Why Pakistan interferes in Afghanistan

A strong, independent Afghanistan is perceived as an existential threat to Pakistan

Just why is Pakistan interested in installing a friendly regime in Afghanistan? If you read books and articles written over the last couple of decades, you will come across arguments such as the need for “strategic depth” to counter India, to prevent a pro-India regime in Kabul that will result in the Indian encircling of Pakistan and, even more grandly, to create an Islamic centre of power that stretches from the shores of the Arabian Sea to the Caucasus mountains. Going by the statements of members of the Pakistani establishment and some of its commentators, these are indeed the reasons why Pakistan wants to dominate Afghanistan.

Yet, to a large extent, the ambition and the paranoia that motivates these goals are in the realm of fantasy. Important people might believe in these fantasies, which means they must be taken seriously, because those important people do act on the basis of their delusions. However, there is also an argument to be made that these fantasies, paranoias and strategic sophistries are used to mask the real motive.

Pakistan’s real motive in seeking to dominate Afghanistan is the fear of its own dismemberment. Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Islamabad’s main agenda was to prevent Kabul-supported Pashtun and Baloch nationalism from escalating into full-blown movements for independence. The strength of Pashtun nationalism and Kabul’s rejection of the Durand Line (which continues to this day) create deep insecurities in Islamabad, causing it both to bolster Islamism as an ideological counter, sponsor political instability in Afghanistan and attempt to install a friendly regime there.

It is a matter of historical fact that Pakistan—under President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—began training Islamist militants in 1973, long before the Soviet invasion. Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud received training in Pakistani camps so that Bhutto could counter Kabul ‘forward policy’ towards Pakistan. Kabul’s policies over the Durand Line had caused Pakistan to close its borders with Afghanistan in 1961. When the Baloch insurgency erupted in the early 1970s, Kabul (under the Daoud regime) supported it. Bhutto’s response was to nurture proxies in the form of Islamist militants—an old trick for the Pakistani establishment—under the leadership of the then Brigadier Naseerullah Babar, who as Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps, set up training camps in North and South Waziristan. More than 5000 militants were thus trained between 1973-1977. Again, it must be stressed, before the Soviets invaded. The narrative that most people accept—that Pakistan’s sponsorship of the mujahideen was a response to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—is factually incorrect. [Rizwan Hussain’s Pakistan and the Emergence of Islamic Militancy in Afghanistan has a good account of this]

The Pakistani establishment fears that a strong independent Afghanistan—like the one that existed up to the mid-1970s—will pursue an irredentist agenda, claiming the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. People in the tribal regions of Pakistan have only a tenuous association with the Pakistani state, and even for people in the so-called ‘settled areas’ of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, age-old Pashtun solidarity is often stronger than allegiance to a geopolitical entity called Pakistan. Afghanistan can well decide to support the insurgency in Balochistan to weaken Pakistan enough. Therefore, Pakistani strategists can see an existential threat in a strong, independent Afghanistan.

They can’t, however, state this as the official reason, because to do so would be admit the hollowness of the idea of Pakistan. That’s why fantastic notions of strategic depth, pre-empting strategic encirclement or building a Central Asian caliphate come in useful. “Strategic depth” is a plausible justification to convince patriotic Pakistanis of why their military is interfering in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s case appears a lot more ‘understandable’ to international opinion if it cites the fear of Indian encirclement rather than fear of Pashtun and Baloch self-determination as the reasons for its actions. Domestic and foreign Islamists will be enthused by the idea of flying the green flag of Islam all the way to the borders of Russia.

Theoretically, Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex might be persuaded to stop destabilising Afghanistan if it were convinced that Kabul will not lay claim to Pashtun lands east of the Durand Line. In practice that would be nearly impossible, not least because Afghan nationalism will not accept it. Even Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime didn’t.

Some matters will be decided by the force of arms. If at all.

Pragati February 2010: The Mumbai Project

Almost three years ago, the Percy Mistry Committee report recommended that India develop Mumbai into an international financial centre. Like other plans to modernise the city’s infrastructure and public services, the Mistry Committee’s recommendations were substantially unimplemented.

This month, we argue that it is time for the Indian government to revisit the Mumbai project. It is also time for India to embrace an entirely new urbanisation paradigm.

Another highlight of this issue: Shashi Tharoor defends India’s continued engagement with the United Nations. On that topic, don’t miss the infographic on India’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations elsewhere in the issue.

We also cover topics in naval strategy; the importance of defence economics in planning and budgeting; intelligence relations between the CIA & ISI and the conflict in Balochistan. There’s a lot more.

Read & Share

Digital Community edition (Free)
In print: 12 issues at Rs 800/US$ 80 (subscribe)

Iran gets hit by cross-border terrorism

Complicated, the matter is

One more country has joined the queue. “We have heard,” said Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s president, “that certain officials in Pakistan cooperate with main agents of these terrorist attacks in the eastern part of the country.”

The Iranian government summoned the Pakistani charge d’affaires in Teheran and protested against the use of Pakistani territory to launch the terrorist attack against Iran. The co-ordinated double strike at a Shia-Sunni reconciliation meeting in Sistan-Baluchestan province killed several tribal leaders and a number of senior military officers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Jundollah, a Pakistan-based Baloch-Sunni rebel group, claimed responsibility. Mr Ahmedinejad accused the Pakistani military establishment of supporting Jundollah. Ali Larijani, an influential Iranian leader and speaker of parliament, went further and called the attack “an outcome of US measures”.

Both Pakistan and the United States have denied responsibility for the attack. There is very little in the public domain about Jundallah. It does not help that there is another Pakistani Sunni outfit—possibly a joint venture of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen—by the name and which has figured in attacks within Pakistan. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write that “many experienced observers of US intelligence activities in Central and South Asia believe that US intelligence agencies have their own ties to Jundallah.”

There are several explanations for the attack: first, it was an attack by the Balochi-Sunni extremists against the Persian-Shia state. Second, it was an attack on the Republican Guard by Iranians opposed to the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad faction. Third, the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) instigated it to destabilise Pakistan’s relations with Iran by precipitating a crisis. Fourth, it was carried out at the behest of the United States to keep Iran under pressure. Fifth, it could well have been instigated by Iran’s Middle Eastern Arab-Sunni rivals—with the Pakistani military establishment acting as the midwife. Many of these explanations overlap.

In any event, there will be new pressure on the Pakistani government to act against anti-Iranian groups in Pakistan. While there is likely to be less public outrage in Pakistan against Iranian accusations, a crackdown against anti-Iranian groups—to the extent that the Pakistani government launches one—will risk a sectarian backlash. The likes of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other Sunni jihadi groups would target Pakistan’s Shia minority, not least in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Unless Iran is satisfied with mere promises of action, Iranian angle will add to Pakistan’s domestic woes.

It also complicates the relationship between the United States and Iran. Teheran will find itself in a dilemma: to counter what some see as a US campaign to destabilise the Iranian regime or to co-operate with US forces to tackle the Sunni jihadi threat emanating from Pakistan.

What about the Balochistan on the table?

India need not be defensive, apologetic or overly concerned about correcting Pakistan’s allegations of meddling

Yesterday’s post pointed out why the mention of Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh hurts India’s interests.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s giveaway enables Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex to distract attention from the Talibanisation of the Pakistani state, and unite the people against the old external enemy, India. It allows the military establishment to not only cite the India threat to avoid committing troops for fighting the Taliban. But also—now that the separatism in Jammu & Kashmir is petering out—use Balochistan as a pretext to provide fresh justification for long standing strategy of using terrorism to contain India.

In addition to this, it is quite likely that Pakistani officials and commentators will use Indian meddling to counter/mitigate charges of their country being a source of international terrorism. But the debating points and PR value apart, this won’t make a material difference: to the extent that Pakistani terrorists are a threat to the international community, and Baloch militants (whether supported by India or not) only threaten Pakistan, the rest of the world is unlikely to take too much notice.

It is also likely that Balochistan will figure on the bilateral diplomatic agenda—but it is unclear how Pakistan wishes to benefit from it (See M K Rasgotra’s piece). Because if Pakistan takes the position of “you stop hitting us in Balochistan and we’ll stop hitting you in Kashmir and elsewhere”, India could well say, “OK, that’s a deal.” Such a move is understandable only if the Pakistani authorities want to wind down the anti-India jihad and need a face-saving deal to sell to its own population. Since the chances of this happening are lower than that of snow in Chennai, it is unlikely that Pakistan will want to propose such a deal.

While the utility of bringing up Balochistan in the joint-statement is limited from this perspective, it is just what Pakistani government needs to tar Baloch nationalism in the eyes of the its public, and use it to carry on the ongoing, bloody repression of the Baloch population.

How should India deal with the outcome of Sharm-el-Sheikh insofar as it concerns Balochistan? First, there is no need for the Indian government to be defensive, apologetic or even too fastidious in trying to correct Pakistani allegations that it is carrying out covert operations in Balochistan. It should be fair game to respond to a proxy war by opening up another front and going on the offensive. If Pakistan protests too much, it can be told that its allegations are baseless, asked to submit evidence and made to do the very things it asks of India. If the ISI chief wants to engage with someone equivalent in India, he could be introduced to the national security advisor.

Second, since it was Mr Gilani who presented information on threats in Balochistan, it is only natural for the Indian government to begin to take official positions on the developments there. To the extent that the ferment in Balochistan is due to colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights, India should impress upon its dialogue partner the need to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people. It is time for the Indian media to read up on Balochistan matters, for think-tanks to arrange workshops and seminars on the subject, and for civil society to take greater interest in what happens there. All this might sound sarcastic, but it is not. Surely, unless India does all this, how can it promote its own interests in “a stable, democratic Islamic Republic of Pakistan”?

Manmohan Singh’s costly lollipop giveway

Reinforcing the Denial in Pakistani society is setback for India

Mirror-imaging is not uncommon in popular conceptions that Indians and Pakistanis have of each other. You hear it from Indian lofty-softies when they declare that Pakistanis are “people like us”. But while Indian mirror-imaging generally stops with an innocent notion of the nature of Pakistani society, Pakistani mirror-imaging extends to the nature of the state and its organs.

Nowhere is this most manifested than in the belief that India’s intelligence agencies play the same role their Pakistani counterparts. Accusing India’s RAW of involvement in any number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan—however illogical it might be—need not concern the Pakistani military-jihadi complex’s propaganda/psychological operations units anymore: for it is part of the Pakistani nation’s denial mechanism. It is far easier to believe that those devious Hindu-Bania-Indians did it rather than to go through the emotionally draining process of uncovering just why are jihadis killing their compatriots and co-religionists.

Even so reading the editorial in today’s Dawn should bring the coffee onto your clothes. On the matter of the dossier on RAW’s covert operations in Pakistan that Yusuf Raza Gilani supposedly handed over to Manmohan Singh at Sharm-el-Sheikh, it notes that “if they are rogue elements within RAW who are acting independently, they must be taken to task forthwith.” The good people on the editorial board of Dawn are generously—possibly sincerely—providing the Indian prime minister with the same escape route that US officials often provide the Pakistani government.

During a week when it was Pakistan which submitted a dossier of Indian misdeeds, and the Indian foreign ministry used the word “baseless”, Dawn’s editorial just completes the picture. As Coomi Kapoor puts it, India went to the “NAM summit as the (victim) of terror and came back with a document which seems to suggest that both countries are on a level playing field when it comes to sponsoring terror in the other’s backyard.”

Allowing Pakistan to insert the words that it “has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas” in a joint statement has reinforced popular Pakistani perceptions that Indian intelligence agencies are responsible for high-profile acts of terrorism like that attack on the police academy and the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. To the extent that these attacks had galvanised people against the Taliban, the “badly drafted” joint statement damaged the developing resolve against jihadi culture in Pakistani civil society.

The real implication of agreeing to the mention of Balochistan in the joint statement is its impact on Pakistani politics and society, and in turn, the effect this will have on India’s security. (And not so much the handle it gives Islamabad in bilateral negotiations, or indeed, casting itself as a victim of Indian covert operations. More on this in another post, here).

One man—and only one man—is responsible for this setback: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Blaming the foreign secretary and other underlings for the “bad drafting” is pointless. No one but the prime minister himself could have agreed to that reference. He should be held personally accountable for this decision.

Handing Mr Gilani (not even Asif Ali Zardari, and there’s a difference) this lollipop has already had perverse effects: in addition to damaging the prospects of Pakistani society turning against its Talibanisation, it has increased Mr Gilani’s stature vis-à-vis President Zardari. If at all a lollipop had to be given, it should have been to Mr Zardari who had been sounding conciliatory, and not to Mr Gilani who is trying to mask his insignificance as a popular leader by taking hardline positions against India. The decision to reward Mr Gilani and punish Mr Zardari is astonishing: it is either an act of strategic wisdom that ordinary mortals cannot fathom or a clearly discernible act of folly.

The acid test is the next Pakistan-originated terrorist attack: if there is one, Dr Singh must resign. If there isn’t one, or a major attack is averted with the assistance of the Pakistani government, then he deserves our praise.

Update: In his op-ed on July 31st, Pratap Bhanu Mehta echoes these arguments (in greater detail and style)

Let them have…cake

Those “informed sources” in Islamabad…what would the world be without them?

Barack Obama, as usual, raises expectations, this time among “informed sources” in Pakistan.

An informed source while quoting an Islamabad-based diplomat, who is said to be aware of the details of what he called the Obama Plan, said that a long-term solution to the problems associated with the Gwadar Port vis-a-vis the divergent strategic interests of US and China would also be explored in regional context, and in this regard all the concerned parties will be taken into confidence for seriously considering the following options. Regarding Pak-India relations, the proxy war between the two are being checked and controlled completely.

…Regarding long-term solution to the problems associated with the Gwadar Port and the divergent strategic interests of the US and China related thereto, it is said, would be explored in regional context, and in this regard all the concerned parties will be taken into confidence for seriously considering the following options: Let Pakistan declare the Gwadar Sea Port as an international open port; Let both the USA and China jointly invest into developing the Gwadar Port as a Deep Sea Port of international standards; Let the USA build a land route and oil/gas pipelines from the Gwadar Deep Sea Port to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) of Central Asia through Afghanistan; Let China construct a land route and railways (if feasible) from the Gwadar Deep Sea Port to its Khunjerab Pass and onward through Balochistan, NWFP and Northern Areas; Let India construct a motorway from New Delhi to Lahore and then Pakistan constructs a motorway and railways (if feasible) from Peshawar to Jalalabad, city of Afghanistan, and at the same time, Afghanistan constructs a motorway and railways (if feasible) from Jalalabad to the American-sponsored land route extending to the CIS thereby providing India and Pakistan a joint access to Afghanistan and to the Central Asian States; Let Iran construct a motorway and railways (if feasible) to the American-sponsored land route in Afghanistan extending to the central Asian CIS member states thereby providing Iran a land access to Afghanistan and the Central Asian States, and also to China through Pakistan or through the CIS; and Let India, Pakistan and Iran jointly build a gas pipeline from Paras Gas Field of Iran to India through Pakistan for meeting the growing energy needs of both India and Pakistan.

The above solution, the source said, will provide a way forward to all the concerned countries thereby transforming into an economic inter-dependent region of peace and mutual cooperation to their respective benefits and prosperity. [The News]

Messy problems can be solved—you have only to Let them.

A pre-announced surprise drone attack

Quetta in the crosshairs

If you have a dim view of the US government, then you could conclude that allowing the New York Times to announce that the CIA intends to conduct drone strikes against Mullah Omar & Co at their sanctuaries in Quetta is the Obama administration’s very own Tora Bora (via The Washington Independent). How better to surprise the Taliban leadership than by letting it be known that they will be attacked next.

But if you think that the New York Times doesn’t leak such sensitive information without purpose, then you might conclude that this is a little warning to the folks holed out in Quetta, and their friends in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, that unless they quickly become ‘moderate’ Taliban then, well, the US might be compelled to destroy some real estate developments in and around Quetta. And what does ‘moderate’ mean? No, not those who award 10 lashes instead of 100 for women showing their ankles. Rather, those who are amenable to negotiate a cessation of hostilities with the United States.

Is the threat credible? Well, unless you belong to the dim view camp, the good folks in Washington probably think so. Or they think that just getting the Quetta Shura to scatter is a good day’s work.

China to take the Iran pipeline if India doesn’t

By all means

It looks like a negotiation tactic. Pakistani sources have let it be known that China is interested in the Iran gas pipeline if India drops out. India continues to remain cool towards the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline even after Pakistan offered to lower transit fees. And Turkey’s new proposal to route Central Asian gas to India can further change supply equations if it works out. So introducing the China bogey is an entirely predictable on Pakistan’s part.

What if it’s not a bluff and China really interested in the project? Well, good luck to the Chinese, then. The risks associated with the project—from Iran’s overselling of available reserves to the political and security risks along its passage through Balochistan—don’t change. Baloch tribals are unlikely to be less enthusiastic in taking potshots at the pipeline because it terminates in China. They haven’t been too friendly towards Chinese nationals working in Gwadar. Indeed, the security risks would be higher—because it would have to traverse Gilgit, where the Shia majority population is up-in-arms against the Pakistani government. (Gilgit is technically Indian territory, by way of Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession to India in 1947. Add that to the political risk).

External powers could relatively easily threaten China’s energy supplies with plenty of plausible deniability. Why would China want that?

What about the implications for India? India needs to worry about the pipeline going to China if the IPI were the only way to transport Iranian gas to India. But it isn’t. There’s LNG, for instance. As The Acorn has long argued, investing in domestic LNG infrastructure is the best way to ensure India’s energy security. It allows India to buy gas from Iran, and from elsewhere.

Who orchestrated Rashid Rauf’s escape and why

Seven possibilities

1. The ISI—because Rauf was working for them, and, like Omar Saeed, just can’t be allowed to fall into the hands of British or American authorities. Like what Rauf’s lawyer alleges, he could have been “mysteriously disappeared”. If this is so, the good people at the Gulshan-e-Abad mosque might be the last ones to have seen him alive.

2. The ISI (Musharraf & Co)—because they wanted to hand him over to British authorities in an off-the-books transaction. The British authorities might, after a decent interval and due process, extradite two Baloch nationalist leaders that Pakistan wants in return. Since there would be no formal quid pro quo, the British government will avoid criticism for engaging in this ugly trade.

3. Jaish-e-Mohammed/Al-Qaeda/The ISI (Gul & Co)—because he was working for them and there was a risk that he would be extradited to the UK.

4. The British/Americans—because they suspected that the Pakistanis will never let Rauf fall into their hands, ever.

5. Rashid Rauf’s family—because he was family. The Rauf family does not lack resources or connections. The story of his escape suggests that the family did play a role in facilitating his escape. Whether they did so on their own accord, or were merely acting on behalf of someone else is the question.

6. The Baloch insurgents—because they wanted to prevent him being exchanged for Faiz Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri, Baloch nationalist leaders currently in British custody. The fact that there was official collusion in Rauf’s escape makes this explanation extremely unlikely.

7. Rashid Rauf himself—because the story of his escape, incredible as it seems, could actually be true. He seized the moment and fled.