Taliban, the US, Pakistan and the future

This appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI, on May 29, 2011

After a bomb explosion in Karachi, 2007 (Photo by New York Times)

Last week started with yet another disgrace inflicted upon Pakistan’s security forces in particular and the entire nation in general by the militants our armed forces are fighting or not fighting in the northwest of the country. With every coming day a new slur came about from the terrorists — all against the people and/or forces of Pakistan.

The day PNS Mehran’s siege was broken by the SSG commandos, a drone strike in Mir Ali near Miranshah in North Waziristan killed seven militants while Rashakai Bridge in Nowshera was blasted with a remote-controlled bomb the same day. On the same eventful day, Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) group clashed with Zakhakhel volunteers in Zakhakhel area near Landikotal, ending up with three dead. Five more were killed on this day in Parachinar during a gun battle between two tribes. LI militants had been fighting the tribesmen from Zakhakhel for quite some time for deserting it. The fierce tribal battle goes on without any security force daring to even go to that area.

A day later, at least eight people were killed and more than 40 were injured in a pre-dawn suicide attack on a CID police station at University Road, Peshawar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, claiming it was their fourth reprisal for the death of Osama bin Laden. The next day, a suicide bomber blew up a car laden with explosives at a checkpoint close to the Hangu Police Station and Hangu DPO Office, killing 32 people and wounding 60 others, as the Taliban vowed no reprieve in their quest to avenge the US killing of Osama bin Laden. We are still on Thursday and the Taliban fired a mortar bomb at a military checkpoint in North Waziristan Agency with no casualties. The attack happened near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan, which remains a hothouse of support for al Qaeda and allied Taliban terrorists.

If you are thinking that all this was happening without Pakistan’s security forces taking any action, you are obviously wrong. Pakistani fighter jets, on Friday, pounded terrorist hideouts in “…the country’s northwest”, as a newspaper reports, killing 23 suspected terrorists. Where this happened was not in South and North Waziristan. It was in Parachinar, the same place where the LI has been busy killing Zakhakhel volunteers. But strange is the fact that the only noticeable and condemnation-worthy incident for some politicians was the drone strike in Miranshah.

Just three weeks after the US’s unilateral operation in Abbottabad that killed Osama without taking Pakistan into confidence, a deadly attack on Pakistan’s naval base in Karachi shook the security machinery just as it shook Pakistanis’ confidence in their armed forces. National response remained as confused as ever. Major sections of the media and some political parties once again tried their best to confuse the masses by blaming it on the ‘foreign hand’. That the targeted P-3C Orion aircraft were India-specific (a claim that remains refutable) was used as ‘evidence’ to establish it as a job done by India. It all was happening despite Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) claiming responsibility.

And just when all of this was happening during the last week, UK’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mark Sedwill, informed the media that the Taliban leadership was engaged in talks with various stakeholders with the full backing of the US with the sole aim of finding a solution to the Afghan problem from within. The proposal for ‘solution from within’ was accepted by Pakistan when its Foreign Secretary briefed the media. He reiterated that Pakistan would support a solution owned and led by the Afghans. He also said that Pakistan was interested in stability and peace in Afghanistan and that it supported a sovereign, independent and unified Afghanistan. Now that is something new, and interesting. Seems a sharp change in Pakistan’s Afghan policy is in the offing.Another interesting development was the Taliban’s statement whereby they vowed not to attack Pakistan’s nukes. The statement came after the strong concerns raised by India and the US alike, after the disgraceful failure of Pakistan’s security forces to defend its own military assets in Karachi last Sunday. The concerns took serious height when many news reports pointed to the radicalisation of the armed forces of Pakistan, fears of the existence of extremists and militants within the ranks of the security forces, and a strong suspicion of the naval base attack as an inside job or at least supported by some insiders. It was rather interesting that the Taliban, who have been and supposedly are fighting our security forces, came to the rescue of Pakistan’s military establishment and readily pledged publicly that they were not eyeing Pakistan’s nukes. Meaning, thereby, that the world should stop worrying about Pakistan’s nuclear assets and keep playing the game.

In continuation of what Mark Sedwill said last Thursday, the process leading to ‘meaningful’ talks between the Taliban and the US went on and in fact got new impetus when reports came in of a meeting between US officials and some Taliban leaders held in Germany a week ago to facilitate the process. At a dinner thrown by the US Embassy on Thursday, when I asked a senior US diplomat how he would sum the process up, all he had to say was that the US was not seeking a Taliban-led government in Afghanistan post-2014. I explained that there were people in Pakistan who had been against any negotiations between the Taliban or al Qaeda and the state of Pakistan.

This opposition dates back to 2003 when we had started voicing concerns loudly about the duality of the then dictator, supported by the US. We were still against the negotiations in 2004 when they broke down after Nek Mohammad’s killing. We did not support it even in 2006 and 2007 when half a dozen new agreements were broken by the Taliban and other militant factions in the tribal belt. We did not support even the present government when it sought an agreement with them in Swat in 2008. Time has amply proved how right was our opposition to any settlement with the terrorists. The US taking the same course now is not going to end up in a winning situation for either party.

It is neither a win nor a viable exit strategy for NATO. All it will produce is, let me warn all the stakeholders, a repeat of the 1990s — fierce radicalisation and civil war in Afghanistan that would overflow the Durand Line to the detriment of Pakistan. A Pakistan in turmoil means a South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East and — not kidding — an America in turmoil. The small jihadi groups incubated to tackle India have grown into formidable global militant organisations. Their agendas converge so perfectly while Pakistan and the US can still not work out their points of convergence. A pity that Pakistan’s politicians are fast taking on the establishment’s ride. Bad politics, bad strategy, bad future.