Stand Up, Be Counted
By K Subrahmanyam
By K Subrahmanyam
3 Jun 2009
Even as the Pakistani army is intensifying its operations in the Swat valley, and the US steps up its forces in Afghanistan, opposition from the
Taliban in the tribal regions of Pakistan is increasing. The Pakistani Taliban is launching more terror attacks, and media speculation about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and materials has become louder, both in the US and elsewhere. The Pakistani army's operations have been so intensive and extensive that nearly three million people have been internally displaced. It is an indication that this time around the Pakistani army is taking on the Taliban in all seriousness. The US national security adviser, General James Jones, has described the operations as "a new and comprehensive and so far impressively successful effort by the Pakistan army... to its challenge by the Taliban".
The Pakistani army's operations have the support of mainstream political parties and, increasingly, of the civil society in that country. As the Pakistani army gains confidence that its campaign against the Taliban has India's support, and that it has no reason to be anxious about its eastern border, it is possible for our neighbour to transfer more troops from east to west, and intensify its anti-Taliban operations further. Meanwhile, the US is augmenting its forces in Afghanistan. Therefore, speculation about the risk of nuclear weapons and materials falling into the wrong hands at a time when the Pakistani army, government and civil society appear to have decided to firmly fight the Taliban threat indicates a lack of confidence in the professionalism of the Pakistani army and the staying power of the US in this campaign.
A typical example of this is the article 'Help us or we leave' in the International Herald Tribune last week by Stanley Weiss, the eminent founding chairman of the Business Executives for National Security. He argues that if Russia, China, Iran and India which have an interest in eliminating the al-Qaeda don't come to the help of the US, it should quit Afghanistan. In India, reports of US efforts to negotiate deals with various warlords in Afghanistan, including Hekmatyar and Haqqani, tend to be interpreted as signs of eagerness by the US to get out of Afghanistan. In the light of inadequate progress of America's overtures to Iran, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intransigence, North Korean defiance and the US's compromise with Pakistan on the wording of the aid legislation President Barack Obama's image as an effective leader has lost some of its earlier shine.
There is a basic misconception in the US regarding the Taliban, that there are 'good' and 'bad' Talibans. According to the Americans, the 'good' Taliban is interested in enforcing sharia law over its own territory while the 'bad' Taliban wants to extend the same to other territories too. The Pakistani government reached an agreement with the Taliban in Swat but it did not work out. The Taliban government of Mullah Omar would have fulfilled the definition of 'good' Taliban, but the al-Qaeda operates from its territory. Therefore, the Americans had to drive out the 'good' Taliban from Afghanistan. Now, Mullah Omar operates from Quetta, in Pakistan. The Pakistanis allow Mullah Omar to function without obstruction in Quetta. Meanwhile, his groups are still operating in Afghanistan as well, fighting the US and NATO forces there. All this confusion is part of the baggage inherited by the Americans from the days when they were negotiating with the Taliban for the UNOCAL pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. Those were the days when the al-Qaeda ran its terror camps in Afghan territory, enlisting the help of various Pakistani jihadi organisations.
What is being overlooked, meanwhile, is the fact that what the world is fighting against in the Af-Pak area is a dangerous ideology. The terrorists believe it is their manifest destiny to spread their cult around the globe, and that this agenda can be achieved through terrorism.
The US, by proposing the contact group consisting of the European Union, Russia, China, India, Iran, Central Asian Republics and Saudi Arabia, has already acknowledged the global nature of the problem. The contact group could develop a global approach, on the basis of which various nations facing the jihadi threat could offer specific help. India, on its part, has invested a billion dollars worth of aid in the development of infrastructure in Afghanistan and has lost its people to terrorism.
The US's staying power in Afghanistan, and its ability to mobilise meaningful international support, will depend on how it conceptualises the global nature of the Taliban threat, and Washington's ability to persuade the Pakistani army to accept such an assessment. While the Pakistani army was responsible to a large extent for nurturing this Frankenstein, the US, too, bears significant responsibility. Today, to save Pakistan, Afghanistan, the rest of the world, and the fair name of Islam, the jihadi threat has to be fought against in a spirit of global cooperation. And in this campaign, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the main battlefields.
Courtesy: The Times of India, New Delhi