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Playing Al-Anbar roulette in FATA

By       Message Abdus Sattar Ghazali     Permalink
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 The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was once part of the battleground on which the "Great Game" of imperial domination between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia was played out in the 19th century. More than a century later, the tribal territory along Pakistan-Afghanistan border is again part of the war in the New Great Game. In this rerun of the first great game players once again position themselves to control the heart of the Eurasian landmass. Today, the US has taken over the leading role from the British.

 The Pak-Afghan border region was focus of international interest during the 1980s when the so-called (American-backed) Jihad was launched against the invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan. It is a common knowledge now that during this period "religious fundamentalism"  was used to attract Muslims across the globe to participate in the "holy war" against the "infidel" Soviet troops. This "Jihad" was backed and armed by CIA and mainly financed by Saudi Arabia at the behest of the United States. Thousands of madarsas were established as a process which has created the present crop of Taliban and the so-called Jihadis.

The region again became a flash point after the US invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. After the US-led coalition ousted the Taleban government from Kabul in November 2001, armed opposition groups are believed to have regrouped in the historic Taleban powerbase: Afghanistan's predominantly ethnic Pashtun southern provinces and in Waziristan and Balochistan in Pakistan. (1) 

 Under pressure from the United States, the Pakistan Army launched a very unpopular operation in 2003 against the militants and the Afghan Talibans who were taking refuge in the border area. Not surprisingly, US-backed military dictator, President General Parwez Musharraf, lost February 2008 elections mainly because of his FATA operation that was seen as the army killing of his own people at the behest of Washington.

Soon after election, the new façade of democratic setup began peace negotiations to resolve militancy in FATA where at least 1,400 soldiers have been killed since the beginning of military operations. However, the move was bitterly opposed by the United States and the US client government in Islamabad was forced to abandon the peace negotiations and launch fresh operations in which dozens of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees in their own country.

After seven years, coalition troops deployed in Afghanistan to take the "War on Terror"  forward are loosing war as the Taliban has gained habitation and name on the Afghan landscape.

Britain's military commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier-General Mark Carleton-Smith told the Sunday Times newspaper recently that the war cannot be won. The British ambassador in Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has been quoted as saying the war strategy was "doomed to fail." Similar views were echoed by Mike Scheuer, who headed the CIA's Osama Bin Laden unit when the war began. He says: "Afghanistan of course is a terrible disaster for the United States and NATO. NATO seems to be dying in Afghanistan." Scheuer is no longer with the agency. His harsh assessment comes in his new book, "Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq." (2)

Presenting a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said on October 9, 2008: "The trends across the board are not going in the right direction. And I would anticipate next year would be a tougher year."

One of the main problem for the NATO forces is lack of manpower. During a February 6, 2008 briefing at the Pentagon, U.S. Army Gen. McNeill, the ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) commander, repeated the theoretical need for 400,000 troops, saying, "If you use U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine, for example, and applying the factors of land mass and population, you'd come to the conclusion you need a huge force, well over 400,000, when you rolled up international force with the indigenous force." Tellingly, the US is having a hard time persuading its NATO allies to provide troops for the war effort and even faithful allies appear uneasy about the US's war strategy.

The Afghan capital, Kabul is virtually under siege and the Taliban have established pockets in Wardak (30 kilometers from Kabul) and Sarobi (50 km from Kabul) as well as in neighboring Kapisa and Parwan provinces. More ominously, the Taliban-led insurgency has spread to Pakistani territory where vast areas have been apparently brought under its control, especially in the tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

 In short, the seven-year Afghan war is in a stalemate and time favors the Taliban. In this situation the strategy demands co-opting the Taliban and setting Pashtun mercenaries to fight the "war on terrorism" so that Western casualties are minimal and Western public opinion doesn't inflame.

Reports emerged earlier this month that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia recently hosted high-level talks in Mecca between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban.

With the blessing of US and Britain, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosted a iftar party at the end of September which was attended by Taliban representatives, Afghan government officials and a representative of the powerful Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who has been declared a terrorist by the US and has a bounty on his head. Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and a former prisoner of Guantanamo Bay US prison, also attended the Saudi meetings.

Press reports indicated that the Taliban representatives arrived in Saudi Arabia with a list of 11 conditions, which included the withdrawal of foreign troops, the appointment of Taliban leaders to key cabinet posts and the drafting of a new constitution that affirms Afghanistan as a Muslim state.

The change of heart by London and Kabul towards Afghanistan's former rulers comes amid massive pressure on Pakistan to ramp up military offensives against Taliban fighters, and at perhaps Pakistan's most precarious moment in the seven-year "war on terrorism." Despite popular opposition, the Pakistan army is waging a major military offensive against Taliban militants in the border tribal agency of Bajaur and it has 80,000 troops stationed along its Afghan border in a bid to prevent Taliban incursions.

Al-Anbar experiment

Borrowing a page from Al-Anbar experiment, the US has advised Pakistan to enlist tribal leaders in the border areas in the fight against the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces. The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province of Iraq where American commanders have worked with Sunni sheiks to turn locals against the militant group. This has been hailed as a great success in fighting insurgents there.

Many experts point out that the experiment as it played-out in Iraq had produced disastrous results in El Salvador where it further polarized the populace and turned the people against the US efforts.  Tellingly, the consequences of the Anbar model are emerging in the volatile Federally Administered Area (FATA) where even national army is seen as an occupying army by many fiercely independent-mind tribesmen.

Not surprisingly, a suicide bomb attack on a pro-government tribal jirga in Orakzai killed at least 51 people and more than 200 wounded on October 12, 2008. Orakzai has been the most peaceful of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions. Unlike most of the others, Orakzai does not border Afghanistan. The jirga was about to send a tribal lashkar led by 25 elders to destroy the alleged Taliban headquarters in the area.

 This tragic incident best reflects the outcome of the new government policy to pit tribes against tribes through bribes. The pro-government tribes are being armed by the Pakistan government.Till this date about 700 tribal elders have been killed in this strategy. Only last week, six elders, who were much active in organizing and helping government in the formation of the National Lashkar in Bajaur Agency were kidnapped and slaughtered.

 An article in NWFP's leading newspaper, The Fronteir Post - Lashkar strategy or start of civil war  by Nasir Khattak (3) "" best describes the consequences of the new strategy:  "If our trained army, frontier corps and police soldiers, armed with sophisticated weapons, and backed by tanks, gunship helicopters and even fighter plans, cannot fight the Taliban, how these untrained tribal youth will be able to defeat the Taliban? "  If army is on the back of the tribal lashkars, then I am seeing the civil war soon not only in tribal areas but also in settled districts of Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP).  If you will go to South and North Waziristan, you will find no one supporting government or governmental cause. Because all the elders were killed, and now the army left these two agencies, or restricted to their checkposts and forts and all the people are on the disposal of Taliban."  Why our army forgot the last year suicide attack in Darra Adam Khel on jirga, where about 40 elders were killed? I heard a youth of Darra Adam Khel on BBC, who said, that our leadership has been killed, and now no one is there to talk to someone for peace and cease fire."  "The civil war is knocking at our doors," warns Nasir Khattak.

Situation in FATA is linked to events in Afghanistan

There cannot be two opinions on the fact that the FATA cannot be peaceful without a peaceful Afghanistan. However, President George Bush, the American military and now the Democratic presidential candidate, Barak Obama seem to think the only way out is to take their failed tactics into Pakistan, despite the fierce opposition of the Pakistani people.

According to independent polls, 75% of Pakistanis consider United States as an enemy state and 55% of Americans are in favor of bombing inside Pakistan. Washington believes that "some elements'" in Pakistani intelligence agencies are supporting "militants," operating in Afghanistan. On the other hand majority of people in Pakistan think that USA is trying to destabilize Pakistan by assembling, financing and supporting "Tehrik Taliban Pakistan" (TTP), which is seen responsible for suicide attacks in Pakistan and unrest in FATA.

Alarmingly, the US has also revived old controversy over the Pak-Afghan border--the Durand Line --by proposing the independence of FATA. In July last, General Mullen, during a visit to Pakistan, floated a proposal before Pakistani authorities to hold referendum in the NWFP regarding its future. The Post newspaper quoted informed sources as saying that the US administration had asked Pakistan to decide the future of the border-area of the NWFP through referendum either it goes with Pakistan or emerges as an independent province. (4) 

This proposal refreshes the memories of Pushtunistan movement of 1950s  when the Soviet Union through Afghanistan supported Pushtun ambitions for the creation of an independent Pushtunistan or Pakhtunistan in the border areas of West Pakistan. Several border clashes and ruptures of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan ensued. The movement was never able to gain popular support considering that Pashtuns in Pakistan were always better off than their counterparts in Afghanistan. (5)

Pakistan cannot possibly cede NWFP to Afghanistan or to an independent regime as it will directly raise questions about the viability of Pakistan . Remember there is insurgency in Balochistan too.

Not suprisingly, with the implicit US support, Afghanistan, that was the only country in the world that voted against Pakistan's inclusion in the U.N. Assembly in 1947, is bent on reviving the old controversy over the Pak-Afghan border line known as the Durand Line. The present border of approximately 1,500 miles between Afghanistan and Pakistan was agreed upon in a treaty --known as the Durand Line treaty --signed on 12 November 1893, in Kabul by Sir Mortimer Durand, representing British India, and Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan. The Durand Line Agreement was reaffirmed by each of the successive Afghan rulers who followed Amir Abdur Rahman Khan. King Habibullah (1901-19), King Amanullah (1919-29), King Nadir Shah (1929-1933), and King Zahir Shah (1933-1973) reaffirmed the Agreement during their reign.

The Indian factor

What really is going on in the FATA region now is not quite clear since so many factors are seen at play behind the scene. One such factor is India that always had dreams of influence in Afghanistan. NATO/US attacks in Afghanistan and change in Washington's policy towards India, gave Indians an opportunity to use Afghanistan as a base to destabilize Pakistan.

The "war against terror"- has practically become a proxy war between India and Pakistan. On the other hand India is fulfilling her dreams of destabilizing Pakistan on expense of American tax payers. The Indian plan also coincides with larger US plan for control over Afghanistan and FATA regions along with Baluchistan for a future energy route from Central Asia and to contain rising China.

India gained excessive influence in Afghanistan from where it is undertaking major covert operations against FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan to destabilize Pakistan. India had all along vied for a base in Afghanistan from where it could launch covert operations against Pakistan's provinces adjoining Afghanistan.

 India has so far invested over $1 billion in Afghanistan for reconstruction and has become one of the largest donors. Besides its 17 consulates and 80 cultural and educational centres, it has about 4000 men working on a road project since 2002. This project is utilized for shielding Indian Intelligence Agency RAW's covert operations against Pakistan. Under the garb of importing construction material, explosives, ammunition, weapons and security personnel are being shipped in regularly. The consulates are infested with RAW agents. (6)

According to the former army Chief of Pakistan General Mirza Aslam Beg India and Afghanistan had signed a defense pact under which India would be deploying some 150,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of next year. India and US have signed an agreement for strategic partnership after which the US declared Afghanistan part of South Asia. Thus, New Dehli establishes a very strong intelligence network in Afghanistan which works against all countries in its neighborhood. This network is supported in collaboration with CIA by other foreign intelligence agencies. (7)

Stupid it's oil

It is an open secret now that the US refocus on Afghanistan has nothing to do with combating terrorism. Rather, it stems from the geo-political importance of Central Asia to the American financial and corporate elites who were advocating some form of intervention into Central Asia soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and open up the region to potential US dominance. The calls for action grew as Central Asian states with major reserves of oil, natural gas and other crucial resources began coming under the sway of US rivals such as Russia and China. (8)

The September 11, 2001 attacks provided a pretext for the invasion of Afghanistan and the establishment of US bases not only there, but in surrounding countries as well. As part of the Afghan campaign, the US air force set up a base near the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. Bush has used his massive military build-up in Central Asia to seal the cold war victory against Russia, to contain Chinese influence and to tighten the noose around Iran. Most importantly, however, Washington is exploiting the "war on terror" to further American oil interests in the Caspian region. (9)

According to Lutz Kleveman, in this rerun of the first great game - the 19th-century imperial rivalry between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia - players once again position themselves  role from the British. Along with the Russians, new regional powers, such as China, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, have entered the arena, and transnational oil corporations are also pursuing their own interests.

The main spoils in today's Great Game are Caspian oil and gas. On its shores, and at the bottom of the Caspian Sea, lie the world's biggest untapped fossil fuel resources. Estimates range from 110 to 243bn barrels of crude, worth up to $4 trillion. According to the US department of energy, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan alone could sit on more than 130bn barrels, more than three times the US's reserves. Oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Texaco and BP have already invested more than $30bn in new production facilities. (10)  

In a desperate effort to decrease its dependence on Saudi oil sheiks, the US seeks to control the Caspian oil resources. However, fierce conflicts have broken out over pipeline routes. Russia, still regarding itself as imperial overlord of its former colonies, promotes pipeline routes across its territory, including Chechnya, in the north Caucasus. China, the increasingly oil-dependent waking giant in the region, wants to build eastbound pipelines from Kazakhstan. Iran is offering its pipeline network via the Persian Gulf. (11)

By contrast, Washington champions two pipelines that would circumvent both Russia and Iran. One would run from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Construction has already begun for a $3.8bn pipeline from Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, via neighbouring Georgia to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. BP, its main operator, has invested billions in oil-rich Azerbaijan, and can count on support from the Bush administration, which recently stationed about 500 elite troops in war-torn Georgia. (12)  

In May 2001 Cheney, now US Vice President, recommended in the Administration's seminal National Energy Policy report that "the President make energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy," singling out the Caspian Basin as a "rapidly growing new area of supply." With a potential oil production of up to 6m barrels per day by 2015, the Caspian region has become crucial to the US policy of "diversifying energy supply." Plans were unveiled by mid-2002 to pipe natural gas from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline

On April 24, 2008, Petroleum ministers from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan ratified the framework agreement, in Islamabad, pledging to begin construction of the proposed $7.6 billion, 1,680-kilometre Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) project by 2010, and supply natural gas from Turkmenistan by 2015.

The cost of the project, which was put at $3.3 billion in 2002 had now risen to $7.6 billion, but despite the significant increase in project cost estimates, the project is still considered financially viable.

The original agreement signed by three countries in December 2002 was revised to allow India to join the US-backed gas pipeline project for importing gas from Turkmenistan by 2015 to meet its growing energy needs. The United States is discouraging Pakistan and India from importing gas from Iran and has been backing the Turkmenistan project as an alternative.

The project will supply 3.2 billion cubic feet of gas per day through the 56-inch diameter pipeline starting from the Dauletabad field in Turkmenistan to Fazilka at the Pakistan-India border, passing through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Multan (Pakistan).

Turkmenistan has reported discovery of huge new gas reserves and the total gas reserves are estimated at about 8 trillion cubic meters.

Even though Russia seemed to get weaker in this geography, due to its financial and political problems, it has become one of the main actors once again in the Game during Putin's term in the office. He succeeded to sign new agreements with the leaders of Central Asian countries in security and economic issues. One of the most striking agreements is energy and pipeline agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. All these three countries agreed to sell oil and gas to Russia and a new gas pipeline between Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia will be built to be able to transfer the gas of which its amount would increase step by step in the future.

Conclusion

Hence, Pakistan's volatile tribal territories--part of the New Great Grand Game --would remain destabilized until the long-lost peace and stability is restored in the neighboring Afghanistan where Taliban resistance against US-led Western forces has intensified with every passing year since October 2001, when America invaded the country, ousted the Taliban from power and installed a friendly government headed by Hamid Karzai.

Perhaps, there can be hardly two opinions on the fact that despite the Pakistan government spin that the current "war on terror" is Pakistan's war, no one shares the government point of view that war on terror is Pakistan's war and that extremism is the chief threat to the security of Pakistan and that there is no external threat. The Pakistan army is seen as a mercenary army hired by USA and serving US interests. It is perceived as an alien army which hands over Pakistanis to the United States in return for reward money. These perceptions have lowered the image of the army in the eyes of tribesmen of FATA in particular and Pakistanis in general.

 The Pakistan government is now faces a double jeopardy. If the army cannot stop U.S. military attacks in Pakistan against the local citizenry, it loses face and legitimacy. If it follows Washington's orders and launches a comprehensive assault on Pakistani tribal people it suffers mass opposition that is shown in various opinion polls.

Consequently, Pakistan's major opposition parties are questioning the "war on terrorism."  They are demanding an investigation into how the government of General Musharraf got Pakistan involved in the war that confronts the army with its own people. This was best reflected in a recent in-camera briefing by the military to the parliamentarians, many of whom expressed serious reservations about the government's strategy.

 References:

 (1)  Human Rights Watch Report, April 2007, p.14

 (2) Michael Scheuer served in the CIA for 22 years before resigning in 2004. He served as the chief of the bin Laden Unit at the Counterterrorist Center from 1996 to 1999. He is the once anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror; his most recent book is Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq. Dr Scheuer is a senior fellow with The Jamestown Foundation.

 (3) The Frontier Post October 13, 2008

 (4) The Post, Islamabad - July 21, 2008

 (5) Wikipedia

 (6) Asia Tribune - August 2, 2008

 (7) The Frontier Post - October 9, 2008

 (8)  James Cogan, a political analyst

 (9)  Lutz Kleveman, the author of The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia

 (10)   Ibid.

 (11)  Ibid.

 (12)  Ibid.


 

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 

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