Afghan President Hamid Karzai has played his cards well by showing his reluctance to sign a pact with the US that would allow US troops to remain in Afghanistan past 2014. This delaying tactic seems an attempt to force the US to pressurise Pakistan into taking decisive action against the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani network, which has sanctuaries inside FATA and North Waziristan. It is a desperate attempt by President Karzai to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table for peace talks and stop them from exploiting the vacuum that will be created by the US troops withdrawal in 2014 as already mentioned by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address.
Apparently, this pressure point is none other than the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). If TTP attacks in Pakistan pick up momentum then Pakistan will have no other choice but to take military action in North Waziristan. Although the Afghan Taliban and TTP share an ideology and a dominant Pushtun ethnicity, beyond that there is nothing. Combining them under one name, ‘the Taliban’, may be more misleading than illuminating as many regional experts like Gilles Dorronsoro, a professor and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a global think tank, says: “The fact that they have the same name causes all kinds of confusion.” He further adds, “The only coherent response from the Afghan government and coalition is to reach an agreement with the (Afghan) Taliban in order to detach them from transnational jihadist groups (TTP). Placing the Haqqani group on the US list of terrorist movements is counterproductive.”
Alex Strick van Lichtenstein, a Dutch researcher and author of the book An Enemy We Created, says, “The two movements are quite separate, to be honest. The Taliban commanders and groups on the ground in Afghanistan could not care less what is happening to their Pakistani brothers across the border.” Another senior analyst from the Afghan Analyst Network (AAN), Thomas Rutting, says, “There is an often repeated but not much sourced assumption that every group hiding in the Af-Pak mountains is more or less the same thing. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban as well as Pakistani sectarian and jihadists are all part of a big terrorism syndicate. This is not only wrong but also dangerous since policies are conceived on this basis.”
Sadly enough, our policy makers have failed to understand the difference between the two. Based on these assumptions, if we opt for any military operation in North Waziristan, then the consequences will be devastating. The earlier we reach any consensus and overcome this dilemma, the better.
The coalition forces will be withdrawing by the end of 2014, and post-2014 Afghanistan will see the Afghan Taliban as major stakeholders in the future government of Afghanistan as they are already in control of the major parts of the country, i.e. more than 60 percent, which rises to 72 percent at night. There is a dire need to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table and make them part of any future transition of government peacefully. This will also undermine India’s influence in Afghan affairs and will deter it from taking any offensive position in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban’s chief negotiator, Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, has hinted at taking part in the 2014 elections when he asked that free and fair elections be held without the presence of foreign military forces in Afghanistan, while addressing the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) in Paris on December 21, 2012.
The Pakistan government and army will have to be prepared for the inevitable change in the dynamics of internal politics and ever increasing presence of India in Afghanistan. The Afghan National Army will, in all likelihood, not be able to retain the control of the areas bordering Pakistan for any length of time after December 2014, thus rendering its western borders open for all kinds of trans-border activities.
Pakistan has come a long way from ‘strategic depth’ to ‘strategic shift’. The country no longer wishes for Taliban rule in Afghanistan like it did in the 1980s. It does, however, want the Taliban to be given meaningful representation in a political reconciliation process that will allow them post-2014 political space. This implies that Pakistan must work with a broader set of Afghan stakeholders, both Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns. It has also changed its stance from shutting India out of Afghanistan altogether to ensuring that India is not able to stir up trouble within Pakistan or help create a hostile Afghan dispensation. This can be achieved if both countries enter into a dialogue. This could seek ways to cooperate or readjust development activities in Afghanistan. Concentrating Indian investment activities in the north and west of the country could help downplay Pakistani suspicions about Indian projects near its border. Given India ‘s post-2014 vulnerability in Pashtun-dominated areas close to the Pakistani border, India may be willing to accept this.
Pakistan must continue to explore ways to expand its economic footprint in Afghanistan, even as security concerns dominate its approach in the run-up to December 2014. Interestingly, Afghan-Pakistani trade has risen sharply in recent years. However, there is still huge, untapped potential for these two geographically contiguous and intricately connected countries, with relative freedom of movement across their shared border. The Afghan government is already pitching to attract fresh investment after 2014 and the Pakistani private sector would do well to explore affordable options. As economic activity in Afghanistan increases, the country also remains a highly attractive destination for Pakistani services and labour apart from Afghan refugees repatriating to their homeland.
This brings Pakistan’s government to the million dollar question: what will happen to the TTP post-2014? Whether Pakistan’s political parties like it or not, the TTP has become a threat and it has to be tackled by force. In return for the role Pakistan is playing to facilitate the Afghan Taliban’s return to the negotiating table, it must ask the Afghanistan government to hand over Mullah Fazalullah, the notorious head of the TTP. Pakistan should also give a clear deadline to all extremists to lay down weapons and then go for an all out operation against those who refuse to do so. Before that, a consensus has to be built among the masses, especially in FATA, to eradicate this menace once and for all. In order to achieve a sustainable peace the government should plan ahead and develop a civilian infrastructure to replace the army after the operation. It should also cater, in advance, to the displaced persons this operation will bring.
In a nutshell, any future conflict with the Afghan Taliban will not end and any future peace with the TTP will not last.
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