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Volume 1, No. 7 - December 2001

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Afghanistan: Looking Beyond the End Game Printer-Friendly Page


Afghanistan: Looking Beyond the End Game
Subodh Atal, Lalit Koul

As the end game appears closer in the campaign in Afghanistan, and the noose around the Taliban and Al Qaida leadership tightens, it is time to look ahead. It will be tempting for the international anti-terror coalition to rest on its laurels once Mullah Omar, Bin Laden, and Al Zawahiri have been captured or neutralized. While the US has talked about a “second phase” of the anti-terror campaign, it is unlikely to go after the deepest roots of Islamic terror in Pakistan. On the contrary, a second “phase” is likely to include attacks on Somalia and Iraq, two popular villains during the 1990s.

Pakistan’s military and its notorious intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were instrumental in creating and sustaining the Taliban over the last several years. The ISI collaborated extensively with Bin Laden’s Al Qaida group. This collaboration included using Al Qaida’s Afghan terrorist camps to train Pakistani fighters headed to India’s Jammu and Kashmir state. In return, the ISI provided wide-ranging support in the form of logistics and Pakistani financial networks for Al Qaida’s global aims. It was this synergistic relationship between the ISI and Al Qaida that helped each in its goals. At many points in this relationship, both these sets of goals converged.

Why did the two countries most seriously threatened by the ISI-Al Qaida nexus fail to act against this menace for the past several years? In the case of India, it was intimidation by Pakistan’s frequent nuclear threats. Pakistan is by no means a weak military nation, and the amount of time it would take to militarily defeat it and neutralize its terrorist centers would give it ample opportunity to use its nuclear arsenal against India.

In the case of the United States, the reasons were different. Despite mounting evidence after the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the embassy bombings and the USS Cole attack, it ignored the signs that Al Qaida could carry out major operations on US soil. Even after the September 11 attacks, when the US turned its guns against Afghanistan, nuclear-armed Pakistan was spared despite reports of links between ISI chief Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed and one of the financiers of the WTC attacks.

Continuation of such a strategy will keep Pakistan’s extremist forces alive. Pakistani nuclear weapons, as well as its considerable military strength, are only a coup away from falling into the hands of dangerous elements that will have less hesitancy to use them. No amount of US aid has changed Pakistani behavior in the past, and a new dose of a billion dollars can not be expected to change history.

On the Afghanistan side, the myriad inter-tribal and ethnic conflicts promise little respite from the last two decades of hostilities and the country’s perpetuation as a destabilizing force. Alliances are ephemeral, as they are in Pakistan, and the groups currently collaborating with the US are not guaranteed to keep their promises in the future.

Thus continuation of the status quo in Pakistan and the assumptions about a peaceful and stable prognosis for Afghanistan are recipes for further failures and continuing threat to the international community. It is imperative that the world realizes the dangers that will persist in the region after the Taliban and Al Qaida are gone, and explore more radical options.

One option would be for the United States to give a green signal to India for carrying out its long-awaited strikes against Pakistani terrorist centers. This strategy will involve close cooperation between India, the United States and possibly Israel, in locating and neutralizing Pakistani nuclear weapons. Israel has long eyed such an operation due to fears that these nuclear weapons could find their way into Palestinian or other Arab hands.

Once the Pakistani nuclear arsenal has been dismantled, its terrorist centers closed, and its military weakened, the doors to stabilizing the region would be thrown wide open. The next steps would be equally challenging in putting together a framework for a long-term solution. With hopes of wresting Kashmir finally dashed, and its grandiose Islamic vision destroyed along with the Taliban and the Al Qaida, the unifying force of Pakistan will be considerably weakened, leaving little in common among its provinces. Provinces such as Sindh already are at loggerheads with Punjab.

The international community will then need to step in as it did in Yugoslavia in 1999-2000, and force a breakup of the country into Sindh and Punjab, with the North-Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan joining up with Afghanistan’s southern Pashtun regions. Afghanistan’s northern areas would be divided up among its ethnic and tribal constituencies. Pakistan-controlled Kashmir would return to India.

Such a framework would forever sap the potential of extremist export from the Pakistan-Afghanistan locus. Some extremist elements would be expected to persist and concentrate in the putative state comprising Pakistan’s western provinces and Afghanistan’s southern Pashtun regions. However, the newly independent regions of Sindh and Punjab, which have cultural commonalities with democratic India, will become buffer states that will filter out extremism before it reaches India and elsewhere. Likewise, the separate northern regions of Afghanistan ruled independently by Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras will hem in extremist forces from the west.

The removal of nuclear weapons and terrorism centers, combined with the breakup and weakening of military strength of Islamic Pakistan, will lay the groundwork for the end of the Islamic insurgency and a quick return to peace in Kashmir. This scenario will also result in the complete drying up of the swamps of South Asia that feed the global terrorist network, which will then become easier to tackle.

Such a framework is doubtless daunting and revolutionary in concept. However the alternative consists of easier yet piecemeal and partial campaigns that will perpetuate global terrorism and breed future Bin Ladens. The international community has a tough decision to make.

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