4 years ago
I maintain that other than the names of Afghans cooperating with the coalition (a dangerous public revelation), the Wikileaks publication of the so-called Afghanistan War Diary revealed nothing of substance that astute observers didn’t already know. This includes the issue of Pakistani aid and assistance to the Taliban. Almost two years ago I published Games of Duplicity and the End of Tribe in Pakistan where I discussed this very subject.
But just occasionally, international ne’er-do-wells can’t help but preen and posture and thereby reveal their identity, or at least put their exploits in the face of the American public. This is sometimes a very big mistake, but it remains to be seen whether enough Americans care to make a difference in this instance. This instance has to do with the recent Pakistani bragging over their relationship with the Taliban.
When American and Pakistani agents captured Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s operational commander, in the chaotic port city of Karachi last January, both countries hailed the arrest as a breakthrough in their often difficult partnership in fighting terrorism.
But the arrest of Mr. Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader after Mullah Muhammad Omar, came with a beguiling twist: both American and Pakistani officials claimed that Mr. Baradar’s capture had been a lucky break. It was only days later, the officials said, that they finally figured out who they had.
Now, seven months later, Pakistani officials are telling a very different story. They say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.
In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.
The events surrounding Mr. Baradar’s arrest have been the subject of debate inside military and intelligence circles for months. Some details are still murky — and others vigorously denied by some American intelligence officials in Washington. But the account offered in Islamabad highlights Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan: retaining decisive influence over the Taliban, thwarting archenemy India, and putting Pakistan in a position to shape Afghanistan’s postwar political order.
“We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official, who, like numerous people interviewed about the operation, spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of relations between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”
Some American officials still insist that Pakistan-American cooperation is improving, and deny a central Pakistani role in Mr. Baradar’s arrest. They say the Pakistanis may now be trying to rewrite history to make themselves appear more influential. It was American intellgence that led to Mr. Baradar’s capture, an American official said.
“These are self-serving fairy tales,” the official said. “The people involved in the operation on the ground didn’t know exactly who would be there when they themselves arrived. But it certainly became clear, to Pakistanis and Americans alike, who we’d gotten.”
Other American officials suspect the C.I.A. may have been unwittingly used by the Pakistanis for the larger aims of slowing the pace of any peace talks.
At a minimum, the arrest of Mr. Baradar offers a glimpse of the multilayered challenges the United States faces as it tries to prevail in Afghanistan. It is battling a resilient insurgency, supporting a weak central government and trying to manage Pakistan’s leaders, who simultaneously support the Taliban and accept billions in American aid.
A senior NATO officer in Kabul said that in arresting Mr. Baradar and the other Taliban leaders, the Pakistanis may have been trying to buy time to see if President Obama’s strategy begins to prevail. If it does, the Pakistanis may eventually decide to let the Taliban make a deal. But if the Americans fail — and if they begin to pull out — then the Pakistanis may decide to retain the Taliban as their allies.
“We have been played before,” a senior NATO official said. “That the Pakistanis picked up Baradar to control the tempo of the negotiations is absolutely plausible.”
As for Mr. Baradar, he is now living comfortably in a safe house of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Pakistani official said. “He’s relaxing,” the official said.
Many of the other Taliban leaders, after receiving lectures against freelancing peace deals, have been released to fight again.
There are two (or more) ways to take this. Robert Haddick at the Small Wars Journal Blog hints that he takes the position that Pakistan’s interference in peace talks with the Taliban is harmful to coalition efforts. Indeed, General Petraeus has even said that he believes that there will be no success in Afghanistan without talks with the Taliban.
As regular readers might suspect, I demur. Talks with local leaders and elders may ensue with some success, perhaps holding in abatement or even stopping the flow of local insurgents to the cause of the main stream Taliban (the big-T Taliban) when these talks are coupled with force. But the notion of negotiations with an avowed enemy who had previously given safe haven to globalist elements is preposterous, and all the more so since the Taliban have now been exposed to these globalist elements for around two decades and have adopted some of their globalist world view. In this particular instance, stopping negotiations with senior Taliban isn’t problematic, since it isn’t likely that it would have yielded effective, long term fruit.
What is more problematic, however, is that Pakistan’s ISI knows where senior Taliban are located and continues to provide them safe haven and protection. The Obama administration must now face the knowledge that the billions we are giving Pakistan is helping to wage war against our own troops in Afghanistan. But a voice of reason and sanity seems to have appeared from nowhere concerning our relationship with Pakistan. Afghanistan’s national security adviser points the way better than does our own.
There is ongoing domestic and international confusion in identifying Afghanistan’s friends and foes. The Afghan people are wholeheartedly grateful to the international community for its sacrifices in blood and treasure. Unfortunately, the military-intelligence establishment of one of our neighbors still regards Afghanistan as its sphere of influence. While faced with a growing domestic terrorist threat, Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary and support to the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, the Hekmatyar group and al-Qaeda. And while the documents recently disclosed by WikiLeaks contained information that was neither new nor surprising, they did make public further evidence of the close relations among the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence.
The international community is present in Afghanistan to dismantle these international terrorist networks. Yet the focus on this fundamental task has progressively eroded and has been compounded by another strategic failure: the mistaken embrace of “strategic partners” who have, in fact, been nurturing terrorism.
Much has been said about the political will of the Afghan government, governance in our country and corruption. These are mainly domestic variables. It is true that an exhausted and desperate political elite in Afghanistan, faced with predatory and opportunistic individuals in and outside the power structures, allowed the mafia to penetrate into politics. State institutions were undermined and the rule of law weakened. Undoubtedly the absence of transparency in contracts and the presence of private security companies clearly connected to certain officials — contributing ultimately to the privatization of security and thus insecurity in our country — are matters of grave concern. But the international terrorist presence in the region is not entrenched solely because of Afghan corruption. Britain, Spain, Turkey, China, Germany and India have all been victims not of Afghan corruption but of international terrorism — emanating from the region.
It is my firm conviction that securing our people, districts and towns from terrorists; institutionalizing the rule of law; and fighting corruption are necessary steps toward building a strong and responsive state. But that is not enough. No domestic measure will fully address the threat of international terrorism, its global totalitarian ideology or its regional support networks. Dismantling the terrorist infrastructure is a central component of our anti-terror strategy, and this requires confronting the state that still sees terrorism as a strategic asset and foreign policy tool.
To be clear, Afghanistan opposes the expansion of conflicts into other countries and opposes unwarranted military interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. But global efforts to counter terrorism will not succeed until and unless there is clarity on who our friends and foes are.
The conflict we are engaged in is becoming a long and expensive war for us and our international partners. The Afghan people are rightly frustrated and exhausted by a war in which the line between friends and foes is blurred. Global opinion has also turned against us. Yet surely it is understandable that we have failed to mobilize people for a cause where the fighting is in one place and the enemy is in another. How can we persuade Afghans, or the parents of young soldiers from coalition countries, to support a war where our “partners” are involved in killing their sons and daughters? While we are losing dozens of men and women to terrorist attacks every day, the terrorists’ main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction justified?
This is extremely important. Don’t miss the nuanced detail in his argument. The “partners” involved in killing their sons and daughters doesn’t refer to collateral damage from combat, that unintentional and unfortunate side effect of war. No, it refers to us, the U.S., as their partners, turning the other way when Pakistan behaves the way they do, and continuing the flow of largesse in spite of and not because of their help in battling the transnational insurgency which has its main home in Pakistan.
Rangin Dadfar Spanta concludes with this thought: “The aggressor understands only one language: that of force and determination.” Just so. One might also posit the idea that talks with the very people who have been killing their sons and daughters is the moral equivalent of funding their helpers in Pakistan. The national security adviser is telling us that the very strategy we have chosen is sure to alienate the population, and of course, this is the opposite of what was intended. A little more attention to the national security adviser from Afghanistan and a little less attention to our own might go a long way towards pressing forward with the right strategy in Asia.