General Kayani’s moves suggest that he sees the final lap
President Barack Obama gave his Af-Pak speech at West Point on December 1st, 2009 where he announced his intention “to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.” General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani signaled his policy by the end that month when a suicide bomber attacked a CIA facility at Khost.
Mr Obama’s speech might have triggered the Pakistani military-jihadi complex into implementing its endgame strategy. Pakistani actions over the last three months suggest that it is both attempting to hasten the US exit from Afghanistan and neutralising the other regional actors—Iran and India—which might oppose a pro-Pakistan post-US arrangement in Kabul. From the attack on the CIA at Khost; to the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi; to the terrorist attack at German Bakery in Pune; to the raid on Kabul city centre; to the rendition of Abdolmalek Rigi to Iran; and most recently, the attack on Indian officials at Kabul, General Kayani & Co have executed their moves masterfully.
Mullah Baradar was not only a ‘moderate’ among the Quetta Shura Taliban, but also actually negotiating with the United States and the Karzai government, against the wishes of the ISI. ‘Capturing’ him not only allowed Pakistan to undermine the US-Afghan political initiative but also allowed General Kayani to be seen as arresting a ‘high-ranking Taliban leader’. This was a brilliant move—Washington had to praise Pakistan even after receiving a kick below the belt. It was, nevertheless, a significant setback for independent US political efforts in Afghanistan. It meant that the United States relies a little more on Pakistan to act as the, well, interlocutor with the Taliban.
Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a Iranian-Baloch-Sunni terrorist organisation called Jundallah, was almost certainly a CIA asset. The Iranian government has accused him of both being a US agent and of having links with al-Qaeda. Both these charges are perhaps true—contradictory as they might seem. The ISI allowed him to operate from Pakistani territory, for the CIA, against Iran for several years. But after India, Iran and Russia—whose interests were ignored at the London conference on the future of Afghanistan—started coming together, the ISI played the CIA out and handed him over to Iran. The United States can’t complain too loudly, after all, like Mullah Baradar, hasn’t Pakistan just acted against a terrorist with links to al-Qaeda?
(There was the little issue of how to hand Rigi over without setting a precedent that New Delhi might exploit—so an elaborate drama became necessary)
With Iran it was mollification. With India it is aggression. The attack on Indian officials in Kabul is intended to scare India out of Afghanistan. Even as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex seeks to hasten US military withdrawal, it is working towards installing its proxies into the corridors of power in Kabul. It will allow President Karzai to remain in office just long enough to provide a political cover for the United States—but before long, a pro-Pakistan regime will take his place.
Is General Kayani overplaying his hand? Maybe. But bringing the situation to a head before 2011 works to Pakistan’s advantage.
Will the United States watch silently as the Pakistani military-jihadi complex destroys its assets and—brazenly, if cleverly—frustrates its designs? Will the vaunted COIN campaign work fast enough? Will the United States intensify its covert war inside Pakistan to counter General Kayani’s moves? Let’s see.