SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Contagion of Disorders
For long, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has appeared weak, feckless, and lacking in purpose and control; Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf, on the other hand, had successfully projected himself as an effective military strongman, someone who the West ‘could do business with’, and (at least to some) a staunch ally in the ‘global war on terror’. When they met at what is being touted as the ‘peace jirga’ at Kabul, however, the rising disorders in both countries, and particularly a succession of crises in Pakistan, had wiped out the contrast.
The jirga (tribal assembly), jointly conceived by US President George Bush, Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf during their meetings in September 2006 at Washington, and organised between August 9 and 12, 2007, at Kabul, was intended to forge a major initiative across borders to contain the threats arising out of Islamist extremist terrorism, Afghanistan’s enormous opium output, and the abrasive relations between Islamabad and Kabul. Under the circumstances, it succeeded only in underlining the conflicts and contradictions, and the abiding bad faith, between the two countries, as well as the inability of their leaders to extract themselves from the complex and disastrous consequences of decades of the instrumentalisation of a radicalized and militarized Islam in the region. Indeed, failure was built into the exercise, well before it started. As one Pakistani observer noted, the "peace jirga" was "an alien American idea which no one likes but to which we have to dance a slow, insincere pantomime, even as we curse the Americans under our breath all the while."
The inauguration of the jirga on August 9 had been marred by the last minute withdrawal of President Pervez Musharraf, who failed to attend, as variously reported, because of concerns regarding security or due to ‘clashing commitments’ in Islamabad (some commentators saw his absence as a deliberate snub to Karzai). In Pakistan, August 9 was a day of raging speculation, when the Pakistani Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, announced that the declaration of a National Emergency was imminent, only to be contradicted a little later by General Musharraf. All this followed on days of unconfirmed rumours suggesting that Musharraf had been ‘advised’ by his Corps Commanders to seek an ‘honourable exit’ after the Lal Masjid and Chief Justice debacles, and his diminishing legitimacy and utility as a crisis manager. (Reports suggest that he eventually addressed the closing session of the jirga on August 12, after significant pressure from Washington, including a call from Condoleezza Rice urging him to make an appearance.)
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who replaced Musharraf at the jirga, set the tone for confrontation, rather than conciliation, in the opening session, declaring that Afghanistan could not blame others for the lack of reconciliation among its people, asserting, "first and foremost the Taliban are Afghans", and further, "Afghanistan is not yet at peace within itself. The objective of national reconciliation remains elusive… They can’t blame anyone else for failing to achieve this objective that lay at the heart of their malaise."
Karzai, however, did blame someone else: "Why from your soil and administration is this evil coming to us?" he demanded, "Who is training them? By whose money are they being trained?"
If ‘reconciliation’ was the objective, there was little hope even before the jirga commenced. The Taliban, of course, was absent, as was Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, Afghanistan’s former Prime Minister and leader of the Hezb-e-Islami, another formation leading a jihad against the US and the current regime in Kabul. Tribal elders from North and South Waziristan – Pakistan’s worst affected areas, and the probable safe haven where al Qaeda and much of the Taliban leadership is located – boycotted the event. Invitees from the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazlur Rehman faction), the political party with the greatest influence in Waziristan, and with a close proximity to the Taliban, also refused to participate. Various Members of the National Assembly (MNA) drawn from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) also absented themselves from the jirga, because the Taliban had not been invited, while other maliks (tribal leaders) kept away because of death threats from the Taliban. The result was that a majority of the Pakistani delegation of some 350 members comprised Pushto-speaking Pakistan Government officials, provincial Governors, Federal Ministers, retired bureaucrats and pro-Government tribal elders and politicians. US pressure had also forced the inclusion of secular Pakistani Pashtun formations, such as the Awami National Party and the Pashtoonkhwo Milli Awami Party, under the banner of the Pashtoonkhwah National Democratic Alliance – organisations that historically opposed the creation of Pakistan, and that stand for an independent Pashtun nation. The result was a rejection of the representative character of the delegation by a number of Pashtun organisations, including the Pakhtoon Qaumi Jirga. North Waziristan’s MNA, Maulana Nek Zaman, reiterating his decision to boycott the jirga, declared that, until Pakistan had solved its own problems, it could hardly discuss peace in another country. Similarly, Sirajul Haq, chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) insisted that the jirga could never succeed without the participation of the ‘real respondent’, arguing that the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan were only ‘one respondent’ and that the ‘second respondent’ was residing in caves, mountains and some ‘caged in NATO’s prisons’. Malik Fazel Manaan Mohmand, a Pakistani tribal leader and former MNA, argued that the presence of NATO and the US led ISAF in Afghanistan were a major cause of insecurity in the region. "How can I accept that yesterday’s jihad against the Russians was a must," he said, "and today this is not a jihad?"
The polarizing rhetoric continued through the jirga but, eventually, President Musharraf did arrive to try to salvage a vestige of an outcome with a conciliatory speech that admitted that, "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side." Unsurprisingly, he saw this as grounds to encourage accommodation of the Taliban in the political order in Afghanistan – a line that Pakistan has been promoting almost since the collapse of the Taliban state in the wake of Operation Enduring Freedom. The Taliban, he insisted, air-brushing over Pakistan’s role in creating and supporting the radical Islamist grouping, "are part of the Afghan society. Most of them may be ignorant and misguided, but all of them are not diehard militants and fanatics who defy even the most fundamental values of our culture and our faith."
Despite the initial acrimony, a joint declaration eventually ‘recognized’ the fact that ‘terrorism is a common threat to both countries’ and resolved to constitute a 50-man jirga, with 25 prominent members from ‘each side’ – Pakistan and Afghanistan – to:
The jirga also took cognizance of the "nexus between narcotics and terrorism" and called for an "all out war against this menace", at the same time noting the "responsibilities of the international community in enabling Afghanistan to provide alternative livelihood to the farmers. The jirga also called on the two Governments and on the international community to implement "infrastructure, economic and social sector projects".
Regrettably, this changes nothing, as was more than evident in the fact that the jirga saw no diminution of violence on either side of the border, with 29 killed in various incidents in Pakistan between August 9 and 12, and at least 119 killed in clashes in Afghanistan over the same period. These numbers add to the very substantial fatalities over the preceding months. The Economist, for instance, suggested that in August the preceding eighteen months of "appalling and worsening violence in Afghanistan" had seen some 6,000 people killed, about 1,500 of them civilians. The South Asia Terrorism Portal database indicates that terrorist violence in Pakistan has seen at least 1,422 dead this year (till August 10), 478 of them in July 2007 alone.
Worse, the intentions and orientation of the principal players appear unaltered. According to Ahmad Rashid, ‘Tribal chiefs’ alleged that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency "was helping the Taliban plan a new offensive next year, aimed at defeating Nato in southern Afghanistan and toppling the Government of President Hamid Karzai." Indeed, Pakistan needs to recover its ‘influence’ in Kabul – through its Taliban proxies – even more desperately today, with its internal crises mounting, than was ever the case before. Unless these forces can be directed ‘outwards’, they will necessarily be increasingly redirected ‘inwards’, compounding the processes of destablisation within Pakistan.
The idea that a simple determination to ‘neutralize’ Islamist radical forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan will easily produce such an outcome – indeed, the idea that such a simple determination is even possible – appears to be part of a widely shared misconception among Western policymakers. That stage – a fleeting prospect in the immediate wake of Operation Enduring Freedom and the brief crystallization of the global will after 9/11 – is long past. Musharraf’s "reckless political trajectory" and America’s wilful blindness to its dangers, have enormously empowered the radical Islamist constituency in Pakistan, and through its agencies, in Afghanistan. The establishment players in the region are now trying to harness Pashtun nationalism – itself an imminent threat to the integrity of both Pakistan and Afghanistan – against Islamist radicalisation. The real risk is that Pashtun nationalism will coalesce with Islamist radicalism to create a rising tide of violence that will shake both Kabul and Islamabad to their very foundations. The orchestrated spectacle of the ‘peace jirga’ and the politically correct rhetoric of its joint declaration are poor defence against this eventuality and, with the rising chaos and violence in both countries, their national images appear to be merging into an indistinguishable projection of failure.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 6-12, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Militants kill 24 Hindi-speaking people in Assam: At least 24 Hindi-speaking people were killed by militants between August 8 and 12 in Assam. While suspected United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants killed four Hindi-speaking migrant workers at Romgmong Ghat village on August 12, a group of 10-15 suspected ULFA and Karbi Longri National Liberation Front (KLNLF) militants attacked a village at Dolamara in the Karbi Anglong District and shot dead 11 people in the night of August 10. The dead included four women and two children belonging to two families originally hailing from the State of Bihar. Earlier, nine Hindi-speaking civilians were killed and five others injured when a joint group of ULFA and KLNLF militants opened indiscriminate fire at Ampahar Basti village in the same District on August 8. Assam Tribune; The Hindu, August 8-12, 2007.
Al Qaeda video vows attacks against India: Al Qaeda warned in a new video on August 6, 2007, that India and the US diplomatic missions were the network's "legitimate targets". In footage compiled by al Qaeda's production wing As-Sahab, an unnamed narrator said that "the targeting of Tel Aviv, Moscow and Delhi" is "our legitimate right" and accused India of "killing more than 100,000 Muslims in Kashmir with US blessing." The video was posted on LauraMansfield.Com, an American Website which monitors terrorist groups. However, the Union Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal, said "There is no confirmed news of any such threat till now. However, our forces and the state machinery are always ready to face such threats." Outlook India, August 7, 2007.
Afghanistan and Pakistan pledge to deny sanctuaries to terrorists: Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged on August 12, 2007, to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries in their respective tribal regions and fight the opium trade financing militants. A statement at the close of the four-day Joint Peace Jirga in Kabul also agreed to push for reconciliation with the ‘opposition’. Participants pledged they would "not allow sanctuaries/ training centres for terrorists in their respective countries", according to the declaration. They acknowledged the "nexus between narcotics and terrorism" and called upon the two governments to wage an "all-out war against this menace." In his speech at the concluding session of the Jirga, President Pervez Musharraf said both Afghanistan and Pakistan had to get away from what he called the backwardness and violence of Islamic extremism. The President conceded that there was support from Pakistani tribal areas for the insurgency in Afghanistan, extremism and ‘Talibanisation’. "Talibanisation and extremism ... represent a state of mind and require a more comprehensive long-term strategy where military action must be combined with a political approach and socio-economic development," he said. Dawn; Daily Times, August 13, 2007.
15 people killed in aerial attack in North Waziristan: At least 15 people were reported to have died after the Army’s helicopter gun-ships attacked the Degan village in North Waziristan in the evening of August 9, following a roadside bomb blast which left four soldiers injured. Army spokesperson Major General Waheed Arshad disclosed that Army helicopters chased the militants – who were carrying rocket launchers and small arms – as they fled after carrying out the bombing – into a petrol station and later in their vehicles. Helicopters reportedly bombed residential compounds and other infrastructure, destroying a petrol pump and five vehicles. While witnesses claimed that most of the people killed in the air strike were ordinary tribesmen, an unnamed official spokesman insisted that most of those killed were militants." Dawn; The News, August 10, 2007.
Parliamentary Secretary for Defence calls for jihad against India and US in National Assembly: Calls for jihad against India and the United States of America were made in Pakistan's National Assembly on August 7, 2007, by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Syed Tanveer Hussain, who argued that the dispute over Kashmir would be settled in "one month" if jihadis were allowed free entry into areas under Indian control. Hussain, who found support from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, said that Quranic concepts should be allowed to guide foreign policy since, in the case of Kashmir, there was clearly an US-India conspiracy to make the region autonomous. He said that talks were never going to settle the issue. Hussain asserted that "our love affair with US should come to an end and we should have better relations with Iran, Russia and China. We should wage jihad against US and resolve the Kashmir issue through jihad, not talks." Times of India, August 10, 2007.