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Strategic Depths

Pakistan is replicating its bleed-thy-neighbour policy in Afghanistan. For now, the US is turning a blind eye.

Strategic Depths
Strategic Depths
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
Afghanistan was the first frontier in the war against terror and Pakistan the first ally. Irony apart, the Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to restrain their valued friend from lapsing into dangerous gamesmanship. Two years after the Taliban's ouster, its remnants are making determined inroads into Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan. They are on a rampage, launching bold attacks while Islamabad pretends innocence. It is the same deadly game Pakistan plays in Kashmir. The bleed-thy-neighbour policy is being replicated in Afghanistan as the Taliban regroup, rearm and reorganise on Pakistani territory for a future jehad.

Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, although bound by the rules of diplomacy, raised red flags about the Taliban in the US Congress and in public speeches during his Washington visit to try and convince policymakers to take a long, hard look at the situation. He told of Taliban leaders brazenly announcing their plans from mosques and madrassas in Quetta, their new headquarters. Of them holding "cabinet-type" meetings. Of fresh recruits moving across the border by the busloads and Pakistani border guards waving them through. Over the past few months, the Taliban redux have killed nearly 400 Afghan soldiers, civilians and US troops. "Where are they getting their ammunition? Where are they treating their wounded?" Abdullah asked his audience.

Accounts in the Pakistani press of the Taliban leaders walking around Quetta are too numerous to ignore. Leaders of the provincial government of Balochistan have claimed Taliban as the "only real" option in Afghanistan. Pakistani diplomats privately say they can't take on the Taliban because it would lead to civil war and the US won't help subdue the tribal wars that could ensue. But an Afghan diplomat countered: "They always claim they have their hands tied behind them. But the truth is they control these guys—they can mobilise and demobilise them quickly."

As if nurturing the Taliban weren't enough, Pakistan also tried to do a Kargil on Afghanistan—Pakistani militias crossed the Durand Line this summer, occupying positions five kilometers inside Afghan territory. The Americans were summoned and told of the incursions. "They saw it with their own eyes. They saw the (Pakistani) troop movement," said a senior Afghan diplomat here. "Musharraf admitted and said it won't happen again." Secretary of state Colin Powell reportedly assured the Afghans that the US won't tolerate any breach of the Durand Line.

But on Pakistan's role in rampantly regrouping Taliban, the US administration seems to follow the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil policy. After a meeting between Abdullah and Powell last week, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli praised Islamabad in unusually strong terms, effectively dismissing Afghan concerns, even snubbing Abdullah to a degree. Said Ereli: "We think Pakistan is committed to the fight against terror and is doing everything it can. Systemically, institutionally, Pakistan is on board and doing what needs to be done." The Afghans were disappointed by the seemingly endless American tolerance for Pakistani games.

"Everyone here believes that Pakistan is doing its best. But when the reality on the ground is otherwise, there is definitely a problem," said Haron Amin, Afghanistan's deputy chief of mission. The similarity in the Afghan and Indian experience with their common neighbour is remarkable—terrorists and Taliban springing from the same mother lode while the isi facilitates, nods and winks. The heart of the matter, Afghans say, is Pakistan's refusal to accept the changes in Afghanistan, having treated the country as a laboratory for geostrategic experiments for decades. And the current US policy appears to endorse Pakistan's supremacy, even the mean-spirited games Islamabad plays to block India from sending humanitarian aid. "If India gives us biscuits, Pakistan acts as if it is nuclear material," said Amin.

The US has been getting the same message about Pakistan from both Kabul and New Delhi but the stereophonic sound seems to have little effect. The question is: how far would the US go to feed Pakistan's paranoia about its neighbours?
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