The Afghan Conundrum: As Big Powers Continue Their Charade, Afghanistan Loses Peace
Richard Olsen, US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan recently said that India and Iran will be included in the Afghan peace process at a “later stage”. What is that later stage in the US calculus and whether this has something to do with Olsen’s preceding tenure as US ambassador in Islamabad is an open question?
But even as Olsen maintained Pakistan remains committed to the reconciliation process despite all the contradictory evidence emanating from Afghanistan, he admitted that both India and Iran had stakes in Afghanistan’s future and said that is why they would be included in peace efforts at a later stage. The question here is that have the stakes of India and Iran in Afghanistan emerged overnight? Did these stakes not exist past several decades, same as China, and this being so shouldn’t India and Iran not have been part of reconciliation process right from the inception of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) for Afghanistan. Wouldn’t their inclusion have ironed out the default or designed ignorance of the violence and instability in Afghanistan being perpetrated by Pakistan, whether by design or default? In fact, had all countries that have stakes in Afghan stability been part of the deliberations, the results could have been different; affected countries of Central Asia and Russia.
Retaining the restrictive QCG for deliberating the Afghan reconciliation process despite killing of Mullah Mansour Akhtar makes little sense. Having interacted with Afghan intelligence, Michael Hughes wrote in 2010, “The Pakistan army consists of 500,000 active duty troops and another 500,000 on reserve. If Pakistan truly wanted to capture the Haqqani Network they would be able to drag them out of their caves by their beards within a few days…..In a movement that should have floored US policymakers, Ashraf Kayani (then Pakistani army chief) was brazen enough to try and inveigle Afghanistan to strike a power-sharing arrangement with the Haqqanis. And Kayani, apparently the spokesperson for the Haqqani group, said they would be willing to split from and denounce Al Qaeda, which is President Obama’s primary rationale for the war. However, there is a higher probability of General Kayani converting to Hinduism than there is of the Haqqani Network ever being decoupled from Al Qaeda!
Nine years, nearly USD 300 billion dollars and 1900 dead coalition soldiers later, the US has officially verified that the entire war effort has been focused on the wrong side of the mountains”. What really has changed since then? Yes, Kayani has been replaced by Raheel Sharif, Mullah Omar is dead and Akhtar Mansour shot, but has the ISI support to the Haqqani Network been curtailed? For the US to think so would be the height of naiveté. And, Haqqanis are living in urban areas openly in Pakistan, not in caves.
During the recent debate on UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) at the UNSC, Mahmoud Saikal, Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN has pointed out in no uncertain terms that Pakistan is violating sovereignty of other nations, saying “elements within the state structure of Pakistan” are facilitating most of the terrorist groups active in the region and that Pakistan needs political will and not ‘nuclear deals or F-16s’ to take action against terrorists. He said that Mullah Mansour Akhtar killed in US drone attack had a Pakistani passport in a fake name (Muhammad Wali) that he had used to fly numerous times from Pakistani airports, adding, “despite this, the charade of plausible deniability, duplicity, and blame of Afghan weaknesses continues, which must come to an end if we are to succeed in counter-terrorism”.
Highlighting Osama bin-Laden, Mullah Omar and Mansour lived and died in Pakistan, he said it was “clear proof that the country (Pakistan) has violated the sovereignty of other nations” and that this constitutes a flagrant violation of UNSC resolutions on the Sanctions Regime against the Taliban. He stressed there is urgent need for proper implementation of the existing counter terrorism resolutions of the UNSC.
Addressing the Atlantic Council in Washington later, Richard Olsen disagreed with Pakistan’s concerns that India was using its presence in Afghanistan to stir trouble in Balochistan, saying, “India has been a supportive partner for Afghanistan. It has provided a limited amount, but important military assistance (to Afghanistan)”. He warned that Pakistan will not feel secured until and unless it took action against terrorist organizations, like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network. But what is new about this latter statement? Has the US not been saying the same for years while many US military and NATO officials including veteran directors of US intelligence have been pointing out that Pakistan has been double-crossing all along? It is strange that while the US shows great respect for its military, it ignores the fact that majority of US-NATO personnel killed in Afghanistan are by Pakistani proxies.
To expect China to exert any pressure on Pakistan to stop exporting terror to Afghanistan and not to support the Taliban would amount to wishful thinking. Pakistan is the lifeline for the Chinese access to the Indian Ocean and for establishing the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) naval base at Gwadar; which is no commercial base and never will be, but will serve as China’s Ship Submersible Ballistic, Nuclear (SSBN) nest. Pakistan helps China whitewash the Uighur killings in Xinjiang while Chinese help whitewash Pakistan’s ‘kill and dump’ policy in Balochistan, plus covering up radiation fallouts on Baloch people. China is least concerned whether Afghanistan remains unstable or Taliban influence increases since its economic interests remain safe with her investments both in Afghanistan and in the Taliban.
The US is aware that Pakistan continues to sell nuclear materials to North Korea; entities of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) are supplying nuclear material to North Korea in violation of the UN sanctions, nuclear materials supplied to the PAEC by China too have been passed on to North Korea, and that China hushed up the matter. So much for Chinese insistence on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the recent Nuclear Suppliers Group meet, but no one raised the issue, especially as China’s earlier nuclear proliferation record is not any less worse!
In another development, Pakistan has been found giving North Korea furnaces provided by Beijing Suntech Technology Company that refine uranium and plutonium for making nuclear warhead cores. When asked, US sources reportedly said the ongoing dangerous nuclear trade has been brought to the notice of “those who need to be informed at the NSG level”, but is that enough? Pakistan knows its nuclear trade with North Korea has been uncovered, but banks in mother China to keep global pressure at bay. Are US and allies ready to acquiesce to such development?
US forces have been authorized to ‘assist’ the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) against the Taliban, but the new Taliban chief Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada is as much a hardliner as Akhtar Mansour, and the Haqqani network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani continues as the deputy. So which utopia is the US administration nurturing? Of reaching a Faustian bargain with the Taliban for power-sharing arrangement facilitated by the Pakistani military, when Pakistani military is coordinating terrorist attacks in Afghanistan to increase the sphere of influence of the Taliban and Haqqani network?
It is in this context that India’s Permanent Representative to UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin demanded during the debate on UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan at the UNSC that sanctions should be imposed on Taliban Chief Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, adding it is sheer folly that the leader of a banned organization is not yet named a terrorist.
What the stance of China and protégé Pakistan (both now partners in terrorism and nuclear proliferation) will be remains to be seen. Sure Pakistan brokered the ‘US-China Entente Coridale’ during the Kissinger era, but how long does the US administration want to continue spilling blood of its soldiers on this count? The US administration also needs to examine that with Pakistan firmly in the Chinese camp; do they want to continue playing Santa Claus to the Pakistani military? Would the American public know that simultaneous to the recent US announcement of giving USD800 million to Pakistan, Pakistan announced grant of Rs 300 million to Darul Haqqania madrassa (the University of Jihad where many of Afghan Talibs were and are still being tutored, including the first leader, Mullah Omar) for year 2016-2017, Mullah Mansour Akhtar and Sirajuddin Haqqani being two of its prominent products. The bottom-line is that while the situation deteriorates in Afghanistan, the big powers charade continues. China would do nothing. It is up to Washington to take a call.