New Age Islam Edit Bureau
January 12, 2016
• Dealing with the Taliban and IS
By Musa Khan Jalalzai
• Saudis and Iranians have to calm down
By Manish Rai
• Pathankot and power plays
By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
• Fata’s future
By A. Rauf K. Khattak
Dealing with the Taliban and IS
Musa Khan Jalalzai
January 12, 2016
On January 9, 2016, Afghan parliament summoned key security officials to explain the growing threat of Taliban and Islamic State (IS) as the Afghan National Army (ANA) failed to professionalise counterinsurgency operations across the country. Defence Minister Muhammad Masoom Stanekzai, Interior Minister Noorulhaq Uloomi and Director General NDS Major Masood Andrabi failed to positively respond to the questions of parliamentarians about the capability of the Afghan security forces. According to the recent report of NATO headquarters, the security situation in Afghanistan is poised to deteriorate in 2016 as the ANA has lost a third of its troops. Despite multibillion-dollar funds, the ANA remains an entity hardly capable of carrying out the functions of a military force, the report noted. The report further noted that out of 101 units only one is battle-ready while 38 units are incompetent. The report added that more than 8,000 ANA soldiers had been killed in the fight against the Taliban last year.
In fact, the Obama administration has failed to create a fundamentally workable set of transition policies and train a professional army for Afghanistan. Moreover, political horse-trading over the appointment of high-ranking police officers and the ANA commanders prompted deep crisis for the Afghan security forces fighting IS and the Taliban in Helmand and parts of the northern provinces. The ‘two presidents’ divided the security forces on ethnic and political bases and appointed their own men in the provinces under their control respectively. No doubt, a controversial election process shaped a political patronage system but blind allegiance and obedience of the police and ANA officers to their masters are logical consequences of war criminals consolidating their own power within the unity government.
The two presidents maintain their own agendas and introduced the patronage system in security sectors. All military commanders are answerable to their political masters and war criminals with conflicting priorities rather than to the state and government. On December 29, Afghan police commanders loyal to a specific political group refused to fight against the Taliban in Helmand. At the end of 2014, more than 100 Afghan police officers joined the Taliban. In December 2015, in the fight against the Taliban and IS, the ANA carried out 377 military and 110 surveillance operations, and more than 200 military operations were carried out in Helmand, Ghazni, Faryab, Kunduz and Jalalabad provinces, but the results were very poor. Militants became stronger and gained control over more districts across the country. In Jalalabad, Paktika, Faryab, Helmand, Ghazni, Kunduz, Aruzgan and Sari-pul provinces, more than 370 terror-related incidents occurred, in which 2,000 innocent civilians, 1,600 Taliban militants and 2,010 ANA soldiers were killed and injured.
The attack on the Indian consulate in Balkh province remains a question mark as the RAMA and National Directorate of Security (NDS) could not find any clue of the involvement of foreign intelligence in it. However, the Taliban and IS beheaded and kidnapped over 50 soldiers in Badakhshan province when their request for logistical support was turned down by the Afghan defence ministry. However, in Wardak province, more than 30 ANA soldiers deserted, in Kandahar, Paktia, Laghman, Kunduz and Kunar provinces, countless marooned soldiers joined the Taliban ranks. The government has lost control over the Jalalabad, Nuristan and Kunar provinces. In fact, the ANA has lost civilian support and is failing to attract young people for recruitment. A majority of jobless people have joined IS and the Taliban to support their families while Afghan ministers, members of parliament, army generals and corrupt officials continue to purchase expensive houses in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Germany and Dubai.
On December 2, 2015, the deputy speaker of the Afghan lower house of parliament accused the unity government and its National Security Council of supporting IS, and warned that if he presented the documents to parliament, the government would collapse. He showed a CD on the floor of parliament and said that some pressures had prevented him from airing the contents of the CD, but that he would show the CD to certain people at a certain time because he did not want the division of the Afghan nation. War criminal Zair Qadeer said terrorists needed to face the wrath of his lashkar, adding that the government in Kabul did not help the incarcerated men and women in the private prisons of IS. Mr Qadeer’s bray came after the uprising civilians under his command beheaded four members of IS for revenge; IS had earlier cut off the heads of four civilians in Achin district of Jalalabad province. Later on, the governor of Jalalabad confirmed that the beheaded four IS fighters belonged to Tirah Valley and two others were from the Orakzai Agency of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
The Taliban and IS conducted multiple attacks inside Kabul including the attack on the National Assembly and airport, police academy and Kandahar airport, and killed hundreds of ANA soldiers and officers, but the unity government did not dare to condemn these attacks. Last week, Dr Abdullah was on an official visit to Iran. Mr Abdullah warned that IS posed a threat not only to Afghanistan but also to Iran and the entire region. In an interview with Press TV, he said that IS had good financial resources in his country. However, despite all the progress made during the 14 years of the war on terror, the country was still in turmoil. The state is weak, corrupt and fragile, facing huge political, economic and security challenges. The country is being run by financial and political mafia groups that maintain criminal trade and economy, create problems for neighbours, train terrorists and promote the business of killings and kidnapping for ransom. According to NDS reports, some members of parliament are deeply involved in kidnapping for ransom and terror-related activities. They purvey weapons to terrorists in their private vehicles in night. Unfortunately, the country is now caught up in a much broader series of crises and the Afghan security forces are shrinking by the day. There is widespread concern over the incompetence of the ANA generals to manage counterinsurgency operations and respond to the Taliban and IS attacks against civilians.
Dealing with the Taliban and IS
Musa Khan Jalalzai is author of The Prospect of Nuclear Jihad in Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saudis and Iranians have to calm down
By Manish Rai
January 12, 2016
Relations between Riyadh and Tehran have been tense ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In recent times, religious competition between the Islamic world’s Shia and Sunni powerhouses have also turned into burgeoning geopolitical rivalry. But the current decision by Saudi Arabia to execute prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr has brought Saudi-Iranian relations to their lowest. The two Middle Eastern giants are raising the level of hostilities between them at considerable risk to peace in the region.
Because of the Iranian and Saudi tussle in recent days the whole region seems divided on sectarian lines. The chain reaction of the diplomatic fallout has unfolded over the past few days across the region. Saudi Arabia has severed all diplomatic relations with Iran. Saudi allies Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti quickly followed suit. Other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) allies like Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE opted for the less drastic measure of recalling their ambassadors. On other hand, the Shia camp also reacted very sharply. The Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah issued a statement calling al-Nimr’s execution an “assassination” and an “ugly crime”. In Tehran, Iranian hardliners stormed the Saudi embassy, which is against universally agreed upon rules of foreign relations when it comes to safeguarding diplomatic missions. But all these developments are just the start of the major conflict that is about to start in the region.
The struggle between Riyadh and Tehran for political and religious influence has geopolitical implications that extend far beyond the placid waters of the Gulf and encompass nearly every major conflict zone in the Middle East. A diplomatic rupture between the major Sunni and Shia powers in the region will resonate across the Middle East, where they back opposing sides in many destructive wars and simmering conflicts. The first casualty was the collapsed ceasefire between Houthi rebels and the Saudis. The next one will probably be the planned UN-led conference in Vienna to negotiate a political settlement between the warring parties in Syria, which is not wholeheartedly supported by Saudi Arabia anyway. Moreover, more unrest can be expected in Iraq, Lebanon and even Bahrain because of the recent Saudi and Iranian tussle. Now, in such a supercharged atmosphere, the moderate middle ground has been sorely weakened and advocates of a hard line approach to regional affairs hold sway. Some analysts believe that Saudi Arabia may be deliberately fanning the flames of war in the region in a bid to sabotage the agreement between the Iranians and the international community led by the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC’s) permanent members plus Germany. But Iran also has not responded to the whole episode maturely.
The embassy attack makes it clear that Iran has failed to protect international diplomats. Tehran has arrested some people but the incident could have been averted with prompt action, which Iranians failed to take. It is being believed that the embassy attack in Tehran was executed by a powerful group of hardliners who are trying to derail President Rouhani’s foreign policy initiatives in an effort to weaken his domestic political power and image. The defiance and anger in both capitals will not fade soon while neither government is eager to step back from the brink. Both know a direct military confrontation would be ruinous, bloody and asymmetrical. Avoiding direct confrontation, both are likely to escalate their roles in proxy wars across the region, which will definitely create havoc in the already burning region.
The bilious rhetoric between the two countries sours by the day and it is still the people caught in the crosshairs of proxy conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon who are paying the heaviest price of this bull fight. Some effective and immediate steps should be taken by the international community and the UN to calm the boiling equations between the Saudis and Iranians. First of all, the January 25 international conference in Geneva that seeks a diplomatic solution to Syria’s civil war should be postponed in order to give Saudi Arabia and Iran a calming period. Secondly, the US should reassure Saudi Arabia it is not in going in favour of Iran over the Saudis so that the Saudis remain calm and do not feel insecure. Finally, the UN should send its envoy to both Riyadh and Tehran to convince the Saudis and Iranians to de-escalate the situation. We have to understand that it is very important to have cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran as they are two major powers in West Asia for resolving conflicts in the region. Moreover, this conflict between the Saudis and Iranians will also complicate the fight against Islamic State (IS) in the sense that IS will take the opportunity to exploit two regional powers going after each other rather than going after it.
Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Af-Pak region and editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround. He can be reached at email@example.com
Pathankot and power plays
By Ashraf Jehangir Qazi
January 12th, 2016
India has provided Pakistan ‘actionable intelligence’ regarding the attack on the Pathankot airbase and demands satisfactory follow-up action by Pakistan if the foreign secretary talks are to start in three days’ time. Our prime minister has assured the Indian prime minister he will do the necessary. The US is urging India not to postpone dialogue. Reports suggest a number of Nato countries consider the intelligence supplied (including mobile phone conversations between the attackers and suspected handlers in Pakistan, a Jaish-e-Mohammad letter, DNA samples of the attackers, their voice record samples, etc) to be credible leads if not conclusive evidence. Pakistan’s international legal obligations require it to follow up on these leads to determine whether or not some elements based in Pakistan were involved in the attack.
Otherwise, the worst assumptions about Pakistan’s international conduct will continue to be made by the international community. A repeat of the Mumbai stand-off would expose Pakistan to ridicule and ignominy. Pakistan could come under immense international pressure, including the threat of sanctions, if it is seen not to be cooperating with India in the hunt for possible suspects.
While suggesting Pakistan may need time to conduct its investigations, the US agrees with India that Pakistan must take the leads seriously. Along with India, the US and Nato countries lean to the view that the attack probably was planned and supervised from Pakistan by elements with a history of association with the intelligence establishment, whether with or without its direct or indirect connivance. After the judicial assassination of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan lost control over crucial aspects of its foreign policy to violent non-state actors backed by the security establishment. The bill for this incredible irresponsibility is still being paid.
If we set our ties with India in the context of people’s interests and dreams, our policy options will multiply.
It is not yet clear what our military’s attitude was to Modi’s stopover in Lahore. We know that Kargil happened after Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in 1999; Mumbai occurred after progress in the backchannel talks of the mid-2000s; and now Pathankot takes place after another Lahore yatra. Has our prime minister once again been ‘reined in’ by ‘the boys’ to let him know who is boss? The participation of the COAS in a meeting chaired by the prime minister to consider the information provided by India is to be welcomed. However, it does not necessarily mean the military appreciates the prime minister’s attempts to wrest exclusive control over Pakistan’s India policy.
We do not know whether the prime minister is aware of his longer-term responsibilities towards the people of Pakistan, other than throwing money and concrete about, all of which will have to be paid for by the people. We do not know whether he is interested in summoning the commitment and courage to face down challenges to his political authority and credibility. We do not know whether US admiration for his handling of Pathankot will last. We do not even know the nature of his political calculus.
In Pakistan, the concept of civil-military relations is dubious. It excludes civil society. It provides cover for civilian political delinquency and military political ambition, whether working in tandem or at cross purposes. It has become the antithesis of democracy. It is a principal cause of incoherent, inconsistent and irrational policies on major domestic and external issues, including policy towards India. It provides a convenient context for unprincipled politicians, including leaders, to protest the reduction of political space for the discharge of their ‘democratic responsibilities’ by unelected and undemocratic institutions. Likewise, it provides a convenient pretext for an ambitious security establishment to cite the corruption and venality of politicians as reasons for arrogating to itself a decisive role in matters that lie well beyond its competence and remit. The perfect vicious circle! How do we break out of it?
This is a large and fundamental question that we shall have to find an answer to if Pakistan is to survive and prosper. However, more dangerous than the distortion of civil-military relations is the relentless waging of class warfare in Pakistan. This pits the entire range of political, economic, social and service elites against the mass of ordinary Pakistanis. It has many disguises. Patriotic and religious enthusiasms are among them. So are passionate, romantic and self-indulgent national narratives. These stratagems take shelter under the sacred. But the ends they serve are largely profane and dishonest. Among their offshoots is the narrative of the ‘existential’ threat posed by Indian hostility and hegemony. This, of course, is rooted in history, fact and reality. But, more importantly, it is also part of the arsenal of our privileged and powerful against the aspirations and interests of our deprived and poor.
Ben Okri, the Nigerian novelist and poet, observes that whenever politics is not driven by the dreams of the people it is an “arid and barren machine” designed only for elections. This describes the essence of ‘democratic politics’ in Pakistan where domestic and external policies represent the outcome of power plays; not the shared dreams of its people. If we can set our relations with India in the context of the dreams and interests of our people our policy options will multiply several-fold. But if it remains the preserve of elitist power plays without regard to the interests of the people it will continue to be arid and barren.
If the responses of the rulers of Pakistan convey the message that they are unwilling or unable to control the cross-border activities of anti-Indian and anti-Kabul Jihadis until Kashmir is resolved and Kabul has a ‘friendly’ government, they will do more harm to Pakistan than any enemy could wish for. Nor will they help the Kashmiri freedom struggle one iota. None of this may bother them. They probably regard such concerns as ‘philosophical’, and ‘irrelevant’. Moreover, given our dysfunctional power structure and the arid and barren quality of our ‘democracy’, they may have a point. How Pathankot and many other domestic and external issues of national importance are handled will determine whether or not their point remains regrettably valid.
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
By A. Rauf K. Khattak
January 12th, 2016
AFTER the events that have transpired in both the federally and provincially administered tribal areas since 2001, the region has become a focus of attention both within and outside Pakistan. The local and foreign media, strategic thinkers, writers, political parties of Pakistan and foreign governments have evinced an interest in the tribal region, which was otherwise a dark swathe of land lying in the shadows.
It was variously referred to as the badlands, the ungoverned area of Pakistan, and the most dangerous place in the world. In the midst of the convulsions taking place there, it was recognised that much of regional if not world peace hinged on a secure Fata. After untold suffering, loss of hearths and homes, loss of livelihood and the ignominy of living in squalid camps or being thrown at the mercy of relatives and friends for shelter, the slumbering tribal mind has woken up to think afresh. The government of Pakistan has been the last to take stock.
A half-hearted attempt was made by the KP governor. He appointed a committee, headed by a bureaucrat, to suggest measures for reforms. The attempt proved a non-starter. A private bill, Constitution (Twenty-Second Amendment) Act, 2015, has been tabled by a few tribal MNAs to merge Fata with Pata. This is significant.
The bill has yet to pass through many stages. In the latest development, on Nov 8, 2015, the prime minister appointed a five-member committee headed by Sartaj Aziz, adviser on foreign affairs. Other committee members include Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch, National Security Adviser Nasir Khan Janjua, Minister for Climate Change Zahid Hamid and KP Governor Sardar Mehtab Khan.
Input from KP in Fata’s future shape is necessary.
This is the highest committee on the subject so far. The committee is “to start working with immediate effect and after consulting all stakeholders propose a concrete way forward for the political mainstreaming of Fata areas”.
Constitutionally, Fata falls squarely under the purview of the president. It would have been appropriate if the initiative to form the above committee had come from the president, unless it has something to do with the internal arrangements between the prime minister and the president, in which case the latter has agreed to rubber-stamp anything the former does on his behalf. We have a tradition of rubber-stamping presidents.
Representation of the KP government on the committee should not have been ignored. Fata and KP are like Siamese twins. Their law and order is intertwined. Input from KP in what will be the future shape of Fata is necessary to ensure harmony between the two. One may think that the KP governor represents both the province and Fata. Keeping the past in view, Fata was always the foremost concern of governors whenever there were representative governments in the province.
Sartaj Aziz is reported to have said that consultation with tribal parliamentarians has been done and jirgas will be convened in two tribal agencies first, to be replicated in other agencies later. Yet senators Saleh Shah and Aurangzeb Khan have said they had not been consulted. Maybe some parliamentarians were consulted, but not all. The committee should avoid preferential treatment as this will make its job difficult.
It is difficult to foretell what the committee will hear from the various jirgas. It is, however, not difficult to predict that there would be no unanimity of views from the tribal side. The solution suggested is to hold a referendum on whether to join KP, form a separate province, be part of Pata or leave the present set-up in place with some improvements.
Referendums are meant for a developed, informed citizenry, which can understand the issues well. If a referendum is opted for, then an exhaustive education process should be undertaken first, to explain what each option would mean to an ordinary tribal person. Without such an exercise uneducated people, who constitute the majority of Fata, are bound to make the wrong choice.
The committee will do a great disservice to the people of Fata if, faced with divisive, complicated choices, the members try to unleash their own imagination and present what they believe is good for the region. None of the committee members — including the KP governor — have thorough grounding in tribal life. Retired Lt-Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch has a tribal background, but of a different sort. Except for the chairman the others do not even speak their language. If at all the committee is compelled to propose their own solution, then it should be placed before the tribal people before it becomes the final recommendation.
Fata is at a crossroads. If this first attempt proves inconclusive, we should try again till we reach a way forward for the political streamlining of Fata, which may serve us for another 100 years.
A. Rauf K. Khattak is a former federal secretary.