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TENSIONS ACROSS DURAND LINE

Global Geopolitics Net
Sunday, June 22, 2008

© Copyright 2008 Malladi Rama Rao. All rights reserved.

M RAMA RAO

Delhi based journalist

The irony is difficult to miss. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is threatening Pakistan with hot pursuit. This means, the day when Afghan soldiers would cross the Durand Line to smoke out Taliban warriors is not far. This is partly in tune with the Pukhtoon tradition of not recognising the Durand line. Neither the Taliban militants who have safe sanctuaries in South Waziristan, Swat Valley and other pockets of Pakistan's tribal belt, nor Mr Karzai recognise the Durand Line as the border.

Hot pursuit and smoking out from the holes are some of the favourite Bushisms tested and perfected after 9/11. Yet, commentators in Washington and Islamabad view the Karzai threat as outlandish. President George Bush has even volunteered to help to cool the tensions between the two neighbours.

Evidently President Karzai is frustrated. On the one hand, his patrons refuse to read the ground signals properly and take effective steps to check the menace at his doorstep. On the other hand, they shower him with homilies on good governance, the importance of rooting out corruption and installing a sound legal and security environment. He has no quarrel with this wish list except that in the present circumstances prevailing in the landlocked country most of it looks like wishful thinking

He is, however, irked at the donors increasingly questioning his governance skills as they did at the June 12 conference of Aid Afghan Consortium in Paris, and then openly expressing worries over the sweep of the Taliban over much of the country. In so far the aid is concerned, he may not have been too disappointed at the aid pledges amounting to $ 20 billion. These fall short of his projection of $50 billion. Because he knows from experience all the pledges do not translate into aid flows. Since 2002, his country received aid pledges totalling $ 25 billion. Only $15 billion—60 per cent—have actually flowed into the country.

Undoubtedly, people in Afghanistan are in dire need of better health care, clean drinking water, electricity, good sanitation, schools and lately food security. The donors’ money is expected to go into these fields. But increasing terror strikes across the country have slowed down what is probably already a languorous pace of reconstruction work in the country.

The fact of the matter is that the whole world knows how and why these terror attacks have accelerated but there is an apparent reluctance to strike hard at that root of the problem. Taliban has been able to recharge and regroup itself because of the safe havens available inside South Waziristan and Swat Valley, where the presence of Pak army is very minimal.

If one goes by the version of a group of journalists who were recently (mid-May 2008) conducted to the ‘hide out’ of Baitullah Mehsud, who, according to Karzai, posed danger to Afghanistan and Pakistan alike, there is practically no sign of army’s presence and all the check posts vacated by the Pak army are under the control of the local Taliban. No surprise, therefore, in recent days Afghanistan has been facing up to 100 terrorist attacks in a week, up from about 60 a year ago. And these are becoming daring by the day.

The June 13 raid on the Kandahar prison, for instance, led to the escape of over 400 Taliban insurgents and commanders besides some 600 prisoners. The 30-minute- operation with military precision conclusively nails the theory that the Taliban have been weakened and it was for this reason they had been taking recourse to suicide bombings and the use of IEDs in recent months.

At the last count there are 14 groups that have been targetting Afghan security forces from their safe havens East of Durand Line. There are also the likes of Maulvi Haqqani who run a network of madarsas and training bases to lend a helping hand to foreign fighters lured to the area by the call of Al Qaeda. The recent (April) assassination attempt on Karzai is said to be the work of Haqqani and his associates.

Pakistan has been brazenly misleading the world that it can tackle the problem of terrorist sanctuaries entirely on its own. Being next door neighbour, Karzai knows one home truth. And that is that the ‘elected’ Federal Government in Islamabad is simply following the anti-terror policy as laid down by President Musharraf and his army long days ago.

For Musharraf and his army commanders, ‘peace talks’ with militant tribal leaders like Mehsud were a means to divert attention of the people from pressing economic woes and to lull the Big Brother to believing that some thing was being done to buy peace east of the Durand Line. There is also another reason for not deploying the army.

More than a year ago, the army suffered a bloody nose at the hands of tribal militants. It is unwilling to suffer any more humiliation lest the fighting capability of an already demoralised force will be undermined. This realisation prompted Musharraf and his field commander Gen Ashfaq Kiyani (who has since become the army chief) to adopt the talks route ignoring the advisories from Kabul and Washington.

The result is Afghanistan is fighting a war whose very source is based in Pakistan. As long as the Taliban has that base, it won’t be able to win the war against terrorists. President Karzai has no doubt that the terrorists are able to step up their war in Afghanistan because they believe he cannot do much. And the US led NATO forces also do no more than sending an occasional drone or a predator.

Frustrated and dismayed he may be but Karzai may not translate his threat of hot pursuit into real-life action. He knows his limitations. As the News International said (July 17, 2008), it is, however, time Pakistan stared truth in the face. And it is an ugly truth that elements in powerful places within the state's forces and institutions, ‘do not wish to see’ an end to terrorism. Perhaps, they see militants as the means to retain control in Kabul and weaken the US-backed government.

This is a revised version of Zia policy which used ‘jihad’ as a state creed first in Kashmir and then in Afghanistan. How strong these elements are in present day Pak establishment is difficult to say.

The daily rhetoric of Asif Zardari, the back seat driver of Gilani government, and his unwillingness to dump President Musharraf do not hold much hope for a real meaningful turn around in the situation. That is bad news for Kabul, New Delhi and Washington not withstanding the warnings being sounded to Islamabad by home grown analysts against its ambiguous approach to militancy. The ‘bosses’ in the Pakistan capital and the adjoining garrison town will do well to take note of what Sunday Observer describes as ‘box loads’ about reports of Musharraf-Kiyani troops joining militants in the attacks and clashes on Pakistan-Afghan border.

About the Author

Malladi Rama Rao is an analyst and writer on the Indian political scene and geo-political and security issues of South Asia. He directs a Weekly Feature Service in English, Syndicate Features, in colloboration with his wife Vaniram. He is also the India Editor of Asian Tribune.

SYNDICATE FEATURES

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