Proxy Wars

21Nov09

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The director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta has been in Pakistan. He met President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Chief of Army Staff, Ashfaq Kayani and ISI head, Ahmed Shuja Pasha. According to the Daily Times, ‘Panetta praised the Pakistan Army’s recent action against terrorists in Swat and South Waziristan.’ The US CIA director urged Pakistani military officials to keep at it, and move against those terrorists who move across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to target US and other international forces in Afghanistan.

One such terrorist appears to be Fazlullah, one of the most wanted Taliban leaders and the head of the Swat valley faction. Fazlullah became known as Mullah Radio or Radio Mullah because of his fiery anti-state and anti-government speeches calling for jihad on illegal FM radio stations that were operated from and could be heard in the Swat valley. Just a few days ago, Fazlullah told the BBC Urdu Service that he has escaped to Afghanistan and is planning new attacks on Pakistani forces. “I have reached Afghanistan safely,” he told BBC Urdu. “We are soon going to launch fully fledged punitive raids against the army in Swat.”

Now while Leon Panetta believes the Pakistan military should have been more vigilant at the border, the opinion is different on the ground. Former ambassador, Ayaz Wazir, who is a tribal chief from South Waziristan, argued, “When the Pakistan Army began the operation in Waziristan, we were expecting the US and NATO forces to seal the border. With Fazlullah’s escape so easily to Afghanistan, fingers are pointed at them also. We can ask the mighty US and NATO: What are you doing?”

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While Panetta visits Pakistan and urges the leadership to take military action against ‘all extremists’ (my italics), the Washington Times has reported that Mullah Omar has moved from Quetta and is now in Karachi. The Americans have been insisting for some time that the Afghan Shura or Council have been living in Quetta, raising fears among Pakistanis that there may be an expansion of the controversial drone strikes to that area. It was one of the questions I had raised with US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton when she was visiting Pakistan. Clinton had responded by saying that it was a military matter that she could not discuss.

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The point of concern in the Washington Times story is that their sources, the two senior US intelligence officials and a former senior CIA officer, alleged that the Pakistani intelliegence agency, ISI helped the Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by US drone attacks.

According to the paper,

The development reinforces suspicions that the ISI, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to expand Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, is working against U.S. interests in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to send more U.S. troops to fight there.”

It goes on to quote Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and analyst on al Qaeda and the Taliban who headed the Obama administration’s review of policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, as saying that ‘there had been few suicide bombings in Karachi, which he attributed to the Taliban and al Qaeda not wanting to foul their own nest.’

Karachi, the financial capital of Pakistan, has remained safe from the almost daily terror attacks across the country. Karachiites, who were subjected to decades of ethnic and sectarian violence, have been grateful to the point of superstition for the peace in the city. Ordinary people claim that they do not want to jinx the calm by commenting on it.

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The statement from Riedel, known to be an important advisor to the US President Barack Obama and his administration, could spark concerns among the people about US intentions. This is especially true given there was serious speculation over the past few months of drone strikes in Quetta for the same reason – that the Afghan Taliban leaders were hiding there.

On the other hand, if the US allegation carries any hint of truth, the ISI should rethink its policy. Fighting proxy wars has never worked out too well for Pakistan, the effects of which are more than evident now.

As Zafar Hilaly, the retired diplomat and political analyst, recalled the ISI has historically meddled in Afghanistan. He recounted his time in the foreign office when assassinated PPP chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, was Prime Minister. The former ambassador claimed that Bhutto understood the dangers of fighting proxy wars, and wanted to deter the establishment in their plans to use Afghanistan to expand their influence into Central Asia. He said, “We were actually sending troops in plain clothes to fight for the Taliban.”

I would agree with Zafar Hilaly when he says, “In Afghanistan, what we’re seeing is a civil war. It is a local issue. We should not meddle in it. I was saddened to see that our foreign minister said that we should have a say in the next government of Afghanistan because that’s exactly what we tried to do the last time, and it didn’t work.”

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18 Responses to “Proxy Wars”

  1. I agree with you that we should not meddle in our neighbor affairs. I am simply not getting where we are heading, why we hate development so much? How long can we afford to play these double games with our people and international community? In the next three decades Pakistan be the 3rd or 4th largest country population wise, can we afford to play such proxy wars. Isn’t it time to care for the development of our people?

  2. Does India have a stake in Afghanistan, whilst not sharing a physical boundary with the country? Yes, it most certainly does.

    Then how can the US, or anyone else for that matter, tell Pakistan to not to care for having a stake in Afghanistan? And how the situation there develops?

    As for Fazlullah, Afghan cellular services have roaming agreements with Pakistani cellular service providers. And the call just might be made from within Pakistan, with an Afghan number. The last I heard, he’d lost his legs. And this could be just an attempt to put security agencies off his back. But in case he’s in fact in Afghanistan, we’d demand his repatriation from the US/NATO.

    Now for ISI meddling in Afghan affairs. In order to stop it from doing so, I think outside forces will first have to ensure that Afghanistan will not be used as a second front against Pakistan. Under present circumstances, with US siding with India in the light of a growing challenge from China hence looking the other way whilst India increases its clout in Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistan, I do not see that happening. After all, we do live in a very real world and not utopia.

  3. 3 Umer Inam

    Naveen it is fact we meddled in afghanistan from very past specially during the soviet union attack on afghanistan but after the begining of this so called terror and the presence of american there and having their own govt. like hamid karzai we dont have same influence as well in the past specially when the tenure of taliban govt. were there, but at present circumstances indian presence is raising their influence as compare to pakistan and it is the desire of indian security agencies to destablize pakistan, and as the secretary of state hilary clinton answer is concern, yes you are right she did not gave the answer of your question even i will remind you here few othere question (when someone asked why the american are independently wondering there having ammunition without permission there is a no rules and regulations for them she replied that they are for the security of ambassador and there staff but he replied Ambassador does not walk on the streets at very late night (03:00 AM), she only laughed and never replied again. one similar story when someone said you are using directly drone attaks at pakistan why you do not provide the same technology to pakistan she said that is military to military i cant discuss this,) many other paralliesiam stories during her interview, and as far this question is concern that mulla omar is in karachi at present, before it, they said he is in quetta they are planning attacks there but due to the strict reaction from people against such drone attacks they become calm and pressuring on the govt, we also listen that osama is in pakistan or in the tribal areas of pakistan, i think it is pitiless and know they want expansion of this proxy war upto karachi which is impossible and naveen one more thing important here are they really persons for them we are killing for a very long time our own people sometime this question is also comes in the mind of people because what are the objectives of this war ? are this war against the pakistan or against the its nuclear assets, i am here in greece and people of this place always ask to me some questions regarding this issue they mostly said what is your people and govt. stance ? what happening inside the pakistan, where they are going ? naveen i ask to you and same to those who will comment on this issue ?

  4. // remove my revious comment which was from an another ID//

    There is absolutely no dubt about the fact that ISI supports a “particular” faction of the TALIBAN and keeps on supporting it by “ALL” means so as to prepare a future plan for the repeat of 96 by Taliban. It is very hard for ISI itself to distinguish between those who are working against PAK ARMY vs those who are still not willing to spport attacks on PAK ARMY and are more willing to capture KABUL.

    This ability to distinguish the two will play a great role in future. This distinction is easy at higher level e.g MULLAH OMER etc. but not easy at ground level.

    As i have kept on saying at all places, till PAK ARMY/ISI chnage their core stretigic position w.r.t AFGHANISTAN and wind up this whole jehadi project, this whole TALIBAN issue is here to stay.

    We need to finish this project and start learning to live with an AFGHAN gov which is more tilted towards INDIA and try to win it by diplomatic means (as well as humanitariand and infrastructure assistance) rather then proxies like TALIBAN.

    And please dont delete my comments, i dont know why you del the previous ones from your earlier posts.

  5. 6 Natasha

    The locals are fighting a foreign army – that does not make it a pure civil war in my opinion.

    About Pakistan’s involvement – Having a say in their internal matters is not right.Being concerned is okay.But the way we are being influenced by the political landscape in Afghanistan this ‘meddling’ is inevitable – it seems.

  6. 7 Faisal kapadia

    It’s a well known fact that we created the Taliban monster but not many know that they received religious indoctrination in many karachi madrassas. the one-eyed Taliban leader of yesteryear was a student at Jamiah Binoria in nee town close to Quaid’s Mazar. I would not be surprised if most Talibs made frequent trips to the city to recuperate. Al-Asif square near Sohrab Goth is supposed to have an arms cache bigger than the Rangers headquarters in Karachi. Mush wanted it raided and the then Karachi Corps Command told him that is not possible. The only option was ariel bombardment. All this right here!! And there are several religious compounds spread over acres of land in this city, none of whose rosters are checked for incoming students!

    • ” but not many know that they received religious indoctrination in many karachi madrassas.”

      Well, isnt that a WELL KNOWN REALITY ?
      Everyone knows where the HUMAN RESOURCE comes from, and i have been saying it everywhere all these years ( since 2000 as i remember) that till we get into the ROOT of the problem, we can keep on fooling ourselves by throwing the FRUITs into dustbin and think as if we are done with this MONSTER.

  7. It’s no wonder the Afghans hate Pakistan despite the fact that it took them in when they were refugees. I guess Pakistan interferes in Afghanistan mainly because of it’s close ties with India. Why can’t we simply stick to one policy and not endanger ourselves? The idea of keeping them engaged in a proxy war via the Taliban has backfired on us big time. We are fighting a Frankenstein which has gotten out of control and is disrupting our way of life. I pray that reports of rogue leaders being based in Urban areas is not true. I fear the consequences.

  8. 10 neel123

    Quote – “Bhutto understood the dangers of fighting proxy wars, and wanted to deter the establishment in their plans to use Afghanistan to expand their influence into Central Asia.” – unquote.

    Who is this “establishment” ……….. ?

    You Pakistani cowards in the media should have the courage to say that the “establishment” is your Army and the ISI.

    In Pakistan the “establishment” holds all the power, then why this drama of elected Govt………. ? only to negotiate on behalf of the “establishment” …… ?

    • Hmmm. I’m not sure of the reason for your annoyance. Everyone understands that the establishment means the state and the intelligence agencies. As former Ambassador, Zafar Hilaly said, Benazir Bhutto spent most of her tenure struggling against the establishment.

      • 12 neel123

        Ordinary Pakistanis do not understand that there is an all powerful “establishment” besides the Govt. They think that the PPP, Zardari-Gilani and party are the reason for everything that is wrong in Pakistan. They need to know the truth.

        It is time for the ordinary Pakistanis to know that it is the decades long policies of their all powerful ” Establishments” of the Army and the ISI, of using terrorists as tools of Foreign policy, that are not compatible, and the impediments for peace with the neighbours.

        It is time for them to know that these evil policies have failed to achieve anything for Pakistan in last sixty years, and are likely to achieve nothing in the future too.

  9. Reading your piece and comments, it seems all of us including the experts quoted by you know the roots of the Afghanistan crisis. How it all started? Who created Talibans? Who strengthened them and used them for their own agendas? How these talibans turned Frankenstein? How cruel, rigid and militant are these Talibans – both Pakistani brand and the original Afghan Pushtoon Talibans? How and why America got involved in “Jihad” against USSR and how and why Jihadis were recruited from all over the world to defeat cold war enemy #1? How this Jihadi mess was left uncleared as Hilary admits? How these Jihadis turned Frankenstein and dreamed and planned for so-called Islamic renaissance by violence? How 9/11 happened and America has to come back to punish “good boys” turned bad boys? How America is facing another Vietnam? How the blame game is on for face saving from the failures? How the mistrust among all players is flourishing by ever increasing deception and betrayal? All the experts are there advising based on their past involvement and experience – what each party should do and what not to do? How our fugitive easily crosses border and reach Afghanistan and how the fugitives from their side are dispatched to Quetta and then for strategic reason to safe haven of Karachi? Where are all the arms stored by these militants and from where they get training and money? The militant is one eyed or two eyed and biggest threat to a state is an illiterate ex-chair-lift operator?

    The all above how weird it sounds is a mere history of a patient, the diagnosis of the disease and various prescriptions by various doctors and even some quacks if they have luxury of media or web access.

    But what is the real cause of this Chaos and similar chaos in present world? What should be done for a lasting peace on this planet by allowing co-existence of all human beings by fairly sharing the bounties of nature?

    This is the real question which needs an answer and in-depth study and discussion. An honest answer is the solution for this Chaos and similar ones where humanity is bleeding with wounds caused by deception for self-interests.

    Until we spot the culprits and then start calling a spade a spade, it is like watching a movie named Chaos Unlimited with a message Part 2 is under production and soon will be released.

    I see no immediate cure of bleeding wounds as long we don’t spot who is causing them and who in the name of treating them is only making them more deep and blood is all flushing out.

    What lacks is Sincerity? Sincerity by all parties to solve the issue. The deception and betrayal will enhance mistrust and flare up chaos. We need to get rid of our individual or national agendas but focus on one agenda – Humanity is in turmoil and on danger of perishing for ever, we have to save it by eradicating ignorance and arrogance – by eradicating exploitation and oppression of fellow human beings. This requires Wisdom and not intellectualism – this requires sincerity and not the knowledge which gives you more power to unjust.

    And in nutshell – what will happen? – the more and more of this Chaos because there are Cooks (read Crooks) out their spoiling the broth. We or sure are sick since allowing these Cooks to continue with their recipe of disaster. Moreover, those few of us who realize we are sick – unfortunately under the treatment of “doctors” who are in fact quacks and most of them sick themselves. The tragedy of our Time – our Messiahs in all walks of our life are sick themselves. (Malik Nadal of Fort Hood is one small example)

    All this present a scene of “tragic comedy” – comedy of errors. But humanity will learn but in hard way and by suffering more and more pain. The reason – we ignore and suppress the just voices and make sure – No one also listens them.

    So what you hear all over the Media is – Noise; this noise also includes the shrieks of those losing their limbs or lives in bomb blasts.

    Last but not the least, Naveen; you are doing a great job by bringing up these burning issues in a very pleasant way. Keep up the good work. This will contribute to shift paradigm and make new mindset which will welcome the much needed – CHANGE.

    • The root cause is what you mentioned as “deception for self-interests”

      Root cause is :

      Some Holy , self certified thekedarz of ISLAM have taken it upon themselves to convert each and every human on planet a MUSLIM. If he accept ISLAM fine if he does not he “deserves” punishment by “all” means. This punishment will be carried out by individuals , groups (Al-Qaeada etc.) , preachers, countries (PAK and Saudia funding ) etc.

      Since this clashes with the NATURE’s law of difference of opinion, it should come to us as no surprise that the battle looks like ISLAM vs REST OF THE WORLD.

      Added to this is the “mafadaat” (interests) of economic nature by some countries (mainly the powerful) and to ensure their interest they manipulate religion and economy by means of occupations, war, interference, agencies etc.

      And when countries try to do all mentioned above they try to have proxy governments if they can not capture/occupy a country by force since DEMOCRACY is the talk of the town now. These proxy govs are funding through differenet means.

      PAK is trying to put in place a proxy Taliban gov in KABUL for its interest, USA is trying same through Karzai, India is also doing same. Iran is trying to make sure TALIBAN dont come into power. Central Asia has its own stake.

      All this leads to AFGHANISTAN being the battle ground for a grand proxy war in which multiple opponents are fighting in many directions.

      For PAK’s part – it kept one type of TALIBAN group in power to communicate but after 911 there are more than one type of taliban groups. There are some who are angry at us for the U-turn and are willing to even attack our ARMY men. There are others whose focus is more on KABUL and not PAK ( this group is the one which i had mentioned in earlier comment , has full support of our ARMY and ISI). Then there is a group which has a UNIVERSAL ambition, beyond PAK and KABUL and AFGHANISTAN. This ambition is what i earlier explained to put ISLAM on top , by hook or crook.

      All these groups are fighting in different directions and manner thus making the equation COMPLEX to solve.

      I hope i answered your point.

  10. 15 Umer Inam

    Naveen you have not given the answer last row of comments of no. thrid, if you have. thanks

  11. Naveen,

    It’s kind of on a tangent but I have to ask. A really brilliant point raised recently was the “lack of coverage of corruption scandals of Business tycoons”. Everybody goes after politicians but nobody goes after their partner-in-crimes.

    Why is there little/no coverage of the Malik Riaz murder trial in any news paper? Why aren’t any journalists tracking the likes of him and exposing them?


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