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March 16, 2014

Why the Taliban must read this and act

Top Story

March 16, 2014

WASHINGTON: Politics, diplomatic posturing, gaining time, regrouping and reinforcing forces and re-stocking supplies, weapons and food apart, medium- and long-term strategists are wondering who will stand on whose side after a few months when the US troops leave the battlefield of Afghanistan.
This discussion was prompted at a Washington DC private group after ageing leader Sartaj Aziz warned that a civil war in Afghanistan will be devastating after the US troops go away.
The unfortunate fact is that a civil war and a power grab will ensue in any case and positions will have to be taken by stakeholders and interested parties that have been preparing for this day for years.
There are five key stakeholders or players: Karzai and his supporters (no one knows how many and who they may be), the Northern Alliance (Abdullah Abdullah and associates), the Afghan Taliban (Mulla Umar & Co), the Pakistani Taliban (both Pakistan and Afghan-based plus the Haqqani Group and others) and Pakistan (read the Pakistan Army and ISI).
So what kind of alliances, combinations and permutations can be projected under various computer or tactical models?
The obvious or possible natural alliances that can be imagined would be:
- Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban.
- Karzai and the Afghan Taliban (if Karzai can win over Mulla Umar, though it may not be possible or easy).
- The Northern Alliance and some fringe groups backed by the Americans and Indians, though that may not matter a lot on the ground.
- Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban, aided by the Haqqani Group.
- Pakistan plus the Afghan Taliban plus the Haqqani Group and the Pakistani Taliban, (no matter how much the Foreign Office and Sartaj Aziz may assert that we want an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led set up and do not want to interfere).
- Karzai plus the Afghan Taliban plus the Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani Group minus the Pakistan Army and the ISI.
More such combinations and permutations can be

created on paper but what matters and is important is that Pakistan will always have favourites since they have invested billions, and years, to use them just for this moment. It may be difficult for Rawalpindi to convince Mulla Umar but with Haqqanis and Pakistani Taliban behind him in the imminent civil war with the Northern Alliance and its allies, Mulla Umar may come around.
In this context the current efforts to make a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban becomes critical and could swing the balance post the US pullout.
Strategists see that the alliance between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Group backed with tactical and strategic support of Rawalpindi, of course with the plausible deniability factor always available, may be the best on-the-ground option.
So if the Pakistani Taliban can be given some face-saving deal to end their self-destructive war against Rawalpindi and the Pakistani people and focus more on the coming months when they will have a bigger chance of a like-minded government in Afghanistan under Mulla Umar, it may serve the purpose of all on this side of the equation.
American think tanks and known experts are already predicting that this will happen. Five top experts joined hands to produce a paper for the Council of Foreign Relations titled “Prospects for Afghanistan in 2014” just last December.
Graeme Smith, Senior Analyst International Crisis Group, Seth G. Jones, Associate Director International Security and Defence Policy Centre, RAND Corporation, Nader Nadery, Director Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Clare Lockhart, Director Institute for State Effectiveness and Daniel S Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia, Council on Foreign Relations, joined this effort.
Markey, asserted that Pakistan will continue to meddle in Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan in 2014 is likely to be defined by strategic continuity, as Islamabad’s goals have changed little over the years. Yet because Islamabad will feel that it must respond to decisions made in Washington and Kabul, as well as to conditions as they unfold on the ground, Pakistan’s specific policies will be marked by tactical opportunism,” he wrote.
“Pakistan will retain ties to the Afghan groups with which it enjoys the greatest influence, Mullah Omar’s Taliban and the Haqqani network among them, even though any sweeping victory for these groups inside Afghanistan would harm Pakistan’s own security over the long run,” he noted.
“Islamabad will view Afghanistan’s political processes with these longstanding anxieties in mind. The desire to influence the composition of Afghanistan’s future leadership has already led Pakistan to play a facilitating role in “reconciliation” talks between the Taliban and Kabul and the United States. And as Afghan elections heat up, Islamabad will identify candidates it considers friendly, and may attempt to tip the scales in their favour through assistance, pressure, or covert manipulation of the voting process itself,” he stated.
In a similar CFR report in November Seth Jones joined Keith Crane to assert: “the US should rely less on Pakistan to help in accomplishing its goals in Afghanistan, while tying US military assistance to Islamabad to its efforts to combat militant groups.”
These US experts think of their own interests obviously but for Pakistan, the best bet would be to quickly sort out its problems with the local Taliban, bring them together in overt or covert negotiations and reach strategic and tactical understandings regarding the post-US Afghanistan and how to handle the upcoming civil war.
It is for this reason that the current effort to talk sense into the Pakistani Taliban makes the most sense, using carrots or sticks. If they can’t see beyond their nose, they will get wiped out but they and their potential allies in Afghanistan will also lose the bigger battle.