G Parthasarathy

The real battle is against Taliban

Updated on: May 11, 2011

With world attention focused on the taking out of Osama bin Laden, there has been a tendency to ignore developments in Pakistan that preceded this event. The Osama operation was an outcome of a certain trajectory of events that had made it clear that Pakistan was not an “ally” of the US in the fight against terror.

This, for instance, was apparent when Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, General Ashraf Pervez Kayani, launched a diplomatic offensive to force the US to end its covert activities and drone attacks on the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. He claimed that the drone attacks were killing scores of innocent civilians.

Cricketer-turned-politician and long term Army and ISI protégé, Imran Khan, was commandeered to rent crowds to block US supply convoys to Afghanistan. Sadly for Kayani, the GOC of Pakistan's 7th Division in North Waziristan, Major General Ghayur Mehmud, debunked his Chief's propaganda outburst, revealing that “a majority of those killed by drone strikes are al Qaeda elements, especially foreigners, while civilian casualties are few”.

Meanwhile, Kayani's ISI's General Shuja Pasha got a dressing down from CIA Director Leon Panetta, during Pasha's visit Washington on April 11. After that, Kayani roped in the army's favourite politician in the ruling PPP, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, to make outrageous demands when Gilani, accompanied by Kayani and Pasha, met President Karzai in Kabul on April 16.


According to Mr Karzai's aides, Gilani bluntly told Mr Karzai that the US had let down both of them and that Mr Karzai should under no circumstances agree to a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan.

Gilani added that rather than look to a strategic partnership with the US, Mr Karzai should look to Pakistan and its “all weather friend” China and strike a deal with the Taliban.

Mr Karzai had no intention of leaving his fate to be determined by the ISI. The Kayani-led effort is meant to force the Afghans to accept an ISI-sponsored “reconciliation process” with the Taliban, which excludes the Americans. To demonstrate their clout, the Pakistanis have arrested the Taliban's second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who refused to accept Pakistani tutelage and was prepared to talk directly to Mr Karzai, a fellow Durrani Pashtun.


The US and its NATO partners have announced that they will not further participate in active combat operations and hand over responsibilities to Afghan Forces at the end of 2014.

The million-dollar question is whether Afghan forces stop the Taliban, armed, trained and operating from secure bases in Pakistan, from taking over control of Pashtun-dominated Southern Afghanistan. Will the Americans withdraw fully after December 2014, leaving a power vacuum to be filled up by the Taliban?

President Obama declared on May 1 that killing Osama was a major objective, even as the US continued to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” his network. The Al Qaeda, on its own, has not carried out a single significant terrorist attack after 9/11. The terrorist attacks in London, Madrid, Bali and in New York's Times Square, were all largely by Pakistanis motivated by groups like the Lashkar, Jaish and HUJI, which are affiliated to al Qaeda. It is also clear from the statements of Headley and Rana in Chicago that it was Pakistani terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri, operating from North Waziristan, who was the mastermind of efforts to stage a terrorist attack in Copenhagen.

The elimination of Al Qaeda is not going to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” terrorist networks bent on striking at cities in the US and its NATO allies. This would require relentless counter terrorism action across the Durand Line.

Given the heavy dependence of the Americans on Pakistan for logistical supplies through Pakistani territory, such action would be unthinkable just now.


But, with an estimated 50 per cent of supplies even now coming through Russia and Central Asia, this dependence on Pakistan will become much less important in coming years, as American troop levels in Afghanistan are significantly reduced. The US will be more open to effective counterterrorism across the Durand Line as Vice President Joe Biden and others like Ambassador Robert Blackwill have advocated. The US is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, which will enable a residual military presence even beyond 2014.Mr Karzai's enthusiasm for “reconciliation” with the Taliban is provoking a backlash in Northern Afghanistan is giving rise to some reservations. Given the composition of the Afghan Parliament, it would be difficult to get a consensus on any deal which Mr Karzai strikes with the Taliban.

If the Taliban overruns Southern Afghanistan, as the Americans commence their troop reductions, we may see a de facto partition of Afghanistan, into Pashtun and non-Pashtun areas. India will have to manoeuvre dexterously, if it is to ensure that Afghanistan does not yet again become a haven for terrorism, as it was in the days of ISI backed Taliban rule in Kabul and Kandahar.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

Published on May 12, 2011

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