Of late, there has been a surge in cross-border attacks from Afghanistan. Elements of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Maulana Fazlullah’s militia that fled during military operations in Fata and Swat, having found refuge in adjoining provinces of Kunar and Nuristan in Afghanistan, are launching these attacks. On the other side, the US and Afghan governments driven as though by an obsession, have been accusing Pakistani military for harbouring Afghan Taliban and other resistance fighters, especially the infamous Haqqani network in North Waziristan. In fact, a situation has emerged whereby, the TTP is using eastern Afghanistan as a sanctuary and Afghan militants are comfortably entrenched in North Waziristan and other parts of the tribal belt. Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are thus leveraging each other’s position and weakening their beleaguered states. Ironic as it may seem, there was a time when the Pakistan Army leadership considered Afghanistan as its backyard and strategic enclave. Although repudiating the earlier policy, the military leadership and lately our ambassador in Washington made a statement claiming that “Pakistan’s policy of strategic depth had changed and so has its attitude towards India”.
Clearly, there is a lesson to be drawn from this adverse development. If Afghanistan and Pakistan want to regain control and establish the writ of the state in border areas, they have to cooperate closely. With the type of porous border that we have and reluctance on the part of the Afghan government to control border crossing, close cooperation in border management is the only answer, as neither Pakistan nor the US or Afghanistan can unilaterally address and resolve the problem.
But sharp differences in policy and approach are serious hindrances to achieving this goal. Essentially, Washington is pursuing a military solution to stability that aims at full spectrum dominance that facilitates an orderly withdrawal of its forces. But there are two levels at which fighting is going on in Afghanistan. One between the Taliban and the ISAF and the other between the Afghans contesting for turf and territory. So unless there is a negotiated settlement, the kinetic policy of the US in Afghanistan would result in either a civil war or a stalemate (no war-no peace). At the same time, as the US withdraws and lowers its profile in Afghanistan, the burden in dealing with the insurgency could shift to Pakistan. For this reason, it is important for Pakistan to retain the support of Washington and the international community in sharing this burden as an ally rather than a foe.
In order to protect itself from the adverse fallout, Islamabad has justifiably taken a longer view of Afghanistan and would like a genuine power-sharing consensus to develop among all domestic stakeholders and the warring factions in which the Taliban are included, but not as the single dominant player.
Over the years, with high level of casualties, a new generation of field commanders of Taliban are now in the saddle with which Pakistani intelligence does not enjoy the same type of relations that existed in the past. So there are limits to the extent Pakistan can influence the Taliban to engage in a negotiated settlement.
There is war weariness on the side of the Taliban as much as it is on the side of the ANF that may induce the parties to negotiate. This may be wishful thinking, but it would be interesting to see how the strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan impacts the Taliban’s attitude over negotiations. Will it prevent the Taliban from negotiating, or realising that the US is there to stay and have effective presence for the next 10 to 12 years, or act as an incentive for them to talk?
It also has to be recognised by the Afghan and Pakistani leaderships that border management and military force alone is not the solution to dealing with insurgency. There has to be a coordinated effort of economic, political and social development and significant improvement in governance on both sides by the individual countries, unilaterally and in concert with each other and where possible, with the assistance of the international community.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2012.