The latest report by STRATFOR shed light on the fast changing realities within the region. Perhaps the extension of Army Chief’s tenure can also be located in this matrix of global and regional power relations and agenda[s] ahead.
July 23, 2010 | 0309 GMT
Every now and then multiple developments related to a single issue transpire in one day. Thursday was such a day; the issue was U.S.-led Western efforts to contain the increasingly fierce jihadist insurgency in Afghanistan. It began with an extraordinary statement from one of two official Taliban spokespersons.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who on any given day announces alleged Taliban successes on the battlefield, came out and said the Afghan Taliban were fighting for the independence of their country and did not pose a threat to anyone except foreign forces present in Afghanistan. He said, “We want to live as part of society in the world. We are not a threat to a person or a country. We are like an oppressed person, whose house was attacked by thieves and he is compelled to defend his house.” Ahmadi went on to say that if the Western forces really wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan, “then the Taliban will not create problems for you,” but instead “will help you in the process of withdrawal.”
What makes this statement significant is that this is precisely the assurance the United States and its allies are seeking in order to be able to reach a political settlement with the insurgents and exit the country as quickly as possible. Indeed, the strategy of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has been to make sure that it can divide the Afghan Taliban — who seek to regain the power they lost in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 — from the al Qaeda-led jihadists who have a global agenda. Of course this separation is easier said than done.
This is not to say that it is completely impossible. If the nationalist jihadist forces can be divided from the transnational ones, then it’s going to be a multi-year project, one that requires that Pakistan — the one player in the region that can provide the assistance needed to accomplish this task — to cooperate with the United States. For the Pakistanis, this is the best news they have heard since the jihadist war began almost nine years ago.
“Such a strategy places Islamabad back where it used to be, which is a matter of great trepidation for New Delhi.”
Pakistan lost its influence in Afghanistan to India after the fall of the Taliban regime and is eager to reverse the situation as much as possible. But Islamabad also wants Washington to recognize that it has a legitimate role to play in the shaping of a post-American Afghanistan. This is something the United States has agreed to, which would explain Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks earlier this week in which she offered cautious support for negotiations with Pakistan-based insurgent entities such as the Haqqani network, which Washington continues to lump into the category of irreconcilable Taliban given its ties to al Qaeda.
In essence, such a strategy places Islamabad back where it used to be, which is a matter of great trepidation for New Delhi. India fears that the influence it has built up in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban is waning and that the Pakistanis could once again be in a position to back anti-India Islamist militants.
It is thus no coincidence that in recent days senior Indian government officials have for the first time accused the directorate of Pakistan’s foreign intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of having been officially involved in the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai –- something New Delhi had thus far refrained from saying. The United States, which needs to restore the balance of power between the two South Asian rivals (which had broken down due to the U.S.-jihadist war), must secure Pakistani cooperation and placate India. For this reason both U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan & Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen are in New Delhi.
The two senior American officials have been trying hard to convince India that the United States’ need to cooperate with Pakistan does not endanger Indian interests. Holbrooke spoke of India’s role in a future Afghanistan. Mullen acknowledged that there were problems with the ISI’s relations to Islamist militant outfits, but said Washington had no choice but to “stay engaged” with the intelligence service.
This is not very reassuring to the Indians, which is why they have to seek out other options. India has been trying to re-align with Iran and Russia on Afghanistan in an effort to counter Pakistan and the return of the Taliban. Just today there were reports that Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will travel next week to Moscow, where she will hold talks at the Kremlin on the political settlement in Afghanistan.
At a time when the United States has no shortage of Afghanistan-related problems, it doesn’t need a re-emerging Moscow-Tehran-New Delhi axis to further complicate matters. But there is not much the Americans can do about it, so for now they will concentrate on working with the Pakistanis. This is one area where things seem to be going well, especially with the news today that Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq P. Kayani, who was due to retire in November, was given a three-year extension by the government.
Kayani has played a leading role in efforts to improve the political and security circumstances in Pakistan as well as bilateral relations with the United States, especially in the context of Afghanistan. The shift in the Pakistani attitude toward taking an aggressive stance against jihadists within its borders is a very nascent development and requires continuity of leadership, especially when it is not clear that a new army chief would necessarily pursue the current policy with the same vigor. This is one of those situations where individuals — at least in the short term — do matter in geopolitics.
In the long run, however, the United States will need to deal with a number of issues before an exit strategy from Afghanistan is realized. Pakistan and its historic rivalry with India is the biggest one. But then there is also Iran, with whom the United States has had three decades of hostile relations and is struggling with on Iraq and the nuclear issue