Among some of the most reported revelations to emerge from last week’s Wikileak classified document media feeding frenzy were allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency have been collaborating with the Taliban.
For those who have closely covered the conflict in Afghanistan, this accusation is nothing new. For years now the Hamid Karzai regime has been blaming all of Afghanistan’s woes on Pakistani interference.
As the insurgency has steadily strengthened and the security situation eroded, those international strategists responsible for directing the war effort have been quick to echo Karzai and point their own finger of blame across the Pakistani border. This is far easier than to admit that they themselves mistakenly plunged the coalition forces into an unwinnable conflict.
Following the WikiLeaks revelations, British Prime Minister David Cameron took the opportunity to threaten Pakistan. “We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways and it is able in any way to promote the export of terror.”
It may sound like tough talk but when you factor in that the leaked documents were anywhere from seven months to four years out of date and, although just made public, had already been circulated to senior officials, Cameron’s statement was simply posturing to placate the masses.
Keen followers of the Afghanistan conflict will recall that up until the recent surge of U.S. troops, the Colonel Blimp commentators in Canada were constantly blaming our NATO allies for their failure to provide sufficient resources to ensure victory. However, now that NATO’s combined troop strength is over 150,000 soldiers deployed, that argument is no longer valid- and the violence continues to spiral out of control.
Another early excuse invoked to explain NATO’s failure to defeat the Taliban was that the insurgents were able to slip across the porous border into neighbouring Pakistan.
“Close the border” became the battle cry of the armchair generals. However, once the spotlight war focused on the border itself it soon became clear that this would be no easy task.
The dividing line between Afghanistan and Pakistan was drawn arbitrarily on a map by British diplomat Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893. The intent was to delineate the British and Russian spheres of interest in Central Asia. It is a topographically convenient foothill boundary, which indiscriminately divided the Pashtun tribes living on either side of it. The defiant Pashtun have never accepted the border and the actual shape of the boundary has long been a subject of heated debate between the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments.
When the question of closing the border revealed itself to be yet another complex and convoluted challenge, the finger of blame swung back to the simplistic notion of blaming Pakistan in general and the ISI secret service in particular.
First of all, it is not difficult to make a historical link between the ISI and Afghan Islamic fundamentalist fighters. When they were striving to destabilize the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the CIA had happily used Pakistani’s ISI to act as its conduit to arm and equip the Afghan mujahedeen.
The Americans demonstrated a similar level of hypocrisy when they demonised Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for using chemical weapons, which they sold to him, against his own Kurdish rebels. But I digress.
There is no question that Pakistan has serious internal political, economic and security challenges of its own. That instability has only been exacerbated over the past decade by major vacillations in U.S. foreign policy.
When General Pervez Musharaf seized power in a military coup in 1999, President Bill Clinton’s administration decried this reversal of democracy in Pakistan and actively supported the opposition. Post 9/11, George Bush saw in Musharaf a strong man and a U.S. ally in the war against terror.
By 2007, public outcry forced Musharaf to rescind his Presidential power and agree to elections. The dramatic assassination of prime ministerial candidate Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 plunged Pakistan into political chaos once again.
Since the elections in 2008, Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and son Bilawal Zardari Bhutto have shared the leadership of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. This arrangement has returned Pakistan to what was described by Musharaf himself as a “sham democracy” in a string of “failed corrupt governments.”
Despite popular claims from Western leaders that Pakistan has been “looking both ways” in this conflict, their armed forces have fought a number of major offensives against the Pashtun border tribes. In clashes to eliminate Taliban strongholds and keep open vital NATO supply routes, Pakistan security forces have lost 3,117 killed and 6,500 wounded since September 2001. The terror tactics employed by the Taliban in revenge attacks have killed an estimated 7,600 civilians throughout Pakistan.
Since 2004, the Pakistan government has negotiated a total of four separate armistices with the Taliban, with each successive ceasefire terminating in renewed violence. While it may be easy for NATO coalition countries to demand more from Pakistan, one has to keep in mind that we are sending our wellequipped expeditionary forces thousands of miles from our homes to engage the Taliban. In 2011 or shortly thereafter, most NATO troops will be leaving Afghanistan.
Whatever happens between now and then Pakistan doesn’t have the option of packing up and going home. Is it any wonder that they would consider hedging their bets?