Skip to main content

OPED: The Greater Game



Published Global Affairs / March 2017. Written in August 2016.


They say that ‘the Taliban are coming to Islamabad’ was a common refrain among some diplomatic circles. They cannot be faulted for having such a stark worldview. From 2007 onwards the region registered a dramatic spike in terror and the world feared for the integrity of a nuclear armed nation in the face of a rapidly deteriorating law and order situation.

Some might argue that now that Pakistan has finally taken the war to the enemy within, a modicum of peace seems to have descended. Zarb-e-Azb, classified as a full scale operation against terrorists of all shades and denominations enters its third year. And a prominent name linked to JuD is finally under arrest.

Tracking battlefront gains can be tricky since the operations are still ongoing. There have been rough patches along the way. And the nation suffered tragic setbacks with devastating attacks on police academies, shrines and hospitals.

Back home the military’s track record came into question every time a suicide bomber got through, while the world continued to gauge its performance from a special set of parameters.

The Afghan Taliban’s misuse of Pak territory had been cited as the reason for withholding $300 million reimbursements. The sight of radical groups (ASWJ) etc pottering about did not exactly inspire confidence and a selective targeting approach (alleged) naturally tipped the scale of global opinion adversely. The spotlight refused to shift from the strange categorization of terror syndicates that often led to a blurring of lines between good & bad Taliban.

Foreign media remained dismissive of any claims regarding Kabul’s role in stoking the fire within Pak borders even in its most balanced pieces like ‘Pakistani Militants and the State: Friends, Foes, and Frenemies’ (Jul 5, 2016) by Stephen Tankel, senior editor War on Rocks. Consequently, it failed to factor in imprints of RAW, NDS, or MOIS occasionally spotted in the mix.

Admittedly, the fear of blowback that prevented military strategists from confronting certain threats may have been real. Pakistanis in the crosshairs of terrorists however would have preferred that no such distinctions are made. Blind-spots regarding jihadist outfits and Haqqanis only served to muddy the waters, provide belligerent nations ammo to scapegoat Pakistan, forcing allies to question their loyalties. Besides, such gambits tend to misfire. But the other side of the picture that stays buried under the debris of distrust and accusations of duplicity leaves gaps in the narrative.

Like when the Swat operation Rah-e-Rast dislodged HVT’s (High Value Target) like Fazlullah, many who fled to Afghanistan, sought sanctuary later directing attacks against the Pakistani state. Two observations have been offered by Mr. Tankel to explain this phenomenon. One of them declares that “…after years in which Afghanistan was on the receiving end of attacks by Pakistan-supported militants, elements in the Afghan intelligence service (the National Directorate of Security or NDS) reportedly began enabling these cross-border attacks.”

The other insists that that the NDS involvement is unclear in this scenario. Again, both Iranian and NDS connections with possible ties to RAW (Indian spy agency) unearthed in a recent intelligence coup are left out. Instead, the new Afghan President appears making overtures to Pakistani people in the next passage. The casual remark that capacity strapped Afghan security forces would be more focused on fighting insurgency within its borders than facilitating terrorists using its soil to target Pakistan lets them off easy. Also, an NDS hand in destabilizing its neighbor seems to be mere payback for all that supposed meddling Pakistan did post Soviet withdrawal.

Since Pakistan’s Indian centric approach remains a key policy driver, it becomes an important point of reference. Stephen conceded that New Delhi aided abetted separatist movements in the past adding that there is no open source evidence of Indian support. The article written after the arrest of a high level Indian spy in Baluchistan probably means it discounts Pakistan’s case against Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav and his coteries of spies.

Finally, the military’s alleged fondness for harboring proxies generally attributed to the Indian bogie forever hovering in the background came up for review. And when the dreaded anti-Shia LeJ were shown enjoying political patronage, Pakistan’s crackdown on their lieutenants linked to ISIL was also considered thereby maintaining a fairly even tone. But there’s a sudden shift implying that “…..resurrecting JeM also had potential utility against India. In January 2016, a team of JeM militants attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station...” A key update where a joint team went to probe the incident and Indian investigators cleared Pakistan of involvement was not a part of this analysis.

Notwithstanding the fact that some of these elements may have been wielded as anti-Qaeda propaganda machines in the past, their presence jeopardized the ally’s position in leading the good fight and gave way to dangerous speculations. They also widened sectarian rifts, endangering the vision of a progressive nuclear state. No one cared about Taliban’s top leadership vacationing in Iran when his motorcade was targeted the second he entered Pakistani territory. Or that the road blocks to the peace were centered in Kabul and reportedly funded by New Delhi.

The Pak-Afghan border fencing initiatives proposed by Pakistan that sparked a fresh feud and led to casualties on both side was a case in point. At its core lies the hope that such a structure can curtail the insurgent’s ability to launch the cross border attacks. The cooperation and joint patrol squads probably needed for this to succeed have yet to see the light of day. The sight of banned organization members roaming the streets only added to the trust deficit.

At this stage taking control of the runaway narrative may look difficult. The implication that non-state actors have been used with state connivance inevitably shaped perceptions about Pak military and stoked suspicions about their motivations.

Consequently those hard won victories went unnoticed; as did the fallen soldiers and citizens in line of fire. The cloud that hung over the establishment followed them when they raised the plight of Kashmiri’s on international forums, attempted to resolve trivial border disputes or tried to get clearance for military hardware from the US Congress for fighting insurgency. And though the visiting dignitaries no longer envisage a Taliban invasion in the Capital, it continued to be seen as a dangerous destination – its leadership beset with scandals, setbacks and, possibly surrounded by saboteurs. Islamabad’s counter-narrative may take time to gain traction along with its efforts at elevating Pakistan’s global stature.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Quiet Diplomacy: Memoirs of an Ambassador of Pakistan / Author: Jamsheed Marker

PUBLISHED IN Daily Times /February 06, 2010

REVIEWED BY: Afrah Jamal

Jamsheed Marker belongs to an exceptional cadre of Foreign Service officers entrusted to keep things on an even keel on the diplomatic stage. Providence chose him to fill the void brought on by a sudden influx of newly independent nations and the subsequent need to expand diplomatic service during the 1960s. A stellar career in fostering global diplomacy as the longest serving ambassador has earned him a special place in history.

This veteran Pakistani diplomat has a striking resume. With ten posts and nine accreditations, his name appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the only person to have served as ambassador to more countries than anyone. He took his curtain call when Pakistan declared him Ambassador at Large in 2004, and has been on the faculty at Eckerd College, St Petersburg — Florida as Diplomat-in-Residence. He ended his tenure with a wry observation, ‘the batting card on the scorecard to M…

OP-ED: What’s In A Name(sake)?

First Published in Daily Times / 2 Sep 2013

A beloved cricketer’s name adorns the billboards but this is not a biopic. The cricketing world it allegedly represents provides a compelling front but it will not be a return to his old stomping grounds. Main Hoon Shahid Afridi (MHSA) draws upon a living legend’s legacy to leverage the passion and throws in a cameo or two, but that is the extent of Afridi’s involvement. Meanwhile, somewhere in a small little village, a disgraced cricketer turned coach who trains a rag tag team will be moved centre-field. And the one thing that binds the nation together and provides the soulful soundtrack will become the anchor.

The newly minted flight is bound for cricket-ville and in some parts of the world that is reason enough to join in the festivities. Humayun Saeed, seen at the helm wearing a number of hats as the producer/actor enlists the classic underdog formula to launch his ambitious vision. The village club is in danger of being shut down, and m…

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: The Afghan Policy in Perspective

Published in Global Village Space / Aug 2017

True to its reality show inspired template, the Afghan strategy was rolled out after months of speculations, suspense and dithering. It used memorable taglines and inflated figures. ‘Agents of chaos’, sunk costs described as ‘billions and billions’ and going all in seeking victory against all odds. It offered to be tough on Pakistan, even as it was vague on the outlines and predictable in its deployment.

Reading between the Lines

This is essentially the new, improvised policy meant not just for Afghanistan but also Pakistan and India. With it the U.S. administration appears to have heeded the advice of keeping the enemy in the dark. They have also dismissed the necessity of keeping their allies close and have instead embarked upon a strategic vision that aims to expand the theatre adding India to the volatile mix and potentially widen the gulf between allies.

Yet it is not the public performance of the commander-in-chief that catches the e…

VIEW: GOING DUTCH (2008)

Published in THE POST May 18, 2008

What does Cadbury have to do with 12 sketches and a 17 minute film? Nothing, really. Cadbury is neither Dutch nor Danish. But by now most Pakistanis - if not all - have probably received a text message stating otherwise. And thus begins a boycott campaign of all things Dutch or Danish. The self righteous lot, in their overzealousness, would acquiesce willingly. Yet, few who have received an email or sms that proclaimed the success of this boycott and lobbied for its continuity - or witnessed the demonstrations meant to convey outrage against both Denmark and the Netherlands for their alleged laxity in safeguarding certain religions’ sanctity - will stop to reflect on the virtues of pushing a hostile policy intended to coerce but neglecting to convince. Fewer still will bother to dig deeper and corroborate details of such episodes.

The cartoon controversy returned in 2008 – helped on by the aptly titled film ‘Fitna’- similarly denounced for its unflat…