By Khaled Ahmed
October 28, 2017
Just when everyone expected Pakistan-US relations to nosedive, an incident compelled President Donald Trump to speak well of Pakistan. A Canadian, Joshua Boyle, and his wife and three children were rescued from the captivity of the Afghan Taliban by none other than Pakistan’s premier spy outfit, the ISI. The US was involved because Boyle’s wife was American and Pakistan delivered. From here on, however, things start looking funny with America saying Pakistan, not the Taliban in Afghanistan, had kept them hostage for five years.
Pakistan did it for America but when Boyle and family were handed over to the Americans in Pakistan, they did not want to go to the US. They were sent to Canada, instead. Pakistan’s version of the rescue was that the vehicle, in which the hostages were being taken by the Taliban inside Pakistan, was fired upon, as a result of which it got flat tires and came to a halt. The abductors fled the scene and the family was rescued. Boyle’s version was more dramatic. From the trunk of the vehicle, he could make out that the terrorists were killed by the ISI troops which prevented them from killing the hostages. He had a wound from Pakistani shrapnel to show.
Boyle said he and his pregnant wife had gone “backpacking” to Afghanistan but had no clue that the region was the world’s most dangerous place, teeming with men from the Taliban and the most merciless outfit, the Haqqani Network. More intriguingly, Boyle kept referring to himself and his family as “pilgrims” and used the inappropriate word, “stupidity”, to describe the rape his wife was subjected to by the guards. At times, he looked as if he had converted to Islam and had gone to Afghanistan to be lionised by the Taliban. He had earlier married Zainab Khadr, the Canadian sister of Omar Khadr — an inmate at the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Boyle had taken a vocal stance against the 2002 incarceration of the 16-year-old Khadr. He couldn’t have married Zainab without converting to Islam. Anyway, a divorce ended the marriage soon enough.
On the Pakistani side, too, funny things began to happen. The ISI was informed that the gang carrying the Boyle family were from the Haqqani Network, the very warriors who Pakistan supposed were hiding in North Waziristan. But this time, they were not crossing the Afghan border into North Waziristan but into Kurram, another tribal agency. The Haqqanis were not supposed to be in Kurram, or at least that was what the average Pakistani was supposed to know. What happened next was even more dramatic. The ISI got the Boyles out but lost four of its Frontier Corps troops while chasing the fleeing Haqqanis into the Kurram highlands.
As the latest incident occurred in the Shia-majority Kurram agency, Pakistan has now to look for the Haqqani killers in a new territory. Kurram is linked to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa through the Parachinar-Hangu-Kohat road The Haqqani Network had moved from North Waziristan to Kurram in 2010. It is said the Shias of Parachinar allowed the Haqqanis in after the latter pledged they would end the decades-old sectarian mayhem carried on despite the presence of Pakistan army there. Their dominance of a sensitive territory already riven with sectarian violence is seemingly a discomforting development for the Pakistani government. But the Haqqani presence in Kurram had actually been tacitly accepted — unless there is international opposition to their “occupation” of Pakistani territory.
Amrullah Saleh, former National Security Advisor of Afghanistan, didn’t like the sudden thaw between Pakistan and the United States and offered his analysis of what had transpired in the following words: “As Afghanistan and the rest of the world analyse President Donald Trump’s comments complimenting Pakistan on the rescue of a US-Canadian couple and their three children, it is my considered view that Pakistan, as the junior partner in this relationship, does strange things, to the extent of even hurting itself sometimes, because it must attract the attention of its long-time ally and patron, the US”. (‘Donald Trump is taken in by Pakistan’s deceitful acts’, IE, October 17)
Saleh is known to be a vitriolic critic of Pakistan. Normally people in intelligence services are adept at analysing what states want to do to each other on the sly. His interpretation of the latest incident on the Pak-Afghan border is that Pakistan has deliberately “hurt itself” to please its old master, the US. He should have focused on Kurram Agency instead because that has remained the most controversial part of the tribal areas that Pakistan now wants to merge with the rest of the country.