First published in Daily Times
In the Obama lexicon, the word victory does not exist in the Afghan context. Indications are there that the Pakistani security establishment has been outsourced the effort to tame the Taliban to allow the US a face-saving withdrawal
“All praise is for the Almighty who bestowed sovereignty upon the army, then made the people subservient to the army and the army subservient to its own interests” — Justice Rustam Kiyani.
In his three-minute address announcing a three-year extension in the service term of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani — not otherwise known for his eloquence — appears to have given perhaps the most detailed account of things to come in the region.
Announced like the sighting of the Eid moon, including the hour of the telecast, the army chief’s extension, prima facie, is an exercise in appeasement by an insecure head of the government. With conspiracy theories surfacing, Mr Gilani, in an Eid-like celebratory remark the next day, cleared any doubts about at least where he was coming from. Justice Kiyani was spot on; 40 years later, the people still remain subservient to the mighty armed forces.
In 1988, Benazir Bhutto’s government decorated the army with the Tamgha-e-Jamhooriat (Medal of Democracy) for its “grand services towards restoring democracy” only to be ousted in less than two years by the latter’s protégé Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The appeasement did not work then, it did not work in 1994 when Ms Bhutto let the army unleash the Taliban on Afghanistan, and it is not going to work now. To its credit, the army knows clearly what it wants in the region. A milestone at the end of the obstacle course in the SSG centre in Cherat once listed the distances to Jerusalem, Delhi and, of course, Kabul.
On the civilian side, the presidency is barely keeping its head above the water while the prime minister is out of his league in dealing with the rapidly changing geopolitical realities. The civvies have abdicated even their nominal role in foreign and national security policy-making. When ranking members of parliament’s Special Committee on National Security write articles toeing the military’s line and the foreign minister writes to the UN criticising its probe into the alleged role of Pakistani security agencies in Ms Bhutto’s murder, tenure extensions for the generals are a given. With such a bunch at the helm in Islamabad, a US nod, not a prod, was all that was needed here.
In the Obama lexicon, the word victory does not exist in the Afghan context. Indications are there that the Pakistani security establishment has been outsourced the effort to tame the Taliban to allow the US a face-saving withdrawal. The recent tours of Kabul by the Pakistani military top brass, removal of Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh and Army Chief General Bismillah Khan by President Karzai, the Kabul international conference with the UN belatedly taking centre-stage and, above all, the announcement by the Taliban spokesperson Yousuf Ahmadi point to the new realignment where Pakistan takes a lead role in getting the Americans out of the quagmire.
Mr Ahmadi has stated that the Taliban want the ‘independence’ of Afghanistan and if the western forces really wanted to withdraw, they would not hinder it and that they pose no threat to any person or country. This literally is music to American ears. This ‘success’ in prying away the Taliban from al Qaeda is a must for Mr Obama to retain his own party’s support.
In 1989, the US walked away from Afghanistan leaving the ISI — by default — to sort out things as it wanted. This time around, a hastily put together but apparently elaborate design is unravelling. In both instances though, the Americans have miscalculated the ground realities in Afghanistan and the role of the regional powers. The US assessment is that in a country used to decentralised rule, controlling the countryside helps control the cities and Pakistan can deliver enough ‘reconcilable’ Taliban to allow the US withdrawal with the Karzai government remaining in place at least through November 2012, when Mr Obama makes his re-election bid.
Admiral Mike Mullen’s difficult balancing act last week and his comments about the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba menace are an attempt to placate India. However, it is a matter of time before India, Iran, Russia and the Central Asian states rally together to support the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. In 1994, the Taliban were an unknown entity and when they took on the largely non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, most Pashtuns remained on the sidelines. This might not be the case on either side of the Durand Line now and the US cannot do much about this.
The discordant Afghans, including the Taliban, agree on one thing only: they do not want a de facto or de jure division of Afghanistan. Kabul is the symbol of united Afghanistan and the trophy in a ruinous victory. The diplomatic activity between Moscow, Delhi and Tehran and the rallying of the anti-Taliban forces within Afghanistan is the harbinger of the looming battle for Kabul.
As I reached this point in the column, I received the news that Mian Rashid Hussain, the only son of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, was shot dead some 20 miles away from Cherat. I remembered Faiz’s lines as I did when Benazir Bhutto was martyred:
“Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chahiay aiy arz-e-watan,
Jo tere aaraz-e-berang ko gulnaar karein,
Kitni aahon se kaleja tera thanda hoga,
Kitnay ansoo teray sehraaon ko gulzaar karein?”
(O Motherland, the blood of how many do you need,
Blood that may give a rosy hue to your pale face,
How many sighs would it take to calm your heart,
How many tears are needed to turn your deserts to oases?)
Mian Iftikhar’s party is the only irritant in the US-Pakistani plans for Afghanistan. The Americans have the luxury to cut and run but the Pakistani political forces do not. The road to perdition is short: Kabul is 266 kilometres from Cherat. The PPP must avoid becoming a party to the carnage ahead, as the blowback has already cost us not just Mian Rashid but Benazir as well.
PS: Mian Iftikhar Hussain’s residence has also been bombed now. We do not need WikiLeaks to tell us who supports the bombers to bring the ANP to its knees.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com