Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Military and the Mullahs: The Pakistani State Has a Long History of Nurturing Jihadis as a Means of Dominating Afghanistan and Undermining India. It Is Proving a Fatal Alliance

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Military and the Mullahs: The Pakistani State Has a Long History of Nurturing Jihadis as a Means of Dominating Afghanistan and Undermining India. It Is Proving a Fatal Alliance

Article excerpt

It may have been a nightmarish year for Pakistan but it has been a pretty good one for the country's inscrutable chief of army staff, the most powerful man in the Land of the Pure, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

For a start, the army's response to the floods has compared well to the usual corrupt incompetence of Pakistan's civilian politicians, guided by their chateau-hopping president, Asif Ali Zardari (while minister for investment, he was nicknamed "Mr 10 Per Cent"; he has now been upgraded to "Mr 110 Per Cent"). This has led to discussion in army circles about whether it is time to drop the civilian fig leaf and return the country to the loving embrace of its military. So serious is this threat, that one of the country's most senior and well-connected journalists, Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the Friday Times, went on the record this month to warn that elements in the army were plotting yet another coup. "I know this is definitely being discussed," he said.

Then there was the news that Kayani was going to be allowed to keep his job for a second term: "an extraordinary situation requires an extraordinary decision to overcome it", explained a brigadier, writing in the Nation newspaper. Kayani, a former head of Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), can now continue to run the army, and by default Pakistan's foreign policy, until November 2013.

But Kayani's biggest triumph this year, arguably the greatest of his career, was his visit to Kabul in July as the honoured guest of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. The visit marked an important thawing in Pak-Afghan relations, which have been glacial ever since Karzai came to power in 2001. It also coincided with the sacking of Amrullah Saleh, Karzai's pro-Indian and rabidly anti-ISI former security chief. Saleh is a tough Tajik who rose to prominence as a mujahedin protege of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Indian-backed "Lion of Panjshir". The Taliban, and their sponsors in the ISI, had regarded Saleh as their fiercest opponent, something Saleh was enormously proud of.

When I had dinner with him in Kabul in May, he spoke at length of his frustration with the ineffectiveness of Karzai's government in taking the fight to the Taliban, and the extent to which the ISI was managing to aid, arm and train its puppet insurgents in North Waziristan and Balochistan. Saleh's sacking gave notice of an important change of direction by Karzai. As Bruce Riedel, Barack Obama's Af-Pak adviser, said when the news broke, "it means that Karzai is already planning for a post-American Afghanistan".

It seems that Kayani and Karzai are discussing some sort of accommodation between the Afghan government and ISI-sponsored elements in the Taliban, maybe those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, which could give over much of the Pashtun south to pro-Pakistan Taliban, but preserve Karzai in power in Kabul after the US withdrawal. The expulsion of India, Pakistan's great regional rival, from Afghanistan, or at least the closing of its four regional consulates, would be a top priority for the ISI in return for any deal that kept Karzai in power.

With the US toppling of the Taliban after the 11 September 2001 attacks, Pakistan's influence disappeared abruptly from Afghanistan and India quickly filled the vacuum. To the ISI's horror, in the early years of this decade, India provided reconstruction assistance and training worth roughly [pounds sterling]835m in total. It also built roads, sanitation projects, the new Afghan parliament and free medical facilities across the country. It even offered to help train the Afghan army.

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Nato refused. As General Stanley McChrystal put it in a report last year, "while Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures".

McChrystal was right. …

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