Many articles have been written since the death of Mullah Mansoor- purportedly on Pakistan’s soil. US State Department spokesperson Mike Toner however said, “I don’t have any more clarity of where the actual strike took place. What I can say is that it was in that border region. I just can’t say on which side of the border it was.” (Local Newspaper May 24, 2016)
Bruce Riedel is a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, I share an excerpt from his article based on Mullah Mansoor’s death, “The ISI will find a successor. They will work with the powerful Haqqani network, inside the Taliban, which has its own sanctuary in Peshawar Pakistan. The ISI and the Haqqanis are prepared to be ruthless to keep control of the Taliban.” (The Daily Beast, May 22, 2016)
Suffice to say, I will disagree with any view that ignores the bigger picture. To clear the decks, we need to understand the larger canvas. The death of Mullah Mansoor has triggered a greater question; that of the elusive peace in Afghanistan, the role of the stakeholders and what is holding them back in achieving the objective. His death owing to first ever incursion into Baluchistan by US brings Pakistan face-to-face with its worst fears; joining of Afghan Taliban with Pakistani Taliban – that has the potential for the situation to spiral out of control. The strategy to obliterate a Taliban head if he fails to fall in line with peace talks is highly adventurous to say the least.
In 1980’s General Mirza Aslam Beg devised the concept of strategic depth that Pakistan military is accused of following to this date. However, this is a polarized view and needs scrutiny. Today, the approach is not the same as it was in yesteryears. Pakistan understands the need of having a stable Afghanistan. Pakistan has been the recipients of the worst kind of terrorism within its borders. In 2014, the Army had pushed through Zarb-e-Azab forcing the civil leadership to jump onto the bandwagon. Before this step, politicians largely were in favor of and made efforts to reach a settlement via ‘talks’. Let us not forget, the first operations against militants was in July 2002, resultantly leading to many Taliban turn against Pakistan. Basing its strategy on division within ranks, Pakistan military’s tactic was to contain terrorism by fighting against some militant groups while not with others.
In Afghanistan, the ground was fertile owing to dissatisfaction with the government for the support of Taliban. Afghan Taliban cashed on sentiments of people who felt alienated by an indifferent central government, seen to be dependent on the West. Provision of across the board education, job opportunities and health facilities remains a pipe dream for most Afghans even today whereas Taliban have gained control of many provinces in Afghanistan. Failure of Afghan government in providing a more balanced environment for its citizens thereby containing the insurgency cannot be ignored.
Taliban is not one organization any more- it has morphed into a series of organizations. Rakesh Sood writing for The Hindu says, “The Taliban is no longer the simple monolithic group under a single leader… Taliban has many clones and offshoots with differing loyalties and some are hostile to the Pakistani establishment.” (January 21, 2015)
The world also needs to understand that Pakistan is not the only stakeholder in Afghanistan. US, China, India, and Iran also have high stakes. Pakistan fears being ‘encircled’ by India through the Afghan territory. A great numbers of issues simmer under the surface between Pakistan and India including Kashmir and water disputes, to incidents like capture of Kulbhushan Yadav in Baluchistan, to funding of Baluch separatists, to India’s reaction on US selling F-16’s to Pakistan – none of which can be deemed as those that build confidence. According to The News, “An initial budget of $300 million has been earmarked by RAW for subverting the economic corridor.” (May 11, 2015)
“There is a history of India’s political influence in America. Today, America is home to approximately three million people of Indian origin. As per the 2013 Pew survey, the average household income of these Indian-Americans rests at $88,000 which is the highest among all Asian-American subgroups. Interestingly, the Indian lobby even came to the rescue of Iran ahead of the nuclear deal and undoing of sanctions. America is home to a sizeable population of dissident Iranians but still Tehran made inroads with the help of Indian-Americans.” (Local Newspaper February 22, 2016) In addition, US encouragement of ‘India’s active involvement in Afghanistan and the key role it plays in producing political stability and economic prosperity in the war-ridden county’ (India TV April 12, 2016) quoting a senior American Official is one of concern for Pakistan. Further, Pakistan’s corrupt and politically weak dispensations have failed to match India in developing a strong lobby in US to promote Pakistan’s interests. Lack of a foreign minister since March 16, 2013 is an indicator of failure to address core issues under a competent head.
However, though historically, Indian policies towards Pakistan support the latter’s fear, this fear has paradoxically held Pakistan back from playing a more proactive role in Afghanistan. Developing a better economic mix of plans pave way for a better working relationship between Afghan and Pakistan governments. This can be a harbinger to better diplomatic and military/intelligence cooperation. For this to happen, Afghanistan will have to accept the Durand Line, directly leading to failure of regulating the border.
In an interesting paper in 2007 written by a Pakistan Air Force officer, (then) Wing Commander Khawar Hussain, as his dissertation for his graduation at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California in 2005- makes some recommendations worthy of mention: ‘The futures of Pakistan and Afghanistan are linked. It must be emphasized upon the Afghan government that a deteriorating security situation in Pakistan is also to the detriment of Afghanistan, due to the potential of the violence spilling-over Pakistan’s borders. Pakistan should also actively participate in the reconstruction efforts of Afghanistan in accordance with the priorities of the Afghan government. Pakistan, for its part, must constructively engage Afghanistan, at all levels. This is the only way to ensure, retain and enhance Pakistan’s leverage with regard to Afghanistan.”
In addition, I feel that all stakeholders must be taken on board, and discuss issues candidly. The stakeholders are US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, Taliban and Iran. “Mullah Mansour’s taxi was obliterated from the sky as he returned to Pakistan from Iran. News reports said he went there for medical treatment, but one expert told The Times that Iran has been quietly helping the Taliban for several years, as a hedge in case the militants regain power in Kabul.” (New York Times Editorial May 25, 2016) Dangerous games!
A course of progress must be charted out with mutual agreement and direction maintained. Unless and until Pakistan’s dilemma is appreciated and addressed, unless and until the right of Afghanistan to make decisions for Afghan people is appreciated, unless and until all players agree to work together, peace in Afghanistan will remain an illusion.