Ahmed Rashid talks about the re- emergence of Taliban and how they are now contesting the US- led coalition
By Manoj Joshi
AHMED RASHID was a prophet in the wilderness till Nine- Eleven. Since then, he has become the best- selling author of a book on the Taliban, and several others on Central Asia. The latest book synthesises the two themes to show us how another earthquake is shaping up, this time with its epicentre on the Pakistan- Afghanistan border, north of Quetta, where Afghanistan’s Paktia, Paktika, Zabol and Kandahar lie. Here, the remnants of the Taliban who were driven out have reemerged from across the border in Pakistan and are now contesting the US- led coalition and the Afghan National Army.
As a citizen and resident of Pakistan, Rashid has great advantages as a writer of a work like this. He is severely critical of the Pakistan Army and the ISI and there should be no doubt that his work required great courage and intellectual integrity. His sympathies lie with the common people of his country and of Afghanistan who have been wracked by the consequences of the Great Game that has been played out in their region.
As Rashid has pointed out, the Taliban are neither Pakistani nor Afghan. They are “ a lumpen population, the product of refugee camps, militarised madrassas , and the lack of opportunities in the borderland of Pakistan and Afghanistan. “ They understand neither Afghan tribal society, nor the concept of citizenship of a nation. But because of their circumstances, they pose a threat not just to the two countries where they operate, but further afield in India and Central Asia and even the world. This is because of their alliance with the Al Qaeda which has launched a global Islamist jihad and which has now become embedded in the Taliban. Rashid is quite emphatic that the primary responsibility for this rests with the Pakistan Army and its nefarious intelligence agency, the Inter- Services Intelligence ( ISI).
We in India have known of the ISI machinations, watched with bewilderment how it has run circles around its American allies, and dealt with the anti- Indian obsession of the Pakistan Army. Yet the story he has to tell is a tragic one. In the wake of the horrific Nine- Eleven, the United States was virtually backed by every country in the world in its decision to invade Afghanistan and root out the Taliban Taliban that had sheltered the Al Qaeda. The global effort led to the dawn of a new era in Afghanistan with the election of the Hamid Karzai government backed by the traditional Afghan Loya Jirga and elections. The warlords were brought under check, reconstruction aided by among others, India, was undertaken. But today, the country and the region stand on the brink of chaos. Just how we have reached there is the theme of the book which looks quite pitilessly at the failures of the US, the Karzai government, and the Pakistan government, dominated in these years by its army.
Nine- Eleven should have led to a massive struggle in South Asia against those who kill innocents in the name of religion, but the reality is that we have failed because two principal actors — Pakistan and the US have pursued what are fundamentally and even violently at cross- purposes.
After having being compelled to join the war against terrorism, and turn on the Taliban, Pakistan temporised and, when the US distracted itself by its adventure in Iraq, it began to implement a strategy of undermining the efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan by refurbishing the Taliban and sending it back to re- establish its hold over the benighted country. Their motive, as Rashid points out, is the same — strategic depth and parity with regard to India. T HE support for the Taliban was in the first place instigated by ideas that control of the country could offer “ strategic depth” against India.
The defeat of the Taliban, says Rashid, “ Stirred up a hornet’s nest in Islamabad.” According to him, the ISI has gone out of its way to mislead the establishment and even its own military masters on Indian activity.
The fact is that India is involved, but involved in reconstructing the state through building schools, hospitals and roads, not arming militants whose ideology cannot even be classed medieval. The ISI has been aided in this by the US distraction in Iraq which led them to countenance the very visible signs of Pakistani backtracking, or to be more precise, back- stabbing.
Though Rashid’s book examines the issue in the larger context of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, he is best when he is looking into Pakistani politics. This is not only because he is a Pakistani, but because the action in recent years has been in Pakistan which has enabled the Taliban to expand at a great rate in the country. He is right when he says that this development is more of the failure of the policies of the Army, than the success of the Taliban. In his eightyear- rule, Musharraf sidelined the mainstream political parties and used the mullahs to govern even while claiming, and probably believing that he was promoting “ enlightened moderation”.
Those who expect a great deal from the “ American- trained” General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani have forgotten that he was the head of the ISI in the period when Pakistan descended into chaos — the year 2007 that saw the Lal Masjid episode, the sacking of the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, the declaration of Emergency by a ruler who was already a military dictator, the collapse of Pakistani authority in large chunks of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Pulling the country out of that mess is not going to be easy.
It requires the exertions of the world community, especially the US, goodwill of its neighbours, a little bit of luck, and above all, the efforts of the Pakistani people who yearn for peace and prosperity, like their neighbours in Afghanistan.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi