Kashmir? No, it’s Afghanistan, Stupid!
by Ramtanu Maitra on 01 Mar 2010 3 Comments

By the time this article is published, the first formal India-Pakistan talks to improve their perpetually hostile bilateral relationship since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks will have already taken place. No doubt Islamabad will have cited the Kashmir issue as the raison d’être for its difficulties with New Delhi, though such routine whimpers will yield little. The words spoken at the recent meeting may be the same as at previous meetings, but the geopolitical geometry of Indo-Pakistani relations has changed rather radically once again, with the result that any serious prospect of moving to a resolution on disputed Kashmir is off the agenda.  


It all has to do with Afghanistan, where the shifting winds of Western strategy have recently parted the clouds, promising sunshine over Pakistan and simultaneously casting a lengthening shadow over India. In the first place, due largely to the unanticipated fallout of the Afghanistan adventure, Islamabad is not presently capable of resolving the dispute even if it wished to do so. Because of its critical vulnerability to the jihadists it nurtured in Afghanistan and now protects on its own soil, the Pakistani government cannot accept a solution involving anything less than the whole Kashmir Valley falling into its lap. New Delhi, of course, would have no reason to entertain such a proposition. 


At the same time, Washington’s decision to try to make a deal with the Taliban, underscored at the Jan. 28 London Conference, has brought Islamabad back into the center of Afghanistan policy and given it a new lease on hegemony there. 


Last year, at a media briefing on US national security strategy, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen had highlighted India’s constructive role in Afghanistan: “I also believe that India plays an important role here… India has taken significantly positive steps to invest in Afghanistan, has for some period of time,” he stated. But since then a lot of water has flown down the Kabul River, and few in New Delhi believe India’s interests in that war-torn land will be protected.


As for Kashmir, in reality Pakistan handed over the dispute to external forces, Britain in particular, long ago, and has continued to use it simply to justify maintaining India as its enemy. In coming years, as India has begun to find its economic feet and become militarily stronger, the dispute will remain. At the behest of its colonial masters, Islamabad will continue to organize terrorist forays into the India-held part of Kashmir. Such forays will become less and less problematic to a more powerful India, but will continue to result in the death of mostly Indian Muslims residing in Kashmir, and some Indian security forces.


Kashmir dispute in perspective


Once upon a time, decades ago, in order to be at the helm of power, the Pakistani military went about ruthlessly undermining the nation’s nascent political system and staked its existence and future on the Kashmir dispute, which was already under London’s control with support from Washington. From Ayub Khan in the 1950s to Pervez Musharraf in the post-9/11 days, Pakistan followed the same refrain: The Pakistani military must remain in power, instead of untrustworthy Pakistani political leaders because it is dedicated to countering India’s inherent design to destroy Pakistan. That argument suited both the Pakistani military and its London masters, who wanted this dispute to continue in order to undermine both India and Pakistan. Through one military coup after another, the dispute over Kashmir was put forth as the rationale for military rule to the hapless Pakistani citizens.


However, particularly after the resounding military defeat in 1971-72, when more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers ended up in Indian POW camps, Islamabad came to realize that a military victory over India to gain control of disputed Kashmir was well nigh impossible. In the late 1980s, after Pakistan had helped United States to defeat the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and achieved the much-desired distinction of being a “trusted” ally in Washington, the Riyadh-London-controlled Gen Zia ul-Haq set up the Sunni terrorists to “bleed” India and get control over Kashmir. Not particularly known for his strategic intellect, Gen. Zia was most likely led into this trap by his external mentors. The result is now plain for all to see. 


Today, the Pakistani military has no control over the choc-a-bloc of terrorist groups that have emerged in the country. These terrorist groups listen to the military — and its adjunct, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — when they allow or help them engage in terrorism outside of Pakistan. But the situation has come to a pass now that when these groups decide to commit terrorist acts within Pakistan, even against the much-vaunted Pakistani Army in its den in Rawalpindi, that Pakistani military can do little. It is not simply the case of the tail wagging the dog; a Frankenstein’s monster is no longer under its creators’ control, and is running amok endangering Frankenstein himself. Of course, the Pakistani Army cannot admit that, but it has already become a reality. 


Earlier, control of the terrorists was shared by the Pakistani Army with London and Riyadh. But now, presiding over a bankrupt nation that has to depend upon debt relief from its lenders, the Pakistani Army depends upon Saudi rials to keep the terrorists in good humour. Britain, of course, breeds them. The upshot is that control of these terrorists is now firmly in the hands of London and Riyadh. Riyadh’s interest, of course, is to unleash the violent dog of Wahabism to kill off the Shias along with the sovereignty of Islamic nation-states.


London, for its part, has the same old colonial interest, breaking up unity within nations through breeding conflicts on the basis of ethnic, tribal, religious, sectarian and other differences. The process breaks up larger nations to create smaller nations, and the smaller the nation, the less is its capability to sustain its economic and security requirements. Under such circumstances, these small nations depend on outsiders, particularly those who brought them into existence. Such control provides the colonials a better opportunity to loot whatever is there to loot from such broken-up nations.


This is what the colonials did in Africa, and this is why Britain is sending British Muslims belonging to such terrorist groups as Hizb ut-Tahrir to set up shop and recruit locals, while engaging in violent conflicts to establish an Islamic Caliphate. Today the Pakistani Army, who once used these terrorists in schemes to gain control of Kashmir, is now more of a sideshow, good only for satisfying the terrorists, but with no capability to quash them.


The Afghan Gambit: Is Pakistan in the Driver’s Seat?


In Afghanistan, however, the dame of destiny has smiled on the Pakistani Army. Having steered the Saudi-financed Wahabi Taliban to power in Kabul in the late 1990s, the Pakistan Army lost control of Afghanistan when, in the aftermath of 9/11, Washington decided to dismantle the Taliban. Washington did, however, allow hundreds of about-to-be-slaughtered Pakistani Army personnel get back home from Kunduz. What followed is history. Backed by Saudi money, the Pakistani military’s commitment to maintain its “assets” and Washington’s failure to figure out what it was supposed to do in Afghanistan have created a colossal mess.


Over the past 8 years, Washington turned its military victory in Afghanistan into a morbid defeat. This, however, has given the Pakistani elite a boost - however short-lived it may turn out to be. But as the Pakistani Foreign Secretary walked into the room to meet his Indian counterpart, he was aware Pakistan is in the process of once more gaining control of Afghanistan. He was also aware that the Indians are fearfully expecting that they have no fallback option in Afghanistan. The $1.7 billion that New Delhi has invested in that country since 2002 will do some good for the Afghans, but India will not be able to derive any strategic benefit from the investment if the Taliban is brought to power in Kabul. 


This Pakistani “victory” came about at the London Conference last month. Organized by the British, the conference was the outcome of 8 years of Washington’s failure in Afghanistan. By the time it took place, it had become evident that bravado aside, Washington cannot do much more than it has been doing all these 8 years. The US-NATO operation has allowed a vast majority of Afghanistan to come under control of the anti-American insurgents. The insurgents - who benefitted immensely from the huge growth of opium production inside Afghanistan under the watch of Washington, London and Brussels and from the tons of money funnelled in by the Saudis and Kuwaitis to strengthen Wahabism - have also benefitted because of the Pakistani Army’s assistance, based upon its belief that the foreign occupiers of Afghanistan will not be able to take the heat for long.


At the London Conference, London-Washington and Brussels agreed to the British and Saudi-led and Pakistan-backed plan to bring the Taliban back. As The Hindu reported, Abdul Basit, spokesman of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated Islamabad’s view of the London Conference: “The outcome of the London Conference has been overall positive. It is a vindication of Pakistan’s position that we need to focus on all aspects of the strategy of the three D’s [dialogue, development and deterrence]… The international community now realizes that without moving forward on the reconciliation aspect, it is not possible to achieve peace in Afghanistan.”


If you take off the trimmings, what Abdul Basit refers to as the “reconciliation process” - without which Islamabad does not believe peace can be achieved in Afghanistan - is an admission that the only solution that lies before the defeated US military is to bring back to power the ones considered by Washington in the aftermath of 9/11 to be protectors of those who launched the most lethal attack on the United States on American soil since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.


Subsequently, the Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, with whom US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen Mullen has developed (in his own words) “a very strong relationship,” said India remains the primary threat to Pakistan and the focus of the Pakistani military. Kayani spoke of the peace, security and stability of Afghanistan as the main element of Pakistan’s “strategic depth,” saying Pakistan had a more “legitimate” expectation in the matter of training the Afghan security forces than India. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry official, who asked not to be identified, was blunt: “We do not really see India playing any role in Afghanistan. Any role for India in Afghanistan can only be problematic.” On the other hand, he said, Pakistan could not be wished away from Afghanistan and had “a more natural role” there given the shared border and other links.


And Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the Guardian: “Pakistan is perhaps better placed than any other country in the world to support Afghan reintegration and reconciliation. Why? We speak the same language, we have common tribes, a common religion, and we have a commonality of history, culture and tradition… But it [Pakistani mediation] depends on whether we are asked to do so. If asked, the Government of Pakistan would be happy to facilitate.”


Selling of Taliban Control


Now, since the United States says from time to time that India has an important role to play in Afghanistan, it would be important to know who sold the return of the Taliban as “the solution” to Washington, and how the sale was made. While there is no doubt that the selling was done by London and Riyadh, the abject failure of Washington’s military campaign was plain. The new American President Barack Obama is perhaps already thinking about his second term in 2012. The reading in the White House is that the president must wind down the increasingly difficult Afghan campaign to gain some support among a section of the electorate. That surely figured in the London-Riyadh duo’s sales pitch.


In addition, the salesmen no doubt claim, the return of the Taliban in Kabul will put Iran on notice. Deeply suspicious of the London-Riyadh control over the Taliban, Iran will find the solution to be a further encircling of Iran. Moreover, at the time of negotiations, it is not altogether unlikely that the Taliban will allow the US and NATO to maintain permanent bases in southern Afghanistan. That would reduce significantly the threat posed by Iran to the Wahabi-dominated Taliban.


What this duo may also have sold to Washington is the threat of China setting up military bases in Pakistan. In fact, there was talk of the possibility of China setting up military bases in “neighbouring” countries. If that happened, not only would Washington lose control over Pakistan, but Pakistani nuclear weapons could come under the control of Beijing, some in Washington fear. To prevent this, some might argue, it is a relatively much smaller loss to hand over Kabul to the Taliban and allow the Pakistani military to gain control once more of Afghanistan. President Obama, who sides with the nuclear nonproliferation gurus in the United States, might be quite open to such argumentation.


In addition, it is evident from Gen. Kayani’s statement that the pile of junk, as the concept of Afghanistan becoming Pakistan’s “strategic depth” under an all-out attack by India to break up Pakistan is known, was sold again to the Americans. One may ask, what is this “strategic depth” based upon? In reality, it is a hoax perpetuated by the Pakistani elite to justify seeking control of Afghanistan. It is a hoax for the following reasons:


-        If India moves into Pakistan, and Pakistan needs to move its military hardware into the land of its strategic depth - Afghanistan, that is - through the Khyber Pass or Chaman, why would India’s well-equipped Air Force allow those clunkers to trudge to safety?

-        Why did Pakistan develop nuclear weapons? Isn’t it because India is a “mortal enemy” who should be prevented at any cost from attacking Pakistan?

-        Moreover, Afghans - be they Pushtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Nuristanis or others - have very little love lost for the Pakistanis, and Punjabis in particular. The Pakistani Army moving into Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel will be considered by the Afghans as an invasion by people they don’t much like. What will follow, Pakistanis know, will not be a pleasant experience.

-        What about China, if not the United States? Will China not intervene in case the Indian military tries to take over Pakistan? Isn’t this the reason why Pakistan developed a special military relationship with China?


It is quite possible that negotiations with the Taliban will not proceed the way either Islamabad or Washington would like. The insurgents in Afghanistan have established their writ over a large part of the land. It is likely they will demand more than Washington can afford to concede. That surely remains a distinct possibility. Nonetheless, since President Obama moved into the White House, Pakistan has undeniably occupied a position of crucial importance in America’s South Asia policies. 


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

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