G Parthasarathy

Watch out for Afpak turbulence

G. PARTHASARATHY | Updated on October 12, 2011 Published on August 18, 2011

With the US planning to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, Pakistan is hoping for a Taliban takeover of the region. India should be under no illusion that it can change the jihadi mindset of Pakistan's armed forces.

The Americans intend to end active combat operations in Afghanistan after 2014, and the Pakistanis have started pondering over what life would be like after that. Optimists, particularly from the military and jihadi groups, believe that American withdrawal will lead to the fulfilment of General Zia-ul-Haq's dream of a Pakistan blessed with “strategic depth”' extending beyond the Amu Darya and into Central Asia.

Others fear that with Taliban extremism already having spread from across the Durand Line into Punjab and even Karachi, the country is headed for what author Ahmed Rashid once described as a Descent into Chaos.

The CIA report, Global Trends 2015, noted even in December 2001: “Pakistan will not recover easily from decades of economic mismanagement, divisive politics and ethnic feuds. In a climate of continuing domestic turmoil, the Central Government's control will probably be reduced to the Punjab heartland and the economic hub of Karachi.”



PAKISTAN'S CALCULATIONS

Pakistan's military still believes that the Americans will meet the same fate as the Soviets did when confronted with the forces of “militant Islam” from across the Durand Line. There is nothing to indicate that Rawalpindi has any intention of ending its support for either the Taliban or the Haqqani network.

Both Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani remain implacably opposed to American proposals on political “reconciliation” in Afghanistan. Neither of them has shown any sign of ending links with the Al Zawahiri-led Al Qaeda and its Chechen and Central Asian affiliates. Moreover, the Haqqani network unabashedly supports the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, infuriating Pakistan's “all-weather friend,” China.

Pakistan's military has believed over the past few years that with the American economy in tatters and domestic opinion becoming increasingly hostile to growing casualties overseas, the Obama Administration will quit Afghanistan, paving the way for a Taliban takeover.

Another Pakistani calculation was that given their dependence on Pakistan's logistical support for supplies to their military in Afghanistan, the Americans were in no position to take coercive measures against Pakistan. These calculations have gone awry. It was the combined costs of war in Iraq (estimated at $806 billion) and the relatively less expensive war in Afghanistan ($444 billion over a decade) that were proving unaffordable to the US taxpayer.

While Americans have lost 1,760 soldiers in Afghanistan over a decade, their high casualties in Iraq, which included 4,474 killed in action, made the war in Iraq highly unpopular. Showing some intent to thwart Pakistani blackmail and threats of blocking supply routes, the Americans now move less than 35 per cent of their supplies through Pakistan, with the rest coming across their Northern Distribution Network, assisted by Russia and the Central Asian Republics. Two years ago, over 70 per cent of American supplies were routed through Pakistan.

Whether it is on the question of the secret approval it gave to American drone attacks on Pakistan territory, even as it raised a public hue and cry on the issue, or in its policy of providing shelter to Osama bin laden in Abbottabad, while claiming to be a loyal ally on America's “War on Terror”, the duplicity of the Pakistani military stands exposed. The Pakistan army is finding it difficult to defeat its erstwhile Pashtun protégés in the Tehriq-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan. There is, therefore, little prospect of its meeting American demands to act decisively against the followers of Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani.

With Pakistan's Generals hell bent on retaining their jihadi assets in Afghanistan, on the one hand, and the US determined to ensure that the Afpak badlands straddling the Durand Line are not infested with anti-American Jihadis, on the other, the two “major non-NATO allies” appear set on a collision course, though with pretensions of seeking mutual understanding.

ANTI-TALIBAN CONSENSUS

The Russians have made it clear that their air-space and territory are available for American operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban, as long as they can jointly crackdown on production and smuggling of opium.

Unless there is a total meltdown in their economy, the Americans will retain a small, but significant military presence in Afghanistan, primarily for counter-terrorism, against groups operating across the Durand Line.

There are hints that their military presence in Afghanistan will also be geared to deal with any possible takeover of Pakistan's nuclear weapons by jihadi extremists, including such elements within Pakistan's much-vaunted military.

India should have no illusions that it can change the jihadi mindset of Pakistan's armed forces and should learn the right lessons from the heavy price the Americans have paid for their naiveté on the military mindset in Pakistan. The end-game in Afghanistan has only just begun.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

Published on August 18, 2011
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