Afghan Elections Give Pakistanis Bleak Hope


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Richard Holbrooke might have insisted that his recent trip to Pakistan had nothing to do with Afghanistan, but the timing speaks otherwise. After all, the United States Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was headed to the Afghan presidential elections. Also, the administration of Barack Obama has been clear in its view of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and the symbiotic relation between the two neighbouring countries, thereby devising what is called the AfPak strategy.

Where Pakistanis had once bristled at the idea of being lumped in with a state that it had looked down its nose upon, there is now a subtle admission that their futures are shared. The Foreign Office spokesman, Abdul Basit, said on Thursday that the fates of the two countries were intertwined. Pakistan’s government expressed the hope that elections in Afghanistan would bring stability to its western neighbour.

Pakistani mainstream media outlets have been discussing the Afghan elections at length with that perspective. On one current affairs show, Eye of the Storm, author, Ahmed Rashid, the man who is widely recognized as the authority on Afghan politics, predicted a potentially grim scene in the wake of the elections.

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“Karzai will be in the lead but he will not be able to secure the 50 percent votes he needs to win, which means there will be run-off elections in October. In the midst of this, there could be a constitutional crisis in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban will take advantage of the political confusion, and may try to exploit the Pakistan Taliban who are already in a weakened position after infighting caused by Mehsud’s death. They will encourage the Pakistan Taliban to cross over the border to fight in Afghanistan.”

It is a bleak scenario indeed, and not just for the Afghans. Demands to ‘do more’ from the US and the world at large are just beginning to fade after a counter-insurgency offensive by the military in Swat. If the mantra were to restart, the Pakistan government and people would be annoyed.

Already the New York Times has reported that ‘Obama administration officials, trying to capitalize on recent and rare military successes in Pakistan, have been delivering strong private messages to military and civilian leaders here to aggressively pursue the Taliban and other militants, including some with close ties to Al Qaeda.’ Richard Holbrooke is said to have delivered the message himself before making his way to the Afghanistan elections.

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As Shuja Nawaz writes in the AfPak Channel on Foreign Policy’s website, “The army will be reluctant to open a front against the Afghan Taliban, who have been obtaining sanctuary inside FATA while avoiding conflict with the army. It will be equally reluctant to mount a large ground offensive in South Waziristan at a time when it is still mopping up in Swat and Malakand.”

That is the most apparent reason behind Pakistan’s protestations against expanding military action, but it does not end there.

Pakistanis feel they are unduly blamed for all the terror incidents in the world. While it may be so that a high percentage is proven repeatedly to originate on Pakistani soil, there are other factors that cannot be ignored.

Columnist for Dawn newspaper, Cyril Almeida asks who allowed Maulana Fazlullah, the man who overran Swat, to become so powerful and why? He concedes that while the most obvious actors are the militant networks in the Federally Aministered Tribal Areas, especially Waziristan, but the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan should not be ruled out. In a more unpredictable comment, Almeida wonders why the Americans should be absolved of blame. He questions, “How about the Americans and their activities in Afghanistan that may have affected the calculations of the militants who move fluidly across the Pak-Afghan border about where to focus next?”

When Americans step up the offensive in Afghanistan as they did last month in Kandahar, the reason the Pakistan government spoke out against it was that it forces the Afghan Taliban to trickle down to Pakistani territory. Not just that, the perception in Pakistan is that if their army has failed to secure the porous western border, so have the United States army, NATO troops and ISAF combined.

Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais, author and political analyst elaborates on the argument against US pressure to ‘do more’ in the event of heightened Taliban activity after the Afghan elections. He says, “We should be asking them to do more. We have suffered massive losses from instability in Afghanistan and from the insurgency there. If there are weaknesses, it is on the part of the US. They should have stopped drug production. Instead they allowed it to become a narco-state. It’s that drug money which ends up in the hands of insurgents.”

A version of this post was first published on 24th August 2009 by The Huffington Post

One Response to “Afghan Elections Give Pakistanis Bleak Hope”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles. You obviously know what you are talking about! Your site is so easy to navigate too, I’ve bookmarked it in my favourites 😀

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