Saturday, September 22, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Sept 23, 2012

Pakistan-Afghanistan ‘exchange’ Afghanistan and Pakistan have exchanged the usual accusations and counter-accusations at the UN Security Council (UNSC). Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told the UNSC on Thursday that attacks on Afghanistan from Pakistan were “a matter of deep and serious concern” and had caused “unprecedented anger and frustration among Afghans”. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of staging repeated shelling barrages across the border into Kunar province. Mr Rassoul called on Pakistan to halt the cross-border shelling, warning that the attacks could jeopardise already tense relations between the two countries. Afghanistan says the attacks have taken the lives of dozens of Afghans, mainly civilians, while leaving many wounded. Rassoul said the Afghan government was in contact with Pakistan to end the attacks “holistically and resolutely”. Despite Afghanistan’s long standing accusation against Pakistan that it backs Taliban militants seeking to overthrow the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Rassoul said his country wanted “close and fruitful relations” with its neighbour. Pakistan in turn says groups of Pakistani Taliban sheltering in Afghanistan have infiltrated the border to stage attacks on its security forces. Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN Abdullah Hussain Haroon told the UNSC Pakistan was exercising “considerable restraint” in the wake of attacks on Pakistani check posts from across the border. The ‘exchange’ at the UN SC between the two neighbouring countries is typical of the dialogue of the deaf that has been part of their relationship for years, and in which the two sides talk ‘at’ rather than ‘with’ each other. Now that ‘dialogue' is being played out once again before the UNSC. No objective observer however can ignore the history of the relations between the sometime allies (against the Afghan communist and the Soviet Union). The fact is that when the anti-Soviet resistance ended with the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, what was left behind was a deeply divided country in the throes of a continuing civil war, one that may have finally ‘ended’ in the Mujahideen overthrowing Najibullah’s communist regime, but which was soon followed by the intra-Mujahideen struggle for dominance. Into that boiling cauldron were thrown the Taliban, widely seen as a Pakistani proxy force that managed within two years to capture power in 1996. In other words, Pakistan did not halt its intervention after the Soviet departure and Afghan communist overthrow, instead choosing to try and ‘control’ Afghanistan through its Taliban proxies. That project came to grief after 9/11, when the Taliban resisted US demands for handing over Osama bin Laden and were themselves overthrown by the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the US, later bolstered by NATO forces under the umbrella of ISAF. The fleeing Taliban (and al Qaeda) sought and received refuge inside Pakistan along the border areas, from where they have been waging an insurgency since then. Afghans naturally are less than pleased at this attempt to turn the clock back and once again install the Taliban in Kabul. Resistance to any such outcome runs deep in Afghan society on the basis of the antediluvian Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001. The Pashtuns, considered the mainstay of the Taliban, are themselves split for and against the Taliban. To underline the reality of the split amongst the Pashtuns, UN Special Representative in Afghanistan Jan Kubis has revealed that there are increasing reports of “uprisings” against the Taliban in the areas under their control. The desire of local communities to have security and justice are amongst the host of complex factors that have led to this development, Mr Kubis argued. Pakistan has been attempting for decades before and after the Soviet episode to fly in the face of history and the ground realities to try and ‘control’, or at the very least have a ‘friendly’ regime in Kabul. The first seems to contradict the track record of mightier powers than Pakistan attempting to dominate Afghanistan. The second was dealt a serious blow when the Taliban after 9/11 refused to heed Pakistani advice to distance themselves from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. What guarantee is there that even if, in the unlikely event, Pakistan’s proxies regain power in Kabul, they will be any more amenable to Pakistani advice and interests than in the past? While Pakistan chases this chimera, the blowback cost to our state and society has proved crippling. Time for a fresh look at the whole Afghanistan adventure.

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