A complex three way game between the US, Pakistan and
Afghanistan is undermining the war on terror and hindering nation and democracy building, writes journalist Ahmed Rashid in his latest guest column for the BBC News website.
The shooting down by the Taleban of a Chinook transport helicopter packed
with US Special Forces close to the border with Pakistan has once again
raised the spectre of increased three way tensions between Pakistan,
Afghanistan and the United States.
'It's been the bloodiest summer in Afghanistan in four years'
At least 16 Americans were killed in what was the largest loss of American lives in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taleban in 2001.
Many Afghan and some senior American officials insist that the resurgent Taleban are finding
sanctuary and support from elements in Pakistan.
The diplomatic tensions are not surprising. It's been the bloodiest summer in Afghanistan for four years.
And other pressures have been piling up on Islamabad after comments by US Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Chief Porter Goss that they know where Osama Bin Laden is and that he is not in Afghanistan.
Both seem to be saying that Bin Laden is in Pakistan.
While Afghan leaders feel vindicated by such comments and have stepped up their
criticism of Islamabad, Pakistan has taken acute umbrage.
'For President Bush the priority has been capturing Bin Laden'
On 21 June President George W Bush telephoned President Pervez Musharraf and urged him to talk to President Karzai to stave off a worsening diplomatic crisis
between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The bout of telephone diplomacy temporarily cooled down the war of words but tensions have continued to simmer.
The reality is that a complex three way game between the US, Pakistan and
Afghanistan has gone on since 11 September.
It has been dominated by their ruling elites' self-interest veiled as national interest, rather than any alliance against
The tug of war between their conflicting interests continues to hamper joint efforts to combat terrorism and provide a serious commitment to furthering nation and democracy building.
For President Bush the priority has been capturing Bin Laden and other
senior al- Qaeda leaders, overriding concerns about nation building in
Afghanistan or carrying out a strategic plan to prevent a Taleban
For the first two years after the defeat of the Taleban the US
committed hopelessly meagre resources to rebuilding Afghanistan and had few
intentions to re-establish state institutions such as the army and police,
preferring to rely on warlords to keep the peace.
Even the US priority of capturing Bin Laden became secondary as military
manpower and surveillance facilities were shifted from Afghanistan to the
war in Iraq.
Although US priorities have now changed for the better in
Afghanistan, the legacy of its past policy failures are visible in rampant
drugs production, a strengthened Taleban and growing anti-Americanism
amongst ordinary Afghans due to the lack of benefits provided to them.
'Mr Karzai has failed to build an organised political base'
Mr Karzai has resented past US strategy as he has viewed the major threats to
Afghanistan and his own political survival as emanating from a resurgent
Taleban backed by Pakistan and Afghanistan's warlords.
For him the actual threat was posed by al-Qaeda was minimal. Mr Karzai also considered the war in Iraq as
extremely dangerous for Afghanistan's future because it provided a major and
unnecessary diversion of the West's resources and commitment to rebuilding
For Mr Karzai the real war on Islamic militancy is still based on
the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, not in Iraq as President Bush believes.
However due to his indecisiveness Mr Karzai never pushed the envelope with the
Americans to see the realities on the ground.
Moreover his overweening
dependence on the Americans has angered conservatives at home and his
Rather than use US clout to build a regional alliance with his
neighbours and persuade them to stop interfering in Afghanistan, he signed a
strategic partnership pact with Bush in May just as tens of thousands of
Afghans were demonstrating against the US for its treatment of prisoners at
The timing was awful and the pact could have waited until the US
role in Guantanamo, Iraq and even Afghanistan was less controversial.
American frustration with Mr Karzai rests on his failure to build an organized
political base for himself, despite the success of last year's presidential
Now he goes into the parliamentary elections in September without
a political party, a national platform or a clear ideology.
By blaming Pakistan for his problems he takes the heat off his own political
'Musharraf has played a determined double game'
Pakistan's military regime has certainly - despite diplomatic denials - provided sanctuary and support to
the Taleban since they retreated into Pakistan after their defeat in 2001.
Gen Musharraf has played a determined double game with the Americans convinced
that this is in the army's interest.
Islamabad knows its alliance with the
US is short term, predicated on the war on terror - as long as it lasts.
Washington's real interest is in building up rival India as a bulwark in the
region - something the Pakistani military is desperate to delay if not
Thus the military feels it has every reason to keep the Americans
bogged down in Afghanistan by sustaining the Taleban, while keeping
Washington on side by helping hunt down al-Qaeda.
Pakistan has only moved against al-Qaeda after enormous American pressure
has been applied.
Although the military has lost over 500 troops in the
North West Frontier Province (NWFP) hunting down the Arab and Central Asian
components of al- Qaeda, it has not moved at all in Balochistan province
where the Taleban have re-established themselves.
A total of 29 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan since March
Nor has the military
suppressed those Pakistani extremist groups fighting for the Taleban or in
It is also in the military's self-interest to keep Bin Laden alive
and on the run, even if it does not do so deliberately.
The army's political alliance at home is with the Islamic parties who rule
the NWFP and Balochistan and have been avid supporters of the Taleban since
By interfering as little as possible with their support to the
Taleban, Musharraf ensures his own political survival and he assuages
Islamist officers in the army that he is no stooge to the Americans.
This political game has gone on for far too long and had led to Islamic
militancy thriving in the region.
In order to defeat militancy all three
players have to create better mechanisms of levelling with each other -
discussing their priorities, their concerns and perceived national interest.
As long as the players pull in different directions - the Taleban and al-Qaeda will thrive.
Here is a selection of your comments so far. If you would like to send a comment about this story you can use the form below.
Brave and accurate reporting like this is so very necessary... Pakistan has to start seeing things in a long-term context... The US has to rethink its Afghanistan tactics and the Afghans have to enter the 21st century.
I do agree with your analysis of the situation but you must not mix up the Kashmir problem with Islamism and terrorism. The Kashmir problem must be seen and treated in a different context. I think I need not remind you of the history.
Qayum Tariq, France
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan have puppet regimes. They have been installed to protect the imperial interests of the most terrorist state on Earth.
I don't know whose interest Mr Rashid is serving by portraying Musharraf as a double agent. If co-operation with other nations in the areas of mutual interest and protecting the long term interests of your own country simultaneously is a double game then every patriotic leader around the world is a double agent.
M Jan, Australia
Pakistan's President Musharraf has so far given full support rightly to cull the al-Qaeda and Taleban cancer from the body of Pakistan. Well done Mr Musharraf. My question to Mr Rashid is - why has he forgotten to mention Mr Karzai and his friends' role before 9/11 to bring that region of the world near to total destruction?
SA Choudhary, UK
Afghanistan blames Pakistan of "harbouring" militants. I am not sure about that; the evidence is rather unconvincing. What cannot be denied however is the fact that Pakistan is "harbouring" three million Afghan refugees. If they want to blame us for their failures, they should also be thankful to us for hosting more than 10% of their population; which has created only problems for us by taking away our jobs and creating a severe law and order situation. Pakistan is doing more than anyone else to fight the war on terror, this should be appreciated.
Fawwad Shafi, Pakistan
President Musharraf, by wearing an anti-terror mask, is securing funds from the US and passing these on to Islamic terrorist groups thus ensuring his survival. He is providing only lip service to the anti-terror war.
Rajesh Kumar, India
Pakistan is using all its resources to counter international and domestic terrorism. Pakistan is fighting against al-Qaeda in and out of the country. When someone says Pakistan is double faced without any hard evidence it is very unfair. It is Pakistan which is suffering the most with the al-Qaeda threat. So instead of blaming we must praise and encourage Pakistan to keep hunting down these people.
First of all I would like to salute the courageous writer Mr Rashid for his braveness and reporting accuracy. Neither President Muasharraf nor any other statesman can eliminate terrorist outfits from Pakistani soil as the cause is deep rooted.
Padman Nambiar, India
I read this article and was a little sceptical. But then I read another article on the BBC website - "Stung in an Afghan hornets' nest". Its from the soldiers who are actually fighting and from what they say, it looks like at least part of what Mr Rashid has said is true. The soldiers who are fighting the militants feel that their Pakistani counterparts are not really helping, and often the militants escape by crossing over to the Pakistani side where the troops are not allowed to pursue the militants.
Double speak and carrying out conflicting policies are not unknown in the arena of international politics - Pakistan is no exception. Once bitten and twice shy Islamabad is reluctant to do a 100% bidding for Washington because Pakistan knows that once it delivers what the US wants, Washington would abandon Pakistan. For example, not too long ago, Pakistan waged a CIA led war against the Soviets in Afghanistan; however, Islamabad was ditched and sanctioned once the Soviets left.
David Khan, USA
Ahmed Rashid, is as always, right on target. Knowing Afghanistan inside out, Ahmed's classic reporting and analysis are not only factual and impressive but uniquely illustrated as well. The Afghan, US and Pakistan triangle is a quagmire that has subtly destroyed any chance for a well-directed effort for a long-term solution of issues. Whereas Pakistan continues to support the Islamists, the US has its own parochial interests to pursue in Afghanistan.
Ahson Saeed Hasan, USA
As a Kashmiri, I know how Pakistan plays its cruel game of politics. Kashmiris have been the worst sufferers in this game played by Pakistan. No wonder, Afghans share the misery too. The only solution to this is the spread of democracy. Democratic elections should be held in Pakistan.
If what Ahmed Rashid writes is true, America will keep engaged with Afghanistan and Pakistan until its own interests are met. In that case it is better for Afghanistan and Pakistan to keep the situation worse for America. The two countries have learned how to keep the strings in their hands and America should now not be selfish and work sincerely for the development of both.
Sadiq Ali Bohra, Hyderabad, Pakistan
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