Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Sept 7, 2016

Afghanistan’s unending woes War-torn Afghanistan’s decades old woes remain unending. On September 5 and 6, back to back bombings at the defence ministry and charity CARE International in Kabul left at least 41 people dead, 10 wounded. Forty-two people were rescued, including 10 foreigners, amongst whom were six injured. Three attackers were finally gunned down on the morning of September 6, leaving behind a scene of utter horror, with bodies and body parts scattered all over. No claim of responsibility for the CARE raid has come forth so far, but the defence ministry attack has been claimed by the Taliban. In that incident, a twin bomb targeted soldiers, policemen and civilians rushing to rescue the victims, in a pattern we in Pakistan too are becoming familiar with. The dead included high defence officials. It is not clear whether the CARE office was the intended target or a neighbouring office of an intelligence agency. Amnesty International has condemned the attack on the CARE facility as a war crime for deliberately targeting civilians. But in the context of the bloody, and increasingly bloodier, conflict in Afghanistan, such nuances mean little. The Taliban have incrementally mounted a countrywide offensive that continues long after the traditional fighting season of spring and summer. The worsening security situation has exacted a heavy price from civilians since the US-led NATO forces ended their combat mission in end-2014. Not the least of the emerging problem is the Taliban’s spreading simultaneous offensives in their traditional strongholds in the east and south of the country combined with the northern part. In the east, the Afghan military and security forces have rolled back the threat to some extent in provinces such as Paktia, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border. In the south though, the Afghan government forces, backed by US troops and air power, are desperately trying to head off a Taliban takeover of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand. In the north, the Taliban are once again closing in on Kunduz, which they held briefly before being winkled out by a combined Afghan government forces-US riposte in which US air strikes caused considerable collateral damage, including a hospital run by Medicines Sans Frontieres. This multi-front Taliban strategy has badly stretched the Afghan government forces. The US’s reiteration of support to the Afghan government in response to these developments rings increasingly hollow. One related development is the US Congress’ increasingly negative view of Pakistan’s role. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings on the matter by inviting experts to dilate on the topic: ‘Pakistan: Challenges for US interests’. This is part of an ongoing and increasingly hostile review of the part Pakistan is playing in the war. Earlier, Congress had withheld $ 300 million aid to Pakistan because the US defence secretary was unable to certify whether Pakistan was fulfilling the conditionality attached to the release of the aid of acting against the Haqqani network, which former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen had characterised as “a virtual arm of the ISI”. A subsidised sale of F-16s to Pakistan also fell victim to the mood in Congress. Pakistan’s inability to persuade Washington that its actions against the Pakistani Taliban included those attacking Afghan and US forces in a reversal of the past ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban binary means that further cutbacks of US assistance may be expected. Whether Pakistan’s increased reliance on China to fill the gap will do the trick only time will tell. Meantime this alienation in the US Congress, despite the ritual statements by the administration that the relationship with Pakistan is still critical to its interests in the region, has spawned a quiet exclusion of Pakistan from the new triangular configuration of the US, Afghanistan and India discussing the Afghan imbroglio. That imbroglio owes a great deal of its origins to the anti-communist, anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s. From there, through complex twists and turns, the arrival of the Taliban in power paved the path to 9/11 and its aftermath, which has transformed the world we live in. President Bush’s riposte to 9/11, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, proved the kind of blunder that can only be compared to trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. The ensuing splatter has helped create the global terrorist threat. The overthrown Afghan Taliban being able to find sanctuary on Pakistani soil sounded the death knell for the US attempts to reorder Afghanistan to its liking. Pakistan naturally came in for stick (‘do more’) because of Musharraf’s dual policy. That duality (continuing in Washington’s eyes) has eroded US-Pakistan trust. President Obama added another blunder of premature withdrawal to add to the original Bush one, condemning the people of Afghanistan to their present, and unending, woes. Those woes are shared by now by Pakistan, the whole region, and the wider world, with ‘peace’ President Obama adding his two cents with two fresh wars in Libya and Syria. The global and regional powers have to wake up to the common threat of terrorism, shed their mutual differences and suspicions, and align their policies against the common enemy if the world is to be returned to relative stability.

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