Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan: Pakistan’s Calculus
by Ramtanu Maitra on 31 Dec 2014 1 Comment

If all goes according to pre-stated schedule, before this year is over most American and NATO troops will leave Afghanistan, keeping close to 10,000 troops stationed there for an unstated number of years. How many of the multitude of bases that NATO has set up during its stay will remain under its control and how few will be handed over to the Afghan authorities following its official departure is not known at the time of writing.

The withdrawal of foreign troops, whose personnel represented mostly the colonial powers of yore and the United States, will be a welcome reprieve for most of the Afghan people and the region as a whole. Still, many Afghans are justly worried that the law and order situation will worsen once the foreign troops depart, handing over the authority to maintain law and order of the land entirely to the Afghan National Army (ANA). While most Afghans may agree that during their 13-year-long stay in Afghanistan (2001-2014), NATO troops never succeeded in establishing a satisfactory level of law and order in most parts of central, eastern and southern Afghanistan, many are nonetheless fearful that the future might bring worse.


Most observers of the Afghan situation claim the country remains divided and the level of enmity among various ethnic and tribal groups—the historical bane that has kept Afghanistan permanently vulnerable to outside interferences—remains virtually unchanged, although those differences manage to stay beneath the surface in normal times. Some others argue that by favoring one ethnic group over another since 2001, authorities have even widened the gulf between various ethnic groups and sharpened their differences. Those sharp ethnic divides, the lawless environment that prevails in large sections of the country and the continuing existence within Afghanistan of various warlords and their armed militias could very well plunge Afghanistan into yet another period of instability once the NATO troops depart.


In 2001 the United States Special Operations Forces—enjoying the full military support of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance (the Afghans of Uzbek and Tajik descent, in particular) and the help rendered by a significant segment of anti-Taliban Pushtuns—had quickly removed the Taliban from Kabul. Subsequently, a two-faced Pakistan under General Pervez Musharraf joined George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and at the same time kept on providing covert help to its earlier clients, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan’s other dependents within Afghanistan.


Islamabad’s plan was to seize back control of Kabul should the foreign troops turn their backs. With the country’s financial aid and arms support from the United States at stake, Musharraf had little choice but to help NATO and the United States by allowing a vast percentage of the daily supply line to NATO troops to pass through its land. This brought Pakistan money and drew accolades from the “war-on-terror” warriors. Musharraf, however, did not provide any battlefield assistance to NATO to eliminate the insurgents; instead, he covertly allowed Taliban fighters sheltered within Pakistan to run sorties attacking the NATO troops.


Desperate to avoid another military failure, Washington sought and accepted Pakistan’s assistance in whatever form it was offered. During these 13 long years, due to its exhibited inability, as well as its unwillingness, to eliminate the Taliban and thus put an end to Islamabad’s double game, Washington could only resort to outbursts of impotent rage from time to time against Pakistan, but to no avail. All Pakistan’s double-dealings, and America’s futile efforts to square the circle, have been well-documented throughout this entire period of NATO’s listless presence in Afghanistan.


Pakistan’s Designs


Is Pakistan’s outlook vis-à-vis Afghanistan now any different from what it was in 1989? To answer that question, one needs to recognize that Gen. Musharraf’s two-faced role all those years was not a self-initiated strategy. Since the late Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s days in the 1980s, the Pakistan military, having lost the country’s eastern wing in the early 1970s, has been planning to expand its geopolitical influence over Afghanistan, securing what they have termed “strategic depth” against a “likely” Indian invasion. Needless to point out, besides the signs of paranoia and absurdity that envelope the concept given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapons states, the gimmick created and sold successfully to Pakistani citizens and some foreign nations was primarily designed by the Pakistani military to maintain control over the country’s Afghanistan policy, just as they have dictated the country’s India policy. Every Pakistani leader who has emerged on the scene either through popular votes or through coups since Gen. Zia’s death in 1989 has religiously and faithfully assisted the military to pursue its “strategic depth” game-plan.


Kabul, on the other hand, under former President Hamid Karzai, had all along been aware of the dynamic at play and often made clear the Pakistani machinations, but Washington and Brussels, for convenience’s sake, chose to shove those under their own Afghan rugs. There is no reason to believe that the Pakistani intent, which both NATO and the United States try to keep hidden from public eyes, has lost either focus or intensity. On the other hand, the ground realities in Pakistan, the surrounding region and Afghanistan, as well, have significantly changed. And those underlying factors could add up to putting a lid on Pakistan’s future designs.


In the post-1989 era, when a myriad of mujahedeen groups carrying the flags of either Afghan warlords or some Islamic groups were engaged in killing each other off in their drive to capture Kabul, Pakistan, aided by generous financial contributions from the Gulf sheikhs, saw the opportunity to finally secure the almost-mythical strategic depth and, to achieve that end, began to develop its own set of terrorists. Many of those who were recruited at the time to seize control of Kabul were barely adults. They were duly indoctrinated with the Saudi-dictated Wahhabi Islamic tenets in hundreds of madrassas set up along the non-demarcated Afghan-Pakistan border (otherwise known as the Durand Line) and inside Pakistan. The Saudis opened their purses to develop fighting brigades imbued with the Wahhabi Islamic doctrines. Once those recruits acquired a level of proficiency in reciting the Holy Quran, they were given military training and parceled off with Pakistani soldiers in Afghan garb to battle and defeat the warring factions within Afghanistan. That is how the “miraculous” Afghan Taliban emerged on the scene.


The Pakistan-aided Taliban took control of Kabul in 1995 and unleashed a bloodletting reign that lasted almost six years before they were ousted by the US Special Ops forces and Northern Alliance warlords. When the Taliban fought its way into Kabul, Afghanistan did not have an organized army and no foreign troop was stationed in the country. That ground situation has changed significantly in 2014, despite the lawlessness and ethnic divides that resemble 1989. Because of this changed ground situation, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan’s post-1989 role, which led to its success in getting the Taliban to seize control of Kabul in 1995, can be re-enacted.


The present circumstances indicate that Kabul will not fall under Islamabad’s control, but is it possible that Islamabad will not make an effort to keep the pot boiling? Quite apart from efforts to install a puppet in Kabul, if Islamabad gets involved in keeping Afghanistan unstable in any way, it may have a lasting negative effect on the region and on Pakistan itself. The criteria for determining what Pakistan’s role might be after foreign troops leave can only be based on ground realities that exist at present in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.


Internal Situation: Afghanistan


On Sept. 21, Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani declared former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai the country’s president-elect after an acrimonious dispute over fraud; but to avoid further rancor, he did not give the final vote tally after a United Nations monitoring audit. He said that based on the official final tally of votes, the commission had a duty to declare a victor. The announcement came hours after Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, signed a power-sharing agreement to end two months of bitter wrangling over accusations of fraud that undermined confidence in the election at a crucial time.


Despite the law and order difficulties that continue to plague Afghanistan, the 2014 presidential election was anticipated as a harbinger of a peaceful transition of power from one elected president to another. That wishful thinking did not fully materialize, however. The first round of the election, which consisted of 11 contestants, was held on April 5. Since none of the candidates could secure more than 50 percent of the polled votes, the top two contestants went for a head-to-head contest in the second election round on June 14.


The decisive second round of polling took place, but Abdullah Abdullah—who is of Tajik descent and was once a close advisor to the late Tajik leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud—questioned the marked increase in turnout in Pushtun areas as proof of fraud and demanded that the vote be disqualified. Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, a former World Bank technocrat, is a Pushtun and reportedly has a strong base among Pushtun youth. To resolve the dispute, the United Nations supervised an “audit” of all 8 million votes, but the results were kept under wraps for weeks until the Sept. 21 agreement was reached.


The power-sharing agreement between Ghani and Abdullah was not a result of their personal efforts. It was Washington that had to step in, issuing a threat to cut financial assistance to Afghanistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid to stay afloat, if the two sides did not resolve the impasse. US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kabul on July 11. He met with both Ghani and Abdullah and exerted pressure to resolve the dispute. It is likely that the Sept. 21 agreement to share power was signed under Washington’s full-court pressure. How long the agreement is going to hold cannot be ascertained because of the strong overlay of ethnic elements that has come to further colour the dispute.


It is likely, though, that the Ghani and Abdullah duo will face a strong challenge from various quarters within Afghanistan as soon as the foreign troops withdraw. According to Jack Devine, former CIA deputy director of operations and chief of the CIA Afghan Task Force (1986-87), and Whitney Kassel, a former foreign affairs specialist for counterterrorism policy in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 is likely to be followed by a civil war between a predominantly non-Pushtun security apparatus and Pakistan-backed Taliban forces. In laying out how to avoid this likely possibility, the authors state: “As we confront this reality, we would be wise to look closely at the experience of the Soviet Union following its occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1980s. The prime lessons from that ill-fated moment are the need to provide continued economic and military support to the leadership in Kabul and to obtain the support of Pakistan, while maintaining sufficient intelligence and covert action infrastructure on both sides of the frontier the two countries share.” “We” in this statement apparently refers to the Obama administration (“Afghanistan: Withdrawal Lessons,” Jack Devine and Whitney Kassel, World Policy Journal, Fall 2013).


Ethnic Divides


The threat of a civil war stems from the fact that Afghanistan is divided from within as it is also bothered from the outside by Pakistan. The Taliban, whom the foreign troops had defeated and claim to have eliminated, are now back in full strength in southern Afghanistan. In Helmand province, where the poppies bloom and the militants prosper, the Taliban are now engaged in taking control over the Sangin district. Local officials in Sangin claim that “Pakistanis and Arabs” are involved in the Taliban offensive to take control of three other districts—Musa Qala, Now Zad and Kajaki in northern Helmand. Sangin was one of the last districts in Helmand province held by the Taliban after US and coalition forces launched a series of offensives to retake the province in 2010. Musa Qala, Now Zad and Kajaki are also considered key terrain by the Taliban, which controlled the districts before the US “surge” and offensive that ended in 2012. Kajaki hosts the dam, which generates electricity for Helmand and neighboring Kandahar provinces (“Taliban battle to regain areas of key southern province,” Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, June 28).


Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio reported on Oct.3 the Taliban claim of capturing Registan district in the southern province of Kandahar. Afghan officials quickly denied the Taliban’s claims. The Taliban said it had routed Afghan forces in Registan, forcing them to flee to the neighboring “Shorawak district after dozens were killed and wounded.” This “led to [the] Mujahideen liberating the district center, unfurling the sublime white flag of Islam over it and bringing the entire district under their complete control.”


Whatever the truth is behind the Taliban’s disputed claims, it is evident that the Taliban is challenging the Afghan troops in southern Afghanistan. Roggio and Joscelyn say Junood al Fida, a group that is loyal to both the Taliban and al Qaeda, has played a significant role in the fighting. In a series of tweets on the group’s official Twitter account, Junood al Fida also claimed that the Registan district had fallen. The organization heralded it as good news for the “Commander of the faithful,” Mullah Omar, and also honored al Qaeda master Osama bin Laden. (Jihadist group loyal to Taliban, al Qaeda claims to have captured Afghan district: The Long war Journal:  Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio: October 3, 2014)


These incidents, and many other reports, indicate that the Taliban is still a fighting force. Within Afghanistan, fear of the rise of the Taliban has already prompted organization of the armed non-Pushtun warlords with large militias. One such is Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former general in the Soviet-backed army turned mujahedeen warlord and, later, Northern Alliance commander.


Dostum retains massive influence among Afghans of Uzbek ethnicity, who make up 10 percent of the population, as well as the smaller Turkmen minority. A violent warlord accused of massive human rights violations, Dostum has openly talked about reorganizing an Uzbek militia outside the auspices of the central Afghan government. Many reports suggest he already commands a military force that reports to him personally. He inserted himself into the presidential election as the running mate of Ashraf Ghani and is rabidly opposed to any Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan.


Another warlord is Atta Mohammed Noor, an ethnic Tajik (a group that makes up some 25 percent of the country’s population, and whose leaders dominated the Northern Alliance) who is governor of the northern Balkh province. He is politically close to Abdullah Abdullah. While the ethnic composition of the Afghan National Army (ANA) is broadly representative of society in general, the officer class is still largely Tajik, revealing some of the tensions that remain within the military. Also supporting Abdullah Abdullah is Mohammad Mohaqiq, perhaps the most prominent of Afghanistan’s Hazaras, a Shi’a Muslim ethnic group making up about 10 percent of the population and also a key component of the Northern Alliance.


Beside these three, who together form a formidable force, there is also Ismail Khan, a former warlord and influential anti-Taliban figure who is the former minister for water and energy. Khan told Der Spiegel last fall that the Afghan army would never be able to keep the country stable on its own. Like Dostum, he said that he had already begun the process of organizing a militia that would be loyal to him rather than the Afghan state, much as was done during the mujahedeen’s fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. “What good is this army?” Khan asked, questioning the ability of the national government to defend the country (“Who are the combatants if Afghanistan reverts to civil war?” Tom Kutsch, Al Jazeera America, April 3).


If a civil war–like situation indeed develops, the only outside power besides Pakistan that could interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs is Iran. By contrast with Pakistan, Iran’s policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan has always been to exert influence over Kabul, uphold stability and support the Afghan central government. In this respect, Iran has followed a “developmental” approach in Afghanistan’s state-building process after the collapse of the Taliban. From Iran’s perspective, poverty and poor development have been the main bases for the revival of the Taliban and extremism in the country. For this reason, Iran has always committed itself to reconstruction and development efforts in such fields as financial aid, transportation, energy, trade, social structure and refugee matters.


Afghanistan also plays an important role in preserving stability along Iran’s eastern borders. Instability in Afghanistan (spreading terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking) poses a political-security threat to Iran. At present, various groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban and extremist Islamist factions, as well as some small local factions, are fighting the Afghan government and foreign forces deployed in the country. Instability also provides the ground for these groups to organize terrorist operations against Iran. Based on the available evidence, as well as remarks by Iranian authorities, violent groups operate from their bases inside Afghanistan and Pakistan’s borders, the Jundallah terrorist group being but one example.


Recently, another terrorist Salafi group named Jaish al-Adl abducted five Iranian border guards, later releasing all but one, whose fate is still unknown. Further, due to the ethnic and tribal connectivity along the border between Iran and Afghanistan, any instability in Afghanistan may lead to the creation and continuation of ethnic conflicts, thus increasing migration over the Iranian border and exacerbating the refugee situation there (“Iran’s Foreign Policy in Post-Taliban Afghanistan,” Kayhan Barzegar, The Washington Quarterly, June 01).


The Pakistan Factor


In addition to the report that “Pakistanis and Arabs” are assisting the Taliban to take over northern Helmand province, the growing strength of the Haqqani network that operates from within Pakistan cannot be underestimated. Since this terrorist network has been around for almost 11 years, committing terrorist acts only within Afghanistan against the NATO forces in particular, it is fair to assume they get the support they need from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.


Throughout the Afghan War, the Haqqanis have willingly cooperated with Pakistan, executing attacks in Afghanistan on its behalf in exchange for safe haven and resources. In fact, in September 2011, this Pakistan-Haqqani alliance had become so obvious that then-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen publicly described the Haqqanis as “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency” (“Afghanistan: Withdrawal Lessons,” Jack Devine and Whitney Kassel, Fall 2013).


Some analysts go even further, saying Pakistan’s present-day machinations inside Afghanistan could give rise to al-Qaeda becoming strong once more. For instance, Bruce Riedel, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, points out in an article that “once American pressure on al-Qaeda in Pakistan subsides, we should expect its regeneration will be fast given the huge jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan and the ISI’s incompetence and/or collusion with the jihadists. Al-Qaeda’s Pakistani allies like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the Pakistan Taliban and others will gladly help al-Qaeda recover, especially when the danger of a drone strike is much reduced” (“Al-Qaeda’s Next Comeback Could Be Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Bruce Riedel, The Daily Beast, Jan. 13).


In the same article, Riedel says Pakistan’s present prime minister, Nawaz Sharif—who, despite repeated requests from President Bill Clinton between 1997 and 1999, took no action to apprehend bin Laden, attack bin Laden’s infrastructure in Pakistan and Afghanistan or pressure the Taliban and Mullah Omar to control him or extradite him to Saudi Arabia—is likely to be even less vigorous in fighting al-Qaeda than his predecessor Asif Zardari. “During Sharif’s previous two terms in office in the 1990s, the jihadist Frankenstein in Pakistan blossomed, and al-Qaeda may well recover in months, not years, after we depart Afghanistan if the pressure on its base in Pakistan dwindles,” Riedel states.


Who are these al-Qaeda fighters Riedel is referring to? Most likely, they are several hundred Uzbeks operating out of North Waziristan who belong to the late Tahir Yuldashev’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, currently led by Abdul Fattah Ahmadi (aka Usman Ghazi). Also, Pakistani security officials estimate that the Islamic Jamaat Uzbekistan, a breakaway faction, has a force of several dozen Central Asians in the tribal areas, led by one Hameedullah Kyrgyzstani. Then, there is the East Turkistan Islamic Movement of Uighurs, aiming to create an Islamic state in China’s Uighur region; and there is a group called the Turkish Jamaat, consisting mainly of militants from eastern Turkey who have sought refuge in North Waziristan and want support for an Islamic movement in their home country.


Is Pakistan harboring these terrorists with the hope that one day they will assist Islamabad in securing control over Kabul? Some observers point out that that may not be the case. They claim that Pakistan probably has not put all its eggs in one basket. Another opportune basket could be Pakistan’s preference for unending conflicts within Afghanistan, keeping Kabul weak. Devine and Kassel think that Pakistan has demonstrated through its continued support of insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan that it has a concerted desire to see both continued unrest in Afghanistan, to prevent a powerful Afghan government from aligning with India against it, and the resurgence of a Pushtun-dominated, Taliban-aligned center of power in Kabul. Neither of these objectives suggests Pakistan directly supports the reestablishment of a Taliban government in Afghanistan, though it is possible that some elements in Islamabad may. Nevertheless, it is clear that many Pakistani leaders view key Taliban affiliates, such as the Haqqani network, as their advocates in Afghanistan against a potentially anti-Pakistan alliance between non-Pushtun elements in the North and their most feared adversary, India.


Pakistan’s Mind and Body Problem


Whether Islamabad’s desire to control Kabul is driven by its dream of acquiring “strategic depth” against India, or preventing the formation in Kabul of a strong government ready to align with India, or facilitating the resurgence of a Pushtun-dominated, Taliban-aligned, center of power in Kabul, attaining that objective is unlikely because Pakistan’s flesh is weak. Turning such a desire into reality could simply be a delusion that continues to haunt Pakistan’s military brass.


Over the years, Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism, harboring of terrorists and allowing them to operate freely within, and beyond, have made it what Washington calls the “most dangerous state.” However, Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism has a flip side that may become visible after the NATO troops leave Afghanistan.


Almost 20 months ago, in an article for The Dawn, Madiha Sattar pointed to the vast network of terrorists, all lumped under one Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, who are presently battling the Pakistani military in its own terrain in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan. Sattar cited Pakistani security analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai, who has warned that 2014 and the Western withdrawal will not mean Pakistan’s problems are over. “If the Taliban cannot capture Kabul, which is highly likely, they will be operating from the border areas,” he said. “So they may still need to come to Pakistan for shelter, funds and medical treatment, and the Pakistani Taliban will find safe havens in Afghanistan.”


That is precisely the fear driving the apparent shift in Pakistan’s mindset from banking wholly on the Afghan Taliban for strategic depth in Afghanistan to realizing that a broad-based coalition government there is more likely to be in Pakistan’s best interest, Sattar says. But, she adds, some within Pakistan’s security establishment worry that even a power-sharing system, with the east and south controlled by the Taliban and Uzbek and other ethnic groups controlling the north, could end up providing sanctuaries and operational bases to Pakistan-based militants (“Post-2014 Afghanistan: Pakistan’s nightmare?” Madiha Sattar, The Dawn, Feb. 18, 2013).


Is what Madiha Sattar feared 20 months ago is still valid?  According to Douglas A. Livermore, writing in the Small Wars Journal in February this year, evidence that the ISI continues to support and direct the Taliban is voluminous, indicating a continuation of the Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaign, with or without the direct permission of Pakistan’s elected leaders.  When viewed with a critical eye, the Pakistani UW campaign against Afghanistan, with the Taliban acting as an indigenous proxy force, exhibits all of the characteristics and phases codified in the UW model used by the United States Government.


Why ISI, with or without Islamabad’s knowledge, will continue to pursue its UW campaign against Afghanistan? Livermore says:  “Pushtunistan.”  This word has struck fear into the hearts of Pakistani leaders for generations. Today, with more than thirty years of investment in the destabilization of Afghanistan, it is improbable that Pakistan will abandon these efforts and risk the emergence of a strong, independent Afghan government pursuing reunification with the Pushtun tribes of Western Pakistan. 


Pakistan’s efforts to undermine Afghanistan and prevent any pursuit of a “Greater Pushtunistan” state by means of a UW campaign is consistent with their world view, in which they are beset on all sides by neighbors laying claim to significant chunks of Pakistan’s sovereign territory. Once Pakistani interests are understood, their continued support to the Taliban becomes understandable, if not acceptable to the international pursuit of regional stability. (Pakistani Unconventional Warfare Against Afghanistan: A Case Study of the Taliban as an Unconventional Warfare Proxy Force: Douglas A. Livermore: Small Wars Journal: Feb 4 2014)


It is worth noting that all FATA terrorists, having been put under a large umbrella of the Tehrik Taleban-e-Pakistan (TTP) by Islamabad, have supported the Afghan Taliban in one way or another, and there is no reason to think the favor will not be repaid. And once FATA is no longer needed as a safe haven, even the delicate truces that Pakistan has maintained with militants such as Hafiz Gulbahadur, Khalid Mehsud could become worthless.


As Sattar says: “But the Pakistani Taliban web is much wider than these groups. Ten outfits formerly supported by the state for fighting in Kashmir or other purposes are now linked to the TTP, with the deadliest commander being Asmatullah Muawiya of the ‘Punjabi Taliban’, who security officials believe was involved in the 2008 Islamabad Marriott bombing and attacks on the army and ISI. These and other groups, such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, may have their own agendas, but according to Pakistani intelligence, carry out attacks with material and physical support from the TTP.”


Yet another factor that has weakened Pakistan’s flesh is the deep-rooted infiltration by the homegrown jihadists into Pakistan’s military establishment. Reports of Pakistan’s high-security military establishments coming under full-fledged attack from within are no longer a rarity. What that suggests is that the homegrown and well-nurtured terrorists have developed immense capabilities to breach Pakistan’s most sensitive security. In a statement released on his Twitter account recently, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS) Spokesman Usama Mahmoud said his group executed an attack on the Pakistani warship, PNS Zulfiqar, on Sept. 13 and claimed it was Pakistani Navy officers who were involved in a failed attempt to hijack the warship to launch missiles at US Navy vessels in the Indian Ocean. AQIS also published a diagram purporting to show the layout of the PNS Zulfiqar. The Pakistani warship carries at least eight C-802 surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles (“AQIS claims plot to strike US warships was executed by Pakistani Navy officers,” Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, Sept. 17).


In addition, Pakistan’s badly managed economy has long been in tatters. The IMF’s conditions that were associated with a loan of $ 6.6 billion are beginning to bite and the increased sectarian and terrorist violence against the state and civilians, and economic stagnation, remain major concerns. These challenges are likely to intensify as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan. The presence of a conservative government in Islamabad and extensive provincial-level political polarization also bode ill for the domestic security outlook.


Further, there is no indication that Islamabad is capable of handling the massive power shortage situation in the short or middle term. Industries in Pakistan are in urgent need of gas and electricity. Unfortunately for the country, gas reserves, too, have been sliding downward, and now CNG is rationed in most major cities. Fertilizer factories, thriving on gas and CNG, are now at a certain loss. The constant and unchecked rise in power rates and increase in petroleum prices have not only frustrated further progress for industries, but have actually caused a downward slide in output. (“2014: The challenges ahead for Pakistan,” Salahuddin Haider, Pakistan Observer, Jan. 7).




Notwithstanding the designs Islamabad may have for Kabul in the coming months and years, things have changed for the worse inside Pakistan since 1989. The change that occurred inside Afghanistan is the emergence of the ANA. Though it may not be a decisive fighting force, the ANA has the capability and the size to prevent the “Pakistanis and Arabs” from marching into Kabul unhurt. If and when Northern Alliance warlords join the ANA in the resistance, it is likely that the combined force could deal some deadly blows to the aggressors, with or without Pakistani troops embedded in it.


The region, too, has changed significantly. The formation of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the growing interest of Russia, China and India in stabilizing the region through development of stronger economic, transport and trade linkages, and bringing in Iran and the Central Asian nations to participate in this endeavor, may put a damper on Pakistan’s drive for its long-sought “strategic depth” objective. All the regional nations are concerned about the devastation that Afghan drugs are causing to the youth of the region. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)—Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus—are gearing up to stop the trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin through their lands after the NATO and US troops leave Afghanistan.


Besides being major players in the BRICS group, all three big powers in the region—Russia, China and India—are also concerned about terrorism and the damage it could do to undermine their infrastructure development projects to interlink the region. It is no secret to any of them that Pakistan harbors terrorists, on its own volition or otherwise; and Pakistan will be put under increasing pressure on that score in the coming months and years. Pakistan will find it difficult to resist such pressure, since next year Islamabad will also be included as a full member of the SCO, where it will have to deal face-to-face with the Big Three.


This article appeared in AGNI: Studies in International Strategic Issues: Vol XVI, No IV, October-December 2014  

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