Pakistan is facing a serious home-grown insurgency
Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid reports on the growing rift between the US and Pakistan over fighting the Taliban.
There are serious differences emerging between the US and the various power centres in Pakistan which could adversely affect the entire region.
At stake are the upcoming Afghan elections, the US offensive in Helmand province in Afghanistan, curbing the Taliban in Pakistan and a potential worsening in Islamabad's relations with both Kabul and Delhi.
The differences have emerged as the US, Britain, France and Nato stake an enormous amount of political prestige on rapidly improving the security situation in Afghanistan and receiving more co-operation from Pakistan on combating the Taliban in both countries.
When Pakistani and Indian leaders met in Egypt on 16 July, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani handed over an intelligence dossier to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh outlining India's alleged role in destabilising Pakistan's role in Afghanistan.
This included funding and training Baloch militants for the separatist insurgency in Balochistan province and providing support for the Pakistani Taliban, in particular its leader Baitullah Mehsud.
The Pakistani dossier was almost certainly a retaliatory move following US and Nato allegations that Pakistan's military continues to provide sanctuary to the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban including Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Mr Gilani [L] handed over a dossier to Mr Singh
Adm Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on 23 July that al-Qaeda's leadership was also in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, India accuses Pakistan of continuing to harbour extremist groups in Punjab province including Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is accused of carrying out the Mumbai attacks of last year.
The dossier has worsened the long running tit-for-tat accusations between India and Pakistan and expanded their differences to now involve the US and Nato. That in turn puts at risk the entire security of the region.
The dossier is also a sign of the growing ascendancy of the military in Pakistan over the civilian government in the making of foreign and national security policy.
In the past, President Asif Ali Zardari has taken a pragmatic, conciliatory line towards both India and Afghanistan saying Pakistan has no enmity with them. He has also pledged to clamp down on all "terrorists" regardless of their origins.
However, now the government appears to be quietly going along with the military's view of the region.
Western diplomats say the Pakistani dossier was followed up by a series of hard-hitting briefings by the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for selected foreign journalists and diplomats, blaming the Americans for refusing to curtail the so-called Indian subversion of Pakistan through Afghanistan.
The ISI also denied there were Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil and instead accused the joint US-British offensive in Helmand province of worsening the security situation for Pakistan because fleeing Taliban would escape into Balochistan.
Western diplomats have responded by reminding the Pakistanis that ever since their defeat in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban have been given sanctuary in Balochistan.
Pakistan has accused India of supporting Baloch insurgents
The military is also insisting that the US stop bombing Pakistan's tribal areas with drone-fired missiles and instead share the technology and intelligence with Pakistan.
The military became even more incensed after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed supplies of nuclear reactors and new fighter jets to India during her trip there in late July.
These tensions could have the greatest impact in Afghanistan, where presidential elections take place on 20 August with no sign of a Taliban let-up in their bid to disrupt the polls.
The US offensive in Helmand province is meeting stiff resistance and, if the fighting continues, there is little chance of the Afghan public coming out in large numbers to vote in the southern provinces.
A high number of US and British soldiers have been killed in the first three weeks of July.
In 2004 before the first presidential elections, former President George W Bush successfully exerted pressure on President Pervez Musharraf and the ISI to rein in the Taliban for two months so that elections could take place peacefully.
The army is accused of fighting only militants who threaten the government
US attempts to register a similar deal now have been denied by Pakistan, who insist that there are no Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.
It is also uncertain if the Pakistanis have the same kind of influence with the Taliban as they did in 2004.
Meanwhile, India has made it clear to the US it will not resume normal relations with Islamabad until there is a clampdown against Lashkar-e-Taiba and other Punjab-based militant groups.
Only the civilian government is in favour of such a clampdown.
Meanwhile, after driving the Pakistani Taliban out of the Swat valley but failing to kill any of the Taliban commanders, the army is under pressure from the government, the public and the US to go after the Taliban leadership in the tribal areas.
So far it has declined, citing tensions with India and the need to keep the bulk of its army on the Indian border.
Western diplomats say Pakistan is choosing to fight only those Taliban who threaten the government, but refusing to act against those groups which are fighting in Afghanistan.
The growing differences between the US, Europe and India on one side and Pakistan on the other is cause for mounting concern as Islamic extremism shows no signs of abating in the region.
Ahmed Rashid is the author of the best-selling book Taliban and, most recently, of Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Here is a selection of your comments
This whole situation just seems to be a mess. Do we in the West really know what we are doing in this region. It is extremely complicated and I think frankly it is beyond us and we should cut our losses and get out before we make the situation worse. 9/11 happened , will not happen again and should now be put in the past and as these things eventually are.
William Beeby, England
Ahmed Rashid is spot on with the analysis. On one hand US and Nato are asking for co-operation from Pakistan and on the other hand signing arm deals with arch enemy of Pakistan. The double standard will not go undetected and might even back fire from either side. Islamabad might even turn to China for a greater arms and technology support and certainly Beijing certainly will not deny given the growing Indian influence in the region fuelled by the US. The recent external sponsored insurgency and target killing in the state of Baluchistan might not have gone undetected by the ISI and the government. India refuses to come to the terms of discussion unless Pakistan takes steps towards the Punjab based Lashker-e-Taeba. Similarly Pakistan could request to not to come to the table for discussion until India stops fuelling separatist in the State of Baluchistan and Northern areas. Pakistani Taliban coming under pressure from army in the northern area would possibly move out to Afghanistan and Afghan Taliban could be forced out from the Helmand province into the Baluchistan. It could possibly be considered as a temporary strategic shift of assets by Pakistan to deal with the situation. The shift into Baluchistan could increase to possibilities of drone attack, which has been under discussion in Washington for quite some time. After the attacks on Afghan Taliban, the worst nightmare for the US and Nato could be the submerging of the insurgents into the main stream Afghan population and starting undetectable guerrilla warfare, which will not have centre command to attack to.
Ahmed Rashid is right in that the Pakistani military/state seems reluctant to clamp down against those militants who are active against India and Afghanistan. It goes after those who fight the Pakistani state/military. The example of that is that Pakistan does not fight the anti-Indian, Punjab based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the anti-Afghan Waziristan based Haqqani network. Moreover, the anti Afghan Taliban network under Mullah Omar is operating from Baluchistan reportedly with the help of the Pakistani military/state. The Pakistani military apparently wants to achieve two objectives through the use of these violent groups: 1:- By supporting the anti-Afghan Taliban, it wants to pressure the Afghan government into accepting the disputed borer called the "Durand Line". 2:- In India it wants the religious based division of Kashmir. The international community needs to reason with the Pakistani military that the two states, India and Afghanistan, are not in a position to move away from its stated positions on Kashmir and the Durand Line respectively. This is so because Afghanistan changing its stance on Durand Line or India changing its stance on Kashmir will mean for them negating "Afghanhood" and "Indiahood" respectively.
Shahid Ilyas Khan, Peshawar
Ahmed Rashid's book 'Taliban is very informative and tells in detail how the Taliban work and their immediate actions on gaining power. They are ruthless against anyone who opposes them and do not hesitate to execute anyone who stands between them and their objectives (as they did with President Najibullah). People who oppose the present campaign in Afghanistan would do well to read his book.
Andrew Jackson, N Wales
"Pakistan is choosing to fight only those Taliban who threaten the government, but refusing to act against those groups who are fighting in Afghanistan." Period. Need no more explanation whatsoever.
Pakistani military wiped out insurgents and now being questioned that why they haven't taken the key commanders yet?! Well were US and NATO able to take out al-Qaeda's top commanders after years fighting? NO!! If world wants to win this war then they must support Pakistani military and coordinate without doubts!
Waleed Mehdi, Pakistan
I have read your books and I consider you as an unbiased expert on terrorism in South Asia. I have recently read a lot about Pakistan blaming India for Balochistan problem. Do you really think that India is supporting Baloch rebels? What kind of support is India giving to them? India does not have a powerful military like Pakistan. Wondering when Pakistan says India is supporting Baloch rebels, who are they referring to? Indian government?
Ritesh Toshniwal, Singapore
The article is very well written, I appreciate Mr Rashid for his analysis. However i want to add that growing tensions between Pakistan and India in this region is always matter of concerns for normal citizens like me. It mostly takes life of innocent citizens, and arm races finally costs taxpayers whether he/she is Pakistani or Indian, the taxpayer who never wants war. To solve this dispute, i think India, Pakistan and Afghanistan all have to get on one table, forget all historical issues and start new talks.
Nirav Desai, India
Pakistan army is doing very well from their side. They fought very bravely in Swat valley and cleared it.
Jawad Karim, Pakistan
This is an entirely one sided or personal opinion of the writer who has no idea of the complexity of the situation or has a tunnel vision who looks everything with the eyes of the west.
The differences emerging between US and Pakistan are not too serious and will be overcome. When such a big operation is taking place these things will crop up now and then as the war goes on. Absolutely nothing to worry as they both need each other to wipe out the militancy. The relations between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan remain not too good but have not worsened, in fact relations between India and Pakistan have improved slightly since the PM`s meeting in Egypt and relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have also improved since the interior minister Rehman Malik paid a visit to Kabul and met Karzai who also promised to look into the charge that militants are being trained in Afghanistan in order to create militancy in Balochistan. o make things better Pakistan is giving a lot of cooperation to the US and allied forces who are fighting the militants on the Afghan side of the border, and the American officials have acknowledged better intelligence sharing between Pakistan US and Nato forces In Egypt the Pakistan PM rightly handed over the intelligence dossier to Indian PM Mr Manmohan Singh as it was an important matter and it was necessary to be brought to his notice. And if the dossier has worsened long running tit for tat so be it. It has not in my opinion worsened ties but it has definitely put India on the defensive. The Indian PM however said that he will look into it and this is also become part of the joint communiqué. Mr Rashid mentions that that there is difference of opinion between the US Europe and India on one side and Pakistan on the other and that the handing of the dossier to India has worsened the long running tit for tat between Pakistan and India then in such a scenario how can the Pakistan army move its troops away from the Indian border when you say that the ties have worsened. Coming to the arms being offered to India it should actually have been offered to Pakistan as it is an American ally in the fight against terrorism and has been a friend since its birth.
As far as I am concerned the Pakistan military is now and always has been pro-Taliban. The lack of recent action against the Taliban most likely means that Pakistan military has once again made a non-aggression treaty with the Taliban. Only low level technology and intelligence should be shared with the Pakistan military. There is absolutely no reason to believe India wants to go to war with Pakistan because that would mean that India would have rule Pakistan. the India card is just a Pakistan military smoke screen. the military in Pakistan is biding their time to allow for a slow Taliban take over of the entire country so before the Pakistan people know what is happening it will be over. my thinking is when the people of Pakistan know what the military has planned for them, that is when the fight really starts.
RCD Nelson, USA
I can understand what Ahmed Rashid has written and agree with it. It is now becoming ever more obvious that Pakistan remains strongly on track to commit suicide as it fails to listen to anyone. This paranoid attitude of yesteryears has to go. No country can be rattled if it is strong from inside. The fear of disintegration comes only because we are a nation forced to remain together.
Sera Ahsan, Dubai, UAE
Pakistan is the current Cambodia and Laos in American terrorism. That brought about the Khmer Rouge who when they wanted to get the people out of Phnom Penh only had to tell the people the Americans were coming. In the same way the American terrorist raids into Pakistan are implementing a Taliban takeover in Pakistan.
Charlie White, Vietnam
Fools never learn from mistakes but the time will come when every party involved in Afghanistan will return empty handed, doubt it, learn from history.
Saleem Abbasi, Pakistan
Ahmed Rashid appears to imply that the Pakistani army and ISI are being "bad boys" by refusing to act against the groups fighting in Afghanistan. Why should they intervene, if they believe it is not in Pakistan's interest to do so. The Afghan civil war has been precipitated by US and UK militarism in that region, and he conveniently forgets that that is the primary cause of destabilisation in the whole region, not to mention India's growing imperialism, and efforts to destabilize/weaken Pakistan. There are over 3 million displaced Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and countless civilians have been killed and injured in this insane neo-colonial war. So to imply that the Pakistan army or ISI knowingly harbour the Taliban/al-Qaeda leadership is a nonsense that people like Ahmed Rashid seem to trot out to please the US and UK media, who have a desperate need to simplify the reality in that region by blaming "terrorists" for the failures of their governments. If terrorists are people who use violence to achieve political ends, its not just the so-called Taliban who use terrorism, but also the US, UK and all other militaries that are occupying Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The job of the Pakistan armed forces is to protect the people of Pakistan, they should not be used by the Nato forces to intervene in the civil war in Afghanistan, which the US has exacerbated needlessly.
Dr Khalid Ahmad, Canada
Peace in Afghanistan and successful war against Islamic extremists is only possible by involving India and providing it the necessary resources. The western policy makers and their Indian counterparts are both aware of the facts, but due to personal interests and polices do not acknowledge the requirement.
Bidya S Joshi, India
It is astounding that the Pakistani military continues to follow such an ultimately self defeating strategy. Their arrogance is simply mind boggling. Pakistan is a poor, under developed country with fewer and fewer friends in this world. They can not afford to bury their heads in the sand and alienate all who are in a position to help them.
Amir Chaghmard, Tajikistan
Even after the painful lessons of terrorism over the last few years it seems the Military-Intelligence establishment in Pakistan still believes there are such things as good terrorists and bad terrorists. Will they never learn that their policies of the past have led to the violence and trauma Pakistan faces today? What will it take for them to wake up and truly make a break from the failed policies of the past?
Rahul Sahgal, Australia
I was under the impression that Ahmed Rashid is more pragmatic and does not give into rumours. His reference to India supporting Pakistan Taliban seems total nonsense. India (and certainly any country with leadership having commonsense) would not like to have a venomous snake (in this case Pakistan Taliban) as a pet. Pakistan just can not afford to keep thinking that India is still its number one enemy while the enemy within is trying to swallow it whole. India has moved on guys...India's policies are not Pakistan centric. India does not need Pakistan Taliban taking over Pakistan...that would spell unimaginable trouble for the whole region/world.
Ahmed Rashid gives us a very plausible account of the situation in this part of the world. I will never know whether his analysis is correct, but facts reported by the media seem to confirm it in every respect.
Francois Beaufrere, Singapore
The key to winning the war on terror is not a military campaign, rather it's the opposite, economic opportunities with proper law and order.
What every body is conveniently forgetting is the root cause of strife between India and Pakistan. That is KASHMIR. Kashmir is the crux of the problem and the elephant in the room.
Syed Abdulhah, USA
For many observers the Pakistan Army, and the ISI in particular, are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Their refusal to move proper troop numbers from the eastern borders (on the spurious claims that India is about to invade, or is sponsoring Islamic terrorists in Balochistan), is the main reason why the Afghanistan Taliban have safe bases, and the Pakistan Taliban have such numbers inside Pakistan's borders. Until Pakistan 'grows up' as a nation, and stops supporting Islamic groups (no matter how violent) across the region, then it will continue to slide in to chaos, and risk provoking the very "War" that they claim everyone else is fomenting against them.
A Kelly, UK
I don't know why all articles of Mr. Rashid smell bad! Its very hard to find a balanced point of view from his articles. Can you answer one question Mr. Rashid that if we assume that groups based in Pakistan are causing damage to India and Pakistan, why cant we assume that India is causing damage to Pakistan as well. And as soon as we talk about Indian hand in Balochistan why should we be deemed as irresponsible. This article is a clear character assassination of Pakistan and its military.
There is no perfect news about whether dossier has been given or not. It is just media speculation and not the confirmed report. Neither India nor Pakistan has put that in the press.