Brig. Asif Haroon Raja (Retd)
After 9/11, when Gen Musharraf was telephonically coerced by Washington, he quickly gave in to American seven demands. He agreed to side with untrustworthy USA which had a track record of leaving Pakistan high and dry in testing times, and to ditch Taliban regime which was anti-India and pro-Pakistan and had assured Pakistan of safe western border. He took a u turn at a critical time when both were badly in need of Pakistan support.
Musharraf took hasty decisions to change Afghan policy and to fight US war on terror in accordance with the wishes of Washington without taking into account its long term implications. His unwise decision to push the Army into South Waziristan antagonized the tribesmen compelling the defenders of our western border to turn their guns towards Pak Army, seen by them as a mercenary army of USA. It paved the way for our strategic assets in FATA becoming assets for our adversaries. Pakistan continues to suffer the blowback to this day.
Logically and morally, the US should have been highly obliged and indebted to Pakistan’s crucial support and should have gone out of the way to reward Pakistan handsomely for taking such a difficult decision which had grave ramifications for its security. Pakistan suffered grievous losses on social, political, economic and military planes while fighting futile war on terror. In terms of casualties, its losses far outnumber all other countries involved in war on terror. Pakistan having staked its security for protecting US interests was distrusted, maligned, coerced and destabilized. It was accused of double game and not doing enough.
India which did not shed a drop of blood was not only materially rewarded by awarding nuclear and defence deals but also made a strategic partner and given all out help to expand its influence in Afghanistan to emerge as a key player in Afghan affairs. Worst of all, CIA and FBI actively collaborated with RAW to cultivate Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) in FATA, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-Shariat-Muhammadi (TNSM) in Swat and dissident elements within Bugti, Marri and Mengal tribes in Balochistan to create lawlessness. Activities of rebellious forces were supplemented by foreign agents infiltrated from Afghanistan. The US strove to deprive Pakistan of its nukes and its media indulged in defamation campaign.
India is aiding TTP in FATA and BLA-BRA-BLUF in Balochistan. These outfits are being used for multiple purposes. Apart from the main objective of destabilizing Pakistan, these outfits are used for spoiling Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors. Kidnapping and killing of several Chinese officials working on development projects in Balochistan and in FATA were undertaken at the behest of India. Establishment of ETIM, a separatist organization vying for independence of Xingjiang province of China was reportedly based in FATA under the protection of TTP. Likewise, attacks on Imambargahs and targeting of Shia clerics and notables as well as acts of terror in Zahidan province of Iran using Jindollah group from Balochistan were RAW-CIA-MI-6 sponsored to fan Shia-Sunni conflict and to mar Pak-Iran relations. Jindollah’s leader Abdol Malik Regi who has recently been arrested was operating from Afghanistan and Dubai.
The Afghan Taliban should have carried a deep grudge since Pakistan not only betrayed them but also provided air bases, intelligence and logistic support to make US invasion successful. Pakistan is still continuing to make available its soil for transportation of war supplies to ISAF in Afghanistan. Several Taliban leaders including Abdul Salam Zaeef were handed over to USA to earn US goodwill and dollars. Conversely, Afghan Taliban should have joined hands with Pakistani Taliban, both driven by common ideological motivations, to avenge Pakistan’s betrayal. On the contrary they never fired a shot at Pakistan’s security forces. They refused to come to the rescue of beleaguered Hakimullah led militants in October-November 2009, even when the NATO-Afghan forces deliberately left the border facing SW open.
Finding that the US in connivance with India and Israel was playing dirty by indulging in covert operations in FATA, Swat and Balochistan, Pakistan wisely decided not to hound whatever few elements of Afghan Taliban and Haqqani group were present in Waziristan and to concentrate on quislings. In the wake of anti-Pakistan and pro-India Northern Alliance ruling the roost in Kabul and India striving to carve out a principle role for itself in Afghanistan after the departure of USA from the region, Pakistan is justified in keeping discreet contacts with friendly Pashtun Afghan factions.
It is ironic that Pakistan deceived Taliban and supported Karzai regime laden with Northern Alliance elements to earn the goodwill of USA but lost the goodwill of all three. It was greatness of Taliban that they ignored the great betrayal due to which they suffered a great deal and did not take it to their heart. It was black ingratitude of both Karzai led regime and US to deceive Pakistan and befriend India. Had the duo in league with India not played a double game to encircle and harm Pakistan, the latter would not have opened a window for the Taliban.
The coalition forces are fighting a protracted war in Afghanistan for the last eight years with least number of fatalities but they have got tired and weary and their morale has sunk low. The Afghan fighters on the other hand are fighting for the last three decades without any respite and have suffered colossal human and material losses. Still their resolve to continue fighting has not diminished. They show no sign of fatigue or loss of heart nor do they get over awed by the overwhelming numerical, technical, technological and firepower superiority of occupation forces. It is USA that has come down from the high pedestal and is eager to negotiate a deal with Taliban.
While the US has been constantly pressing Pakistan to do more, in actuality it is former that needs to do more. Pakistan Army with bare minimum resources, pitched against foreign trained and well equipped militants and having suffered heavy casualties has performed exceptionally well; high tide of militancy has been decisively enfeebled; morale of all ranks is high and each member is determined to root out the scourge of terrorism. Conversely, US led coalition forces enjoy vast superiority over their rag tag foes in men, material and intelligence resources. Despite being laced with all the advantages and with very low casualty rate, their performance has been dismal.
Near 80% of Afghan territory has been lost to the Taliban despite US leadership self professed claim that entire leadership of Al-Qaeda and Taliban is in Pakistan. US leaders claim that 80% of Taliban are moderate and are prepared to ditch 20% hardcore Taliban led by Mullah Omar. They also say that not more than 100 Al-Qaeda operatives are in Afghanistan. If all these claims are true, why the heavy troop surge and why so much fuss over biggest offensive in Helmand province when the expected opposition is so insignificant? Isn’t it ideal situation for beefed up coalition forces to effectively seal the border through mining, fencing and establishing posts along the border to prevent Pakistan based leaders from influencing the battles in Afghanistan and then deal with the leaderless Taliban and win the war hands down? The woven story to cover up failures needs lot of fine tuning.
Of late there is a noticeable change in the overall demeanor of USA towards Pakistan. It has belatedly dawned upon the US military that victory is not possible and safe withdrawal is the only realistic course of action left. They have realized that Pakistan in connivance with Afghan Taliban and not India or Northern Alliance would be able to arrange an honorable exit. But for this changed security situation, the US would not have changed its offensive posture towards Pakistan.
Subtle shift in US policy is not because of change of heart but because of self serving expediency. Pakistan should therefore remain wary of American moves rather than feeling euphoric that it has regained trust and confidence of USA. Under no circumstances should Pakistan hand over recently nabbed Afghan Taliban leaders like Mullah Ghani Baradar, Maulvi Kabir, Mulla Abdul Salam and Mulla Mir Muhammad either to USA or to Afghanistan since it will bring back the memories of black deeds of Musharraf. Ajmal Kasab being Pakistani national is in Indian captivity since November 2008 and has not been handed over to Pakistan. Why should Pakistan be in a hurry to hand over Afghan captives to Afghanistan ruled by US installed puppet regime whose days are numbered? After the withdrawal of foreign forces, if God forbid another bout of internecine war takes place in Afghanistan, it will not be among the Pashtuns but possibly between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns in which the former would emerge victorious. It is therefore a strategic compulsion of Pakistan to keep the Afghan Pashtuns friendly. They must not be betrayed again.
Unlike Afghan Taliban, the TTP does not have a strong cause. While the former are fighting against occupation forces and US installed Afghan regime and US trained so-called Afghan National Army which is national in name only (over 70% are non-Pashtun) to free their country, the TTP are up against Pakistan security forces. They succeeded as long as the people believed that they were better Muslims who wanted to replace un-Islamic parliamentary and judicial systems with Sharia and were genuinely keen to provide cheap and instant justice to the poor. Their barbaric acts of suicide attacks, kidnappings for ransom, slaughtering of captives, targeting mosques, destroying schools and denying women rights created serious doubts in the minds of the people since these practices went against the teachings of Islam. They still remained in two minds since they had got utterly disgusted with the role of parasitic rulers and rich class totally callous and insensitive towards the poor. Absence of justice and extreme poverty had driven them to a state of hopelessness and despair. They prayed for a healthy change and thought that the Taliban might redress their grievances and make their lives better.
The people felt ebullient when a treaty was inked in Swat in February 2009 for the establishment of Islamic courts in Swat and Malakand Division in return for Fazlullah militants giving up militancy. Amidst rejoicing by the people of Swat, the detractors of Pakistan unhappy with the changed security situation nudged Maulana Sufi to declare that he didn’t believe in Pakistan’s constitution, democracy and legal system. As if this bomb shell was not enough, Swat militants joined by Uzbek and Tajik fighters gave a new twist to the situation when they entered Lower Dir and Buner and started harassing the public. Western media upped the ante by raising alarm bells that the militants were too close to Islamabad and might takeover the capital city as well as nukes. These unprovoked offensive acts brought a sudden change in the perceptions of the people and for the first time they saw the other side of face of TTP and TNSM. Sufi-Fazlullah threw away the battle they had won through imprudent acts. From that time onwards, public support veered towards the Army.
Once the people saw with their own eyes the connection of RAW, CIA and Mossad with Swat militants and also learnt that several Imams of mosques as well as sizeable numbers of Taliban fighters were Hindus posing as Muslims, their revulsion for fake Taliban espousing the cause of Islam got intense. They vacated their houses to let the troops deal with foreign paid militants without any let and hindrance and to restore the pristine tranquility of Swat once again. Nearly 2.5 million people got displaced but the people of NWFP bore the brunt of 80% IDPs by sharing their homes and resources smilingly. They bore the economic burden at a time when prices of daily commodities had sky rocketed, there were no jobs and load shedding was at its peak.
Encouraged by the response of the people, the Army went about performing its tasks in its usual professional manner and succeeded in toppling well entrenched strongholds of the militants in Swat within -weeks as against the estimated timeframe of -weeks. Roaring success of operation Rah-e-Rast helped the Army to seize initiative and brought a happy change in the overall security environment. Going by the military principle of maintenance of momentum, the Army kept the militants on the run giving them no respite to rest and refit. Riding on the crest of success, the Army leadership took the critical decision of locking horns with the main base of TTP in South Waziristan (SW) where it was the strongest.
With active foreign support spread over several years, late Baitullah had filled up hundreds of unapproachable caves and tunnels with all sorts of sophisticated arms, explosives and ammunition. Some tunnels were converted into field hospitals while house compounds were utilized for training. Factories producing IEDs, suicide jackets and other gadgets were in operation. Militants were equipped with high-tech telephone and wireless sets and jamming devices. Hiace and toyata hilux vehicles were in plenty to move from one place to another. The two flanks of Mehsud belt were well protected by Ahmedzai Wazirs under Maulvi Nazir within SW and Othmanzai Wazirs under Gul Bahadur along with Haqqani network in North Waziristan. Baitullah’s successor Hakimullah Mehsud had 10,000 fighters and 2000 foreigners. Terrain and weather together with home ground also suited the militants. Despite enjoying all these advantages, Pak Army took just -weeks as against stipulated time of -weeks to uproot TTP defences and is holding the captured ground with absolute firmness.
The writer is a retired Brig and a freelance defence analyst who contributes regularly for local and foreign newspapers.