Pakistan Should Talk To Mullah Omar’s Taliban
For six years, Washington and the Karzai regime have failed to bring peace. Pakistan is paying the price. Now Afghanistan has become a haven for anti-Pakistan terrorist. Taliban holds the key to peace in Afghanistan and also in Pakistan, where the military has just suffered the highest ranking casualty in America’s war on terror – an army lieutenant general. Pakistan should talk to the Taliban and help Kabul make peace with them and become neutral in Afghanistan. If the Americans oppose it, so bet it.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Why don’t our American friends send a drone across the Pakistan border to kill Baitullah Mehsud, a man seen by many here as an agent of the Indians and their anti-Pakistani friends in the Kabul regime?
Nor is Mr. Mehsud the only terrorist operating against Pakistan receiving support from the Afghan soil. Intelligence reports indicate that several terrorists who are spreading unrest in Pakistan’s southwestern region of Balochistan enjoy safe havens in several Afghan cities, including Kabul.
All of them – Mr. Mehsud and the other terrorists – are fighting Pakistan without firing a single bullet against any target on the other side of the border.
If someone thinks this is the stuff of conspiracy theories, he – or she, in the case of U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson – needs to read the book Charlie Wilson’s War. Or just talk to Oliver North of the Latin American fame. There is nothing fictional about the art of creating and fomenting insurgencies against governments.
Pakistan’s tribal region has become the latest battleground for several intelligence agencies. The monopoly of ‘our’ boys there either does not exist anymore or is fast eroding.
To understand the game, her is a simplified and imaginary example: In 2002, we used to know about most of the possible terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal region, their backgrounds and connections. In 2008, there are more of them now, with newer faces, all claiming to be Mujahideen, and we don’t know who they are, what’s their background, and who’s war they are fighting. Discount from this hypothetical example the number of misguided Pakistanis who naively joined this anti-Pakistan terrorism thinking it is real jihad, and the picture is complete.
Pakistan’s interim Interior Minister, Mr. Hamid Nawaz, has finally dared to say publicly what a lot of people already know. If our American friends are not stabbing us in the back, due to our real or imaginary duplicity in the war on terror, the U.S. is certainly turning a blind eye to strong anti-Pakistan activities in a U.S.-controlled Afghanistan.
Now is the time the Interior Minister went beyond his recent statement to talk about another idea that is gaining currency now in Islamabad: Start talking to Afghanistan’s Taliban.
Pakistani military’s highest ranking casualty in the war on terror on Feb. 25– and the attacks by the Afghan-supported shadowy terrorists on Pakistani citizens in Swat and Darra Adamkhel over the weekend – have renewed pressure in the Pakistani federal capital for this policy shift on Afghanistan.
One fast emerging idea is to broker a peace deal for Afghanistan. This is something that Islamabad’s other two allies, the United States and the Karzai administration, have failed to do in the past six years and there is no chance they will succeed in it in the future.
Whether Lieutenant General Mushtaq Baig’s Feb. 25 assassination was carried out by religious terrorists or was remote-controlled by a ‘foreign hand’ disguised as an extremist, the ball ultimately rests with Afghanistan’s Taliban. This Afghan party holds the key now to peace in the region after six years of a war that appears to be headed nowhere.
The biggest loser in the current stalemate in Afghanistan is Pakistan and not the U.S. or NATO. Almost all the major players in the region – U.S., Afghan warlords, Iran, Russia, India, the Karzai regime – have made some gains in the situation that emerged after 9/11. Even the Taliban are now making gains inside Afghanistan. Pakistan is the only losing party now.
Islamabad’s record in this war is not only ridiculed and questioned, Afghan soil has now become a base for an assortment of anti-Pakistani elements.
Some Pakistani officials are also suggesting they have information that Pakistan’s tribal belt with Afghanistan has seen incursions by foreign terrorists with questionable backgrounds. Evidence suggests that this is an organized activity involving well trained people.
According to officials watching this story, outside elements are working in collusion with disgruntled local extremists, many of them apparently misguided or deliberately indoctrinated to work against the Pakistan state. This is where the Afghan Taliban enter the picture.
The Afghan Taliban have so far refrained from attacking U.S. ally Pakistan despite Islamabad’s ‘U-turn’ after 9/11.
Many Afghan war veterans in Pakistan who maintain peaceful and discreet contacts with the Afghan Taliban have conveyed messages from the Afghan militia to Pakistani border officials on several occasions. The gist of all these messages has consistently been the same: ‘We are not supporting the Pakistani Taliban. We know some of them. We don’t know all of them. Try to find who they are.’
The sudden rise of the ‘Pakistani Taliban’ initially puzzled the Afghan Taliban. It could be true that Afghan Taliban initially saw this as a welcome development that would help the cause of resisting the invaders in Afghanistan and leverage Musharraf administration’s pro-U.S. policies.
But the Afghan Taliban grew suspicious when the self-styled Pakistani Taliban, awash with money and weapons, turned their guns on Pakistan. In January, Taliban’s Mullah Omar withdrew recognition from rebel leader Baitulah Mehsud, the man considered to be Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist today.
To stop Afghanistan from turning into a permanent base for anti-Pakistan destabilization activities, Pakistani officials will have to think out of the box. This will not be possible without the help of the Afghan Taliban.
The best idea to emerge is for Islamabad to declare neutrality in the war in Afghanistan. According to this idea, Pakistan could talk to both Taliban and the Karzai administration while maintaining equal distance from both. Islamabad already has a working relationship with Kabul but will need to restore the lost relationship with Taliban. If the Pakistani broker can establish its credentials as a neutral party, there can be hope for brokering peace between Kabul and its local enemies.
The only downside to this idea is the reaction of the United States. And we have seen the first sign of it in the reaction of the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to the statement of our Interior Minister.
Ambassador Patterson dismissed the Minister’s statement as simply “untrue.” She needs to explain why the U.S. Department of State continues to refuse to designate the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army a terrorist organization, the way London did.
One more question to Ms Patterson: Will the U.S. forces help us seal the border from the Afghan side if the Pakistanis decide to launch a major military operation to wipe out the anti-Pakistan terrorists from the border region? Will her government help us by giving us access to drones, satellites and night vision equipment?
With the newly elected federal parliament preparing to take the reign in Islamabad in the next few days, hopes are growing that Pakistan’s Afghan policy will finally be freed from the clutches of U.S. blunders in Afghanistan.
Published : March 5, 2008
This column was published by The News International, Pakistan’s largest English language daily newspaper.