Pakistan-bashing and Afghan chaos
By Imtiaz Gul
12-March-2007, The News
On March 3, Afghanistan’ s Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta once again accused Pakistan of using terror as its foreign policy. “I wish that the international community wouldn’t give rewards to countries that are supporting the Taliban,” Spanta told lawmakers in Kabul.
Two days earlier, (Radio Free Europe/Free Afghanistan report) about 60 Pashtoon tribal elders from FATA met with Afghan authorities in Jalalabad and suggested that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan have put too much trust in Pakistan’s government. Malik Abdul Sabor Afridi, the head-delegate said Karzai and NATO should talk directly with the tribal leaders instead of relying on Pakistan officials.
“We are not giving safe haven to the enemies of Afghanistan or to the enemies of the international community,” Afridi said. “We have evidence that these terrorists and militants [from the Taliban and Al Qaeda] are getting help from Pakistan’s military and intelligence services to create training centres” Afridi told the radio, essentially a propaganda organ being funded by the United States and some NATO allies.
The second development was US Vice-President Dick Cheney’s February 27 brief stop-over in Islamabad. He was accompanied by Stephen Kappes, the CIA’s deputy director and a Middle East expert who had served in Pakistan. “Intelligence officials said Kappes’s presence was a sign of US interest in increasing intelligence operations with Pakistan,” The Times said.
Continuing Taliban cross-border activity reportedly prompted Cheney’s Islamabad stopover, and his more than two-hour long parleys with President Pervez Musharraf underscored that he carried a special message, if not a tough one. And it is quite clear why. The Bush administration finds itself under new pressure by Democrats who have pushed through legislation in the House that would end US military assistance to Islamabad unless “Bush certifies that the Pakistani government is making all possible efforts to curtail Taliban activity in Pakistan.”
On the face of it, Bush administration’s officials are using the prospect of congressional intervention as leverage to encourage Islamabad to crack down on militants. All these developments essentially single out Pakistan for the surge in suicide-bomb attacks inside Pakistan, up from 18 in 2005 to 116 in 2006, with over 4000 fatalities.
In retrospect it looks evident that Cheney’s visit was the result probably of some statements General Musharraf made at a press conference early February immediately after his Mid-East tour; Musharraf said for the first time that “everybody else is also responsible for controlling and eliminating terrorists and I expect others also to do the same instead of blaming us for the problems inside Afghanistan.”
This statement was probably interpreted as “a change of tactics by Musharraf”, thereby alarming Washington of the possible consequences ( the source of terrorism in Pakistan might multiply if Pakistan backs-down, was the apprehension). So, Cheney came to tell us that while “we stand by Musharraf and trust him, he and his forces are expected to be stricter with the militants.”
This visit interestingly had coincided with a comprehensive study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, based on 1,000 structured conversations that took place in half of Afghanistan’s provinces; 13 surveys, polls, and focus groups; 200 expert interviews; and the daily monitoring of 70 media sources and 182 organisations. Three of the report’s main findings are:
• Afghans are losing trust in their government because of an escalation in violence;
• Public expectations are neither being met nor managed;
• Conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated in all key areas targeted for development, except for the economy and women’s rights.
As for security, the report made some very important observations: Afghans are more insecure today than they were in 2005. This is due largely to the violence surrounding the insurgency and counter-insurgency campaigns, and the inability of security forces to combat warlords and drug traffickers. State security institutions have increased their operational capacity and have trained more personnel, but they — particularly the Afghan National Police — have had problems with retention, staff effectiveness, corruption, and general oversight.
The central government’s legitimacy has deteriorated. Sub-national government structures still lack capacity. In their place, militia commanders and local mafias have filled the void, undermining local governance, democratic rights, and service delivery. Traditional, informal judicial structures continue to fill the gap in justice for many Afghans, while the formal justice sector remains inaccessible and corrupt, and is unable to confront impunity, adjudicate land disputes, unravel criminal networks, or protect the rights of citizens.
Besides talking of the Pakistan-based shuras of various Afghan militant outfits, the CSIR also points out another element that usually most westerners gloss over; that unemployed, disaffected and often indoctrinated young men from camps within Pakistan generally form the mid-level leadership of the Taliban, and the foot soldiers of the insurgency are often tribally-affiliated, poor and dissatisfied local villagers. Feuding tribes, former warlords and drug traffickers, and foreign jihadi fighters and al Qaeda operatives further demonstrate the diversity of the “anti-government” forces.
That is why, unlike the American and European military leadership, this report refrains from squarely blaming Pakistan alone for Afghanistan’s simmering ills. Pakistan as a source of violence, it says, is just one of the so many factors that bedevil Afghanistan currently. Little do the US military and intelligence outfits realise that their arrogance and lack of respect for local sensitivities have bred unusual resentment among Afghans as well as Pakistani tribesmen.
The indiscriminate murder of 16 in Jalalabad on March 3 and the rocketing of another at least nine two days later in the Kapisa province offer just another example of the ruthlessness of the US-led anti-terror campaign that has not only alienated locals across the Durand Line but also injected venom into the hearts and minds of people elsewhere, and therefore fuelled the hate-Americans feeling. This also undermines the 14 billion dollars that the US has spent in Afghanistan since late 2001.
It is however an altogether different matter that more than 80 per cent of this money has gone into military-related operations as well as to firms like Heliburton and Louise Berger, who are given the major multi-million dollar contracts, which are then sub-contracted to firms from eastern and western Europe. And interestingly, these firms usually further sub-contract the same jobs to regional contractors, thereby making fun of the US claims of “billions of dollars spent on Afghanistan.” No wonder why America’s battle for “hearts and minds” is far from being acceptable, let alone being won.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org