Pakistan needs to make hard choice on Taliban
By G Parthasarathy
09th June 2012 11:21 PM
Just a day before he died in a mysterious air crash in August 1988, when commencement of Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was imminent, Pakistan’s military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq spoke ebulliently to a Western journalist. When asked why he seemed ever so cheerful, Zia placed the palm of his hand over a map of Pakistan, with his fingers extending across Afghanistan and Central Asia and proudly proclaimed: “Soon, one day all this (territory) will be ours.” Asked whether he meant that the territory extending from Lahore to the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia would belong to Pakistan, Zia responded: “Why just from Lahore to Ferghana? Why not from Delhi to Ferghana”? Zia had obviously either never read history, or forgotten how foreigners, ranging from the Greeks and Persians to the British and Russians, had failed to subjugate Afghanistan, which is popularly described as the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.
The US and its NATO allies have now decided to end combat operations in December 2014 and have commenced a process of phased withdrawal from the country. But they have indicated that they will retain a residual presence in Afghanistan to eliminate terrorist safe havens along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Pakistan’s army, however, shows no inclination to moderate its ambitions to install a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul and convert Afghanistan into a client State, which it can use for launching terrorist attacks into India. In the meantime, the Taliban and its allies like the Lashkar-e-Toiba will be used to attack Indian diplomatic missions and Indian experts and workers involved in economic development in Afghanistan. But the Pakistanis are finding that their excessive ambitions in Afghanistan are being resisted by virtually the whole world led by the US, its NATO allies and even by Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Establishing Taliban control over Kabul is not going to be an easy task for the ISI, especially when virtually the whole world shares an aversion to the Taliban. Thus, Pakistan has difficult choices to make. The crucial question is whether Pakistan will use its influence and leverage on the Taliban to persuade Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders to meet the demand of the Afghan government and the international community that they must renounce violence and respect the Afghan Constitution. If Pakistan chooses to continue on its present path, it is inevitable that there will be tensions along the Durand Line, its disputed border with Afghanistan. These tensions could spread into Pakistan itself, as the Americans have indicated that they would not hesitate to mount counter-terrorism operations across the disputed Durand Line.
The Afghan conflict is taking a heavy toll within Pakistan itself. Nearly five million Pashtuns have fled the violence and settled in locations like the metropolitan city of Karachi, which is now engulfed by ethnic and sectarian tensions. While the Afghan Taliban are beholden to the ISI, many Pakistani Pashtuns, united under the banner of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, are challenging the writ of the Pakistani State and forging links with extremist groups across Pakistan. Pakistan appears set, in all likelihood, for what it’s most renowned expert on Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid, has described as Descent into Chaos.
There is a slim possibility that such a scenario can be avoided if the Pakistani military develops the good sense to realise that it can overcome its international isolation, only if it discards its policies of supporting the Taliban and other radical Islamic groups. General Zia’s dreams of having Pakistani control extending from “Delhi to the Ferghana Valley” will have to be replaced by joining other regional and global powers to make its neighbourhood a region committed to a shared quest for prosperity by the development of the vast mineral and gas resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia. Decades of the obsessive India-centric mindset of people like Gen. Kayani will, however, have to be replaced by an understanding of the realities of an economically globalised post-Cold War world.
(Parthasarathy is a former diplomat. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own)
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