The Middle East and Central Asia has always been newsworthy when it comes to western involvement in both regions. Israel/Palestine, Lebanon and the first Gulf war in 1991 were all closely followed on the news. Indeed, the first Gulf war was the first war on a 24 hour news cycle with constant updates – which became to be know as the “CNN effect.” Afghanistan became dominant in the headlines after 9/11, followed almost instantaneously by fear mongering about Iraq in 2003.
Two other countries who received less coverage for their influence on Central Asian Politics after 9/11 are Pakistan and India.
India is a huge country (approx. 1.4 billion people) and has developed a strong economy in recent years. It has been identified as a challenger to the US as the global hegemon as a result of this along with the B.R.I.C nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China). However, it can be argued that its influence in Afghan/Pakistani peace efforts has been somewhat overlooked.
Here is a synopsis on the region including all actors still trying to mediate conflict for the last eighteen years and more importantly – why it matters.
India and Pakistan have contested the Kashmir region in North since the laters inception in 1947. Pervez Musharraf who served as President of Pakistan from 2001 to 2008 allied with the US in its bombing campaign of Afghanistan. Although under pressure from other Muslims in Pakistan and the wider region he could not be seen as another puppet of western influence. Memories of the British Raj in India would not sit well with newly developed country of Pakistan post British empire. This became of type of balancing act for Musharraf to keep. But the biggest fear of Musharraf was a dominant emerging India in the region with support from a superpower such as the US. Hence the public support for the bombing of Afghanistan.
When the USA bombed Afghanistan in 2001 it created huge instability. The Taliban was flushed out of power in a matter of weeks with almost any issue. This resulted in Al Qaeda and its affiliates (Chechens, Moroccans and other Arab volunteers) crossing the border in Pakistan. The Afghan/Pakistan border is almost impossible to control as a both governments learned quickly. It is largely a vast mountainous area with little border security and has long been an issue for both countries leaders.
The US had long been working with volatile groups such as the mujahideen, Haqqani network to find the whereabouts of their most wanted people. This included of course, Osama Bin Ladan and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both men were public critics of western involvement in the region and cited the Gulf war in 1991 and the occupation of Palestine as reasons to attack the US and its associates.
The US also worked with the intelligence services of Pakistan ISI (directorate S) in order to find information on their capture or kill list. However, this proved to be very difficult as there was little trust between the US intelligence including CIA, FBI and ISI.
In 2008 there was a suicide bombing beside the Indian embassy in Kabul which was thought to have been carried out by a Pakistani radical. Over 50 people were killed. US intelligence showed that covert support came from ISI in a horrible attack on India. President Bush was infuriated by the attack which ultimately resulted in US policy change toward Pakistan.
The CIA would up its drone and military operations in Pakistan namely along the border, close to Waziristan. Then Pakistani army chief Ashaf Kayani failed to deny or claim involvement in the attack and he was not in agreement with the change of policy and would need to be buttered up by the American officials stationed in Kabul. More Military equipment and support was offered to try and develop the weak Pakistani armies capacity.
This in turn resulted in more violence in Pakistan and anger toward the army and government as it was viewed once again as a muslim country being manipulated by American power. Al Qaeda and its affiliates would become stronger in the region and would only strengthen their argument for illegitimacy of the government in Islamabad.
2008 was a significant year for the war in Afghanistan. A presidential election was one by democrat Barack Obama. He would inherit a drone campaign which was developed extensively under Bush since July of that year. With a surge in drone attacks to follow would only bring about more anti-western sentiment among the region especially in tribal areas.
After a surge of troops and resources in Iraq many in Washington felt the same would bring about a more stable Afghanistan. Along with more changes in ISI leadership in 2008 gave the US and Britain hope for better relations and a more supportive ISI sympathetic to US interest as well as a Pakistani Army who were on the same page. However, this was quickly shattered by another major terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 saw the largest televised attack since 9/11 carried out by Pakistani terrorists. Once again, denial by ISI and its affiliates in the face of strong evidence on the contrary from US intelligence units as well as internal diplomats in the region.
Once Obama was elected US president the US relationship changed with Afghanistan. His predecessor Bush had a very close relationship with Hamid Karzai. Often in direct contact and pushing for more assistance Karzai had a close fiend in Bush. Obama on the other-hand had a different vision for the US-Afghan Experience. A troop withdrawal and ending of the Afghan war was something Obama promised and assisted in getting elected. Although he did send some additional troops to the region he wanted less of a unilateral role in Afghanistan. This strained the relationship between the two countries.
Bush like Obama, also often pushed Karzai and tested his patience. Especially was the case when the US signed an agreement with India to further develop nuclear capabilities which infuriated Karzai and his government.
In 2009 it was being reported in US circles that Karzai mental state was deteriorating. Although he was known by people close to him as being moody his disgust at the US became more deep and the relationship constantly strained. His portrayal in the media went from one of “the south asian Mandela in 2002′ to the Mugabe of south Asia in 2007. The constant battle Karzai faced was that on being another western puppet being propped up by the US. Night raids and attacks by American and NATO official kept him under serious pressure domestically. He then had to publicly condemn such behaviour by his western allies but try and work with them privately.
Whatever way you look at it, Karzai had valid reasons for such anguish. The US was interfered in the election in 2009. Richard Holbrooke was well known for his touting of potential afghan presidents when the Obama administration became tired of Karzai’s moods. The special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Holbrooke was looking for a replacement for Karzai and in meetings which were intercepted by NDS the president was informed of this made his opinions clear once again on US involvement.
In 2009 as the US was struggling to make any real progress the goals began to change in the overall mission. Buying time for Afghanistan and its partners in their own fight against the Taliban, giving them the resources to be equipped to deal with a post US Afghanistan was the policy change.
Michael Flynn and Stan McChrystal who have worked with each other for years began a review of US policy in Afghanistan. Both heavy handed in their approach to dealing with the occupied people where they are based sought clarification on where the war was headed under Obama. They employed spying operations on the afghans mainly in Kabul which were similar to what one would see in the “mission impossible movies.” The idea was limit American casualties in Afghanistan. American bases expanded along the Pakistan border and capabilities to launch night raids and other operations significantly increased. Flynn was astounded by the lack of intelligence both CIA and NSA had on the Talibans and its strategy which was supported by Pakistan. US popularity among Afghans was low.
As the US review was conducted once again for clarity in the US mission and its progress it became clear that Obama favoured ascending more troops but with a withdrawal date in 2011. This had never been done before – an announcement of surge of troops along with a withdrawal plan. What this resulted in was real worry from Pakistan regarding an opportunity for India to jump in post US withdrawal in the region. Ultimately, after trying to persuade the Pakistan Army to work for US interest it back fired and continued support of the Taliban from Pakistan endured.
In November of 2009 once American officials came to the realisation that there would be no military defeat of the Taliban (even after a surge of nearly 40,000 troops American and NATO combined) Richard Holbrooke travelled to Pakistan to speak with the President of Pakistan Asif Zardari. What was needed for a peaceful Afghanistan in the eyes of Pakistan was once again the worry of Indian influence in the region – “The Pakistanis see everything through the prism of India.” Kashmir, access to water from India and whether pro Indian rulers would take charge. Geopolitical strategy was everything to Pakistan as it was to the USA in the fight against Al Qaeda.
2009 also saw Saudi Arabia join the intelligence war. After meeting with Saudi secret agents the US were able to gain more than enough credibility on a man who was thought to be new political negotiator for the Taliban; he was called Tayeb Agha. This was huge potential for US – direct contact with the highest levels of Taliban. Maybe a deal could be developed to end in peace. More meeting between the US and Saudi intelligence reviewed however that Saudi Arabia was not too interested in getting deeply involved. It wanted to remain friendly to Pakistan as its powered in the region became more prominent.
Pakistan tried to influence Karzai after his frustration with the US and Obama. Kayani and Pasha sought an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan once the US left the region. The big selling point was if Pakistan ended support Taliban and the conflict inside Afghanistan, then Afghanistan could end Indian influence in the country. Both would get what they wanted.
As the US tried to create policy which moved to a more capacity building role than a search and defeat the Taliban, it brought many debates up in Washington. Many different reviews and channels were exhausted and nothing seemed to be working. Frustration gripped the Obama Administration. The Afghan Intelligence felt Pakistan was once again deceiving the US. As Karzai was sympathetic to Taliban how could any real developments be made. The believed Pakistan was trying to get the US out as soon as possible, keep the peace in he region and then regain there influence post withdrawal.
In 2010, General Pasha gave a presentation to federals officers in DC as drone warfare and conflict soared in Afghanistan. The presentation argued that Pakistan suffered huge losses of life and injuries as Americas failed invasion next door spilled over in Pakistan. The ISI would have stated that their support for the Afghan Taliban was due to this loss of life – a preventive measure to defend its people and border.
A conflict resolution cell was developed for political negotiations in the same year. The interagency was set up to talk with Taliban after the possibility of direct talks to Mullah Omar were established through Tayeb Agha. He was deemed to be a close deputy of Mullah Omar – the man who the US felt could most influence the direction the conflict would go or come to a political agreement.
Pakistan lets terrorist slip through the Gap?
The previous year (2009) a radicalised Pakistani man and newly granted citizen of the US traveled to Pakistan to be trained by other terrorist groups to attack the US inside its borders. What would change his mind? – “until the hour the US pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stop the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and Pakistan and stop the occupation of Muslim lands.” This seemed to be a recurring theme among muslim anger toward foreign occupation. Similar to Osama Bin Laden and his motives.
However, the newly America citizen failed to detonate his explosives in his botched attempt in Times Square in 2010 and he as caught. This could could have went very differently and the US would have had really considered attacking Pakistan, similar to how Afghanistan was attacked post 9/11 when Bin Laden resided there, The only difference was – Pakistan had Nuclear capabilities and Afghanistan didn’t. This would have brought out the true bravery of the US and its role as a global police-state or embarrassingly highlighted its fear or a real battle.
Karzai wanted the sam relationship with the US that Israel, Egypt and South Korea had experienced. However policy makers in Washington didn’t see the advantage of this. Obamas troop surge was developed to hand over power and responsibility to Afghan’s once they left in 2011. American interest were specifically geared toward there own national interest including stopping AL Qaeda and security for Pakistan nuclear arsenal.
Karzai also fired his biggest ISI guru Amrullah Saleh as he became frustrated and trust began to fade. This was a consequence of the straining relationship between the CIA and the Afghan Government. This was a win for ISI as they continued the tug if war for Karzai’s backing as they battled with US agencies.
Kayani issued another documented to the US and whats it strategic interest were. It was more defined and had less jargon regarding ISI’s activities. If a terrorist attack did happen on US soil, such as the failed attempt in 2010, which could be traced back to Pakistan, Hilary Clinton insinuated that an attack on Pakistan could. Kayani responded by saying that both countries have become frustrated in recent times and that the relationship could be completely destroyed between both countries – especially when both countries are nuclear powers.
Kayani’s continued vision for Pakistani Security
In 2010, once US peace talks began with the Taliban, ISI in Pakistan did not take well to this fact. After confronting American actors in Islamabad, Pasha and Kayani were feeling more excluded by the US. They felt and peace settlement would only be achieved through involving them also.
After Kayani issued a third vision of what a post-war region would look like to the US it included redefining his views on India’s role in Afghanistan which could be contribute to the economics in the region – a less heavy handed approach than previously envisioned.
Pakistan and India played a big role in the regional politics after 9/11. The war in Afghanistan had been influenced heavily by ISI and its desire to isolate India. Becoming more dominant that its rivals was what mainly interested ISI, assisting with peace negations with Taliban in Afghanistan came after. The tussle initiated by the US for Pakistan and Afghanistan friendship in its fight against Al Qaeda quickly worked against them as it enraged both sides by playing them to take advantage fo American political gain. The Indian factor changed US policy as it did strongly influence Pakistan which had serious ties to the Afghan Taliban, the border region and other terrorist activities. India and ISI were barely mentioned in the western media due to the US and its will to work with both terrorist and administrations in both countries simultaneously.