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From tactics to strategy



By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, August 01, 2014


Pakistani leaders told the visiting US Special Representative James Dobbins on July 21 that the army is going after all militants in North Waziristan, without any distinction, and the operation will continue the objectives are met. They also told Dobbins that Pakistan and Afghanistan are working on a code of conduct to regulate their cooperation in the fight against terrorists and redress each other’s grievances.

The same day, special adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs, Tariq Fatemi, told reporters that the policy of interference in the affairs of other countries had never benefited anyone, and it is about time the countries in South Asia realized that and made “a paradigm shift” in their policies.

And from the Pakistani perspective, China’s newly appointed special envoy for Afghanistan Sun Yuxi came in with a reassurance from an old ally: “I think as an agency for the government and military for Pakistan, the ISI has been effective in fighting against terrorism,” Yuxi, a former ambassador to Afghanistan and India, told the Indian daily The Hindu.

A much more serious issue flowing out of these “reassurances”, however, is how they will shape Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan and the United States after December 2014. Will Pakistan’s reliance on the US end after that, and will the Chinese make up for the loss of crucial US support in access to global financial resources such as IMF and the World Bank?

During a confirmation testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 17, Marine General Joseph Dunford, who commands the war in Afghanistan, provided some insights on how the US and its allies view Pakistan’s role in the stability of Afghanistan. Dunford has been nominated to serve as the 36th commandant of the Marine Corps. He also delivered a quasi warning when asked by a senator whether the US leverage over Pakistan goes up after the 2014 drawdown in terms of getting cooperation.

“It does. I think our footprint in Afghanistan has made us reliant on ground lines of communication and I think after 2014 we have an opportunity to reframe our relationship with Pakistan.”

And what will determine that relationship? Pakistani actions, he suggested.

“They have had some success against the Pakistani Taliban and the IMU in NW…but certainly have not had the effect against the Haqqani Network, although it certainly has had a disruptive effect on the Haqqani Network and essentially they have all been forced to move out of their sanctuary in the Miranshah area.”

Even more damning was Dunford’s reiteration that “the resiliency of the Taliban movement is driven by their sanctuary in Pakistan.”

He described Al Qaeda as enemy number one, but branded the Haqqani Network as “certainly the most virulent strain of the insurgency in Afghanistan” because of “their emphasis on high profile attacks.”

And herein lies the catch. Dunford believes that this resiliency represents a direct threat to the Afghan National Forces.

“I am not confident that if we were to leave at the end of 2014 that those forces would be sustainable,” Dunford replied when asked if the Afghan forces would have counterterrorism capability by 2017.

His worry was also rooted in the risks to US and coalition forces, which currently total roughly 40,000 including some 10,000 non-US troops.

“But the more important reason I use the word catastrophic is their inability to take the fight to the enemy will actually put young Americans in harm’s way in 2015 and beyond.”

If the Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan is signed, the US will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after the war officially ends in December. Dunford said they would be supported by approximately 4,000 NATO forces, with about 1,000 dedicated solely to counterterrorism, and roughly 2,000 to special operations. By the end of 2015, US forces would be reduced by half, and by the end of 2016, shrunk further still to a “normalized embassy presence” and an office for security assistance.

Extracting desirable cooperation from Pakistan would also depend on a collaborative Pakistan-Afghan relationship, the general told curios senators, most of whom kept sounding skeptical of Pakistan, with one senator remarking “I find Pak puzzling.”

The general sees an “effective relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan” as critical to “our long-term success in the region.”

Dunford conceded that the “Pakistani army recognizes that extremism is an existential threat to the state of Pakistan.” Yet, he said, I am less confident that they today have the capability to do all that needs to be done to deal with that threat inside of Afghanistan.

“You see them focused narrowly on the most pressing threats to Pakistan reflecting an inability to deal more broadly with extremism,” he underscored in an indirect reference to the way the Pakistani establishment looks at the causes of terrorism and extremism. Understanding the root-causes remain a big question mark as far as Pakistan’s counter-terrorism fight is concerned.

Whatever is happening in North Waziristan is certainly a tactic with no real strategic outlook. That would require an extremely critical review of the legal-constitutional-administrative edifice of the country to devise means for an effective, long-term struggle against terrorism as well as extremism.

Briefly, in view of the skepticism and perceptions abroad, Islamabad and Rawalpindi face an uphill task in making their words and deeds credible. Geo-politics of course remains an undeniable external influence, yet it does not prevent Pakistan from reaching out to Kabul, and foremost to India, to at least begin a conversation on what their respective establishments think of one another. Only then can a mutually beneficial dialogue begin on constructive engagement for a peaceful and prosperous south Asia. Nothing less will pacify and satisfy foreign skeptics.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk