Geopolitics

Af-Pak - Strategic Conflict Coalescing
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 Jul , 2015

It is interesting to observe the myriad colours of geopolitical power play being enacted in the Af-Pak region.  Closer home, in Pakistan, the anti-Shia sectarian violence has already claimed 170 lives this year, the increase attributed to the rise of ISIS influence in Pakistan, with terror groups like the TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Ahle Sunnat-Wal-Jamar (ASWJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba aligning with the ISIS. The visit of an ISIS delegation to Balochistan last September on behest of the Jundallah, followed by another ISIS-Jundallah meet in November 2014 in Saudi Arabia were no coincidences.

…former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the strongest supporter of Pakistan now believing Islamabad is not an ally of America and will not give up its policy of supporting terror.

Significantly, the ISIS delegation was headed by Zubair-al-Kuwaiti who the ISIS has tasked to include local takfiri outfits of the Pakistan chapter in accordance with the Saudi Royal family’s favourite ideological leader Muhammad ibn Abdul al-Wahhab. The ISIS delegation also had prominent ISIS leaders from Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia itself. The LeJ and the ASWJ helping the TTP (and in turn the ISIS) enter Gilgit-Baltistan region is no coincidence either. Shia mosques and prayer meets are the preferred killing grounds in Pakistan, other than bus killings and the like.

The recent Shia massacre in a Kuwaiti mosque indicates how the Wahabi hatred is spreading. Posters and statements have appeared in Pakistan about how Ismailis, Shias and Christians will be killed till wiped out.

But the Wahabi-Shia strife apart, who better than former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the strongest supporter of Pakistan now believing Islamabad is not an ally of America and will not give up its policy of supporting terror. He writes in his book ‘Duties: Memoirs of a Secretary of War’, “Although I would defend them (Pakistan) in front of Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse – and endangering our supply lines to Karachi – I knew they were really no ally at all.” Referring to his last visit to Pakistan in 2010 wherein he met the President, the Prime Minister and the Army Chief, Gates writes he returned convinced that Pakistan would not give up its policy of supporting terror.

Nothing that India and rest of the world did not know, and that is why China chose POK’s Northern Areas as her next buffer state, the process initiated in annexing Xinjiang in 1949, and push the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) south to the Persian Gulf. The CPEC is even being re-aligned by the Chinese to minimize risk of Pakistan holding it to ransom akin to the Karachi supply lines to US-NATO in Afghanistan. However, it is here that there are no guarantees, what with Balochistan annexed by Pakistan at the time of independence, gross human rights violations in Balochistan with even Amnesty International periodically denouncing Pakistan’s ‘Kill and Dump’ policy against Baloch population, Musharraf facing non-bailable arrest warrant for murdering Baloch leader Nawab Bugti and the Baloch Republican Party opposed to advancing Chinese suzerainty, besides Gwadar itself part in Balochistan.

…Afghan Government estimates there may be hundreds or thousands of people operating under the black flag of the ISIS including some extreme-oriented Taliban.

What about Afghanistan? It would perhaps never be clear how much the Obama administration influenced Ashraf Ghani, directly or indirectly, to lean on Pakistan but apparently in his calculations geography outweighed past history of Pakistan’s deceit in favour of a larger Islamic brotherhood and the utopian hope that Pakistan could bring the Taliban to the negotiating table – something the US could not achieve in the past decade. It is then no surprise that Pakistan’s ISI has lost no time in delivering the double whammy to Ashraf Ghani.

The National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan confirms that the June 22 attack on Afghan Parliament was conceived in Peshawar, Pakistan, by the Haqqani Network and more significantly, an office named ‘Bilal’ of the Pakistani ISI aided the attack, with Mawlawi Sheerin, chief of Haqqani Network’s military arm masterminding the attack. For this attack, the Haqqanis were reportedly provided 7.5 million Pakistani rupees by ISI’s Bilal.

Incidentally, the attack on Parliament occurred just as the Minister of Defense nominee, Masoom Stanekzai, was scheduled to appear in front of lawmakers to receive his vote of confidence. The Taliban claimed responsibility but that was perhaps a ruse as the Haqqani Network is part of Al Qaeda, not Taliban. Of course both the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban are hand in glove though Al Qaeda pledges support to Afghan Taliban while the TTP has aligned with the ISIS. Pakistan’s ISI is striving hard to facilitate the AQIS into India but concurrently the ISI has also inducted thousands of cadres of Mujahid battalions into Afghanistan in the garb of refugees fleeing from military operations in North Waziristan.

As per Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan is under attack from ‘an unprecedented convergence’ of Taliban insurgents, more than 7,000 foreign fighters, and other violent groups including the Islamic State”. According to Tanin, Afghan Government estimates there may be hundreds or thousands of people operating under the black flag of the ISIS including some extreme-oriented Taliban.

Barry Cooper: “…we are willing to let Pakistan (and even Iran) establish spheres of influence in Afghanistan because at the end of the day, we really don’t care how Afghans govern themselves”.

More significantly Nicholas Haysom, the UN’s envoy to Afghanistan says, “Increasingly, Afghanistan, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, is finding itself in the forefront of dealing with terrorists whose origins are the neighbors, and possibly whose eventual destination are its neighbors.” Hardly the need to reiterate Pakistan heads the list of the so called friendly neighbors – so much so for Ashraf Ghani’s experiment with Pakistan.

Davood Moradian, Director General Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in his article ‘Afghanistan’s shaky foundations’ writes that the Afghan government is on the path towards collapse and wonders if anything can be done to prevent it? According to him, the collapse of Afghanistan’s political order, compounded by an array of economic, environmental, and security challenges, has become a growing fear for many in the country. The current instability stems from closed-door political dealings among the Afghan elite and external actors with no consideration for the will of the Afghan people. He adds that the preferable way to prevent a regime collapse in Afghanistan is to change the regime’s behavior or change the regime itself even though a potential interim government would not have any constitutional basis. So, Afghanistan is in the gridlock of a Catch 22.

But what is being witnessed increasingly on ground in Afghanistan is the fight between the takfiri ISIS fighters and the Afghan Taliban with the former gaining ground slowly. Going purely by social media posts, Ashraf Ghani does not appear to command much respect in the US, official pretenses notwithstanding. This is not surprising since for the US what happens to Afghanistan’s stability does not matter post the pullout.

As early as January 2013, Barry Cooper, Senior Fellow, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute went on record to say, “Most important are our own interests: we are willing to let Pakistan (and even Iran) establish spheres of influence in Afghanistan because at the end of the day, we really don’t care how Afghans govern themselves”.

Now it is no secret that the ISIS was raised by the US and its allies that has led to the present situation in Syria and Iraq. It is generally believed that the ISIS was created to help unseat Bashar Assad, to counter Al Qaeda…

The ISIS is emerging as an important contestant to the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban is being wooed by China obviously to safeguard her economic interests. There is speculation that China will draw upon Russia’s support in Afghanistan. No doubt Russia is getting closer to China because of what is happening in Ukraine and the increasing economic sanctions she is being subjected to. But the China-Pakistan-Russia troika needs to be viewed in the backdrop of undercurrents between the SCO and Russia led CSTO, the China-Russia clash of economic and military interests in the Central Asia region, and Pakistani support to Chechen radicals.

Chinese long-term strategic endevour is hardly limited to the CPEC, as it appears to be. With the global centre of gravity shifting to the Indian Ocean, China has been quietly pursuing her plan to operationalize a second land avenue to the Persian Gulf and the strategic Straits of Hormuz via POK’s Northern Areas to Afghanistan, connecting with Iran on one end and Tibet Autonomous Region on the other, avoiding Pakistan. That is why the lines of communication being built through the Wakhan Corridor and why at China’s behest the Afghan Taliban has made the unprecedented move reaching out to Iran for safe havens.

Now it is no secret that the ISIS was raised by the US and its allies that has led to the present situation in Syria and Iraq. It is generally believed that the ISIS was created to help unseat Bashar Assad, to counter Al Qaeda and pose a strategic challenge to Iran’s global Shia leadership. But if the Chinaman can think in the long-term, what do you think the US is up to, even as many think the US administration has no plan beyond creating mayhem and chaos. Is this not part of the new US foreign doctrine; allowing regional crises to play out with subtle manipulation from the background, allowing events to take their course. That is why the ISIS-Jundallah meet in November 2014 in US ally Saudi Arabia, with ISIS leaders from both Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia in attendance. That is why the increased attacks in Afghanistan by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Chinese intelligence and ISI perhaps has much to learn from the CIA. Pakistan’s ISI may be committed to ethnic cleansing much more than Nazi Germany but it has become a pawn in the Great Game, same as Afghanistan.

So the strategic conflict between the US and China at the sub-conventional level has already begun in the Af-Pak region; China’s proxy Afghan Taliban on one side and US proxy ISIS aided by TTP, Jundallah and IMU (Uzbekistan) on the other side. No need to disregard this because of US led coalition attacks on ISIS and Baghdadi injured; Osama was killed, Al Qaeda attacked but yet US used Al Qaeda in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere.

Chinese intelligence and ISI perhaps has much to learn from the CIA. Pakistan’s ISI may be committed to ethnic cleansing much more than Nazi Germany but it has become a pawn in the Great Game, same as Afghanistan. Looking back, the ISI would do well to examine at whose behest the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has been striking in Karachi and other parts of Pakistan.

As for China, her major headache could hardly be restricted to requirement of a major restructuring of her economy from a fixed-asset oriented economy to a consumer economy amidst fears China may be forced to devalue the Yuan, which would create serious dislocations within China and in the many currency-swap arrangements. China may well be able to maneouvre herself out of such situation. But what China may face in Af-Pak is a Middle East type of situation – drawing upon the PLA to step in overtly while PLA’s covert presence in the region gets sucked into the Great Game.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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2 thoughts on “Af-Pak – Strategic Conflict Coalescing

  1. Predicted in 2005 (Rediff) Pakistan will resume control over Afghanistan and protect residual US interests, which may turn out to be very few indeed. But Afghanistan may experience the fate of Somalia, Iraq and Libya thanks to Western intervention. India is a side show for China’s long term plans and will be swatted aside like a fly at an opportune moment. China is destined to dominate much of Asia and the Indian elite is more concerned about shares in the IPL gravy train than the fate of the nation. The media today is obsessing about some inane rubbish about Sushma’s husband that has zero merit though you would not guess it from the performance of the BJP spokesperson. In case, India’s armed forces are in a parlous condition and unlikely to survive a six-week encounter with China and Pakistan will only have to mobilise to tie India down. Perhaps most of the Indian parliament will flee to London, where so many now own homes!

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