DAWN - Opinion; October 28, 2001

Published October 28, 2001

A litany of miscalculations

By Prof Khalid Mahmud


AS the bombing raids on Afghanistan enter the fourth week without anyone having a clue as to what the Americans had really achieved, the coalition partners were having second thoughts about going the whole hog in pursuit of the big brother’s agenda. On the face of it, all and sundry vowed to join in the war against terrorism but what turned out to be a marriage of convenience is showing signs of cracking up under stress of a popular backlash.

It was understandable why the pro-US Arab regimes had declined to be drawn into the military operation, not even agreeing to offer logistic support, and no one was surprised by media reports that Washington was constantly being warned by the Muslim leaders against a prolonged and high-civilian-causality conflict in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, President Bush was not amused when General Musharraf projected the military action in Afghanistan as short and target-specific. He wanted to go on relentlessly and with no holds barred as long as the enemy did not perish.

Whether or not Washington is prone to listening to advice being given by the coalition partners, it is becoming increasingly bad for the Americans to sell their vendetta as an internationally-backed campaign against terrorism. The European Union (EU) backing away from a call to overthrow the Taliban regime in its keynote summit resolution was a message loud and clear. While the EU expressed support and solidarity with the ‘war against terrorism’, it refused to endorse military action in Afghanistan beyond the parameters of neutralizing Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin was candid enough to tell Bush to his face that Beijing had serious reservations about the US military action in Afghanistan. Don’t hit the wrong targets, or kill innocent people, he told the visiting US President in Shanghai.

And on the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, the presidents of China and Russia, at a joint press conference, called for an end to bombing and the initiation of talks for a political settlement of September 11 and other terrorism-related issues.

The Taliban have kept their cool and managed to hold themselves together to belie the US hopes of panic and disarray gripping their ranks once the military offensive started. From all accounts, the Taliban have withstood the bombing onslaught notwithstanding the tall claims being made by the Pentagon about the success of their mission. What precise military objective the bombing mission is achieving remains unclear, since three weeks of intense air strikes have not succeed in silencing the Taliban anti-aircraft guns, and the follow-up ground operation, all shrouded in mystery, has had no spectacular success to claim so far.

All one can surmise is that the Americans are being extremely cautious, trying to move very carefully, probing, and assessing and mapping out routes and targets so as to ensure that they firmly hold their ground and pursue their aims once the second phase of the military action begins. But the slow-moving approach is also being seen as an indication of fear and hesitation about committing US troops to carry out the substantive part of the operation.

That the Americans do not relish the prospect of their own men-in-uniform being killed in action also underscores the limitation of their mission in Afghanistan. As the good old native proverb says, one cannot swim across the river without getting wet. Sooner or later they will have to come to terms with the reality that they cannot hope to win the war without incurring causalities which may be quite heavy depending on many uncertain factors. They simply cannot overlook the fact that they are pitted against a brand of warriors whom they call religious fanatics, ready to give their lives in pursuit of cause they believe to be sacred. The predicament is likely to prompt the Americans to overdo what is being widely seen as senseless bombing.

The friction within the anti-terrorism coalition is bound to surface if the Americans continue to disregard calls for winding up the military action as quickly as possible and settle for comprehensive political negotiations. Needless to say, the duration of the military action is not the only bone of contention; the question of defining the precise objectives of the current operation is straining the unity and cohesion of the coalition. The European Union, for instance, has made it quite clear that destroying the Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network rather than toppling the Taliban regime should be the prime task in Afghanistan.

Incidentally, the German foreign minister on a visit to Islamabad recently spoke about the Afghan war scenario in a similar vein. However, the Americans don’t seem to be prepared to stop short of overthrowing the Taliban regime and replacing it with a more acceptable and broad-based government of moderates. Or as a correspondent has put it, their focus as the prize catch has shifted from Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omer.

That the Americans made some gross miscalculations about the outcome of their blitzkrieg is evident. Some of their assumptions have already gone wrong. The first phase of their action which Bush promised to be a ‘new kind of war’ in terms of strategic gains does not have much to show for it. They may have won the mastery of the Afghan air space, but their massive air offensive and formidable show of force have not succeeded in either undermining the writ of the Taliban or paralysing their governmental apparatus.

Despite the human disaster of an unprecedented magnitude which has rendered millions of Afghans homeless, fleeing to safety, there has neither been an uprising against the Taliban regime, nor a split or defections in their ranks. And their military capability and prowess will be put to the test in the coming days and weeks but they surely will not be sitting ducks for the invading army.

That President Bush has authorized the CIA to hold the fort in Afghanistan is no surprise. The CIA has been in the past the US’s lethal weapon for sorting out irritants and unwanted governments in all parts of the world from Chile to Indonesia. Given an expense account of one billion dollars and a carte blanche to deal with the ‘terrorist network’ in Afghanistan in whatever manner it pleases, the CIA will soon be seen in action, employing all the tricks of the trade to launch covert operations, such as plotting assassinations, manipulating defections, or fomenting agitation. There are rumours that bagful of money is being funnelled into Afghanistan to hire mercenaries and to lure fence-sitters into changing sides. Whether money and intrigue will work where intimidation and coercion have failed is a matter of conjecture.

On the face of it, the Americans are now amenable to the formation of a broad-based, multi-ethnic, representative government in Afghanistan rather than propping up the Northern Alliance as the alternative to the Taliban. The motley crowd of ex-warlords who have conveniently called a halt to their mutual bickering in order to fight the Taliban is largely dependent on Moscow for funds and arms supplies via Tajikistan. Their top leadership led by Burhanuddin Rabbani stood in attention as Russian President Viladmir Putin arrived last week in the Tajik capital Dushanbe and end his call for a power-sharing arrangement sans the Taliban.

The Northern Alliance which has now come out openly against the Zahir Shah option seems to have missed the bus for a secure passage to Kabul, even though the Americans have finally given a green signal to its much awaited offensive, and the US bombers are operating in tandem with the Northern Alliance troops trying to march to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Some hectic activity among various Afghan factions, including Zahir Shah’s emissaries, has been going on in Islamabad amid speculation that the Taliban leadership, or at least a section of it, is also said to have established contact the expectation of broader negotiations. Apparently, the Americans are not directly involved in the intra-Afghan dialogue, since their top priority is to first demolish the Taliban power structure and then broker an alternative power arrangement.

However, they must have by now realized that there is no quick-fix formula for replacing the Taliban regime. Contrary to their expectations, the Taliban regime has not collapsed, nor is there any sign of its coming apart from within or on account of military advances of the Northern Alliance. Even in the event of the Americans helping the anti-Taliban forces seize Kabul, it would certainly not mean the end of the war Afghanistan. A Taliban commander said recently, “We will retreat into the mountains and fight a guerrilla war”.

Conciliation to end Afghan war

By Kunwar Idris


FINANCE Minister Shaukat Aziz told an incredulous Lyse Doucet of BBC last week that Pakistan’s support to the American invasion of Afghanistan was based on principles, and not to save itself from isolation and bankruptcy.

Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani, speaking to the devotees at a Sindh shrine, accepted President Bush’s “crusade challenge” in the confidence that the Muslims round the world will unite to meet it with the chivalry and martyrdom that marked the medieval wars between Christianity and Islam.

Maulana Fazlur Rahman in a newspaper interview raised the pitch of his voice to emphasize that the rule of the Taliban represented a picture of pristine Islam and that it was the duty of every Muslim living anywhere to fight to defend it. That verdict, in the Maulana’s view, is not applicable to Kashmir for it is a dispute over territory while the Taliban are fighting the battle of Islam.

Then there is no dearth of firebrands who proclaim from a thousand pulpits every Friday that whoever sides with an infidel against the Muslims becomes an infidel himself.

Such is the naivety and bombast that marks the public debate in Pakistan while Afghanistan is ravaged by bombs and hunger and hundreds of media men from the world over have descended on Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta to relay minute-to-minute happenings and utterances from there.

Many a statesman has said, and the hacks are not tired of repeating it, that individuals have principles, the nations have only interests. After a long period of lip service to principles, President Musharraf too has conceded that the change in Pakistan’s Afghan policy after the September 11 terrorist acts in America was in pursuit of its national interest.

As minister incharge of economy, and not of ideology, Shaukat Aziz’s thinking and effort should be geared wholly to the material well-being of the people. There are enough of ideologues in the administration and outside it to talk of principles and yet not prepared to pay the price it entails. Even Maulana Fazlur Rehman conceded, laughingly though, that it was not easy to leave the safety and comfort of homes to live in fear in the caves of Afghanistan.

It was national interest which impelled Pakistan to support every Afghan faction which opted to fight the invading Soviet army. Again, it was national interest which made Pakistan back a chosen few among the many warlords to topple the Najibullah government after the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

Then, Pakistan was also instrumental in installing Burhanuddin Rabbani, a Tajik, as president to succeed Mujaddidi’s interim government after Najibullah’s fall and gruesome murder in 1992. Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, flew to a gloomy and grim Kabul to attend the installation ceremony. Gulbadin Hekmatyar, a Pukhtoon widely believed to be a favourite of Pakistan’s ISI and of an Islamic party, who was named the prime minister, instead of entering upon his office, turned his guns on Kabul.

The Rabbani government, weak and divided against itself and unable to restore order, paved the way for the restive, puritanical Taliban. Tired of bloodshed and lawlessness, the people let them gain control with remarkable rapidity and drive their adversaries and President Rabbani to the far north corner of the country. The Taliban then made Afghanistan into a haven for fanatical insurgents and rebels against established regimes.

Pakistan nurtured and backed the Taliban in 1995 in national interest. Now that Pakistan is supporting America to expel or exterminate the terrorists they shelter, this shift too is meant to protect its national interest. America and its allies are now lifting sanctions and rescheduling Pakistan’s loans in their own national interest, not for any principles. In this battle of interests our finance minister should also drive a hard bargain without bringing in the question of principles.

The above chronology of events brings out two hard facts. First, in dealing with the Afghan situation, Pakistan has all along acted in its national interest. If and when there was an exception, it was for persons or factions not for principles. Secondly, the struggle in Afghanistan all along since the exit of the Soviets has been in pursuit of personal or factional or tribal hegemony, not for the supremacy of Islam in the world nor for the establishment of an Islamic order at home. The people of Afghanistan are all religious by nature. The Pukhtoons as an ethnic group are more so than the rest. The Taliban by virtue of their indoctrination in Pakistan’s orthodox seminaries and training in guerilla warfare only represent the extreme fringe of that religiosity.

Constancy has not been a feature of Afghanistan’s warring factions or their leaders. Of Pakistan’s chosen warlords, Burhanuddin Rabbani blames Pakistan’s ISI for all the woes of Afghanistan over the last ten years and more recently for colluding with bin Ladin in murdering Ahmad Shah Masood, the only fighter whom the Taliban could not subdue; Hekmatyar has emerged from his hideout in Iran only after the American invasion; Yunus Khalis and Nabi Mohammadi are with the Taliban while Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, though a Pukhtoon, is with the Northern Alliance and so is Abdul Qadeer, the brother of Abdul Haq. Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Taliban’s chief commander, was governor of Jalalabad under the Rabbani regime.

The one principle on which the government, the people and the religious leaders of Pakistan all must agree is that 25 million people of Afghanistan have to be saved from death and destruction wreaked by their own fighters (not more than 50,000, all factions put together) and American bombers. Instead of promoting schism and throwing challenges, the religious leaders of Pakistan should intervene to stop the fratricide in Afghanistan, for they are all Muslims and our neighbours. These two facts will remain constant while the interests and loyalties will keep changing.

The government and religious leaders, instead of confronting each other, should join hands to carry forward the conciliation efforts initiated by former king Zahir Shah and former warlord Sayed Ahmad Gilani. Neither is an ill-wisher of Pakistan or of the Taliban. The tribal chiefs, pushed into the background by two decades of war, should be encouraged new to come forth, as should the warlords from both sides. Pakistan should go out of the way to assuage the anger and suspicions of the Northern Alliance and even apologize for the subversion of the Rabbani coalition that Pakistan itself had helped put together in 1992. No Loya Jirga would succeed unless all the traditional chiefs and warlords participate and the UN extends support.

Meanwhile, Pakistan should persuade, even beg, the Americans to stop bombing, for by now it is obvious to them as well that their campaign is killing civilians without destroying the Taliban guerilla war machine or ferreting Osama bin Ladin out of his cave. At the end of the day the world should not be left counting who killed more innocent people — Bush or bin Ladin.

Maulana Noorani should appreciate that conciliation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and not a war between Islam and Christianity is the way out of the present impasse in which the losers and the dead will be all Muslims.

The age of crusades was different. Islam then was both a spiritual and a material power matching, if not excelling, Christendom. Today even if all the 56 Muslim countries were to unite (which is asking for the moon), though they are 20 per cent of the world population, they have only four per cent of its income (that includes the oil wealth of the Gulf, Middle East, Nigeria, Brunei and Indonesia) and yet they owe $700 billion to the West. America alone has 20 per cent of the world’s income but just four per cent of its population. The comparison in terms of knowledge is even more appalling. Leaving the other countries aside, Pakistan, as the late eminent professor Eqbal Ahmad once pointed out, does not have a single institute of education today that would qualify even as a second-class institution by the international standards. Research, which is the foundation of all knowledge and weapons of war, gets half of one per cent of the Muslim countries’ income. America spends on research 2.8 per cent of its income which, as stated above, is five times the income of all the Muslim countries put together.

With the odds thus stacked up against the Muslims, Maulana Noorani, instead of waging a world war, should persuade the Muslim countries to come to the help of the people of Afghanistan in distress. It would be their collective everlasting shame if eight million of them were to die of starvation in winter only because the Taliban would not let the UN and other western charities work there.

When an article becomes a serious problem

By M. J. Akbar


COLIN Powell must have left Delhi a happier man than he was when he arrived. It seems that the most serious problem he faced dealt with an article and it was not article of faith. It was merely an article of the English language.

Fifty and more years of the American response to Kashmir now boil down to whether the province that acceded to India some weeks after freedom is “the” central problem between India and Pakistan or “a” central issue. So there we have it. All sides of this isosceles triangle are agreed on a number of things. India, Pakistan and the presiding deity of both nations, the United States, are all agreed that there is no dispute about the fact that this is a/the problem. They are also in full concurrence that it is central. We just have to sort out the appended article, whether it is ‘the’ or ‘a’.

Maybe we should pause to check out whether every formulation in the previous paragraph is correct. The image used was that of a triangle. Is it still a triangle or has it become a four-sided rectangle? The secretary of state of the United States of America did mention, throwing in an “of course” as he did so, that the wishes of the Kashmiri people would have to be taken into account in any resolution of a/the problem. Mr Powell must have been pleasantly surprised at the absence of any fuss at the phrase.

Not many months ago this particular phrase was considered disturbing enough by Delhi to destroy the Agra Summit. During those last frantic stages of ebbing goodwill in the lengthening shadows of the night, Pakistan seemed ready to accept our insistence on the inclusion of a phrase condemning cross-border terrorism if we in turn included a reference to the will of the Kashmiri people. We refused to consider this.

Mr Powell seems to have encountered no such determination. Has anything changed? Or is it that we are more hospitable to Washington than we are to Islamabad? It is possible that while we are willing to stretch the Kashmir equation from a triangle to a rectangle, we do not quite want it to become a pentagon. The United States always does manage to acquire two sides when offered merely one. That is the prerogative of all superpowers.

The greatest intelligence service in the world is common sense. You do not need the CIA or the KGB to tell you that Colin Powell came to Delhi not to solve India’s problems but to solve America’s. Kashmir apparently was not very high on his agenda; it was merely an also-ran, which is perfectly understandable. When Washington gets focused, which is rare enough, it tends to stay focused.

The American concern at the moment is about a difficulty that could be even more precarious than the war in Afghanistan; the post-Taliban government, if there is going to be one. When the Americans last tried to form a Kabul government after a military victory they got so fed up that they washed both their hands and their feet and disappeared. This time they will have nowhere to hide. They will have to deliver an alternative government if not an alternative state, and ensure delivery of all the objectives of this war: the elimination of Afghanistan as a base for the promotion or encouragement of terrorism; good governance that ensures a better life for Afghans and stability within the country as well as the neighbourhood; and of course the arrest and trial, in the United States, of all those who they claim are involved in the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, led principally by Osama bin Laden. This is what Mr Powell came to discuss in Delhi. In Islamabad, capital of a frontline country in the war (India, comparatively, is offline) the agenda would have been more demanding in every sense of the word.

Pakistan has become a vehicle of American policy in Afghanistan, an instrument and a participant in a war that is unpopular in the country, but with no option except to be obedient. President Pervez Musharraf is in that area so familiar to Pakistan’s succession of leaders and generals, between a rock and a hard place.

President Musharraf is wriggling in a trap, and seeking to do so with as much justification as he can claim. He has to pretend that this obedience is an exercise in Pakistan’s self-interest, that all the compromises in Pakistan’s western policy are compensated by gains on its eastern policy. Pakistan’s west starts with the Durand Line and ends with the Washington Line. Pakistan’s east starts north of Jammu and ends north of Siachen.

Kashmir is the only wriggle space available to a Pakistan leadership that must be distraught with tension each time it stops to think about the future, if it has any time left from thinking about the present. This war in Afghanistan could be comparatively short if Pakistan’s generals are lucky, although the Taliban show no signs so far of fitting into President Musharraf’s war calendar. But Pakistan’s real problems will probably begin the moment this war is over. How?

First, the end of the war may not be synonymous with the defeat of the Taliban, if the end means the fall of the Afghan government and the institution of an alternative regime. The Taliban will continue to fight and with Pakistan as their supply line and their fallback space. They may not get support from the Pakistan government this time, but there will be more than one alternative source. Pakistan will continue to face the problem of destabilization and unrest irrespective of who declares victory because the Taliban will not concede defeat.

Second, the next government in Kabul will be of little comfort to Islamabad. The patchwork being conceived now, of a “moderate Taliban” participation in a future alliance is a myth. There is no moderate Taliban, and any deserters from that cause will be called precisely that, deserters. Ranks emptied by death or desertion will be more than readily filled by the next generation of fighters. The Taliban’s resource base is in the mind that Pakistan itself helped create.

Third, and most important. The most dramatic war aim of the United States is the arrest of Osama bin Laden. You do not have to be a soothsayer to predict the emotional outburst that will accompany any television footage of Osama bin Laden under American arrest. This prospect could not have escaped the imagination of Pakistan’s generals. It is very likely that Osama bin Laden’s parting gift to Pakistan’s generals would be to condemn them as “Munafiqeen”, or the hypocrites who aroused so much anger among the “Muslimeen” in the holy Quran.

This is a heavy price to pay for support to the United States, in both personal and national terms.

What have the generals got in return? Economic aid. Money is viewed as the traditional price for betrayal. The only lure that President Musharraf can offer to Pakistanis is that the United States will somehow use its power, after it has brought Afghanistan under control, to bring India under control and force a change in the status of Kashmir. Each time therefore that President Musharraf discovers a pause in the conversation he introduces Kashmir. It has become his drug for a greater illness.

Delhi is under no such compulsion. Delhi’s policy aims are clear enough. It wants to extend its friendship with Washington into the status of its most stable ally in the region. It wants, in fact, to reverse history and replace Islamabad. Even if there was no argument over the objective there is sufficient reason to doubt the strategy. Displacement never makes for good diplomacy. It is far more sensible to increase the bilateral space in the Indo-US relationship through a plural approach that strengthens the relationship.

India must live up to its own size and potential; that is what will enable the United States to see value in the equation. A displacement policy only brings India down to the level of Pakistan’s current equation with the US, that of a client state trying hard to maintain a veneer of dignity. A bilateral relation that is viewed as being at the cost of a third country is inherently immature.

If friendship and alliance with America is the purpose of Delhi’s moves then the last way to achieve it is by introducing a dangerous irritation in America’s war effort. Warming up the ceasefire line on the eve of Colin Powell’s visit was completely counterproductive. It forced Powell to bring Kashmir to the top of everyone’s concerns at precisely the moment when he had to keep Pakistan’s public postures in mind. He therefore stressed on a resolution that included the will of the Kashmiri people. As for the difference between ‘a’ and ‘the’, Colin Powell could barely keep the amusement out of his eyes (they twinkle too sharply in any case). He could not care a damn as long as India and Pakistan got on with a search for a way out of an impasse that could blow each other up, and take American policy in the region along with it.

We are in Phase One, as has been repeatedly said, and have been vaguely introduced to Phase Two of America’s plans for the region. The promises of Phase Two have not been made to Delhi alone.

But the swirl of conversation at the edges of the policy-shaping world is beginning to veer around to Phase Three. Phase One is this war; Phase Two will seek to address the nodal points of international tension, and Palestine in particular. But there is a stage after that, when the world will address the many flashpoints that dot the globe and seek to stem a fire from becoming a conflagration. According to one estimate, nearly 150 wars have been fought across the globe since the second world war. The seed of every future war lies in a past that is left unresolved.

That will be the business of Phase Three. Frontline states, take care.

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