Grow up Guys

Cross Post from Daily The Dawn

December 10, 2009

By Cyril Almeida

Afghanistan is so last week. What with the NRO hearings, suicide bombings, drone strikes, talk of the Quetta shura and Al Qaida’s safe havens there really is too much going on for anyone to think about Afghanistan right now.

In any case, so much has been written and said about Afghanistan post-Obama’s speech that it is difficult to imagine anything new or original being added to the debate.

Except, having digested much of what has been talked about here in Pakistan, there is a nagging feeling that the state has missed yet another chance. A chance if not for a fresh start, then to be creative or even add something positive to the mix.

Like a churlish parent obsessed with the exercise of antediluvian rights over his child, the security establishment here continues to treat Afghanistan as its rightful ward that it should be allowed to do as it pleases with. Afghanistan is ours and the rest of the world better not forget that, that’s the message we send.

Here’s what the security establishment has told the Americans about their surge in Afghanistan. One, assure us that the military operations in the south, and even the east, of Afghanistan will not cause militants to start pouring across the border into Pakistan.

Two, fashion a state structure and institutions in Afghanistan that reflect the fact that the Pakhtuns are a majority, or close to one. (Never mind that our love for the Pakhtuns extends not to all Pakhtuns, especially the ones who make irredentist claims to Fata and parts of the NWFP and Balochistan. We only like the Afghan Pakhtuns who want to stay on their side of the border.)

Three, get India out of Afghanistan — they have no business there and we really can’t get down to the business of promoting regional security if they are trying to encircle us. And that’s pretty much it.

To understand the poverty of our security establishment’s thinking, look at what some of the other countries are doing.

Start with India. This from The Wall Street Journal in August: ‘From wells and toilets to power plants and satellite transmitters, India is seeding Afghanistan with a vast array of projects. The $1.2bn in pledged assistance includes projects both vital to Afghanistan’s economy, such as a completed road link to Iran’s border, and symbolic of its democratic aspirations, such as the construction of a new parliament building in Kabul. The Indian government is also paying to bring scores of bureaucrats to India, as it cultivates a new generation of Afghan officialdom.’

Turn next to Iran. This from a March 2009 backgrounder by the Council of Foreign Relations: ‘Iranian radio broadcasts fill the airwaves, Iran-funded road and building projects are under way, a new teacher training centre is planned for Kabul, and a Herat–Khaf rail link (Pajhwok) is being constructed to connect Afghanistan and Iran by train. Iran has also offered humanitarian aid to Kabul in the form of fuel and transport — as much as $500m since 2001, according to the US Congressional Research Service.’

Consider China. From a report in The Telegraph, UK, last month: ‘China’s growing influence in the Afghan economy has been hailed by [Afghanistan’s] mining minister, who has revealed that projects acquired to feed Beijing’s industrial base will triple government revenues within five years…. The Chinese firm developing Aynak [copper deposits near Kabul] plans to employ 20,000 Afghan workers.’

And let’s not even touch the vast amount of American aid that is being poured into Afghanistan. Though, if you’re willing to listen, anyone in the security establishment here will pipe up with the fact that for every $30 America spends in Afghanistan, it spends $1 here.

I get it. We are a poor country, we don’t have an open cheque book, historical and cultural ties mean we don’t have to ‘buy’ influence in Afghanistan like others do, etc. But when was the last time you heard about Pakistan doing anything to help out ordinary Afghans — the same ones we claim to care so much about, or at least the Pakhtuns among them?

Where are the schools we have built, the roads we have fixed, the policemen we have trained, the farmers we have given seeds to, the doctors we have trained, the micro-businesses we have funded, the … you get the idea.

I’m sure if I picked up a phone and called the Foreign Office or the ISPR, they may be able to tell me the positive things we may be doing in Afghanistan — but whatever that positive stuff, it sure isn’t easy to find in the media, online, at meetings or conferences.

In fact, the WSJ article quoted earlier also noted tartly: ‘In terms of pledged donations through 2013, India now ranks fifth behind the US, UK, Japan and Canada, according to the Afghanistan government. Pakistan doesn’t rank in the top 10.’

Elsewhere, too, our record has been drab and uninspiring, grim even.

Politically, all we seem to do is whinge and carp and complain. Afghanistan is ours, ours, ours and you guys — the outsiders — have screwed up what could have been a good thing. You arrogant Americans shut out the Taliban at the Bonn conference, you foolish Britons refused to hand the Taliban a few token provinces and ministries in return for becoming a part of the Afghan government later.

Why can’t we show some initiative instead? Why not call for a ministerial summit in Islamabad of the six-plus-two group? Hey, guys, here’s what we think and here’s a road map that we can lead on. And if the military guys don’t trust the civilians here, why not drop the cloak-and-dagger stuff and all those ‘secret’ meetings with top American officials?

Call all the big military players over to GHQ for a meeting and hold a press conference later — see, we aren’t as diabolical or stubborn as the world thinks, we’ve got ideas and we’re willing to listen and engage.

Again, I get it. All that the security establishment sees and talks about isn’t made up; there are many real threats, few obvious opportunities and little room to manoeuvre in the regional context. But if we want to play with the big boys, we need to realise that the carrots can’t all be theirs and the sticks ours.

For sure, the big boys have to take us seriously because of our political and military position in the region. But they will never want to take us seriously if all we do is curl up sullenly in the foetal position and lash out at others until we get our way in ‘our’ Afghanistan.

13 Comments

Filed under Afghanistan, Army, Democracy, Economy, India, Iran, Islam, Islamabad, Pakistan, quetta, Taliban, Terrorism, USA, war, War On Terror

13 responses to “Grow up Guys

  1. I know we could have played a more constrctive role in Afghanistan, not just now but also in the past, however at this juncture when we have more immediate and pressing problems of our own, as we have to get our own house in order, than to do something of value for the Afghans in Afghanistan.

    We do not have the luxury of doing much, good or bad, in Afghanistan right now as these other countries do, which, I must remind everyone is not charity work either, they have their own vested interests in Afghanistan.

    I would think that just hosting almost 2 million of them as our ‘guests’ would earn us some goodwill right?

    They are the only refugees in the world who are free to go about, buy property, land and own businesses, especially in the NWFP but also all over Pakistan. Surely that must count for something?

  2. vajra

    @Musafir

    Sorry, with so many interesting threads and the rapid onset of old age, I keep losing track: are we playing MIBTY or NIGYYSOB? The answer to your question depends….

  3. Milind Kher

    The most important thing to do, IMO, is for Pakistan to get its own house in order before looking elsewhere.

    That would be equally valid for India.

  4. Maha Lingum

    @vajra

    Sorry, if you are indian you will not be able to even qualify for MIBTY.

    If you are winning the NIGYYSOB play today, tomorrow we will be winning it against you.

  5. vajra

    @Maha Lingum

    What a lovely nick! Sums up so many things, all in one phrase, Mr. Lingum; I assume, of course, that the reference to your orthodontal structure also offers us a clue to your predilections.

    Do we take it that by default, the game is NIGYYSOB? Good, now we can get on.

    By the way, if you are a regular fan of fiverupees.blog.com, you may get some additional valuable input and insight.

  6. ved

    I don’t think, in reality any country can boast off of only charity and no hidden ambition, if it is dolling out its precious forex and taxpayers hard earned money as a donation

    Every country has its own agenda to follow. India is also precisely doing that, if you say it charity I’m sorry to say you are naive. In real sense India doesn’t want an anti-India government at Kabul, along with its strained relations with Pakistan.

    But it is also true that India has a long historical ties and had shared borders with Afghanistan for most of the times in history except for last 62 years, until Pakistan became reality.

    India has faced all but one aggressors from North West (British started from south). Still it is facing risk from that direction or at least it thinks likewise. Therefore it is quite natural to neutralize that risk.

    So in my opinion, India is precisely doing that by investing in Afghanistan, and in doing so it is investing in its own security, Insuring its own citizens life, and investing in the better future of Afghanistan’s generation-in-next, so that to have better ties in future.

    Pakistan should not worry, its geographical location, its political influence, its military power makes her indispensable. But it should be used for positive influence on Afghanistan, not as strategy against its enemies.

    But….I wonder!, Had India and Pakistan have a closer relations, then also India would have been so much interested and invested in Afghanistan????, any answer?

  7. Milind Kher

    India has to protect its interests, and therefore it is imperative to have a friendly government in Kabul.
    However, that does not mean that it is fomenting unrest in Pakistan from there as many Pakistanis assume.

  8. mohammad

    I think pakistanis can learn a thing or two from iranians, not only they understand ungrateful afghan psyche but know how to treat them accordingly. In pakistan afghans are not only free to own properties but to sell contrabands from heroin to machine guns, and surely afghans are the only refugees in the world who can buy national ID cards with 4000 rupees per head. These god sent refugee brothers have monopoly over cloth trading and merchandising, with one of the most efficient courier enterprise in pakistan, one can get anything from narcotics to rocket launcher any time any where in the pakistan,credit to our fab guests . One wonders when our establishment will understand the value of good governance and control our guests shenanigans ? It is more important for pakistanis to repatriate our guests to their country than poking our collective nose in others business.

  9. Milind Kher

    @Mohammad,

    You are right. The Afghan refugees will vitiate the atmosphere beyond imagination. There is a limit as to how much the army can take on. Even now, there does not really seem to be much success..

  10. bushra naqi

    It is pathetic that we still keep seeking strategic depth in afghanistan with a covetous eye. This policy has only damaged us repeatedly and never proved beneficial. We tend to still act as if we alone, exclusive of other countries, have a legitimate right to this country. The afghans have never considered us an ally and neither are they sympathetic to us in any way.

    The imperative need of the hour is absolute neutrality with afghanistan. The refugees should all be repatriated, if it is not already too late for they are by now well entrenched in our society, after having acquired legal status.

    After the military operation ends and acheives a measure of success, the border with Afghanistan should be sealed and mined and made inaccessible the way pak-india border was closed; this will ensure a prevention of another influx of afghans infiltrating our borders, even if it means severing emotional ties for the tribes on both sides. This emotional dissection must be acheived. It will certainly not be greater than the emotional trauma experienced by muslims and hindus at the time of partition.

    This can only be acheived with a concerted effort and will which has been lacking uptil now.

  11. ved

    @Bushra

    I agree with you, border has to be closed.

    Moreover a surgical operation has to be carried out where Afghanistan-Pakistan border to be clearly demarcated, differentiated and closed out.

    Otherwise some time in the future they will demand your territory of NWFP, FATA and Vaziristan separated from Pakistan or merger with Afghanistan. Because as you know people of the both side of Durand line belongs to same tribes i.e Pakhtun.

    Policy of appeasement by Military and Politicians to rough elements of these tribes has to be stopped completely. Pooh poohing to these elements will never help. You should know clearly what is their agenda, and what are the things you have to do to safeguard your territory, your people’s interest, your demography.

    Be realistic in your approach. They may be your brethren, but these brethren in arms should also think likewise.

  12. Milind Kher

    Indeed, as many readers have observed, sending the Afghan refugees back is of prime importance. Else, they very well could land up demanding Pakhtunistan.

    If right wingers continue to encourage the refugee influx, this could well beecome a reality.

  13. rex minor

    The Brits defined a line which they were unable to cross with their entire British Indian force and obtained the agreement of almost all, but waziris) to construct and use the road which connected their so called military cantonments in return for a sizeable sum to be paid to the affected tribes on a quarterly basis. They stayed put for around 100 odd years or so, whereas, they stayed in India for almost 200 odd years. The line in question is called durand line recognised only by Brits. and as of this day not recognised by Afghanistan. Pakistan is a great country, allowing immigrants from the neighbouring India simply on the basis of religion similarity, but of different cultures. to enter and become a regular resident. They even gave them ruling positions and continue to follow this line. In fact I recently read in a paper that a certain family from Africa decided to sttle down in Karachi, simply on the basis that their forefathers were from Karachi. What a farce of the greatest magnitude. I guess they would even allow AlCapone 2 to come over and become the President of Pakistan, if he was to declare that his Kenyan father’s ancestors were also from Karachi. On the other side Mr Mohammad is talking about refugees and guests from Afghanistan. They are not foreigners Sir but the dwellers of the land and they do not need Pakistan ID cards. The British citizens do not need an ID card or even a Passport to enter their country, similarly the Pushtoons do not need any papers to enter into Afghanistan or so called Pakistan. The Pushtoons without papers usually travel to Afghanistan and then to their homes. I do not mean to show disrespect by stating so called Pakistan, but simply to emphasise that the Pushtoons tribal people do not accept Pakistan’s Govt.’s jurisdiction over their territory. This is no different than Pakistan borders with India in the Kashmir valley, also not recognised by India. As a matter of fact Pakistan has indeed offered to make a wall along the durand line with Afghanistan to stop the uncontrolled cross border traffic but was promptly rejected by Mr Karzai as well as the US administration. So there we are even after sixty years and the loss of sweet Bengal Pakistan does not have recognised borders with its two neighbors. The Iranians are also beavering away with not very friendly intentions about their Baluchi border? And if Pakistan were to declare that it is no longer an Islamic State, there would be no reason to prevent the non muslim entry into the country on the basis of ancesstoral connections. Have a nice day!