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Afghanistan: A Deadly Stalemate: New Age Islam’s Selection from Pakistan Press, 12 November 2015

New Age Islam Edit Bureau

12 November 2015

 Afghanistan: a Deadly Stalemate

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

 Bush 41 and 43’s biggest mistake?

By Harlan Ullman

 Not Your Place Sir

Ali Malik

 Another Sharif in Washington

By Zahid Hussain

Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau


Afghanistan: a Deadly Stalemate

By Dr Mohammad Taqi

November 12, 2015

History repeats itself; in Afghanistan’s case, first as tragedy and then as a bigger tragedy. On November 17, 1999, the then Taliban regime publicly executed a Pashtun woman named Zarmeena in Kabul stadium’s pitch. She was accused of killing her husband. Almost 16 years to the date, another band of Taliban, operating now under the aegis of Daesh or Islamic State (IS), beheaded seven passengers — including two women and a girl child — this past Monday. The jihadists kidnapped several Hazara passengers a few months ago on their way between the Ghazni and Zabul provinces. The brutal killing of the women — a sordid first even by Taliban standards — triggered spontaneous protests against both the jihadists and the Afghan national unity government in Ghazni where the bodies were first brought. If there was any consolation in the tragedy it was the coming together of the Hazaras, Pashtuns and Tajiks to mourn the slaughtered Afghans. The bodies of the fallen innocents have arrived in Kabul where protestors are assembling to seek justice from the government against the jihadists. And Afghans are protesting against jihadists of all hues. To a common Afghan, it does not matter whether it is a Taliban of Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s group, his rival Mullah Muhammad Rassoul’s faction or those claiming to be IS in Afghanistan. The jihadists’ flags may be black or white but their hands are soaked red with innocent Afghan blood.

The Afghan president, Dr Ashraf Ghani, swiftly condemned the killings but his statement added that he “considers the atrocious act a sign of desperation and defeat of the enemies of the people of Afghanistan. By beheading civilians, the enemies of Afghanistan proved once again that they have been defeated on the battlefield by our security and defence forces.” One just shudders to think what a jihadist victory would look like if they were still capable of such brutal massacres while on the run. While there is no doubt that the Afghan national defence and security forces defeat or neutralise the jihadist enemy day in and day out there is also little doubt that after regrouping the enemy is resilient, resurgent and now on the rampage. Presidential pronouncements, even if for consolation, should be anchored in reality and not fancy. But the disconnect does not end with the boss; the Afghan ministry of defence just said that the security situation in Afghanistan will “improve within a month”. The ministry is perhaps counting on the expected snowfall to finally stymie one of the deadliest fighting seasons in the current Afghan conflict. Then there was Afghanistan’s deputy chief executive, Mr Muhammad Khan, who while visiting Peshawar said that a statement of the US government terming the Taliban ‘important partners’ was insignificant. He reportedly said, “We should not believe in such statements. Just a few days ago the US government announced extension of the stay of its forces in Afghanistan.”

The fact is that the statement by the US department of defence spokesperson did indeed reiterate a policy point that was presented to the US Congress in June this year. The defence department’s Congressional report notes that the US mission transitioned from combat to support and that “US forces no longer target individuals solely on the basis of their membership in the Taliban; however, if a member of the Taliban threatens US or coalition forces, or provides direct support to al Qaeda, US forces may take appropriate action.” The problem is that the jihadists are not neatly boxed like chocolate. Today’s Taliban may be a dissident Taliban tomorrow, an IS fighter the next and return to al-Qaeda and the Taliban fold the following day. The troop strength — 5,500 by the end of 2016 — that President Obama had announced last month to keep in Afghanistan would barely provide adequate support to the Afghan security forces let alone take on a combat role, especially when the enemy is mutating rapidly and the mission is at best vague. And even if it were designated as a combat mission again it would still do nothing to address the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, arrives in the US this weekend with the agenda reportedly “to share ideas on Afghanistan”. Curiously, the COAS invited himself for the visit, as reported by the media. According to a department of defence official, “The COAS, General Raheel Sharif, is travelling to Washington DC of his own volition and department of defence officials are meeting with COAS General Raheel Sharif at his request.” Another Pakistani military chief who had visited Washington DC of his own volition was Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who visited the US in September 1953 over the heads of the civilian leadership. Dennis Kux notes in his book The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies: “(General) Ayub stormed into (Secretary of State Henry) Byroade’s office” saying, “For Christ’s sake, I did not come here to look at barracks. Our army can be your army if you want us. But let us make a decision.” Chances are that the verbiage may be different but the pitch would not be drastically different this time either. The proposition likely will be that Pakistan can manage the Afghan imbroglio for the US if a berth is granted to the Taliban in the Kabul government. The Taliban’s battlefield gains — or atrocities depending on one’s perspective — will be presented as a fait accompli with a pledge to bring them to negotiations once again if the US leans on the presently talks-averse Kabul government to resume the parleys. The perennial ‘India-in-Afghanistan’ scarecrow will be used to justify the relentless pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ through the jihadist proxies.

Reams have been written about Pakistan betting on the US packing up and leaving Afghanistan, which would allow it then to have a field day west of the Durand Line. The operation in North Waziristan was delayed for half a decade to wait for the US troops’ drawdown so the Chechen, Uzbek and Uighur jihadist hordes could be offloaded onto Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous attempts to subdue Kabul in 1992 and 1996 through the Mujahideen and Taliban proxies, respectively, had a massive jihadist blowback into Pakistan, and the current project seems to be coming to fruition. The Afghan government has no military answer to what it calls an undeclared war. The incumbent Pakistani civilian leadership turned out to be an unreliable or incapable interlocutor for Afghans for it abdicated the foreign and national security policies quicker than its predecessors. The Afghan unity government has limited options vis-à-vis Pakistan’s continued hegemonic posturing. Kabul has to have a vigorous diplomatic initiative inducing a rethink in the US’ waffling Afghan policy. The deadly stalemate in Afghanistan is untenable. Afghan officialdom simply cannot afford to misread the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that fuel the insurgency or the ones that could help curtail it.



Bush 41 and 43’s Biggest Mistake?

By Harlan Ullman

November 12, 2015

President George H W Bush’s latest book is due out shortly. The book has already reopened old wounds over September 11 and the second Iraq war. Known as 41 to differentiate himself from son George W Bush, the US’s 43rd president, the father, had unkind things to say about 43’s vice president, Richard B. Cheney, and Secretary of Defence Donald H Rumsfeld. And 41 rebuked 43 for the axis of evil speech linking Iraq with North Korea as enemies of the west.

But suppose either 41 or 43 had chosen other vice presidential running mates. How different the world might have been. In early 1992, George H W Bush seemed electorally invincible. After the 100-hour destruction and eviction of Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bush’s popularity rose to 90 percent. The Soviet Union had imploded. And Bush’s economic plans were gaining traction. As Ronald Reagan promised, this was truly “morning in America”.

Governor Bill Clinton would win the Democratic nomination for president. But the White House was reluctant to take the challenger seriously. After all, Clinton was viewed in the demeaning terms of a “draft dodging, pot-smoking womaniser.” Yet, the polls were moving in Mr Clinton’s favour and Ross Perot was mounting a third party movement to oppose President Bush.

That summer, former Defence and Energy Secretary, and CIA Director James Schlesinger met with President and Mrs Bush. Concerned that Bush could lose in November, Schlesinger presented the president with a brilliant idea: why not pick a new vice president? Bush had selected the junior senator from Missouri, Dan Quayle, as his running mate in 1988. Quayle had never recovered from the battering he took in the October vice presidential debate against Senator Lloyd Bentsen from Texas. In the debate, Quayle made the error of comparing himself to Jack Kennedy. Bentsen, a decorated World War II veteran was waiting in ambush. “ I knew Jack Kennedy. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy!” Quayle was incinerated.

Schlesinger suggested as the Quayle alternative, General Colin Powell, then in his last year as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mrs Bush warmed to the idea. The president considered the suggestion and then declined to dump Quayle. Whether Powell would have accepted or this selection would have overcome Perot’s 19 percent take of the vote is unknowable. Vice presidents rarely affect the general election. But a Bush 41 second term would clearly have altered who would have been in charge in 2001.

In 2000, George W Bush asked former Secretary of Defence Dick Cheney to form a vice presidential search committee. The outcome was not surprising. Cheney would be on the ticket. That made sense at the time. Cheney had the experience Bush lacked in Washington. Unfortunately, Cheney would dominate White House decision making for the first term and some of the second. Among the consequences were the catastrophic second Iraq war and the destabilisation of the region that continues to threaten peace and stability.

But suppose Bush 43 had favoured Powell over Cheney. Of course, Powell may not have accepted preferring to become secretary of state. In 1996, he and his family seriously considered his running for the presidency. In the end, the general decided he would not seek the Oval Office. Running as the number two, however, would have been less onerous. The prospect of becoming the first African-American to rise to the second highest office in the land was compelling. Powell also would have brought the necessary foreign and national security experience to the White House, including two tours in combat in Vietnam where he had once been wounded in action.

Perhaps had Powell and not Cheney been vice president, the post-September 11 response to the al Qaeda attacks would not have ended in nation building in Afghanistan. Nor might 43 have been so keen to intervene in Iraq in March 2003 as Powell was never in favour of that decision. But being a loyal soldier, however, the secretary of state made the administration’s case for war at the UN in February 2003 categorically assured by the then CIA director, George Tenet, and Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

That a Vice President Powell might have run in 2008 against Barack Obama would have produced possibly the most exciting presidential race in the US’s history. Of course, none of this happened. Still, speculation over the consequences of a Powell vice presidency under either Bush 41 or 43 is intriguing. Would the disasters following September 11 have been averted or minimised? The latest book by 43 suggests the answer would have been yes.

Harlan Ullman is chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and senior advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council. His latest book, due out this fall, is A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of an Archduke a Century Ago Still Menaces Peace Today



Not Your Place Sir

Ali Malik

November 12, 2015

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a press release following the corps commander’s meeting calling for improvement in governance. Barring indifference, one could take two approaches to this statement, one to hail it as a much needed wakeup call by a powerful institution of the country and the other to highlight that the statement was unwarranted and bordered on irrationality.

I, for one, believe that the Nawaz government has failed miserably on the governance front and that includes financial governance as well. The performance of provincial governments is not up to the mark either. But then, a few rational questions are needed for perspective. For one, when has governance been devoid of any complaints? Have we forgotten the era of the most recent Czar, Musharraf, when two of the four provinces and federally held tribal areas were in a state of civil war and the country’s largest city was brewing for a three way civil war like conflict between Islamists, elements linked to the MQM and the state as per many local and international security assessments? Or was governance exemplary during the time of the Mard-E-Momin when bribery in the public sector became the norm, corruption was introduced to the political process through the doling out of grants and buying and selling of loyalties, drugs and guns permeated the streets, drug and arms money led to mass-scale money laundering and black economy, most sacred institutions of the nation were turned into land barons and the state sponsored a policy of stoking divisions on ethnic and sectarian lines. Khaki or civilian, Pakistan faces a governance crisis and the roots of it lie in the size of the economy and crisis of value in society. Both of these will take decades to correct and will require institutional building and the credibility of institutions. Statements such as the one issued only undermine the credibility of institutions and leads to conflict between institutions, which ultimately robs all of them of their credibility and legitimacy. It is about time institutions shun the power grab and focus on building institutional frameworks to increase the pie.

What makes this statement even more unwarranted is the fact that, based on media perception, the army is calling the shots in three of the four provinces of the country in the realm of not only security but also accountability and other areas of governance. Key officials related to corruption allegations in Sindh have not been nabbed by investigation agencies or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) but by Rangers. Military courts and special courts give the army authority in the realm of judiciary even. And then the army has a dominant say in security and foreign affairs, which is directly linked to economic inflows, aid and key investments from the US and China. In this atmosphere, such statements not only undermine the civilian government but also undermine the state and ultimately army in the longer run. Also, the accusation and counter-accusation that will flow from here will damage all.

Then there is the issue of the ISPR’s selective activism. It remains very active in issuing public statements on Kerry Lugar, on governance and on the statements of political leaders but remains silent when media men make assertions that border on sympathising with terrorists while claiming to be insiders or when ex-generals publically implicate the army and the state as sympathiser or supporter of terrorism.

Above all, Nawaz Sharif has tendencies to turn into an authoritarian ruler. We all know this. His past record has been indicative of this. And with the misfired rocket of the PTI now crashing in the Arabian Sea, he seems stronger and more confident to return to his old antics. Preventing this will require a focused, unhindered effort on the part of society at large. The additional dimension of civil-military conflict will only dilute and discredit such an effort, strengthening Mr Sharif on his road to authoritarianism and will leave Pakistan with only two options: an authoritarian Sharif or a messiah in boots. These outcomes may sooth some Machiavellian ambitions but are disastrous for the nation, for the state, for society and for the army itself.

Men in uniform are patriots at heart and have the best interest of the nation. One cannot doubt that. But one can raise doubts on their judgment for it has proven to be disastrous many a time in the past. It will be good if they leave matters of governance and civilians to politicians and focus on what they do the best, which is strengthening the country’s defence and external security. Generals have every right to have an opinion on governance in the country and on the performance of governments as citizens of Pakistan. But this opinion should not transpire into an institutional opinion. And, above all, such communication between various organs of the state should take place in private. A sign of the mighty and powerful is subtlety and there is no bigger proof of invincibility than invisibility. You are the custodians of this country’s defence and represent a force of unity in this country. This, sirs, is not your place.


Another Sharif in Washington

By Zahid Hussain

11 Nov 2015

IT will be the other Sharif who arrives in Washington next week, less than a month after the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There seems to be much greater hype surrounding the upcoming trip of Gen Raheel Sharif who is certainly taken more seriously by the US administration when it comes to dealing with security issues — undoubtedly the most important part of the tricky relations between the two countries.

Its support for the democratic civilian government notwithstanding, there is a growing impression that Washington would rather deal with the Pakistani military leadership that it believes can deliver on its regional security concerns. Hence the significance of the general’s visit.

With his stock rising at home, Gen Sharif has become increasingly active on the external policy front too. He has perhaps travelled to more world capitals over the last two years than even the prime minister, reinforcing the perception that not only does the military call the shots on security matters it is also actively directing the country’s foreign policy.

With no full-time foreign minister in the federal cabinet, Gen Sharif seems to have taken on that responsibility too. He was in Saudi Arabia this month trying to mend tense relations with the long-time ally. His visit to Moscow in June this year was believed to have paved the way for a new relationship between the two nations. In London, the British prime minister received him at 10 Downing Street, a protocol normally reserved for heads of government. Unsurprisingly, this has raised many eyebrows at home.

The general may find America’s wish list trickier on his second visit to the country as army chief.

Gen Sharif’s visit to the US will be his second since taking over the army command in 2013. He received red-carpet treatment on his first visit one year ago and was awarded the US Legion of Merit in recognition of his services in fighting terrorism. It was not the first time a Pakistani army chief had visited Washington, but the kind of interest Gen Sharif attracted during the trip was rare, if not unprecedented. One major reason was that the visit took place a few months after the start of the much-delayed military operation in North Waziristan which helped iron out the strains between the two militaries, whose ties had seen a downturn since 2011.

The red carpet may be rolled out for the general this time too, but the wish list from his US counterparts is likely to be a bit trickier to deal with. While there is an appreciation of Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts and its military campaign in the tribal areas, there are now renewed US concerns about the Haqqani network with the escalation in the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. The collapse of the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government has added to US worries, casting a shadow over the general’s coming visit.

Although the Americans in their meetings with the prime minister raised these matters, they will surely be the main focus of discussion again during the general’s visit, besides other regional security matters.

With the beginning of the military operation in North Waziristan, concerns over Pakistan’s alleged patronage of the Afghan insurgent group seemed to have been pushed into the background. US military officials had acknowledged that the offensive had fractured the network causing it to be “less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack in Kabul”. But the issue has now resurfaced with greater intensity, straining relations between the two countries.

A recent US State Department report said that while operations carried out by Pakistan’s military had disrupted the actions of many militant outfits in the country, groups like the Haqqani network were spared by the offensive.

Interestingly, a senior commander of the network was part of the Taliban team during the Murree peace talks that enjoyed Washington’s blessings. There was certainly no objection from any side to his presence in the meeting. The hardening of the US stance on the issue seems to have been triggered by the latest uptick in insurgent violence in Afghanistan that has also forced the Obama administration to withhold the complete withdrawal of US troops from the country. Predictably, the network has once again been blamed for the escalation.

Renewed US pressure to act against the Haqqani network has worsened Pakistan’s dilemma. The question is whether the military operation has really driven the Afghan insurgent faction out of their bases in North Waziristan or has it just been relocated to other tribal regions as is being alleged by the US and the Afghan government. Surely we need to clear this ambiguity. But it is for Washington and Kabul to remove the confusion in their positions as well. Pakistani officials rightly point out that it is not possible to kill the Afghan Taliban leaders and at the same time persuade them to talk.

A major US demand is that the Taliban be brought back to the negotiating table. It is certainly not going to be easy with the deterioration in relations between Kabul and Islamabad. Neither the Taliban nor the Kabul administration is willing to resume the talks at this stage. The second round of the Murree talks was suspended after the disclosure that Mullah Omar had died some two years ago. The Afghan government immediately accused Pakistan of deliberately hiding the information.

Thus, after a brief period of bonhomie that had promised to chart a new era of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is back to the old hostile ways. Relations between the two countries hit a new low after Afghan security officials blamed Pakistan for actively backing the Taliban offensive in Kunduz.

It is certainly unrealistic to expect Pakistan to facilitate the Afghan peace process given this atmosphere of distrust. Some in Washington, however, believe Pakistan has not done enough to bring its influence to bear and to persuade the Afghan Taliban to renounce violence. Alongside the red-carpet treatment, Gen Sharif must also be prepared for some tough talking in Washington. It is certainly not going to be a pleasant situation for the army chief.