COMMENTARY
 
Pakistan Gearing up for Closer Ties with ISAF
Weekly Pulse
October 13-19, 2006
While meeting President Musharraf at the Army House, General David Richards, the commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan, reportedly hailed Pakistan’s “excellent cooperation being extended in the fight against terrorism.” Following the meeting, he was quoted as saying, “ISAF fully appreciates that a vast majority of problems of Afghanistan are emanating from within the country having deep roots due to the fact that the country had remained highly unstable for over two decades.”

For his part, President Musharraf reportedly assured the visiting ISAF commander during the meeting that Pakistan fully backed the fight against the Taliban. He particularly defended the recent Waziristan deal, saying it “was aimed at checking the activities of terrorists and militant Taliban.”

Allegations against Pakistan

General Richards’ reported acknowledgement of Pakistan’s crucial counter-terror role and the largely indigenous roots of the Afghan problem was a stark contrast to what was reported last week by British newspapers, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Telegraph’s report stated that NATO commanders from five countries who have troops stationed in Afghanistan—the United States, Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands—were demanding their governments get tough with Pakistan over its support for the Taliban militia.

Simultaneously, The Sunday Times reported that the ISAF Commander was flying to Pakistan to confront President Musharraf over Taliban operations in the country, especially to urge him to “rein in his military intelligence which the ISAF commander believes is training Taliban fighters to attack British forces.” The paper had even quoted the British General as saying he had “videos and satellite pictures of Taliban training camps inside Pakistan” as well as the addresses of Taliban leaders, including Mulla Omar, in Quetta.

The Sunday Times had also quoted General Richards as saying: “We’ve got to accept that the Pakistan government is not omnipotent and it isn’t easy but it has to be done and we’re working very hard on it.”

General Richards’ Retractions

However, in an interview with GEO TV, the ISAF Commander has denied having made any such remarks to the The Sunday Times about confronting Musharraf with evidence of the alleged support of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for the Taliban. “That is not the reason for one moment that I came here…I have come here to further develop our relationship with the Pakistan army.” The British General praised Pakistan’s actions but added that, like the rest of the world, it could still work harder. “I don’t know of many countries that could possibly be doing more. Could it do more still? Yes, we all want to do more because we still have a problem.”

Interestingly, in the same interview, the ISAF commander also defended the North Waziristan deal. “I think {if} played rightly, with luck and good judgement [which] I believe is there, this could set an example how we should deal with these problems.” He also admitted that NATO had signed a deal of its own with tribal elders in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

“As part of a drive to enhance coordination, Pakistani army officers would soon be joining NATO’s headquarters in Kabul,” Richards said. His comments corresponded to Musharraf’s warning that President Karzai’s government was running the risk of allowing the insurgency to develop into a “people’s war,” unless it made Afghans feel safer and better off. This warning was issued by President Musharraf during his visit to Kabul, just days before his visit to the United States—during which he, President Bush and President Karzai had dinner at the White House.

Throughout his US visit, President Musharraf attempted to portray the Waziristan deal as a breakthrough in countering the alleged infiltration of Taliban militants from Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. The deal between the Frontier Government and North Waziristan tribal Jirga—whereby the former have essentially agreed to stop the security operation and provide material and humanitarian compensation to affected tribesmen, and the latter agreed not to host unwanted foreign elements and stop infiltration of terrorists into Afghanistan—is a model that Pakistan has in mind for Afghanistan.

Worsening Taliban Insurgency

Taliban militancy has worsened dramatically in the past year, with militants killing scores of foreign and Afghan troops in mass attacks and also intensifying a vicious campaign of suicide and roadside bombings. An estimated 2,500 people have been killed in fighting so far this year, including more than 140 foreign troops. In the last few months, scores of security personnel have been killed in suicide bombings, including several Canadian and US soldiers as well as the Governor of Paktia province.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne had also warned last month in a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London that violence in southern Afghanistan, where British and other NATO troops were engaged in fierce fighting with the Taliban, could escalate into a deeper and more serious conflict. “If we cannot persuade them to put down their guns, then we will struggle to make progress, and there will be a real danger that their deaths will motivate others to join the fight, and potentially turn this into a conflict of a different kind,” he said.

Like the British Defense Secretary, General Richards has remarked that the foremost factor behind growing insurgency in Afghanistan is drug trafficking and the use of drug money for criminal activity.

Agreement on Jirga

No one knows as to what actually transpired at the White House dinner among the three Presidents, but one of its core outcomes is the agreement between Presidents Musharraf and Karzai to hold a joint Pak-Afghan Peace Jirga. The Jirga is tentatively scheduled to take place by the end of this year, and will be participated and addressed by both Presidents.

“It should be a gathering of the people from one end of the Afghan border with Pakistan to the other end,” President Karzai told The Daily Telegraph recently, adding that “a joint commission could be set up with United Nations’ help between the two countries, which would decide on who would be eligible to sit in the Jirga and the modalities of the meeting among other things.”

After General Richards’ Visit

It is difficult to predict the future course of action pertaining to military operations in Afghanistan after General Richards’ visit to Pakistan. However, it is clear from British General’s meetings with President Musharraf and two other senior members of the Army top-brass that ISAF after taking over the military operations in Afghanistan would like to have closer cooperation with the military and intelligence apparatus in Pakistan.

Afghanistan, the United States and Pakistan already have a trilateral arrangement on intelligence cooperation. Despite that, from time to time, Afghan government officials and Western media outfits have made allegations about the alleged infiltration of Taliban militants from Waziristan and other tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The Wazirstan deal has come under increasing criticism by these circles.

Thus, even after General Richards’ visit, such allegations will not go away. However, if the main purpose of ISAF commander’s visit to Pakistan, as reported, was to initiate closer intelligence and military cooperation between Pakistan and ISAF, then such allegations may not carry any value.

The ISAF-Pak Army cooperation, according to General Richards, may include the posing of Pak army officers in the ISAF headquarters in Kabul. If true, this will be the most important outcome of the visit—something that may go a long way in proving Pakistan’s contention that the Waziristan deal is basically an attempt to counter growing insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Replicating Waziristan Deal

More than anyone else, the British defense and military leadership seems to understand that peculiar historical reality—the ground reality, to use President Musharraf’s words—in Afghanistan: that Afghans, primarily the majority Pashtun, cannot be won militarily by an outside power; and that it is only through cultivating real-politick alliances that relative peace can be ensured in the country.

This is exactly what the Pakistani leadership is also trying to project. General Richards’ tacit approval of the Waziristan deal and its potential utility for Afghanistan—especially his reported reference to a similar NATO arrangement with local Afghan leaders in drug-producing and insurgency-ridden Helmand province—tend to support Pakistan’s arguments in favour of the deal and its potential efficacy for the strife-torn Afghanistan.

It is most likely that anti-Pashtun Afghan government officials, out of insecurity, will attempt to cast doubt on the likely enhanced ISAF-Pak Army cooperation over military operations in Afghanistan. Such circles will most likely attempt to continue leveling allegations about the alleged infiltration of Taliban militants from Pakistan. However, if the American and British leadership has really embraced Pakistan’s contention on co-opting the resisting Pashtun forces in eastern and southern Afghanistan in the governance of the country, then the future course of events in the war-torn country looks brighter from the point of view of Pakistan’s strategic interests in Afghanistan in particular and Western and Central Asian region in general.