16 November, 2006

NATO, Pakistan and the Taliban

Since the US elections, there seems to have been an increase in the amount of criticism of the War on Terror coming out of Asia. Reporting that NATO's ISAF Commander, General David Richards, is currently in Islamabad, the Asian Tribune joins the growing chorus with an article on NATO facing defeat in Afghanistan. The Tribune identifies the main problem facing the US and NATO in Afghanistan as Pakistani support for the Taliban. Indeed, the article sees the Pakistani surrender in the Waziri Accord as a possible precursor to a series of similar deals with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Certainly there must be a strong possibility that the forthcoming jirgas will move in that direction.

...how have the Taliban, considered five years ago to be on route to extinction, regrouped and emerged much stronger than anyone could have thought? The answer is clear: with the help of Pakistan, especially its army’s intelligence network called the Inter Services Intelligence, which had initially raised the Taliban with generous gift of arms from the US and sacks of Saudi money. Every military commander who has served in Afghanistan affirms that insurgency in that country would not have been possible without help from Pakistan. Western intelligence reports say so; the entire strategic community in the West thinks so and, not the least, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has any doubt about it.

The evidence of Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan’s troubles must be so overwhelming that at times even die-hard Musharraf fans in Washington are obliged to tell the latter on his face that he need to do ‘more’ in the fight against terrorism. Musharraf’s stock retort that ‘nobody has done more than Pakistan’ in this fight has not helped him much because the more he repeats this line the more it will become evident that he had to do whatever he did because the terrorists are concentrated in his country. The world is also now alive to the reality that nearly all the major terrorist acts carry a distinct Pakistani stamp. For terrorist around the world a visit to a Pakistani training camp is like a pilgrim’s journey to a holy place.

Yet, western leaders like Bush would not act tough with Musharraf publicly because they have presumed that they would not be able to find another Pakistani poodle. They do not appear to bother about the baleful effect of their double standards in treating Musharraf as the solution while knowing full well that he is the problem.

Musharraf recently struck a deal with the Taliban in the North Waziristan region after he realised that his military does not have the will to fight them. He presented his agreement with the North Waziristan Taliban as a great political feat that would ensure ‘peace’ in the region. Nearly everyone in the world, including Western intelligence agencies and politicians, disagreed with what Musharraf said. Bush lost no time in ratifying this fiction when Musharraf was on a book promotion tour of the White House.

An emboldened Musharraf is now urging his American patrons to urge Karzai to strike a similar deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He has been telling captive audiences that his strategy in Waziristan has proved to be a ‘success’ as it has helped him win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Taliban. He is certainly right for a change: his new ‘strategy’ in North Waziristan has resulted in a three-fold attack by the Taliban inside Afghanistan not on Pakistani targets.

Karzai is opposed to Musharraf’s recipe for solving the Taliban problem, at least for now. But Musharraf would not give up and go on pressurising Washington to make Karzai change his mind. After all Pakistan had taken on the role of raising and nurturing the Taliban back in the 1980s not only to install a puppet government in Afghanistan but to achieve a ‘strategic depth’ in its West to carry out its aggressive designs on its eastern borders with India. A moot question is will President Bush, whose Iraqi policy became an albatross for the Republican party in the latest Congressional elections, go along with Musharraf.

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