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The Afghan connection

January 24, 2016


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

SO, now what? Let’s be realistic about the terribleness. Realistic, admittedly, as only non-victims can be.

It was Charsadda. It was a fraction of APS. And it wasn’t little kids. It’s a troubling assumption, but we can only assume they’d rather have hit something else.

Another APS. A proper military school. Maybe a mall. Probably a big city. But revenge was wrought on a place most of us can’t locate on a map.

Who in this world really believes that Afghanistan will ever be stable? Now or possibly ever?

Yet, it’s an old pattern. When they can’t get to the hits they really want, they go after something else. When hard targets become difficult, they go for soft ones.

When schools become better protected, they’ll hit a mall. When airbases become impossible, they’ll go back to bus stands.

But Charsadda is important. Because not all terrorist attacks are the same. Know what happened in Khyber a day before? Or was it Peshawar? Quetta wasn’t even a blip.

All lives may be equal, but terrorism knows the difference. A small hit on a hard target in Karachi equals a big hit on a soft target in Charsadda.

An attack that takes out a large number of soldiers equals an attack that takes out a few kids. And there’s nothing — nothing — like a fidayeen attack on children.

It is the purest form of terror. For obvious reasons. They aren’t dying in a second. Not like in an explosion. They see the terror. They know what’s coming. They watch their friends die.

Here’s the question, though: the Taliban seem to have figured us out, but have we figured them out?

The most frightening part of Charsadda wasn’t the attack — it was the response. Not the QRFs and the ISPR pressers. But where instantly it was decided the attack came from: Afghanistan. And because who was blamed: Umar Mansour.

The heart sinks when you hear Afghanistan. Not because of NDS or RAW or whatever else is fashionable to blame. For a more straightforward reason: who in this world really believes that Afghanistan will ever be stable? Now or possibly ever?

And even if Afghanistan is ever stable, just look at the border in the east. It is a border like no other. Barbed, fenced, mined, locked-down; soldiers and patrols ready to shoot anyone, no questions asked. And yet Pathankot happened.

If Pathankot can happen 68 years in, what in the hell is the possibility of thwarting a serious attack from Afghanistan — now or ever?

And then there’s the guy who’s been blamed: Umar Mansour. Umar who?

Not all threats from Afghanistan can’t be dismantled. Back in the day, there was a Riaz Basra and an Akram Lahori.

They terrorised Punjab before decamping to Afghanistan. Khost, as legend has it. That’s where our pals, the Haqqanis, were hanging out. Back when the Taliban were in charge.

(We’ll come back to that.)

But they were eventually taken out and difficult to replace. A Riaz Basra is not born everyday.

Umar Mansour is scary because he’s a nobody. Not in a terrorist sense. He sounds like a terrible man. Scary in a replication sense.

Before Umar Mansour there was Maulana Fill-in-the-blanks X. After Umar Mansour, there’ll be a Mullah Fill-in-the-blanks Y. Umar Mansour is like your eternal Al Qaeda No 3s.

There’ll always be another Umar Mansour.

When wickedness is dreamt up in Afghanistan and executed by an eminently replaceable sort, what hope, really, is there for stability in Pakistan?

And here’s where the unpleasant question needs to be asked. What in the hell kind of Afghanistan are we trying to recreate?

Sure, the Americans decided they wanted no part of it any longer and are willing to cut whatever deal possible. Sure, the Afghan government knows it’s mired in the impossible and wants any deal it can get before state collapse.

Sure, Pakistan has been earnest and helpful in the quest for a deal. But what in God’s name are we really doing? Just work through it.

Right now, the Afghan government is unable or unwilling to sort out the anti-Pakistan militants who’ve found sanctuary in its eastern provinces. Fine.

They — the Afghan government — want something from us just now, so that gives us leverage. That’s why Raheel can ring up Kabul to demand and the Americans to complain.

They have to listen, we have to deal; it’s a win-win scenario — right now. But let’s imagine a deal gets made.

Afghanistan is either effectively carved up or the Taliban are given a bunch of seats in Kabul. Then what, re our enemies in Afghanistan?

The incentive for the Afghan government — the non-Taliban elements — to help us out would disappear. They’ll have what they want and they’ll probably tell us to go talk to the Taliban.

It would even make some kind of sense — after all, the terror threat to Pakistan from Afghan soil would mostly emanate from areas our friends, the Taliban, are either controlling or influential in.

So, over to the Taliban we’ll go. Guys, help us out.

At that point, what’s their incentive to help us out? They’d have outlasted two superpowers, won power a decade-and-a-half apart and need us less than ever.

And, let’s not forget, we’d be asking them to crush their ideological companions. The very folk who, most recently, would have helped them fight against IS and the like.

Why would they do it? And what would be our leverage if they don’t want to?

Yes, but what’s the alternative, the boys here will ask. Well, have a look at Charsadda and ask yourself this:

Is faux-stability in Afghanistan worth horror in Pakistan?

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2016