setup: Predicting the Taliban’s Roadmap Two significant developments might have rubbished the Taliban’s calculations for a role for themselves in the future government in Kabul following the withdrawal of Western troops: the successful elections of 5 April, and the widespread popular participation.
By any standard of evaluation, the election was a huge success and an ultimate insult to the Taliban. Barring few provinces in southern regions of the country, Afghans turned out in substantial numbers, waited patiently in long, serpentine queues and cast their votes despite bad weather and shortage of ballot papers. Never in the history of Afghanistan has there been a political change of regime, supported by its people such as this.
Though the Taliban issued threats against partaking in the elections, except in few provinces, the people disregarded them. More importantly, there was a substantial participation of the youth and women in the elections. This completely negated the views that Afghan women are afraid of the Taliban, and the youth is eager to join militant ranks.
Furthermore, the elections have also seriously questioned another myth that the people of Afghanistan think in terms of ethnic lines while making major decisions. Before the elections, a section believed, and even continues to do so, that the ethnic factor would keep the democratic process and the future of Afghanistan polarised. It appears that there is a slow, but steady construction of an ‘Afghan identity’ over the ethnic identity. This does not mean a national identity would override their ethnic and tribal ones, but simply underlines the phenomenon that on larger national interests of the country, there could be a pan-Afghan identity. One could sense this larger national identity taking roots especially amongst the youth in Afghanistan.
In this context, what do the aforementioned developments mean for the future of Taliban following elections? First and foremost, the majority in Afghanistan prefer democratic politics through an electoral process, than an insurgent-led regime based on fatwas and religious edicts. Second, the political structure to be built gradually in Kabul will be Afghan in nature and not based or opposed on narrow ethnic and tribal lines. If this process continues, why would any government in Kabul even consider the Taliban as a stakeholder and negotiate with them? Instead, won’t the future rulers, democratically elected directly by the Afghans, not consider the Taliban as an insurgent group and pursue strategies to combat it, than co-opting them?
Both the aforementioned developments, if allowed to evolve, would mean a death knell to the Taliban. The only way that the Taliban could remain relevant is what they are known for: using violence as a strategy to threaten the populace. As the Afghan National Security Forces prepares itself further, even this violent strategy of the Taliban would reap diminishing returns for the latter. The Taliban is running out of time to make any last stand; and perhaps, after 2014, it would be reduced to a force similar to the multiple other terrorist groups in South Asia – that might not disappear altogether, but the people and State will be able to live with it. And that is the larger threat for the Taliban.
Inside Pakistan: The Establishment’s Two-Front War
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
The Establishment in Pakistan may have worried about a two-front war bordering India and Afghanistan for a long time, but it never would have imagined a two-front war within the country itself, vis-à-vis the elected political leadership and the media. After enjoying a preponderant position within the power structure of Pakistan, it is not an easy situation for the leadership of the military and its ISI to handle.
From Impregnable to Vulnerable: Echoes of Iftikhar Chaudhry and Pervez Musharraf on GHQ
The factors that have made the military vulnerable within Pakistan have undoubtedly been caused by two individuals – Iftikhar Chaudhry and Pervez Musharraf.
Justice Chaudhry fired the first salvo when Musharraf was the President. It all started in March 2007 when Musharraf decided to suspend Justice Chaudhry, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; worse, he summoned the Chief Justice, asking him to resign. The judge decided to take on the Commando - he refused to step down. Seven years earlier, almost to the day, he addressed a huge rally in Lahore, which he later repeated in Karachi in May 2007. The subsequent violence that led to the killing of more than 40 people was orchestrated by Musharraf and his supporters to prevent Chaudhry from entering Karachi.
What followed was a slow but steady movement - that was initially led by the legal community but later expanded to include a substantial section of the civil society - with the catchy slogan, 'Go Musharraf Go'. Ultimately, Musharraf had to reinstall Justice Chaudhry, but the ghosts of 2007 were to come back strongly and haunt Musharraf seven years later in 2014, with the judiciary opening up a treason case against the former president, who also happened to be a former military Chief of Pakistan.
It was the trial that exposed the chinks in the Pakistani military’s internal armour. Though the previous Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani, who was also Musharraf’s successor, had reportedly advised Musharraf’s against returning to Pakistan, the latter did not listen. Perhaps reasoning has never been Musharraf’s forte. Not many even within Pakistan were able to comprehend Musharraf’s decision to return.
Once Musharraf decided to return, he should have been prepared to face the consequences of a legal trial for acts of omission and commission as the former President. Iftikhar Chaudhry may have been less lenient towards Musharraf, but the trial continued even after his retirement. Nawaz Sharif, who had been thrown out by Musharraf in a military takeover, and later sentenced to exile, also did not have a stake in looking for a way out or a compromise.
What was essentially a trial against a former President snowballed into an issue between the civilian and military leaderships. The trial against Musharraf is being projected as a trial of the military as an institution by two other institutions – the Parliament and Judiciary.
The larger question here is regarding the role of Nawaz Sharif in attempting to undermine the military and its ISI as an institution and bring it under civilian control. Is this at the core of the differences between the two leaders and three institutions? Or is the issue about the izzat (honour) of a predominant institution within the political structure of Pakistan?
The Shahzads and Mirs: The Media’s War against the ISI
In 2013, Syed Saleem Shahzad, one of Pakistan’s leading journalists, who was working on al Qaeda and its links with the military, was allegedly killed by the intelligence agencies. His book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, created an uproar within Pakistan and elsewhere. The ISI was believed to have been unhappy with the book’s projections and findings; what was believed to a warning shot ended up killing him. While there were murmurs about the killing of Shahzad and the ISI initially, it opened a Pandora’s Box when Hamid Mir, another senior journalist and lead TV anchor was attacked, allegedly by the ISI.
Immediately after the attack, Hamid Mir’s brother publicly accused the ISI for masterminding the attack against Hamid Mir. The TV channel he is associated with ran the show repeatedly with the ISI chief’s photograph in the background, and several leading journalists and media people came out to openly in support of Hamid Mir. For the first time, there seems to be an organised and systematic criticism of the ISI’s activities within Pakistan, especially against the media.
The ISI is believed to be undertaking a damage control exercise by asking the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) to file a case against Geo Television, for which Hamid Mir works. It has also apparently instigated a few journalists to write against Mir and organise a campaign against his group. It is clear that the ISI is no more the most powerful institution in Pakistan.
Whether the military and its ISI have managed the damage control or not, the crucial questions are – How vulnerable are these once powerful institutions? Where is the internal two-front war heading? Is this a temporary aberration or a new trend within Pakistan?
Given the security and political environment (including the weather and rains) within and outside Afghanistan, the recently held election to usher in their next president is perhaps the most significant democratic poll in the history of the country. The nature and extent of participation given the level political polarisation and the threats of violence from the Taliban, this election should be nothing but a watershed in Afghanistan’s modern history.
Despite the multiple challenges ahead, this is an important milestone in the Afghan search for stability. The Afghans have spoken clearly. What does the vote signify, and what does it mean for the future of the country?
The size and the nature of the election were certainly historic and should set a benchmark for the future of any democratic means in Afghanistan. Despite complaints of fraud; the inability of the several voters to exercise their right due to weather (elections took place in cold and rainy weather); administrative issues (lack of adequate ballot sheets); and the Taliban’s threats to punish those who participate, this election is a definite success.
A comparison with the 2009 presidential elections will indicate how far Afghanistan has come in the past five years. From Karzai to Obama, credit should go to many leaders within and outside Afghanistan, in making this election a success.
The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan: A Promising Start Complete credit should go the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan (IEC), for organising such an election. Without formal training in democratic traditions or much experience, organising such a large-scale election in over 400 districts located in varying topographies and security situations, and addressing 13 million voters, would not have been an easy task for anybody. But the IEC performed that wonder – using donkeys, trucks, air support and a newly trained Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
This is a good beginning for the process of elections. Unlike the rest of South Asia, where election commissions have seen various phases since the 1940s, Afghanistan’s IEC is totally new and has emerged out of nowhere. Any election commission would remain independent only if the political elite, and more importantly, the executive have the will; this is a good beginning for the IEC and a good omen for the future of democratic processes in Afghanistan.
The ANSF: Ready to Support Civilian Institutions Credit should also go to the ANSF – the army and the police. Compared to the 2009 elections, where the ANSF contribution was minimal, security for the 2014 elections were ensured by the ANSF. There were 350,000 Afghan troops engaged in securing the election process, with hardly over 50,000 NATO troops. Providing statistical details of 2009 and 2014 elections may not do justice to the NATO troops then and the ANSF now; however, this should not take the credit away from the ANSF in supporting an elections process.
Historically the militaries in Afghanistan, the current one in particular, is not built to assist civilian institutions in securing an election. Given the mandate and the pace at which the ANSF was built, their achievements are substantial, if not extraordinary.
The IEC would not have succeeded in conducting this election without substantial support from the ANSF. Perhaps, this election should be seen as a coming of age for the ANSF and their preparedness to support the civilian government and its institutions.
The Afghan Civil Society: Leading the Democratic Transition Third, the credit should also go to the Afghans, for cutting across the ethnic lines. True, they may have voted along ethnic lines, but they voted for a new Afghanistan. They came out in huge numbers; and according to initial reports, over 60 per cent of voters showed up on the day of polling, waited in long queues to ink their fingers and make a statement. And they did make a statement. Not so loud perhaps, but clear as crystal. The vote should not be interpreted as against someone – the Taliban or Karzai’s government – but as a positive vote for a new Afghanistan.
More importantly, the participation of women in the 2014 election was substantial. Multiple photographs and interviews of the women who have voted tell a new story of the Afghan women.
The Political Elite: Towards an Inclusive and Consensus Politics
Finally, the political elite of Afghanistan – though accused of corruption and war-lording – have also come a long way in deciding the outcome of this election. Consider the following: despite the fears of fraud, Karzai should be complimented for organising this election that was relatively free and fair. Though there were accusations of Karzai favouring Zalmai Rassoul and allowing the government machinery to support the latter, the other two leading contenders do share an optimism of the whole process so far.
The leading contestants – Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul also need to be complimented for ensuring inclusiveness in this election, and for addressing the concerns of every community, and not just the majority.
To conclude, the Afghans have spoken. Towards an Afghan-led Afghan-owned future. Loud and Clear.
Across the Durand Line: Who is in Control Now? Will That Change?
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, India, at a recent conference, raised an important question while discussing the Af-Pak region: who is in control?
Given the recent developments on both sides of the Durand Line, and what is likely to occur over the course of 2014 – the Afghan presidential elections, and the signing/non-signing of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security agreement (BSA) – and by the end of this year, such as the complete withdrawal of international troops from the country, this question assumes even more significance.
The second question that warrants attention is: who among the multiple State and non-State actors across the Durand Line will gain an upper hand by the end of 2014?
Who is in Control: The Chaos Today There are multiple State and non-State actors across the Durand Line, fighting to establish their political and social influence across the tribal regions. They are the Taliban, the al Qaeda, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its multiple franchisees, and the Pakistani military and the tribal militias/jirgas, among others.
The fact that these regions on both sides of the Line haven’t remained under the total writ of the respective central governments in Kabul and Islamabad, makes it difficult to define ’control’ and its ‘nature’; since the time of Alexander the Great, there has never been absolute control of a single actor over the region. Second, given the nature of rhetoric and real objectives of the non-State actors and the actual capacities and the political will of State actors to make use of them, understanding what the actors aim to control would be a challenging task.
Control, in this context should not be narrowly defined as mere military control, or the ability of the State to exercise its writ, politically. It has to be viewed from a wider perspective.
Despite the aforementioned factors/issues, the fact that there is a prevailing uncertainty – in terms of social and political control over the Af-Pak region, especially across the Durand Line – is evident. Undoubtedly, the four major non-State actors in the region – the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda, and the TTP – have a significant presence today; but one cannot consider this presence as control.
Be it Kabul or Islamabad, these non-State actors have the ability to inflict a high level of damage. A cursory look at the high profile attacks in the recent years would reveal that no place in Pakistan and/or Afghanistan is absolutely safe and secure. Via the use of Improvised Explosive Devices to human bombs, non-State actors have, so far, brought about extensive damages.
On the other hand, however, despite their ability to carry out attacks, none of the aforementioned non-State actors have been able to ‘control’ significant portions of the territory and/or enforce their ‘writ’ politically. The State actors – the ANSF, the ISAF and the Pakistani military – may not have succeeded in preventing the high profile militant attacks, in both the border regions as well in their respective national capitals, but have certainly prevented the non-State actors from taking ‘control’ of any geographical area across the Durand Line.
To conclude, the answer to the question on the current situation in terms of who controls the Af-Pak region is : nobody, in absolute terms. Given the sizes of the geographical areas the State holds sway over, perhaps, the State and its actors have control, in a relatively greater measure.
Who Will Take Control: The Perilous Future How long will the State actors retain their upper hand in the region, given their current advantage in terms of political, military and social control over the Af-Pak region, especially across the Durand Line? What will the nature of ’control’ be by the end of this year and from the beginning of 2015?
Drone attacks by the US have, to a large extent, neutralised the al Qaeda leadership across the Durand Line. Today, most of its top leadership is either decimated or has moved to other regions in West Asia and North Africa. The Al Qaeda is unlikely to establish its control in the region by the end of this year, or even early next year. That is not an objective of the al Qaeda and its Uzbek and Chechen franchisees; not anymore.
The Taliban in Afghanistan and the TTP in Pakistan, however, are neither decimated and nor have they moved out of the Af-Pak region. The drone attacks by the US primarily targeted the al Qaeda and not the Afghan Taliban leadership. As a result, the Afghan Taliban will remain an important actor in deciding the future course of stability in Afghanistan. This holds true for the Haqqani Network as well. The limited military offensive and the Pakistani State’s charade of negotiations with the TTP have given a new lease to the Pakistan Taliban. Whether or not these actors would establish ’control‘ over the Af-Pak region by the end of this year will depend on the strength of the military.
More importantly, it would depend on the political will in Kabul and Islamabad, to make use of their militaries to impose the State’s writ.
The future of the ownership of control on the Af-Pak region depends not on the strength of the non-State actors, but on the military strengths and political will of the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to employ it.
If the past experience is any basis, the future does not look too encouraging.
Taliban Talks and the Four Horsemen: Between Peace and Apocalypse
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
The previous article in this column discussed the talks about talks with the Pakistani Taliban, and Sami-ul-Haq being projected as the interlocutor between the State and the Teherik-e-Taliban (TTP).
Since the previous column was written in early January 2014, three major developments have taken place. First was a short military campaign against the militants in Waziristan. Second was appointment of a 'four member committee' by the government to negotiate with the Taliban. Third was the acceptance of the TTP to negotiate with the State, along with nomination of a team from the Pakistani Taliban.
While the decision to negotiate with the TTP and the latter’s response was itself a substantial achievement, the harsh reality is that the problems for the State have just begun. Given the issues and questions, this process is likely to be anything but easy.
From Sami-ul-Haq to the Four Horsemen: A Changed Strategy by the Government
During the last week of January 2014, the government appointed a four member committee to negotiate with the TTP, comprising of Rahimullah Yusufzai, Irfan Siddiqui, Rustam Shah and Major (Retd) Amir.
Rahimullah Yusufzai is a well-known and independent senior journalist. His writings in mainstream newspapers have been balanced and he his insights are respected. Irfan Siddiqui is also a senior journalist, but today he is known more as a pro-Nawaz person; he is also a Special Assistant to the Prime Minister. Major Amir has been reported as a former ISI officer who is close to Nawaz Sharif. According to Amir Mir, "Major (retd) Amir... has a murky past being the alleged architect of the infamous 'Operation Midnight Jackal' to topple the first government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1989." (The News, 30 January 2014). Rustam Shah is a former diplomat who has served in Afghanistan and is known to be sympathetic to the Taliban.
In terms of the composition, it could be generally agreed that two of them (Irfan Siddiqui and Major Amir) are seen as closer to Nawaz Sharif. There is nothing wrong in Sharif choosing his confidantes, in fact, given the intricacies it is always useful for the Prime Miniester to choose a team he has confidence in. However, as Fazlur Rehman has already criticised, they were not chosen on a consensus, nor they have a political background. The four horsemen are all professionals in one field or the other, but have never been politicians.
Will the four horsemen be able to deliver? Except for Fazlur Rehman, the rest of the political leadership, cutting across political lines at the national and regional levels, seems to have faith in the new initiative.
From Suicide Attacks to a Ten Member Committee: Understanding the Change in TTP
What has changed for the TTP in the last month that it has agreed to negotiate with the government?
Was it because of the military strikes in Waziristan? Given the nature of the attacks and the short duration, it appears that the military strikes were aimed more at convincing the US, where Sartaj Aziz was attempting to revive the strategic dialogue between the two countries, rather than at bringing the Taliban down. Had the latter been the case, the strikes would have continued until the TTP begged for a dialogue. However, this was not the case.
Why did then the TTP agree to negotiate? Does it really believe in negotiating with the government? Or is the negotiation a strategy of its ongoing war with the State?
What would the TTP Demand?
Will this negotiation between the TTP and the government be without any preconditions? Unlikely. The TTP is likely to emphasise that there should be no military strikes in the first place. As a logical extension of that, it is likely to pressurise the State to tell US that the latter completely stop its drone programme. In fact, the TTP leadership should be more worried about the drone strikes than the military strikes. However indiscriminate the military strikes are likely to be, they can never be as precise as a drone attack. The TTP is also likely to demand the release of its top leadership, who have been arrested by the State and kept in different jails.
Politically, the TTP is likely to pressurise the government to sever ties with the US and ensure that the Durand Line becomes irrelevant for the Afghan militants.
Will the TTP also demand the imposition of shariah elsewhere in Pakistan, as it demanded in Swat? It may place that demand but is unlikely to carry it forward, given that the time is not ripe. Such a demand may perhaps be acceptable for the State in remote FATA or the Swat valley, but not acceptable in the rest of Pakistan. Not yet.
How Far will the State Go in Yielding to the TTP?
Clearly, the State is not keen in pursuing a military option vis-à-vis the militants. The TTP would not be satisfied with the status quo.
The primary question is not what the TTP wants. Rather, it is how far the State is willing to go to accommodate the TTP.
Pakistan: Talks about Talks with the Taliban, Again
D Suba Chandran Director, IPCS
Talks about talks with the TTP seem to have become seasonal in Pakistan. There is another effort, this time to initiate a new round of talks with the Pakistani Taliban, now under the leadership of Mullah Fazlullah. This time, not only is Fazlullah in the picture, but there is also another player – Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the leader of his faction of the JUI and also the chair person of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council.
While this initiative is not the first one in the last two years, the issues and questions remain the same for Pakistan’s leadership and civil society. Is the TTP monolithic, and serious about talks? While there is a larger consensus amongst the political leadership, are the military and the civil society on board? What would these talks be aimed at? And more importantly, are there lessons to be learnt from the previous initiatives and failures?
Broader Political Consensus There seems to be a broader consensus cutting across party lines in initiating negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban. In fact, this latest round started in 2012 itself, when Hakimullah Mehsud was the leader of the TTP.
Imran Khan has always remained the most ardent supporter of this initiative. In fact, he even wants to provide an office to the Taliban in Peshawar and perhaps even in Islamabad! Despite the TTP not announcing its support for Imran Khan (remember, they opposed his entry and the proposed march to Waziristan earlier in 2012, to protest against the drone attacks. Though the security forces stopped his march, it was believed there were threats of suicide attacks), he has remained a staunch supporter, favouring talks with Taliban. Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N have also supported such an initiative in public and it was even part of the election campaign in 2013. The Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a conglomerate of primarily right-wing groups, now led by Maulana Sami ul Haq, has also offered its support.
There were numerous all parties’ conferences and discussions within Parliament during 2012 on the subject; at the last meeting of the all parties’ conference held in September 2012, it was unanimously decided to initiate talks with the Taliban. Though couched in politically correct phrases such as ‘sovereignty’, ‘peace’, ‘stability’ and ‘international law’, the September resolution gave the final nod to Nawaz Sharif to initiate a formal negotiation with the TTP.
Multiple suicide attacks including the mayhem in All Saints' Church in Peshawar killing nearly 80 people and the assassination of Major General Sanaullah Niazi by the TTP during the same month, followed by the US drone attack killing Hakimullah Mehsud in early November resulted in the above initiative not taking off.
Enter Samiul Haq After Mullah Fazlullah took over the as the chief of the TTP, the political leadership in Pakistan once again revived the talks, which had been on hold since September 2012.
A major development in this new round is a broad consensus amongst various political parties on making Malauna Samiul Haq the primary anchor in taking the talks with the Taliban forward. Apart from his ardent support of such an initiative’ there seem to be a few more factors in Nawaz Sharif pitching Samiul Haq as the lead from the government side.
First, Samiul Haq, though not much of a political support (in terms of adequate seats either in the provincial legislature of the Khyber Paktunkwa or the national Parliament), is the leader of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council. As has been shown repeatedly, the Difa has a substantial presence in the streets and has been a lead actor in the anti-American protests within Pakistan.
Second, media reports from Pakistan also convey that Samiul may have the much needed link with the new TTP leadership. Khalid Haqqani, the Head of Taliban Shura, and currently, the deputy to Mullah Fazlullah is believed to have been educated at the Madrassa Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak. This madrassa, where a substantial section of the Taliban leadership across the Durand Line was educated, including Mullah Omar, is owned by Samiul.
Perhaps, for Nawaz Sharif, bringing Samiul is a masterstroke. Bu, will he be able to deliver?
Military, Civil Society and Mullah Fazlullah: Are they on Board?
While there is consensus within the political leadership in talking to the Talban, is the same enthusiasm shared by the military and civil society? Especially since the TTP is now under Fazlullah, who was a on war path killing scores of military men and innocent civilians in his previous version as the leader of the Swat Taliban?
While the military has made several deals with the multiple TTP factions in the FATA, especially in North and South Waziristan, it has led a series of bloody operations against the Taliban in Swat since 2008-09. Is the new COAS, Gen Sharif, on board with a dialogue with Fazlullah? The civil society within Pakistan is divided, with the liberal section voicing its concerns publicly in the media.
Finally, are Fazlullah and the rest of the TTP factions interested in such a process? If it was the case, why did the TTP greet the announcement of APC in September 2012 with a series of suicide attacks?
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