Ahmed Rashid: Continuing Search for Stability: Pakistan and Afghanistan

The West has endorsed two rigged elections in Afghanistan and the military situation has never been worse than it is now. Using proxies encourages neighbours to follow suit. Watch Introduction, Main Lecture and Q&A.

Acclaimed author and journalist Mr Ahmed Rashid spoke at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on Friday, 11 March 2016. His lecture aimed to make sense of the spiralling trend towards violence and militancy in the region. He argued that Pakistan’s interference in Afghan matters using proxies has created widespread problems and cataclysmic failure. For him, claims that the Taliban are being beaten are wholly incorrect and amount to a “fallacy”. Rashid is the author of numerous books including the widely read publication Taliban. His other books include Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia and Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Disaster in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia and Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

His talk looked at the emerging trends in jihad and insurrection in the region and interlinked the Afghan situation to the wider issues of jihad as seen by the governments of countries such as Iran, Russia and the Central Asian Republics all of which were involved in backing different Taliban factions in Afghanistan. He also questioned the efficacy of Pakistan’s Zarb-e-Azb operation. According to him, the Pakistan’s army’s onslaught may have produced limited results but was hampered owing to the fact that 1,500 militant leaders had made their way into hostile areas in Afghanistan where they were out of Islamabad’s reach. The event was moderated by Dr Masuma Hasan (PIIA Chairperson) and was attended by PIIA members, senior diplomats, the press and members of the public. Press coverage and videos of the lecture is available below.

Carrot-and-stick policy needed with Afghan Taliban, says Ahmed Rashid by Qasim A. Moini – Published in Dawn, 12 March 2016

Unless the Pakistani state applies commensurate pressure, efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban to open a dialogue with the government in Kabul will not prove fruitful, said acclaimed author and journalist Ahmed Rashid at a lecture here on Friday.

“Unless you have a carrot-and-stick policy,” you will face failure, he said, adding that some of the sticks could include cutting off the supplies of the Taliban leadership reportedly in Pakistan and asking them to leave the country.

Mr Rashid was speaking at the PIIA on ‘Continuing Search for Stability: Pakistan and Afghanistan’.

The writer said “it is a fallacy” that “we are defeating the Pakistani Taliban”, as the Afghan Taliban were hosting “enemies of Pakistan” on Afghan territory in areas they controlled, beyond the reach of the Kabul government, while Pakistan continued to provide shelter to Afghan Taliban on its soil. This “dichotomy” needs to be addressed, he observed.

Mr Rashid started his talk with reference to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other regional projects. He said connectivity was currently the “buzzword”, although the idea was not new. “The Silk Route was also [about] connectivity,” he said, although he warned that there could be no connectivity while instability and insecurity remained in the region.

“How do we end the conflicts Pakistan is engaged in?” he asked, while listing Karachi, Balochistan, the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban as key issues. He particularly threw up the question:

How do we link connectivity with stability and security?

Mr Rashid lamented that “we have used proxy extremist groups to run our foreign policy”, adding that wars had been triggered by such proxies, as far back as the 1947-48 conflict with India. “The military has usually depended on these proxies,” he said, adding that it was a “mistake” to use non-state actors after Pakistan went nuclear.

Today, Mr Rashid said, all regional countries, including India, Iran, Russia and the Central Asian states, were backing different Taliban factions in Afghanistan. “When you use proxies, neighbours will do the same.”

The analyst said that Pakistan had made two “grievous mistakes” in its foreign policy; the first, he observed, came at the end of the Cold War, around 1991-92, when Pakistan decided to “move proxy resources to Kashmir”. This radicalised the Kashmiri nationalist movement. Today, he said, the Kashmiri struggle had gone back to becoming a nationalist one.

The second mistake, Mr Rashid said, was when Gen Pervez Musharraf in 2003 made “a U-turn” and decided to revive the Afghan Taliban. This aided the growth of the Pakistani Taliban and by 2005-06 the local militants were calling for the overthrow of the Pakistani state.

In the context of the current Afghan dialogue process, Mr Rashid said that “the [Afghan] Taliban don’t posture — when they say something, they mean it”.

He said Afghanistan’s internal situation was also problematic. “It’s been a big failure” as the United States has spent $1 trillion but efforts to stabilise the country have failed. He said the US “deserted” Afghanistan for Iraq in 2003 and also left Iraq “too early”. He said there was no plan for state-building or nation-building in Afghanistan, while as a result of the drawdown of Western forces there was “mass unemployment” in that country.

Politically, he said, “the West has endorsed two rigged elections” in Afghanistan; Hamid Karzai’s re-election and the last election which brought Ashraf Ghani to power. This has exacerbated the ethnic divide in Afghanistan. As for the military situation, “it has never been worse than it is now”, Mr Rashid said, adding that he foresaw the Taliban capturing an Afghan province or city in the next three months, which could lead to the division of Afghanistan. “If one province falls there will be a domino effect and panic in Kabul.”

He said that while the military had made gains against militants through Operation Zarb-i-Azb, these gains might be short-lived as the extremists were taking refuge in Afghan territory under the control of the Afghan Taliban.

Mr Rashid said that while China was promising to build infrastructure that would help develop Pakistan’s links with the region and the world, which he dubbed “the project of the century”, there were weaknesses. Primary among these was the fact that Pakistan had hosted Uyghur militants, which could “seriously affect relations with China”.

He said the Uyghurs harboured notions of becoming “global jihadists”, which worried China. In turn the People’s Republic was “punishing” ordinary Uyghurs within its borders for the deeds of militants.

During the question and answer session, Mr Rashid said Iran, Russia and the Central Asian states should be invited to join the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on Afghan peace talks. He also said that at some point down the line, Pakistan would have to hold dialogue with India on Afghanistan. “India will be in Afghanistan, whether we like it or not.”

He added that should Afghanistan fragment, it would create greater security problems for Pakistan because militants would still be able to use that territory.

‘Logical end of Zarb-e-Azb lies in Afghanistan’ by Tehmina Qureshi – Published in The News International, 12 March 2016

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan will remain caught in the quagmire of militancy and politics of militancy unless political solutions are offered to what are essentially political problems. Though the entire Pakistani state seems to be putting its weight behind the Zarb-e-Azb operation as strong military action uproots terrorists’ networks in northern parts of the country, its effectiveness is stymied by the fact that around 1,500 militant leaders have crossed over to hostile territories in Afghanistan where there is no mechanism or will to take them to task.

These views were expressed by journalist and author Ahmed Rashid while delivering a lecture titled “Continuing search for stability: Pakistan and Afghanistan” at the PIIA on Friday.

He said Pakistan right now had been backed into a tight corner from where it could claw its way out only if its both hands – politics and the military operation – were in sync with each other. Right now, he said, Pakistan was only relying on military action, that too without any help from across the Afghan border, which was neither enough nor a smart way to go about attaining even a degree of stability in the region.

The biggest example of this dichotomy, according to Rashid, is that the state of Pakistan feels the need to act like the big brother and host the Afghan Taliban and persuade them to talk to Kabul, the very same Afghan Taliban who hosted anti-Pakistan elements on the other side of the Durand Line.

Then there was the problem of soft influence which militant groups were allowed to wield in several parts of the country, especially Punjab, and had put Pakistan through the Pathankot incident and its aftermath, he said.

Author of five books, Rashid stated that Pakistan had been dabbling in proxy wars even before the Russian invasion. According to him:

By the time invasion actually happened, we had already been training militant leaders … However, after Pakistan became a nuclear state, instead of being toned down, proxy elements and their use intensified. And we see the results today.

Harbouring and using proxies by Pakistan actually prompted other countries in the region, including Iran, Central Asian states and even China, to do the same to try to maintain the balance of power. “But the liabilities they pose right now for the state far outweigh their short-lived advantages,” he also said.

There were several opportunities for Pakistan to wash its hands off the proxies. “The first was right after the end of the Cold War in 1991-92. But that was when the state began moving its proxy resources to Kashmir. The second lost opportunity was in the aftermath of the 9/11. Immediately after 9/11 the state announced its resolve to fight extremism but then this policy took a U-turn in 2003 when President Musharraf called for the revival of Taliban. If you remember, between 2001 and 2003, Taliban had been defeated in the tribal areas and there was talk of reforms in Fata. This U-turn resulted in the formation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its subsequent attacks from the Pakistani soil, on the Pakistani soil, since then.”

On the other hand, in Afghanistan, said Rashid, the US made the same mistake in 2003 that they later made in Iraq – withdrawing too soon from a war they started and leaving a weak state to fend for itself without any means to do so.

The western forces left without having created any human or state infrastructure. “Even the little employment that had been there in Afghanistan was due to the presence of Nato forces. And then they left the country worse than before and went on to endorse two consecutive rigged elections, that caused ethnic divisions to resurface in Afghanistan,” he explained.

Hence, in other words, said Rashid, a multi-pronged problem could not be resolved with a linear and over simplistic solution. This is the age of connectivity, and that is the key to finding solutions. Giving uncomplicated advice to world leaders he said:

Until and unless all neighbours, benefactors and stakeholders connected with Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Russia, the US, Iran, Central Asian states and Taliban factions, come to the negotiating table and agree upon a power-sharing formula and Pakistan adopts strong diplomacy, we will keep tying ourselves up in knots.

Recent coverage of PIIA events is available below:

Posted by Editor.



Filed under Afghanistan, Discussion, Events, Iran, Islam, Pakistan, PIIA, Politics, Russia, United States

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