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Dangerous Liaisons

The Soviet invasion in 1979 precipitated a large influx of Afghans into Pakistan, mainly from the Kabul elite, the affluent bought up residential homes and even small businesses, mainly in transportation. As the war reached the countryside the not so affluent started to cross over to escape being caught in the crossfire. The (mostly Pashtuns) Afghans owned residences in Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad serving as “Rest and Recreation” (R & R) facilities for whatever Afghan faction were the rebels at that time. Hayatabad and New University Town in Peshawar is full of rich Afghans.  Some of Karzai’s family still lives in Quetta, one of Rashid Dostum’s wives is said to be still living in Islamabad. A few bureaucrats and Kabul elite sought refuge in the Soviet Union when the Talibaan wrested Kabul from Ahmed Shah Masood’s Northern Alliance in the early 90s.

Host to all Afghan factions the refugee camps provided the cannon fodder for whoever the “rebels” were in Afghanistan at any given time.  Over three million Afghan refugees have alternated living in Pakistan for nearly four decades, please do forgive us for being somewhat upset that our long-term “guests” are rather ungrateful despite the fact that it is only over the past two years we have been seeking their repatriation.

We were shooting ourselves in the foot benignly ignoring the embarrassing presence of friends and foes alike in a bid to keep the relationship with our neighbor going, unintentionally supports the adverse propaganda that we actively support the Taliban in Afghanistan.  With the “rebel” leaders visiting their families, the US perception about a “Quetta Shura” operating a “command and control” center against them has hardened.  A public database of Afghans in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Lahore, Karachi, D.I. Khan, etc including their (1) place of origin (with address) in Afghanistan (2) names of relatives living in Afghanistan and/or abroad. With US satellites capable of reading number plates of vehicles, making public the so-called “safe havens” will act as a deterrent for any cross border activities? On the question of sovereignty, while drone attacks on militant commanders hiding in Pakistan cannot be condoned, should we shed any tears for those who have been killing our soldiers and civilians for over a decade plus?

To rebuild the trust between the US and Pakistan, it is important to re-establish the “military-to-military” (mil-mil) contact. This distrust is doubly tragic because in accomplishing the mutual aim of eradicating the militants  the Pakistan Army has done a magnificent job in the mountains and plains of FATA and SWAT.  After Sir Gerald Templar’s successful Malayan campaign in the 1950s, ours is the only Army in the world to have run a successful counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism campaign. Even though politically it may be an unpopular measure, we should periodically (and only periodically) embed US military observers during military operations in FATA and SWAT. The political divide will protest the encroaching on our sovereignty, when the extenuating circumstances are extraordinary one needs to take unpopular measures far beyond the ordinary to safeguard the national integrity of the country.

Given constant Indian propaganda labelling “freedom fighters” as terrorists in  Kashmir and cleverly inventing their “connection” to the Talibaan in Afghanistan, a whole lot of US civilian and military leaders have been turned off by what they perceive to be rank perfidy on the part of Pakistan. This has been force-multiplied by the Tajik majority serving in the Afghan Army hating us. To counter or contain this, a comprehensive exchange program should facilitate US “leaders” in media persons, politicians, public servants, etc to meet our decision-makers in govt, politicians, academics, media persons, etc across the board to ascertain a first-hand public opinion in Pakistan across the entire spectrum. Conversely knowledgeable Pakistanis must visit the  US and interact with US think tanks, congressional members, general public, Pakistanis living in the US, etc.  Ambassador Aizaz is genuinely struggling to counter anti-Pakistani propaganda, did anyone from the Pakistan Embassy turn up for any of my well-publicized events in Wash DC? Taking timeout from their personal interests they must engage with their official responsibilities.

The relationship between India and the US should normally not concern Pakistan. If the buildup is done at our cost, than we have a legitimate grouse. How can we allow the Indians to use Afghanistan as a base for a “second front” against us? A lot of US sarcasm is directed against the fictional “Indian Consulates” Pakistan keeps drawing US attention to. One may well ask, what do you call these locations staffed by India’s RAW?  And why are these locations primarily guarded by the Afghan NDSI? They exist only to create mischief and mayhem in Balochistan and KPK Provinces! Indian PM Narendra Modi, former Defence Minister Parikar, NSA Ajit Duval, etc are all on record that they aim to destabilize Pakistan and separate Balochistan from Pakistan. India’s concerted hate propaganda against Pakistan among the Afghan military trainees in Indian military training-institutions is not a secret. While India should enhance its economic support for the Afghan economy, does the US want a military role for India in Afghanistan?

Our legitimate concerns stem from India concentrating almost 80% of their Armed Forces, land, sea and air, deployed against Pakistan’s eastern borders, outnumbering Pakistan 4 to 1 and even 5 to 1 at places, not along their long border with China. The US national interest to wean India away from the communist camp during the Cold War exists for 50 years, India’s China border War of 1962 gave them an opportunity.  Ambassador Chester Bowles’ May 1965 Memo to the State Department to contain China is quite explicit and more relevant today given that China has become a superpower and is perceived  as a threat to US national interests in the region. However the Memo also warned against marginalizing Pakistan. The US national security imperative of building up India to contain China is far removed from the US trying to expand India’s role in Afghanistan.

An intelligent discourse with those with good judgement is not possible when they firmly believe out of good faith their perceptions to be true.  However one must keep one’s cool and not react in a manner that would be counter-productive. On the other hand for Pakistan the India factor in Afghanistan is a national security imperative red flag that the US must take note of.  Is India’s presence in Afghanistan so vital for the US that they put their entire national interest in the region at risk?

(Fifth of a series of articles about the deteriorating Pakistan-US relationship by Ikram Sehgal, a defence and security analyst).


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