Pakistan's new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. In just the past month, members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council visited Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani officials, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Kabul to sign an agreement on border security, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool visited Islamabad for talks, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels to discuss their cooperation on counterterrorism in the region.
However, a deeper look at Pakistan's recent behavior reveals that these events may represent more of a change of tactics than a change of mind. Admittedly, the ethnic divisions, widespread corruption, and weak central government that plague Afghanistan also have Pakistan worried about a failing government in its backyard. It is possible that a focus strategic depth really has been overpowered by this looming threat. But it is more likely that the government of Pakistan still clings to the long-held strategic depth objectives, while choosing now to take a more indirect approach to reaching it.
With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan looming, Pakistani officials now say they just want to be recognized and given a seat at the negotiation table with the Taliban and other Afghan factions.
But at the same time, of course, Pakistan also still wants to minimize India's presence and restrict its increasing influence in Afghanistan in the future. Since the 1960s, when the doctrine of "strategic depth" was first developed, Pakistan -- both right and wrongly -- has been obsessed with addressing its paranoia of Indian-Afghan encirclement. The Pakistani government now seems to be downplaying the security-centric goal of strategic depth, though this should not be taken to mean that Pakistan has abandoned this ultimate aim.
"The post-withdrawal Afghanistan should not be an enemy, if it is not going to be a friend," says a diplomatic source referring to the strategic depth doctrine of Pakistan's security establishment.
There are reasons behind this apparent change in tactics. Pakistani policy makers have now come to believe, with a heavy heart, that a Taliban-led regime like the one before 2001 in Afghanistan is an unrealistic dream.
Persistent U.S. drone strikes, with or without the consent of the Pakistani government, have forced Pakistan to come to terms with the reality that modern technology has now replaced the conventional means of hot pursuit, and it is far easier for the United States or other powers to target their enemies without sending ground troops.
And, the United States has adopted silence over the sticky issue of asking Pakistan to conduct military operations against the dreaded Haqqanis in North Waziristan, while the hardliners in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Pakistan have gone into hibernation and adopted silence over drone attacks.
To give credence to the impression of shedding the strategic depth policy, Pakistan recently freed several Taliban prisoners, while another batch, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has reportedly established contacts with the Afghan government, may also be freed shortly if the United States agrees.
Now, the Pakistani side seems to be confronted with two key questions regarding stability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Although Pakistan has been persuaded through the ‘carrot and stick' approach not to be a spoiler if it is not going to buttress the peace process, policy makers in Islamabad are weighing their options in a divided Afghanistan, not geographically but on ethnic and factional basis.
In the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled south, Haqqanis leading in the south-east, and the rest of Afghanistan under the non-Pashtuns -- led by ethnic Tajiks. In this scenario, Pakistan will get a secured border even though the government in Kabul remains hostile (in other words pro-India).
In this way, Pakistan will not only ensure its influence in the strategically important southeastern part of Afghanistan, but could also push the TTP and other Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Kashmir-focused jihadis, into the Haqqani- and Taliban- controlled parts of Afghanistan.
Before 2001, the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups had established bases and training camps in the areas that Pakistan expects to come under the influence of Haqqanis in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Those regions could house sleeper cells of Kashmiri fighters, whom Pakistan could later use as a balancing factor in case of Indian support for Baloch independence-seekers.
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, however, in a December 18, 2012 interview with the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said they would never accept a divided Afghanistan. Quoting the Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid, AIP said "we will not allow anyone to implement methods of disintegration in Afghanistan." The spokesman added that their ‘jihad' was meant for full control of the country rather than struggling for a particular part or chunk of land.
Informed sources told this writer that during recent negotiations, both the U.S. and Afghan sides assured their Pakistani counterparts that due consideration would be given to their concerns about the future Afghan government and the Indian role.
"Now Pakistan's response is wait and see. The Pakistani side has placed some concerns and conditions on the table and watching what is being picked and what is left by the Americans and the Afghan side," said a parliamentarian involved with a few round of meetings.
"The recent Taliban release was Pakistan's goodwill gesture. The next step will be taken when the Pakistani side sees some ‘positive' development," added the lawmaker. A number of observers in Islamabad are of the view that the release of Mullah Baradar is that ‘next step,' which will be taken after the desired ‘progress'.
The other important decision for Pakistan is the role it will play with regard to the TTP and other militant groups after 2014. On December 4, 2012, a senior provincial official told the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet that "we should not expect an end to the ongoing Taliban attacks in Pakistan with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan." The provincial government has limited options: it can either accept the Taliban by holding talks with them and attempting to bring them into mainstream politics with a give-and-take approach, or it can try to root them out with the use of force.
However, the thinking in Islamabad is somewhat optimistic. It is believed that the Haqqanis will return to areas under their influence in eastern Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while their local allies and the pro-Pakistan militants led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar will either merge in the tribal society or join their brothers in arms across the border.
And as and when needed, they could be used by Pakistan to browbeat the Indians and the government in Kabul, or keep the Pashtun nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in check. In the past few years, the nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have frequently been the target of Taliban attacks.
As for the TTP, it is believed that the group will lose its moral ground for fighting against the Pakistani government and security forces once international forces leave Afghanistan. The number of their sympathizers will drop which will affect their recruitment, training and missions. The rest will be done through decapitation of the leading figures to shatter its organizational structure.
However, this is the most simplistic view of the TTP, which has humbled the Pakistani security establishment by launching daring attacks in high security zones all over the country with the help of its al-Qaeda, IMU and sectarian allies. Besides, the mishandling of the word Jihad, either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of the country's security establishment, has created a Taliban mindset in the new generation who could be easily provoked in the name of religion - thanks to the weakening economy, poor governance and justice system, rampant corruption and non-availability of social services.
Unfortunately, neither the democratically elected government, nor the powerful military establishment has so far hinted at any strategy for de-radicalization. Instead, policy makers, as usual, are obsessed with their external relations and reputations. With no rational approach on how to deal with the post-withdrawal militancy scenario, the scourge of radicalism and terrorism will continue to haunt both Afghanistan and Pakistan even if we assume for a while a successful withdrawal and peaceful handover of authority in Afghanistan.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
An October report by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Clinic claims to have found significant flaws in media reports regarding casualties caused by U.S. drone operations in Pakistan. Three organizations, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Long War Journal and the New America Foundation, maintain databases that collect information on the casualties for each strike and their research is regularly cited in congressional reports and news articles. While the Columbia report laments that these estimates can only "substitute for hard facts and information that ought to be provided by the U.S. government," it proceeds to weigh in on the casualty debate. After a strike by strike comparison of the three databases' 2011 data, Columbia concludes that two of these organizations "significantly undercount the number of civilians killed by drone strikes," while singling out the Bureau as the most accurate and reliable source of information on drone casualties.
The Columbia study is quick to critique the drone data compiled by the New America Foundation and the Long War Journal, yet it devotes negligible attention to potential shortcomings in the Bureau's reporting. The study repeatedly applauds the Bureau's investigative practices, analysis criteria and the breadth of its sources. It offers the most guarded criticism, writing only, "we do not agree with the Bureau's analysis of media sources in all cases." Upon reading Columbia's "Counting Drone Strike Deaths," one is led to conclude that the Bureau's casualty estimates are both methodologically rigorous and empirically sound.
And yet, a careful reading of the separate 65 page dataset, which details the findings of Columbia's exhaustive comparison, reveals numerous instances in which the Columbia researchers reject the Bureau's interpretation of the evidence or dispute the credibility of their sources, criticisms that receive no mention in their widely circulated report.
Columbia only analyzed reports for 2011, but had they continued on with their research, they would have found that these problems pervade the Bureau's reporting on strikes from 2004 through 2012.
Based on this tenuous evidence the Bureau has claimed 45-240 civilian casualties. Taken together, this methodologically flawed reporting accounts for over 25 percent of the 474-884 civilian casualties the Bureau claims died between 2004 and 2012. While it is highly probable that some of these deaths may in fact have been civilians, in the face of so much ambiguity, it would be more prudent to label the deceased as unidentified or unknown. This would provide a more accurate representation of the evidence, and acknowledge that despite the best attempts to gather information, there is still much uncertainty about the outcome of individual strikes and the overall effect of the U.S. drone program.
The trends highlighted above point to three broader methodological flaws in the Bureau's analysis that Columbia researchers fail to highlight. The first is a problem of evidence. The Columbia report suggests that the widest range of sources will provide the most credible evidence, and based on the fact that the Bureau cites the largest body of sources and has the highest casualty figures, its numbers are the most reliable. Beyond the fact that the Bureau is a notable outlier as compared to the other two datasets produced by New America Foundation and The Long War Journal, it is a mistake to privilege quantity of evidence over quality. Pakistan Body Count, South Asia Terrorism Portal and the Long War Journal are secondary sources that rely on reporting from other media outlets and should not count as corroborating sources, yet the Bureau does so. Antiwar.com, sify.com, Prison Planet and the World Socialist Web Site are simply not credible news outlets, yet these are some of the sources that the Bureau is praised for citing.
The second problem is the absence of transparency in investigations of drone strikes carried out by the Bureau's own researchers. The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 13 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 56-64 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties. The strike on January 6, 2010 includes a typical description: "According to the Bureau's researchers five rescuers died, named as Khalid, Matiullah, Kashif, Zaman and Waqar, all belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe." However there is no indication of whom these researchers are or the standards they apply to their reporting.
The same criticisms that the Columbia report levies at unnamed Pakistani government officials discussing drone strikes on the condition of anonymity, could just as easily be aimed at the Bureau's own reporting:
We do not know who the unnamed Pakistani officials are, although observers believe they are Pakistani army officials. What definition these officials use to categorize a person as a militant or civilian is unknown. Nor do we know how the Pakistani Army confirms such deaths or the quality of information it is able to rely on given the limited accessibility of some of the tribal regions to even the Army.
The Bureau's researchers might well be the sort of local journalists or "stringers" the Columbia report is quick to term unreliable. Nor does the Bureau make mention of whom their sources are, when or where they were interviewed, or what was said. If the Bureau wants its findings to be taken seriously by other researchers, then it should provide independent reports of its investigations rather than cursory references in the midst of its dataset.
The third problem is one of interpretation. The Bureau consistently counts references to "local" deaths as civilian casualties, but as the Columbia dataset notes, these descriptors are not synonymous. The media reports are riddled with references to "local militants" and "tribal militants." It stands to reason that a significant number of the militants operating in the tribal regions of Pakistan would live in the area, and thus the mere fact that the deceased are reported as local is not sufficient to establish that they are civilians. And yet, the Bureau consistently claims just that. Even worse, it frequently labels the fatalities as civilians when the media accounts refer to them in neutral terms such as "people" or admits that their identity is unclear.
Furthermore, the Bureau's written methodology provides limited insight into how it makes these interpretations. The methodology makes no mention of how the Bureau treats reports of "local" deaths. Nor does it explain how it deals with conflicting reports. The methodology says that when reports differ it provides a range of total casualties, but it does not explain how the Bureau determines who to count as a civilian. It goes on to state that "where media sources refer only to ‘people' killed... we indicate that civilian casualties may be possible." One would assume they indicate this by way of an asterisk or note, but it would seem that in most instances it reports a range of civilian casualties with a low end of zero and a high end of the total killed. This denotes the uncertainty but potentially inflates the high end of the range of civilian deaths. Moreover, it signals a clear preference for counting unidentified casualties as civilians.
Admittedly, this somewhat esoteric discussion about the veracity of the Bureau's claims versus those of other databases, or the appropriate methodology for counting casualties, risks losing sight of the broader picture. These are not merely numbers; these are people. And no matter which database you reference, civilians are being killed by the hundreds. While this consideration should be paramount, an assessment of the drone program should also take into account those factors that are less quantifiable: the elevated rates of PTSD in areas where drones operate, the dangerous example being set for other states, most notably China and Russia, and the increase in anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan that risks endangering the lives of American citizens.
But as the Columbia study points out, numbers matter. Numbers drive our public discourse. Numbers are how politicians measure outcomes. Numbers are how we make sense of our world. And numbers are vulnerable to manipulation, a distortion that is equally dangerous whether it involves government officials lowballing civilian casualty reports or independent researchers potentially inflating them.
Meg Braun is a Rhodes Scholar and MPhil candidate in International Relations at Oxford, where she is researching the evolution of U.S. drone policy. She was an intern at the New America Foundation during summer 2012, where she worked to revise and update its drone database.
Correction: This post initially stated incorrectly that "The Bureau says it has conducted independent investigations of certain strikes and their database includes 15 strikes where the sole source of information citing civilian deaths is from "the Bureau's own researchers." These uncorroborated claims account for at least 65-73 of the Bureau's reported civilian casualties." The correct numbers are 13 strikes and 56-64 reported civilian casualties.
Event notice: Please join the New America Foundation's National Security Studies Program TODAY, March 5 at 2 p.m. for a conversation with Nasim Zehra, a veteran Pakistani journalist and anchor for Dunya TV (NAF).
Trouble ahead: It is looking increasingly unlikely that the United States and Afghanistan will manage to sign a strategic partnership agreement before the NATO conference on Afghanistan to be held in Chicago in May, as President Hamid Karzai remains firm on his two demands that the United States end night raids and hand over prison facilities to the Afghans immediately (NYT, Guardian, AP). U.S. officials have agreed to move up the prison transfers to six months from now, and Karzai will meet with Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Monday to discuss the agreement, but the atmosphere surrounding the issue is not one of hope.
A U.S. military investigation into the burning of Qurans by NATO troops last month found that the incident was a mistake on the part of five U.S. soldiers who might face a disciplinary review for their actions (AP, NYT, CNN, Guardian, LAT, Post, AFP). Afghan investigators, however, contend that the holy texts were burned intentionally, and the country's top religious council on Friday called for public trials of those responsible (DT, CNN). Afghan army chief Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi said in an interview Sunday that such acts of "negligence" on the part of NATO forces embolden and strengthen the Taliban, and must be avoided in the future (Reuters).
The AP's Robert Burns on Friday examined the blow to the relationship between U.S. and Afghan forces caused by the killing of six U.S. servicemen by rogue Afghan security officers since the beginning of February (AP). And Reuters reports on the possibility that the Quran burning incident will cause the rate of suicide bombings in Afghanistan to increase (Reuters).
Pentagon officials are reportedly thinking about placing U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan under CIA control following the 2014 NATO withdrawal deadline, in order to say that all troops had been withdrawn from the country, as the elite officers would technically become spies (AP). The idea has not yet been presented to the White House or to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Pentagon spokesman George Little categorically denied that any such considerations were taking place.
A suicide bomber attacked the convoy of senior Pakistani politician and former Minister of the Interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao in Charsadda District on Saturday, killing a policeman and injuring six others, but leaving the politician unscathed (ET, AJE, Dawn, AFP, DT, The News). Another suicide attack, this time targeting policemen, wounded five officers late Sunday in central Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (ET, AFP).
Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban, has reportedly demoted his deputy Maulvi Faqir Mohammad at a meeting of Taliban leaders on Sunday, in what may be a sign of growing rifts within the militant group's leadership (BBC, The News). Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Sunday that self-exiled Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti had been running training camps in Afghanistan for several thousand men, who planned to carry out attacks on government paramilitary troop in Balochistan (ET, ET, Dawn). Malik said Afghan president Hamid Karzai helped dismantle the camps and pledged to prevent insurgents from infiltrating Pakistan.
The Pakistan military said Monday that it had successfully test-fired a short-range ballistic missiles capable of being armed with nuclear warheads (AFP). And Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir retired on Saturday, and was replaced by former ambassador to Belgium Jalil Abbas Jilani (ET).
After the ruling Pakistan People's Party made substantial gains in Friday's Senate elections, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Saturday flippantly dismissed his rivals' hopes that the embattled rulers might have to call early elections or even install an interim government (Dawn, ET, AP). Senate elections in Balochistan are being contested after one Member of Parliament, Abdul Qadir Gilani, revealed that the government had promised him funds if he agreed to vote for the PPP candidates (ET, Dawn).
The Posts's Richard Leiby reported Friday on the Pakistani government's proposal last month to ban television shows considered to be "against the national interest," including those that criticize "the organs of the state" or weaken Pakistan's "solidarity as an independent and sovereign country" (Post). The rules are purportedly in response to the public's complaints about shows that invade privacy and embarrass individuals, but many worry they will be used to limit coverage of the unrest and calls for secession in Balochistan.
A coalition of 200 American nongovernmental aid organizations has written a letter to CIA director David Petraeus, blaming the U.S. scheme to use a polio vaccine to get access to Osama bin Laden's Pakistan hideout last year for Pakistan's worsening polio crisis (McClatchy, Guardian). Leading Pakistani health professionals warned at an international convention in Karachi over the weekend that a "brain drain" of Pakistan's most talented doctors is severely weakening Pakistani health care, and that the government's devolution of health care to the provinces was its "biggest mistake" (DT, Dawn).
A fifteen year-old Pakistani boy has helped the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) with its ongoing campaign to block adult websites in the country (ET). With the help of some friends whose names he did not want to reveal, Ghazi Muhammad Abdullah compiled and sent to the PTA a list of 780,000 pornographic websites that he thinks should be blocked.
-- Jennifer Rowland
Allan Tannenbaum-Pool/Getty Images
Though the embattled Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government breathed a sigh of relief after passing what may be called a "pro-democracy" resolution in parliament on the evening of January 16, hours later the country's Supreme Court issued a contempt of court notice to the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for his refusal to reinstate corruption charges filed against President Asif Ali Zardari in a Swiss court.
Many analysts see the political crisis currently wracking Pakistan as a do-or-die moment for its civilian government. However, the country's all-powerful army is also feeling the heat of events this time, mainly due to the visible shift in public opinion against an explicit military intervention in the country's politics.
Despite provocative, albeit well-placed, ‘state-within-the-state' comments by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani about the army and its powerful intelligence arm the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), or Prime Minister Gilani's decision to sack the well-respected Defense Secretary Naeem Khalid Lodhi, the military leadership so far opted to keep its hands off direct intervention, instead opting to voice its displeasure in the media.
Instead, analysts believe, the generals are using their mighty arm behind the scene, by pushing an interventionist Supreme Court not to let the civilian government off the hook.
The first case in question is the murky memo addressed to former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen allegedly asking for help stopping the Pakistani generals from carrying out a coup following the May 2 raid in Abbottabad. The second is the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) introduced by former dictator Pervez Musharraf, which grants amnesty to all political leaders, workers and bureaucrats accused of corruption, embezzlement and misuse of authority between January 1, 1986 and October 12, 1999.
Notwithstanding the media criticism of the civilian government over a host of issues including good governance, the country's poor economic situation, law and order problems in places like Karachi, Pakistan's seething energy crisis and apologetic approach towards militancy, the majority of leading analysts, newspapers and television commentators have come out clearly against extra-constitutional measures and an overt seizure of power.
In his commentary in the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, journalist Muhammad Hanif says the Pakistan army is at least partially responsible for the troubles afflicting the nuclear-armed country and its 180 million people: "Pakistan's army is as corrupt as the politicians from whom it wants to save the country. It's just better at paperwork."
During the past three major coups in 1958 (Gen. Ayub Khan), 1977 (Gen. Zia) and 1999 (Gen. Musharraf), political leaders, civil society and even the majority of media outlets welcomed the change, hoping for a better future for the country. However, there are no such feelings visible this time, not even from the staunchest opponents of the government among politicians, civil society and the media.
Following the Army's prediction of "grievous consequences" in response to Prime Minister Gilani's interview with a Chinese newspaper, one of Pakistan's leading newspapers, Express Tribune, put a key question before its readers about the army's role in the country's politics: "The first question that comes to mind as one reads this is, did the military's actions in 1958, 1977 and 1999 also reflect an "allegiance to State and the Constitution"? Is not a former army chief on record as having said that the Constitution was a mere piece of paper?"
Discussing the same subject, another leading newspaper, Dawn writes: "One thing in particular bears stating: if Pakistan had been a more developed democracy, the authors of the ISPR [Inter-Services Public Relations] statement this week would have been summarily sacked."
Additionally, many journalists in Pakistan seem to be more aware of their critical role in saving democratic institutions this time. In her article in Express Tribune, analyst Nasim Zehra writes: "Had there been an independent electronic media in October 1999 there would have been no coup."
What is different now, though, more than three years after Pakistan's return to democracy, is the role played by the Supreme Court as a perceived advocate of the armed forces. Discussing the recent decision of the Supreme Court questioning the ‘honesty' of Prime Minister Gilani on the basis of Quranic injunctions against being deceitful, a Daily Times columnist Dr. Muhammad Taqi writes: "In a country reeling under the effects of radicalization, the last thing needed is the industrial-strength moral certitude and virtual proselytizing from the bench." In his article entitled "Judicial Hubris," Dr. Taqi states that "it is most unfortunate that the honorable judges have repeatedly resorted to religious rhetoric to establish the case against the NRO beneficiaries."
Another columnist, Kamran Shafi, writing in Express Tribune on the same subject, asks the Supreme Court as why the judicial commissions are silent over the role of intelligence agencies in their failure to track down bin Ladin in garrison town of Abbottabad or the culprits behind the tragic murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad. Shafi continues: "What is of utmost import today; what is a matter of life or death for many Pakistanis; what will determine whether we are a civilized people or a horde of wild brutes is the shamefully non-conclusive report on the brutal and savage beating to death of journalist Saleem Shahzad."
Like several other analysts, Ilyas Khan of the BBC believes that the army is supporting the Supreme Court behind the scene to push the government to the corner. "Instead, the military are thought to prefer to let the Supreme Court use "constitutional" methods to go after the government."
Meanwhile, the Urdu-language newspapers, mostly known for their anti-American and anti-government comments, have generally continued to criticize the government's inefficiency, but have still asked for an end to the crisis in accordance with the tenets laid out in the Constitution of Pakistan.
In its editorial on January 15, just a day after the government introduced a pro-democracy resolution in the parliament the Urdu-language Daily Express praised Pakistan's political parties for struggling to resolve the crisis through democratic means.
Another Urdu-language newspaper, the Daily Mashriq, criticizes the government for its ‘inefficiency' and ‘non-implementation' of the court decisions regarding the NRO, but also opposes the tussle among the state institutions (i.e. the parliament, army and judiciary), arguing that this infighting will have negative effects on the future of democracy.
Commentator and analyst Ayaz Amir, in his article entitle "double standards and hypocrisy" in the Urdu daily Jang, says no one can deny the fact that the present government is inefficient. But, he says, it is time for the opposition to let it complete the remaining one year on its term for the sake of democracy.
The rapid pace of movement on the political front makes predictions impossible, though the most likely scenario will be the government's agreement with the opposition parties, both inside and outside the parliament, to an early election following the voting for Senate, due to take place in March of this year.
While the military is in no position to stage a direct coup for a number of reasons, including opposition from both pro- and anti-government parties alike, it is the Supreme Court of Pakistan that poses the most direct threat to the existing government serving out its current term.
The opposition parties have their own axes to grind. The main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is apparently resisting an overt army action, but will not weep if the government is sacked by the Supreme Court with behind-the-scenes approval from the army.
The reason for allowing this to happen is clear: To stop the PPP from getting a majority in the Senate election due in March and do not allow more time to cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, whose previously downtrodden Tehrik-e-Insaaf is unexpectedly making headway in many cities. Khan's critics believe he enjoys secret support from "the establishment," which means the army and its intelligence agencies.
The people of Pakistan, suffering under price hikes for energy and gasoline, high unemployment, and numerous other problems, would shed no tears if the government were sent packing under pressure from the Supreme Court. However, a direct army intervention is likely to be resisted, mainly because of the army's shattered image following the Musharraf era.
Some sources in the pro-PPP camp say the government would rather to be removed through direct army intervention than by the Supreme Court, just to become a ‘Siasee Shaheed' (political martyr) and garner public sympathy before the next general elections. Hence, political circles close to the PPP leadership may not rule out steps provoking the army -- including seeking the resignation or sacking of the Army and ISI chiefs -- once the party sees clear chances of removal from government through the Supreme Court. One last option for the government, in a bid to avoid the Supreme Court action, is the resignation of Prime Minister Gilani, which could postpone, if not fully avert, the existing crisis -- until the crucial Senate election at least. Prime Minister Gilani is due to appear before the Supreme Court on Thursday, January 19 with regard to the NRO case.
With nothing clear about the future, the only solid element seen on Pakistan's political horizon is the strong resolve shown by the people, media, civil society and the political parties to say "no" to a possible military intervention and ‘yes' to democracy and to the supremacy of the Constitution. What that will mean in reality, though, is anyone's guess.
Daud Khattak is a journalist currently working for the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto-language station Radio Mashaal.
A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images
As Yogi Berrafamously put it, "It's déjà vu all over again." Amid a looming budget standoff,a presidential election cycle in full swing, and the popular dissatisfaction ofboth the left and the right, the United States has arrived -- yet again -- at acritical juncture in its war in Afghanistan, with key decisions being debatedconcerning the post-surge scenario and the prospects of political reconciliationwith various militant groups. The tragedy is that, much like its previousiterations, the current round of the Afghanistan debate in Washington isriddled with a staggering number of mischaracterizations. While the Cold Warproduced a cohort of able Soviet specialists, the decade-long war inAfghanistan has so far failed to produce sufficientregional expertise in the United States (this reasonably comprehensive list, for example,identifies just 107 Afghanistan-watchers in the United States).
Consequently, anumber of questionable assumptions about the Afghan people -- concerning theirattitudes to foreigners, their history, their society, and their values -- gounchallenged. Historicalanalogiesand socioeconomicdata are regularly manipulated by various parties to validate their ownbiases and preconceptions, and readingsof Afghan historyare, when not completely erroneous, unapologeticallyWestern-centric. For example, onecommon view that has gainedcirculation among think-tankers, policymakers, and congressional staffersis that a majority of Afghans are inherently hostile to the United States. Yet this viewpoint is not borne out by polling data, however imperfect. Thelast pollconducted by ABC News, the BBC and, ARD German TV, for example, says that nearlyseven in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S. forces in their country.
Another and perhapsmore damaging misperception is of Afghanistan as the "graveyardof empires": a historically insignificant strategic backwater where greatcivilizations -- inevitably European ones -- ended up mired in ruinous war. Buteven a cursory examination of the region's history makes a mockery of this nowentrenched concept. During his conquests, Alexander of Macedon spent about twoyears solidifyinghis control of what is today Afghanistan and Central Asia, referred to inhis day as Bactria and Sogdiana. In fact, his army chose to reverse its coursein today's Punjab, over 200 miles to modern Afghanistan's east, afterthe Battleof the Hydaspes. The 19th-century British Empire, despitean initial setback, wonsubsequent engagements against the Afghans in its bid to create a bufferzone to British India's northwest. And the defeat of the Soviet military in the1980s was only made possible with American,Pakistani, and Saudi support.
The "graveyard of empires" canard also largely ignores non-Western history. Ancient and medievalAfghanistan was in fact at the heart of a number of major civilizations,including the GreekBactrian states; the KushanEmpire, which was a contemporary of imperial Rome; and, from the 10th to 12th centuries, the Ghaznavidsultanate, whoserulers made regular military forays into the subcontinent. The great MughalEmpire, at its zenith perhaps the most prosperous realm on Earth, had itsfoundations in what is today's Afghanistan, when its progenitor Baburestablished a presence in the region between Kabul and Peshawar. Count, on topof all this, several centuries of sustained Persian rule over the region.
In addition topopular misconceptions of Afghan xenophobia and historical backwardness, argumentsare regularly setforth about theincompatibility of Afghan societywith democracy.Although Afghanistan does have a history of underdeveloped democraticinstitutions, there are many reasons to question this blanket assessment.Definitional problems certainly persist: For many rural Afghans, democracyconnotes unlimited freedoms, rather than responsible and self-determinedgovernance. During the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet forces and their Afghan clientsoften called themselves democrats, further adding to confusion about the termin the minds of many Afghans. At the same time, there are mechanisms -- shuras,jirgas -- that, though hardly Jeffersonian, are analogous to the town hallsthat formed the bedrock of early American democracy. In this year's edition ofthe reasonably reliable Asia Foundation surveyof Afghanistan -- which polled 6,348 Afghans from all 34 provinces -- anoverwhelming 69 percent of Afghans polled say they are satisfied with the waydemocracy works in Afghanistan.
Ethnic politics isanother common source of confusion, with regular calls now heard inWashington for a soft partition of the state, creating a Taliban-dominated "Pashtunistan" separated from a confederation of provinces dominated by ethnicTajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks. Soft partitions, which were also advocatedin the case of Iraq not that long ago by U.S. Vice President JoeBiden, may appear to be easy and seductive solutions to pacifying complexpost-colonial societies overrun by civil war. But among otherproblems, they present a moral quandary, implicitly (thoughunintentionally) opening the door to ethnic cleansing. A cursory look athistory tells us that the partition of mixed political entities has almostalways been accompanied or preceded by ethnic cleansing or immense sectarianviolence: Consider India, Palestine, Bosnia, or Cyprus. Afghanistan'spopulation is heterogeneous, and given the commitment to establishing apluralistic and democratic state, calls for the country's de facto or de jurepartition appear both irresponsible and impractical.
Just as there areseveral peculiar narratives about Afghan society and history in steadycirculation, thereis also growing skepticism aboutthe United States' abilityto prosecute theAfghanistan war, with enormousdivergences between official U.S. and Afghanperspectives. One reason often cited for limiting the United States'involvement is the financial burden that the Afghanistan war represents in an era ofausterity. But according to the Congressional ResearchService, the war in Afghanistan will cost the United States an estimated$114 billion this year, a mere 3 percent of the federal budget, and a muchsmaller fraction of the American economy. This appears to be a small investmentrelative to the importance to American foreign policy and national security ofgetting Afghanistan right.
Somecommentators make theargument that the Afghanistan war is a sideshow to other forms of securitycompetition, particularly in East Asia -- that, in essence, the continued U.S.involvement in Afghanistan distracts from looming threats to U.S. securityposed by other great powers such as China. This is questionable for at leasttwo reasons. Firstly, other major powers -- including China, India, Russia, andIran, all of whom see Afghanistan as part of their extended neighborhoods -- areclosely watching developments affecting the U.S. position there. Americansuccess or failure will resonate in Moscow and Beijing, as well as New Delhiand Tehran. Secondly, the United States is not confronted with a binary choicebetween prosecuting the Afghanistan war and retaining a military presence againstmajor state threats. The United States has faced multiple security challengesbefore; the resources required to tackle them are quite different from oneanother; and U.S. military resources dedicated to securing Europe and theAsia-Pacific region have been steadilydeclining regardlessof investments in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is widely believed today inWashington that the Taliban enjoy popularpublic support, particularly among the ethnic Pashtun population ofAfghanistan. If true, it is certainly not reinforced by extant survey data. Noris the Afghan public weary of the United States' intensified involvement. Accordingto the Asia Foundation survey, aplurality of Afghans (46 percent) believes that the country is headed in the rightdirection, compared with 35 percent who believe otherwise. What is even moreencouraging, only 11 percent of Afghans have a lot of sympathy for armed opposition groups,half the proportion who expressed similar sentiments two years ago. In that sameperiod, those who have "no sympathy at all" for the Taliban have almost doubledto 64 percent of the population. Despite frustrations with the ability of the currentgovernment to deliver, Afghans express optimism about democracy as a principle,associating it most closely with peace and freedom. The United States, suchpolls clearly reveal, should not fool itself with undue pessimism. Its effortsare gradually beginning to bear fruit.
Currently,Afghanistan's fledgling state, though challenged frequently by security, governance,and development problems, has an elected government and an internationalpresence to contribute to the work of nation-building. Despite the ongoinginsurgency, widespread corruption, and the daily risk of arbitrary orextrajudicial killing, the Afghan people continue to strive for normalcy intheir day-to-day lives and hope for peace and prosperity in the future. Withthat in mind, the pontification of a few pundits and the exigencies ofnear-term politics should not lead to poor or rash decision-making. A balancedview of Afghan public opinion, history, culture, and politics -- and, just asimportantly, of the United States' ability to shape these factors in advancingits national security interests -- is crucial as Washington debates a decisionthat will have important regional and international implications for decades tocome.
JavidAhmad, a native of Kabul, is program coordinator and Dhruva Jaishankar is program officer with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund of the UnitedStates in Washington, D.C. The views reflected here are their own.
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On Monday, Germany will play host to the second Bonn international conference, chaired by Afghanistan and attended by more than 100 delegations. The conference's opening comes at a time when, once again, tensions are high between Washington, Islamabad and Kabul over a U.S. airstrike along the Mohmand agency's Salala mountain rangelast Saturday, which claimed the lives of 24 Pakistani soldiers. As a result, Pakistan says it is downgrading its presence at Bonn, opting to send its ambassador in Berlin in place of the Foreign Minister.
The tenth anniversary sequel to the first Bonn conference will attempt to chart a new decade-long (2014-2024) roadmap for engagement between Afghanistan and the world community, as many Afghans are gripped by a sense of uncertainty mixed with frustration, baffled that a decade of staggering investment in their country has yielded such precarious results in areas such as security, political cohesiveness, economic sustainability and neighborly relations.
TheGhost of Bonn
Bonn I has undergone waves of revisionism and debate in the 10 years since it was held, especially among those who claim that it was not inclusive enough, and should have incorporated the then-fleeing Taliban and some of its militant fellow-travelers. But what Bonn I actually lacked -- not unlike the recent Istanbul conference on regional cooperation -- was a binding political accord with an enforcement mechanism that would have put an end to regional proxy interferences in Afghanistan, thus ensuring the shutdown of cross-border sanctuaries once and for all. That was probably easier to attain in 2001, when the Taliban were on the run and regional conditions more conducive to a dismantling of militant support structures.
It is a myth that Bonn I would have been able to cobble together a near-perfect and fair representation of a war-torn society under prevailing conditions on the ground in December 2001. The objective since then has been to create a political tent inclusive enough to accommodate all political forces, including the armed opposition groups. However, the militants have refused thus far to be part of such a structure.
Hence, the focus of any credible political outreach or reconciliation initiative coming out of Bonn II should be on encouraging the armed opposition to join a participatory and pluralistic peace-building structure leading to democratic governance, tightening the parameters for a just settlement that would leave no wiggle room for forces that adhere to violence.
Furthermore, Bonn I's weakest points were less about its benchmarks (the source of much discussion among Afghans over the years) and more about the short delivery timelines of tangible results and reforms prescribed in an environment void of any coherent studies on damage and needs assessment in postwar Afghanistan. This rushed feeling was compounded by a lack of strategic resolve to provide appropriate funding during the first five years of the mission in order to lay the foundational elements to fix a failed state. In a country where agriculture and water form vital arteries of the economy and communal life, it took both Afghan and foreign decision-makers at least six years to realize that those two sectors required priority attention. It took us even longer to consider indigenous energy generation as an essential element of growth. Add to that list weak governance, outdated management practices, burgeoning parallel governance and economic structures, a wasteful contracting regime, a decaying system of patronage and impunity for powerful figures, and the inability to enforce basic laws. These fault lines of the past 10 years should no longer be tolerated by Afghans and those who invest in their future.
The promise of Bonn II
While the Bonn I accords generated a blueprint for a post-Taliban political process, Bonn II, which is not billed as a pledging conference, will represent a moment of political reckoning as the baton passes from transitional work to "transformational responsibilities" in the words of conference organizers. Bonn II aims to restore Afghan sovereignty by 2014, when international forces are scheduled to withdraw. It is also seen as a reality-check moment for all sides concerned, as major donors are expected to commit to continue to stand by Afghans during the upcomingdecade. In other words, to shift the focus from military to civilian work and agree to incur new costs to keep the country's economy and its nascent institutions afloat, especially by providing training and mentoring in securityand governance fields especially, all at a fraction of the colossal expenditures (estimated on the civilian side alone to be more than $50 billion) borne between 2001-2014. The initial yearly financial outlay for the Afghan government beyond 2014 is estimated by Afghan officials to be approximately $8 billion for security and $5 billion for development work. According to a recent World Bank study, unless the international community steps in, aid-reliant Afghanistan will face a yearly budget deficit of $7 billion from 2014 through 2021.
In light of the 2014 drawdown, separate strategic agreements between Afghanistan and members of the international community can also benefit the Bonn process by creating agreements and mechanisms through which Afghanistan will adhere to principles of democratic governance, institution building, and access to economic opportunity, service delivery and resolving outstanding issues on its peripheral flank. It is becoming urgently necessary for Afghans to agree on a legitimate domestic mechanism to discuss the colonial legacy of the Durand Line, and engage Afghanistan's neighbors on key issues,such as the sharing and management of water resources under international law.
Good news, bad news
In my discussions with officials and participants in the new Bonn process, two majorthemes will emerge that Afghans will view favorably:
However, there is also bad news:
Pakistan's boycott of the Bonn conference will not impact the political commitment to help Afghanistan's transformation phase over the next decade. It will, however, be seen as a missed opportunity for Pakistan -- and all concerned parties -- to not be part of important deliberations on issues concerning regional cooperation, terrorism and radicalism, and to explore peace-building opportunities, as well as a chance for Pakistan to show that it wishes to be a productive regional partner, rather than an instigator. Independent views on the subject were best reflected in a sobering editorial published this week in Pakistan's Daily Times that said:
Whilst braving the ‘war on terror' on the domestic front, we [Pakistanis] have been waging a proxy war in Afghanistan for so-called strategic depth. When taking such risks, incidents such as the one on Saturday are likely. Our shock and response at what is essentially the result of our double game is overcooked. It is time we wage this war in a manner that reduces the fatalities on our side and decreases the potential of having our ‘sovereignty' violated, by abandoning the proxy war in Afghanistan.
Bonn I and Bonn II are obviously quite different conferences, convened for different reasons under different circumstances; history will judge both based on the deliberations and outcomes, and the way we think about them will undoubtedly change and shift over time. But what will not change is that fact that they were convened because there was a dire need to jump-start efforts to stabilize Afghanistan at critical times, and in the case of Monday's conference, to absorb the shock of another withdrawal and provide continuity for the vital mission of trying to bring a semblance of order to South Asia's vital crossroads.
Omar Samad is the former Ambassador of Afghanistan to France (2009-2011), Canada (2004-2009) and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2001-2004). He worked as CNN's onsite commentator during Bonn I.
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