Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations: The Choice Between Alliance and Acrimony

One can only imagine the frustration of Afghanistan’s diplomatic corps every time the president lets out -often in his signature impolitic manner- another of his angry and cringe-inducing tirades against Pakistan. The expressed desire of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under its brand new foreign minister Dr. Spanta (a career academic with all the delicate mannerisms that goes with that hollowed profession), has been to establish if not genuinely cordial, then at least the appearances of a normalized, rules-based, and respectable mutual relationship with the government of Pakistan (as indeed with Afghanistan’s other neighbors.) By all indications, the civilian wing of Pakistani officialdom is keen on reciprocating the move towards just such a rapprochement.

It is also clear that apart from an increasingly widening fringe of hardliners -who see in their support for the Taliban an outlet for their own assorted grievances- a majority of Pakistanis are not keen on having their country sandwiched between a nuclear armed India and an unfriendly Afghanistan. They would rather Afghanistan be an ally, or at least a neutral party in the Indo-Pakistani discord over Kashmir -and not necessarily in the form of a Taliban government. In fact, one daresay that most of the ordinary people of Pakistan are not too keen on Kashmiri independence either. As ordinary people anywhere, they would rather their government fix its own house first – and in all fairness, after many exhausting decades of an arms race with India and bloating defense budgets Pakistan can pay some more attention to its own citizens and the services it claims to be providing them.

Likewise, when not prodded on and drummed up by demagogues of their own, the people of Afghanistan would rather forget about the murky status of the Durand line. Indeed those who have calculated the possibility of a further ethnic imbalance that would favor Afghanistan’s historically dominant Pashtun and hence jeopardize the recent political gains made by other ethnic groups of the country would rather the Durand line be granted official and explicit international recognition as a permanent international border through. Given that since World War II international law has regarded most post-colonial borders as sacrosanct (even in circumstances where the de facto status of these borders have been otherwise), just such a formal closing of this open question is the only thing feasible, and indeed desirable.

Risking a venture further into the territory of the devil’s advocate (certainly so in the eyes of many of my compatriots), I would argue that even the Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf, often vilified as condoning and supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, is not guilty of so many simple-minded accusations levied against him. For reasons personal, political, and ideological, the president of Pakistan is at heart a liberal person and would not tolerate the Pakistani society’s slide towards Talibanization and religious fundamentalism if he had the powers to stop it. Indeed, as Robert Kaplan has pointed out, General Musharraf is a “devotee of Turkey’s progressive founder, Musatafa Kemal Ataturk,” and “by all accounts the most liberal Pakistani ruler in decades.” As is clear from his recent memoir, and from his many interviews and statements, the Pakistani president is all too keenly aware of the dangers posed to the Pakistani state and society by the increasing religious fundamentalism and the rising ethno-nationalism of the border regions, exacerbated by the instability in Afghanistan. On that matter, he does not need the government of Afghanistan to dutifully remind him of the stakes.

Instead, a more plausible explanation for General Pervez Musharraf’s having become the singular target of blames and pointed fingers lay in Pakistan’s domestic politics – and in bad PR. Domestically, General Musharraf is pressed from both sides of Pakistan’s peculiar political spectrum. On the one hand, there are the religious fundamentalists who despise his liberal beliefs and US-friendly policies, and on the other, the assorted “democratic” forces who see him as the obstacle to their own rule over Pakistan. This latter group also enjoys a measures of support in the wider world by casting the general as a military dictator and an obstacle to Pakistani democracy – thus contributing to the bad PR factor. Similarly, Afghanistan’s criticism of General Musharraf can be better explained in the light of a range of domestic factors which we will discuss momentarily.

Whither, then, lay the roots of so much acrimony? And how can the differences be settled so that a much needed partnership is formed against the elements that are threatening both countries?

Just as it takes two to tango, so too the Attan* of disharmony between Afghanistan and Pakistan is danced by two willing and interested parties. On the Pakistani side, the partner is the intelligence arm of Pakistan’s security establishment. As one writer has put it, Pakistan’s intelligence establishment constitutes “a state within a state, within a state,” with the Pakistani army being the second of these concentric states. One of the more storied intelligence agencies in the whole world, Pakistan’s intelligence agency was extensively used -and in the process, strengthened- during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By necessity, it was also given a measure of free reign over intelligence and security matters, and as Pakistan was not infrequently ruled by military dictators, the agency was relatively free of civilian oversight and democratic accountability for long periods. By 1990s the agency was strong enough to supplant or support a government of its own choosing in Afghanistan, and there is reliable evidence of its extensive role in supporting the growth and the remarkable military successes of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Add to this the effects of the Pakistani security establishment’s strategic doctrine favoring the use of Afghanistan as a friendly territory to fall back on during a possible military (nuclear?) confrontation with India, summed up in the code word “Strategic Depth.”

Because of these reasons, the Pakistani intelligence establishment in particular, and the non-civilian wing of Pakistani government in general see the recent developments in Afghanistan as a blow to their security and strategic interests, and are unwilling to relinquish all influence in Afghanistan, and especially among the dominant forces in the border areas. Even at times when these calculations run into loggerhead with the civilian leadership of Pakistan and the balancing act that the president must perform to save Pakistan’s face and its interests in dealings with the rest of the world, the military-intelligence establishment is defiant and gets its own way. Alarmingly, over the past few years there has been an increase in popular support in the border regions and among the growing religious fundamentalist elements for the intelligence community’s position concerning Afghanistan. This alliance has resulted from an alignment of interests, with both the religious fundamentalists and the military-intelligence strategists suffering a setback in Afghanistan with the fall of the Taliban. Now that they have joined forces, it is increasingly difficult from General Musharraf to effectively deal with either -something he realizes he must do to save his government, and as it appears, his own life.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s antagonists in Afghanistan come from a variety of backgrounds, all represented in the current government of Afghanistan. Until they held the helm of power, the Northern Alliance forces (in particular the dominant faction of Massoud’s supporters) were bitterly opposed to Pakistan, in which it saw a state ally of its former Taliban adversary. Even when their influence was moderated following the 2004 presidential elections (giving Karzai a more open hand to clean house) the official suspicion of Pakistan persisted, and continues to this day.

But suspicion of Pakistan by Afghanistan’s government is not a recent phenomenon and dates farther back than Pakistan’s support of the Taliban. Ever since Pakistan’s creation, and culminating in Daud’s premiership, the underlying foreign policy thrust of successive governments of Afghanistan has been to deal with Pakistan with varying degrees of suspicion, contempt, or outright support for the “Pashtunistan” cause. Whether monarchy, republic, communist rule, or Islamic Emirate, all governments of Afghanistan have managed to trump even their most universalist ideologies to pick their fight with Pakistan over what seems the latter’s original sin of having a large Pashtun population outside of Afghanistan – thanks to the British colonial legacy. The only reason the status of the Durand line is even an question among Afghanistan’s population today is because of half a century’s official drumming up of the issue on part of Afghanistan’s governments. Over time, the successive governments of Afghanistan have managed to effectively reverse the process that is otherwise the norm in the history of international relations: that is, they have successfully thrown open to doubt and questioning (at least among the populace) the status of a de facto and de jure international border, whereas the norm is that de facto borders over time gain de jure legitimacy. The inertia of this dogmatic policy line of previous governments is felt in the current government of Afghanistan’s dealings with Pakistan. In turn, this inertia gives momentum to a similar inertia on the Pakistani side, of having to fend off Afghanistan’s border claims even if by destabilizing that country itself.

Apart from this, the recent spike in government of Afghanistan’s intense criticism of Pakistan can be explained in the light of the intractability of Afghanistan’s insurgency problem and the government’s inability to contain, or put an end to the resurgence of the Taliban in a way that is satisfactory both to the people of Afghanistan and the international community. In other words, the recent bouts of blaming Pakistan is more a blame game than anything else, symptomatic of periods of unsatisfactory performance and the need to rationalize.

What both the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan fail to appreciate is that while they are undermining each other and assigning responsibility for the instability, they are playing directly into the hands of those elements who benefit from the thorny relations at the expense of both countries’ interests, and who are the real sources of instability. The truth of the matter is that Musharraf government needs not less, but more US support to enable him to effectively contain Pakistan’s runaway intelligence community and tackle the increasing radicalization of Pakistani society. Musharraf may be a military general, but he is not a military ruler, and he is opposed to the elements and trends that are jeopardizing the social and political development of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. While he should be held accountable to previous commitments of restoring democracy to Pakistan, in the interim he needs greater international support and solidarity in the face of forces that threaten, as he said in his first address after taking power “the very foundations of the federation of Pakistan.” Increased marginalization by the international community would indeed limit his options and force him to make deals with those elements that he is opposed on principle -for instance the recent ill-thought accord and the military pullback from the Waziristan region.

Musharraf is cornered into making these concessions and dealing with the enemy because, as he has often said, he does not have a willing partner in the government of Afghanistan to jointly coordinate policy and uproot the destabilizing forces from the border areas. Both the US and Afghanistan’s governments should not be surprised to see no positive outcomes from further pressurizing Musharraf’s government to deal with the problem of insurgency. For the US and Afghanistan governments to demand of Musharraf to contain the Taliban and control Pakistani intelligence community’s support for them is reminiscent of when the US and Israeli governments were pressing Arafat to control the runaway elements of the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements. Both men’s hands are tied, and both have to walk their domestic political tightrope.

On the Afghanistan side, as made clear in various statements (all markedly different in tone and substance from the president’s offhand pronouncements) the foreign affairs and diplomatic apparatus of Afghanistan’s government would like to interact with Pakistan as a partner rather than an adversary and join forces to deal with the insurgency problem. In fact, save for the nascent security establishment and the presidency, each weighed down by the expectations to deliver, and bound by the inertia of previous Afghanistan governments’ Durand policy, significant parts of Afghanistan’s populace and its government are keen to open a new chapter in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations.

Dealing with Pakistan, and with Afghanistan’s other neighbors, is the domain of Afghanistan’s ministry of foreign affairs. The formation of new and constructive mutual relationships with its neighbors, and that of a novel doctrine of foreign and international relationships for Afghanistan that serves its interests in a different international environment seems to be currently sabotaged by those who are glad to score political points. While it is true that the composition of the cabinet is the president’s prerogative, once sworn in, the minister of foreign affairs and his staff serve as much at the pleasure of the president as in the interests of the whole country. To that end, the professional diplomatic corps needs to be given greater operating room and be freed from the political shackles that prevents it from doing precisely this.

With a presumptive “spring offensive” by the Taliban just months away, and with the lessons of the past summer’s events still fresh, it is clear that the governments of the Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States need to have a frank and up-front discussion about their mutual concerns and their shared interests. In their own right, the destabilizing forces have successfully aligned their interests and are operating in tandem. To turn around the setbacks of spring and summer of 2006 for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by extension for the US interests in the region, the roots of mutual suspicion need to be addressed and a new chapter in Afghanistan-Pakistan relationships opened. Without this, the prospects for both countries appear grimmer than ever.

*Attan is the traditional group dance among the Pashtun.

10 Responses to Pakistan-Afghanistan Relations: The Choice Between Alliance and Acrimony

  1. safrang says:

    Suggestions/criticism welcomed. -Hamesha

  2. I feel as if you are trying to be as non-commital on issues as you can get away with. This is understandable, specially if you want to be involved in politics, but it makes your analysis lifeless, less urgent and plodding.

    The Pushtonistan issue was more of a red herring which emerged with the first wave of modernisers (during Amanullah’s reign) and their nationalist project. These gentlemen and women wanted to emulate Ata Turk and create a contrast between themselves and the monarchists and their feudal allies (whose national project was kicking the Hazaras, the Nuristanis and other minorities). So if some are leary of the Durand Line issue, they are not being unreasonable and we can not simply ignore the legitimacy of their fear.

    Tariq Ali’s piece on the London Review of Books gives a good picture of how things stand in Pakistan. There are deep historical and psychological issues related with how the debate is framed within the Pakistani army, and I am afraid it’s not simply a question of erratic elements within the Pakistani military. Let’s remember that the Kargil incident (a well planned move, not just an intelligence sideshow) came to pass under Musharaf’s watch; so he is not as immune to the dangerous illussions of the Pakistani military as you seem to suggest. We can’t expect much from him because his head might be found on a platter, but let’s not worship his image on a cross either.

    To what extent does the Pakistani public look favorably upon the Taliban? We probably will never know, but rest assured, a significant portion of the population does (for reasons both secular and religious).

    And the two pronged approach of Afghan government isn’t entirely novel. I don’t think that decision makers on both sides of the border approach the issue under any illusion propagated by invested interests or otherwise (neither of the governments are accountable to anyone,). The only guarentor of Afghanistan’s position on the bargaining table is US and NATO, not Spanta nor the Afghan National Army. As Tariq Ali mentions in the article, should they leave, the Taliban will be in business within a month and they will be wearing business suites. So when the Pakistani decides to arm and deploy the Taliban they are extracting concessions from the allies not the Afghan government.

    And where do the Arab principates stand in their role as financiers and providers of diplomatic cover? The context being their tug of war with Iran.

  3. • Forget the inexistence of a ‘diplomatic corps’ in Afghanistan at this moment, which I believe is the case, talking of your ‘civilian wing’ on the Pakistani side with whom the not so diplomatic Afghanistan has to negotiate, would you example the Shaukat Azizs or Rustam Shah Mohmands? The first has a tiny if any political base in Pakistan, thus no will to gamble on a negotiated deal, and the latter group is a stunt believer that the US and allies destroyed ‘the only true Muslim government in the world.’ They are in a political bed inside Pakistan right now. Where is your negotiating partner there?

    • Some reference to Pakistan’s internal politics, which I have faith you have a good grasp of, might help cut a bit from your lyrical waxing about the General. Musharaf until recently enjoyed a comfy—indoors—bed with the madrasa elite. As much as the world thinks the MMA thrived because of what was happening next door in Afghanistan, the reality is that the General chose MMA and the madrasa elite to help him counter PPP and PML-N’s attempts at making it hard for him to reign. I have no doubts that the General is a liberal by virtue, and he holds neat hopes for Pakistan, but he is no less driven by the desire to remain the chief. The later of the facts about him seems to have overshadowed what he proclaimed his prime motives, a ‘moderate Pakistan.’ He struck a deal with the MMA, and some even claim he brought together all those different color turbans to shape MMA, and he with time hostaged himself to them. Recent in this drama is his public plea to the people of Pakistan as to ‘not elect the extremists and hypocrites. ‘I wish to believe he has realized that the move to ally, in internal politics, with the madrasa elite was a mistake, and I hope the realization did not come too late.

    • You seem to be ultra-critical of the Afghan government, and I have no grounds to defend it, but I believe it is criticized for what really isn’t in its domain. As Dream Dragon Fly stated, but rather differently. It is, though, true that the government’s only shortcoming is its failure to diverge from the symptoms of our emotional foreign policy, a policy that even lacks sound emotional grounds (I wish to say ‘lacked’ but I am not sure if we have a new policy in place). The proponents of that damning ‘Pushtunistan’ policy don’t seem to understand, for almost five decades now, that those Pushtoons in Pakistan will not side with us if there was any instance where they had to choose Islamabad or Kabul. We are putting our own survival at stake for an act of charity, I mean the attempt to get greater rights for the pushtoons inside Pakistan, as it was the case during the later years of Sardar Daud and seems to be picked up by Karzai. Believe it or not, some of the most stunt fans of a submissive Kabul to Karachi back then and Islamabad now were and are amongst the Pushtoons on the other side of the border. Nasrullah Babar and General Orakzai are no Punjabis.

    • Another point: There exists no such thing as ‘diplomatic corps’ of Afghanistan. Not that I am underestimating people like Tayib Jawad or disrespecting their efforts. There are certainly few scattered around well-behaved statesman trying to clean the mess that is our external relations, but you are being too nice to our tie-wearing elite if you believe they constitute a ‘diplomatic corps’ that does real diplomacy.

    • I have a lot of respect for the old head in our foreign office, Dr. Spanta. But his mind, too, seems to be twisted on the Afghanistan-Pakistan fiasco. He goes public, in capacity of the president’s chief external relations advisor but pretends he doesn’t speak for the government, and calls Pakistan the Israel of Islamic world. He is on the record saying: Pakistan should see us ‘beradar wa barabar, na beradar buzurg o beradar-e kochak.’ Brilliant. But will Pakistan yield to you just because you desire to be ‘barabar.’ What exactly, substance wise, do we have to allow Pakistan to see us as ‘barabar’ and not think they are folding a strategic hand? (And you please not make that futile feel-good appeal to ‘5.000 years of history’ that the old guard throws at us.) I just don’t think if it is right for our foreign minister to think that his country can and should be perceived as equal by a seemingly rival country, when we clearly are no match to that country on any stage. This is not defeatist of me or anything as such, but just and simply sober of me. He could have asked Pakistan to see us, and proclaimed that we see them, as partners in a venture the failure of which is deadly for both of us, the success of which has varying degrees of good for both.

  4. Askar;

    Good analysis, and I very much agree with you that even if the Afghans decided to gamble on the Pushtonistan issue, it will be something akin to dragging a kid to a dentist: the Pakistani Pushtoon elite for the most part have no interest in being part of Afghanistan. They have a long and distinguished history first in the colonial army and then in the new state of Pakistan. Some of their top ranked generals are Pushtoons, and they are wholly sold on Pakistan as the one true guardian of the ummah. The issue was used as a national obsession in Afghanistan by nationalists for their own goals (not entirely ignoble, but its a case of the cure growing to become worse than the disease).

    Again, in fewer words, Pakistan has the capability to smash Afghanistan at will. I don’t think that will be ever motivated to deal with any Afghan government as equal. Pakistan knows that in due time as casualties mount, the allies will eventually have to pack up their bags and leave. So why settle for a slice when you know you will eventually get the whole pie?

  5. safrang says:

    Dear Dragonfly,
    Thanks for your comments. I especially like the accusation that I am trying to be noncommittal because of future political ambitions. Future politica ambitious not ruled out, your charge is interesting, because my own feeling (confirmed after Askar Guraiz’s comments – to which I shall respond separately) was that I was being far too brash and risque in my critique of some people in the government of Afghanistan. So rest assured, the lifelessness of my arguments has more to do with my failure to lay them out in a better way than with my willingness to take a position. (But as long as we are on the whole being committal issue, how come you are not responding to my long string of emails?!)
    (I don’t know how the two are relevant but it sounds like they are, and I am disappointed with getting absolutely no indication that you even receive my notes.)

    I do admit, however, to trying to get away from what is even to myself a far too shrill and polemical tone. There is ample evidence of this in some of my posts (especially the ones concerning the US mission in the world.) I admit, these are instances where I am a victim of the worst case of “convert’s zeal,” and can’t help my own enthusiasm. But I also know that while polemics may sound more committal and strongly opinionated, serious people do not take them seriously. And I want my arguments to be taken seriously. Hence my attempt to sound more sober and less high-pitched.

    (Add to this the fact that I was writing this for an online magazine – and while I may get away with anything on this blog, I have found that some editors are not thrilled by my hype and zeal.) Yet, overall, I appreciate your critiquing the style of my writing, in addition to its substance. I love writing as a craft and often write for its own sake – so rest assured that even comments on the more literary side of things are welcome.

    I have made myself clear on Pashtunistan issue and the Durand line. I repeat that continuing to fan the flame on this brings no gains for either country. Even in the impossible hypothetical event of its realization, the fresh instability and political chaos will set back Afghanistan by centuries. It has taken centuries for the current fragile political environment to take root where minorities are acknowledged and the mentality of ethnic hegemony is somewhat checked.

    I would even go further to suggest that fanning the Pashtunistan issue, when not done out of outright ignorance, is done with a sinister political agenda that ought to raise serious questions on part of whomever does it, be it members of parliament or cabinet ministers. It is clear that calling for the reunification of the Pashtuns on both sides of the border is a veiled attempt at restoring ethnic hegemony in Afghanistan. This view is dangerous for Afghanistan’s political harmony – and let nobody have it pass that it is the genuine claim of the Pashtun people. Nothing of the sort – it is an elitist idea that has little to do with what the Pashtun people want, and is fanned by over excited ethno-nationalists, a breed that is equally dangerous and present among all of Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, be it Pashtun or Tajik or Hazara or…

    I have not read Tariq Ali’s essay (as you may note, ever since coming out of college I have been sliding away from reading the Far Left Review and the types of Tariq Ali and Alex Cockburn.) And he may be right on point about Kargil. I do not know. But my own view about the state of Pakistan and especially about Musharraf’s control over its strongest institutions (army and intelligence) is one of a gradual loss of control. While it is true that the army and the intelligence helped him take power and even during his soldier days he may have had a major role to play in Kargil (whatever the significance of the incident may be, as you suggest), with his becoming the president of the country and the head of its civilian political intitutions, he was inevitably relegated to a different pole of power in Pakistan, opposite that of the army.

    The General is now the President – by institutional logic this distances him from his career military home. With all the stunts that Pakistan has to put on politically (especially as dictated with its alliance with the US) some of Musharraf’s decisions (that he absolutely had to make nevertheless, because of considerations that the army was blind to) did not go over very well with the security and intelligence community. For instance the famous admission that he went to the point of “war-gaming” a possible confrontation with the US in the event of Pakistan’s continued backing of the Taliban. This is very telling: there were important considerations that would have dictated Pakistan going to war with the US, were it not for the obvious. That obvious was not very obvious to some people in Pakistan, and those people have been increasingly defiant. And compared to those people, in my opinion we are better off with Musharraf in charge of Pakistan. Aside from this, I have no intentions of worshipping the general on a cross.

    I am afraid you are assuming too much knowledge on my part about the Arab principalities interest in backing the diplomatic community. It sounds intriguing though and I would like to find out.

  6. Hamesha;

    I didn’t imply for you to be shrill, and I do realize that if you want to have a hand in practical politics then you better blunt out your comments. That’s not my point. What I wanted to suggest was that you are trying to dance around the issues, by not offering a context to some of your analysis. Hence, you have to labor to make a point, and that makes your writing plodding.

    I resist to classify the Pushtonistan issue as one of purely ethno-nationalist character. As I said, the first discussion emerges in the context of discontent with the monarchy, as well as an attempt to start a nationalist project in earnest. Ghubar in his seminal history makes much of the issue and laments the loss of Afghan lands. We all know that has nothing to do with actual fact, but is an act of imagination. The monarchy later adopted the issue when it realized what a wonderful smoke screen it was. Ironically enough, quite a few of the bourgeoisie still mouth the issue with passion (regardless of their ethnic background).

    As for Tariq Ali, his analysis is worthwhile reading and not necessarily a polemic. Though I still think you are giving way more credit to Musharaf than he deserves. That he instigated the Kargil incident, isn’t a conclusion that Tariq Ali draws. It happened under his watch, and I suspect that mobilization at that level is not a minor intelligence sideshow. Plus, he is trying to justify his own position as the president of Pakistan and his audience is the West. So he goes about propping up his liberal credentials and hugs puppy-dogs on national TV. Ever read Eichmen’s memoires? And seriously, can any president survive in Pakistan when arrayed against the Pakistani army? As far as “institutional logic” in Pakistan is concerned, well it is a weird logic. Musharaf was elected president via a dubious and pretty much unprecedented referendum. So that logic shifts and bends in mysterious ways. I could be ignored on the issue, but it’s just that knowledgable Pakistanis don’t buy the farce, and I have to defer to their knowledge, rather than the pronouncements of the General Sahib. By the way, his very liberal credentials are in full display in Balochistan.

    So, in fewer words: don’t bite the bait in his autobiography!

    Oh, I meant to say that the Arab principates have a vested interest in supporting the insurgency, and not the diplomatic core of the Afghan government. Most of the recently published analysis vouch for that, and I don’t think you can ignore that. Insurgencies don’t survive without heavy reliable financing, and someone must be ponying up the hard cash for the whole enterprise.

    (By the way, I intend to get to your e-mails as soon as I can find the piece of paper with my password on it. )

  7. Here is an excerpt from a piece at Himal Mag concerning the strange gyrations in domestic Pakistani politics:

    “…the [Musharaf’s] system needed to be engineered to bring the military in as the legitimate arbiter, rather than as an actor that must jump into the arena from the outside and then seek legitimacy through the highest court.

    To this end, Gen Musharraf presented his epigram: if you want to keep the army out, bring it in. But alongside the military, of course, he needed a political partner, and got down to the task of creating a third, viable political force – an entity that would not only neutralise the two main political parties, but also give him the political legitimacy he needed to pursue his agenda. This party was created from Sharif’s PML-N. He also brought into the loop some smaller political groups, and managed, after some initial difficulty, to wean from the PPP some of its members.”

    If you may notice, nowhere does it say that Musharaf wants to keep army at bay or that he wants to meddle with the proclivities of the army.

  8. safrang says:

    I had set out to be the devil’s advocate in writing this, and it turns out I have gone some way towards that goal. Let me make this clear: I am no Musharraf fan. Neither am I a Pakistan afficionado. Don’t mistake these for nostalgia or lyrical waxing or dictator warship. But I am not under any illusions about the fragile state of Pakistan and the far scarier alternatives to Musharraf either. All that I am concerned about is that a dogmatic policy line has produced bad results so far and is threathening the modicum of political process and a shaky stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is my primal concern in all these rants.

    Askar Guraiz, you are right about the overall sad state of our foreign affairs apparatus. Given the critical stage of our history and the dire need for competency and professionalism especially in the domain of Afghanistan’s dealings with the international community, there is a huge discrepancy across the board. And by across the board I mean from the MoFA in Kabul to embassies and missions in world capitals to, and let’s not forget this one, a lobby group in DC (one of my personal pet peeves for quite some time.) Nonetheless, there are those who do exhibit professionalism and bring in the weight of credentials and experience, and who would rather guide the waters of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations along a different path than what has been the case so far. Although the recent announcement by Dr. Spanta (parroting the president’s line of blaming Pakistan) suggests otherwise, but that again, I would say, is suggestive of the underlying political considerations and the inertia of the Pashtunistan curse. People like STJ and RDS are definitely in favor of opening a new chapter. The trouble is, they have to uphold the government line and at least in the public arena, not openly contradict the government’s pronouncements.

    My criticism of Afghanistan’s government. True, it may be harsh. It is motivated primarily by the reality that the government invites criticism because of its poor handling of this issue, and also because of I feel that the government of Afghanistan is being given an easy ride or a free pass from the media and does not even get its fair share of criticism and responsibility on this topic, be it from the press or the public. Somehow too much is expected of Pakistan’s government and too little of Afghanistan’s government. (revise tone)

    As I have partially suggested in reply to Dragonfly, Musharraf may have been an accomplice in the beginning, when he had to buttress up the fragile foundations of his own rule in Pakistan against the party politicians (of whose record and politics I am not a big fan), and it is terrible that the only people he could work with at the time were the colored turbans who have all but radicalized and transformed the Pakistani populace into religious fanatics. All I am saying is that now he is keenly aware of, if you will, the unintended consequences of those deals, and is willing to work to counter its effects. My analysis is that Musharraf is not as in-charge of Pakistan as it seems, or as many people assume, and subsequently demand action on his part.
    I think these things are true of Musharraf even without one taking the bait in his memoir or being awwwed when seeing him hug his puppies. (On which note I shall allow myself a digression: have you noticed the highly political connotations of presidential canine affection? Our own Karzai ought to take to petting an “Afghan” of his own. But then that might open a far more troubling can of worms.)

    As a disclaimer of sorts I should mention that some of the ideas in this piece (which were semi-speculative to start with, and motivated by a desire to look at the issue from an angle that the dogmatic anti-Pakistan critics are utterly wnwilling to even consider) are subject to change with the news of Pakistan moving to mine the border, the yet to be heard reaction from Afghanistan to this news, and Dr. Spanta’s parroting the tactless Karzai line on Pakistan today.

    In response to Dragonfly, I think you are taking a far too cynical view of things (even by my admission) on Pakistan simply biding its time and waiting out the coalition troops currently in Afghanistan, only to continue bullying and destroying Afghanistan – or enslaving it, should you prefer Mr. Karzai’s characterization of Pakistan’s motives. Cynical, and of the same brew of conspiracy theory that is characteristic of the rumor mills in our parts of the world. I am not sure if that is Pakistan’s grand plan. It does however act in its own national interests, and those interests do necessitate a friendly and safe northwestern border. If the rest of us in Afghanistan ever do get over our irrational and fetishistic anti-Pakistan attitude and try to look at this with a modicum of rational self interest, I think we could also live with something like that.
    (My apologies for misspels and incoherencies – I wanted to respond to Askar Guraiz’s comments before any further delays and just got a brief opportunity now.)

  9. Hamesha;

    Isn’t it the most confounding question in political science and sociology that people don’t necessarily act in rational self interest? How many people really eat balanced diets and exercise regularly despite knowing very well the ramification of doing neither?

    Which is a plank for me to restate that I take a realist approach to the state of affairs between Pakistan and Afghanistan. I admitted as much that not a lot can be expected of Musharaf, and I didn’t say we should expect much of him. If one placate the larger issues related with Pakistani army’s security doctrine, Musharaf is immaterial. It’s just that you go about arguing a point that Pakistani commentators laugh at at every turn. Again, the way he is dealing with the Baloch should be an indication of the extent of his liberalism, and how far has he moved away from his commando background.

    Because of it’s security imperatives, Pakistan can not gamble on any potentially negative outcomes in Afghanistan. We know Pakistan’s grand plan: they are called the Taliban. “Strategic depth” isn’t just cynicism and conspiracy theory on my part, it’s an essential component of Pakistan’s security policy. With a more confident and strident India, wouldn’t Pakistan have more urgency? It isn’t about enslaving Afghans or destroying Afghan people (that’s Karzai’s state of mind, not mine), it’s about Pakistani national security and the deep historical and psychological reasons that have shaped that policy. The generals that run the show now came of age during the humiliating Bangladesh episode, and their policy imperatives are shaped by that experience. How do you go about reassuring them in real substantive policy terms rather than vague innuendo? And how, pray tell, what I say is any different than Spanta complaining of Pakistan’s refusal to treat Afghanistan as equal?

    Anyone with a remote understanding of guerrilla warfare would understand that without reliable logistical and financial support, armed insurgencies go nowhere. Wouldn’t the Pakistani establishment have by now decided to extend a meaningful helping hand on the issue? Karzai was always for reproachment with the Taliban, so why is the Pakistani establishment continuing to extend (at least) passive support to the Taliban? You are right, the Afghan government should drop the Pushtonistan issue since it is fundamentally flawed and meaningless. But you don’t answer the question that the foremost guarantor of Afghanistan’s sovereignty is NATO and the US, not the Afghan government. As such, isn’t the imperative on the Pakistani government?

    I don’t see how can those be irrelevant in any honest and meaningful solution. Unless we understand the real fears and strategic projections of the Pakistani army as well as our own national fetishes, it is given that any solution will be meaningless.

    I will await your full reply, and hope to see answers to the questions that I have posted. I will be very happy to know where exactly am I going wrong on my anti-Pakistan fetish.

  10. Azad says:

    In a nutshell the dillemma with both Pakistan and Afghanistan is that in each of these countries their respective rulers and the general masses stand oceans apart, not only in thoughts but also in actions. And I guess that is one of the reasons behind all the dissatisfaction and anarchy going on in both these countries. The leaders in these countries may or may not be supportive to modernity and liberal beliefs but the bulk of the (mostly illiterate and usually puppet) population hate these terms.
    Besides, talking of the Afghan and Paki governments, let’s not forget the ultimate decisions made by PEOPLE in the US and their impact on the domestic and international issues regarding Pakistan, Afghanistan and their choice between Alliance and/or Acrimoney.

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