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Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Forgotten War

Not to distract from all the finger-pointing over Iraq, but I still wonder from time to time what we plan on doing about Afghanistan. It seems to be at least as intractable a situation, with every bit the potential to bite us in the ass if resolved poorly. This exhaustive Frontline profile, replete with very informative and knowledgeable interviews, drives home a hard, inescapable conclusion -- that the resolution of the Afghan campaign relies very heavily on the cooperation of Pakistan, and they are running a "two-track" operation.

Musharraf claims that he is firmly on the side of the Americans, that he is battling hard. He talks all the time about the great sacrifices that the army has taken, the hits they've taken. They've lost hundreds of men in western Pakistan fighting the Taliban. What are we to believe?

Well, they haven't been fighting the Taliban, because the Taliban have an open Web site in Pakistan. It's in Pashtu, and it doesn't include Dari, which is the main language spoken by most Afghans. The Taliban leaders wander around in Pakistan clearly organizing offensives into Afghanistan.

They wander around freely? Where?

You can find them in tea shops in Quetta.

Can you find them in Peshawar?

Yes, you can find them in Peshawar, but the former ministries and major commanders in the Taliban are mostly from the south, from the Durrani tribes. …

So way down south, South Waziristan?

Yeah, they're down south, south of South Waziristan in the Quetta area. When you move over to South Waziristan, North Waziristan, you'll find Afghans like Haqqani who are mullahs, who were anti-Soviet during the jihad, and pro-Taliban.

Musharraf says he's out to get him.

Yes, but they don't get him, and the reason is that they don't want to get him. The reason is that Musharraf is following still a two-track policy. There's no doubt that he's done a great deal, especially in cooperation with us, against Al Qaeda.

But he doesn't pick up -- I mean, assuming Haqqani is close to bin Laden. There's no question, is there, that Haqqani has some knowledge about where bin Laden might be?

Yes, but most knowledge is in the hands of ISI, not only about where Osama bin Laden is, but where [Ayman] al-Zawahiri is and where other Al Qaeda elements are along the frontier. Now granted, it's more difficult to get at them because of the unrest in the tribal agencies today. However, they know exactly where they are.

The ISI knows --

The ISI knows exactly where Osama bin Laden is, al-Zawahiri is. They know exactly where Hekmatyar is, and they know where Haqqani is.

Wait a minute. How can you say that the ISI knows exactly where bin Laden is?

Because it's ISI's job to know where bin Laden is. It's also because of the history of ISI's relationship with bin Laden, which is 30 years old.

Let me give you an example: Gen. Mahmood [Ahmed], a lieutenant general in the Pakistani army, he's from a very distinguished Pakistani military family. He's very well known and respected in Pakistan. He was in charge of ISI at the time of 9/11. Musharraf made the commitment to President Bush to cooperate against terrorism and to cooperate with us in Afghanistan, to go after the Taliban. However, there are numerous media reports that he was dismissed during the offensive against Taliban by the United States because he was still allowing weapons and materiel to go to the Taliban from the Quetta area up into Kandahar.

So any reason to think that's not true?

I have no reason to think that's not true.

You believe that he was continuing to support the Taliban?

I think so.

And Musharraf would have known that?

Yes, he would have known that. He had to fire him when everybody else knew it, that ISI was still under his leadership providing weapons to the mujahideen secretly or that ISI was still providing ordnance to the Taliban even after 9/11 and even after the so-called change in Pakistani policy. But today I understand that Mahmood has returned to the Afghan section of ISI and is working there.

Hamid Gul is also somebody who's out there. He was formerly head of the ISI, and he's outspoken in his support for the Taliban and his anti-Americanism. I don't think that he's sitting at home in retirement. He's very active.

So what kind of ally is Musharraf?

I think Musharraf is a good ally. … But I think in this part of the world, we always have to remember that there are things that you see and you hear, but they don't conform to reality. When we hear from Musharraf that he's cooperating with us fully, I don't believe it. I believe that he's following a two-track policy.


This is exactly the problem. We have entrusted Musharraf with the responsibility of being our point man in South Asia, but are either ignorant of his primary interests, or powerless to further emphasize our own. It's obvious enough that Musharraf has to work in his own interests first, but it's not always known exactly what those interests comprise.

Peter Tomsen mentions elsewhere in the above interview that Pakistan's grand strategy in the region was always to destabilize Afghanistan, in order to transform it into a helpless client state. The ISI themselves installed and armed the Taliban in the first place. The idea was for Pakistan to achieve some "strategic depth" for itself, in its escalating border clashes with India. The de facto annexation of 20 million more Muslims, and some of the most impenetrable, hostile terrain on the planet was seen as a net plus by Pakistan's military planners, of whom Musharraf is the current leader, so long as he furthers their overall objectives.

Which means that they are simply biding their time, until we leave Afghanistan to continue its disintegration into medieval drug-dealing fiefdoms, and the cycle begins anew.

As an added bonus, be sure to read this interview with Pakistan's UN Ambassador Munir Akram. Amazing stuff, too much to excerpt.

Feel safer?

1 comment:

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