The Future in Af-Pak – Is it Becoming Clearer?

Three days ago, about 200 militants from Afghanistan crossed the military line of control into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Pakistan-occupied Pakhtunistan and attacked a military outpost. The battle lasted for two days.

A couple of days prior to this attack, the Taleban attacked the city of Herat near the Iran-Afghan border and the city of Taloqan, a city in the northeastern corner of Afghanistan. The attack on Taloqan was more successful than the attack on Herat. Taloqan is far away from the Pakhtun dominated area in the south of Afghanistan. The symbolism was perfect. Taloqan was the last major city to be captured by the Pakhtun Taleban in January 2001.

A couple of days prior to these attacks, a Taleban suicide bomber infiltrated an Afghan-Nato meeting and killed the highly regarded General Daoud, the commander of the Northern Police Zone that covers nine provinces and the commander of the elite Pamir 203 corps. General Daoud was famous for his role in the war against Soviets and was an associate of the legendary Ahmad Shah Massoud. Recall that Massoud was himself killed in a suicide attack two days prior to the attack on September 11, 2001.

                     (Attack on the Mehran Naval Base – NYT Photo)

About a week prior to these attacks inside Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taleban launched an audacious attack against the Mehran Naval Base near Karachi on the Arabian Sea, about 700 miles south of the Pakhtun areas.

All these attacks were carried out within 3-4 weeks of America’s most spectacular victory in Af-Pak, the raid on Abbotabad and the execution of Osama Bin Laden. 

To us the message seems clear. And it is a message in many parts to different entities.

The Message to India, Iran, Russia and Blackwill Plan B

First the Pakhtun Taleban are demonstrating that they can attack anywhere inside Afghanistan whether the area is Pakhtun dominated or not. By killing the famed General Daoud, the Pakhtun Taleban are serving notice that the Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, groups that comprised the Northern Front, are just as powerless today as they were in the years before September 2001.

This is a very negative signal to India, Iran, Russia and Americans like Ambassador Blackwill who hope to build up these groups in Afghanistan into a credible force against the Pakhtun Taleban.
It confirms our long held belief that the Pakhtun Taleban will seize control of all of Afghanistan soon after American forces leave Afghanistan.

The establishment in America has tried to portray the war within Af-Pak as a war against Al Qaeda, as a war against terrorism, and a war of the secular democratic Afghan government against radical Muslim insurgents. These have been useful banners to gather domestic support for the vast effort spent in waging this war.

The danger of using banners is that eventually the creators of the banners end up believing in their own creation. The banners become transformed from tools to belief systems. 

In contrast, we have maintained that the war within Af-Pak is at its core a war of the Pakhtun, by the Pakhtun and for the Pakhtun. Everything else, including religion and nationality, are merely banners to generate support and to intimidate the opposition. 

The Message to Pakistan

Pakhtuns do not accept today’s artificial line of control between Afghanistan and today’s Pakistan. This is as true of the Afghan Government who rejected this border in 1949 as of today’s Pakhtun Taleban. This line of control, called the Durand line, was created as a result of the partition of Afghanistan by the British in 1893. Pakhtuns reside on both sides of this Durand line and cross it at will. 

We have maintained that once the Pakhtun Taleban take control of Afghanistan, they will then move across the Durand Line to take de facto control of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and potentially create an irredentist Pakhtunistan. The Pakistani Army units, mainly belonging to the British established, Pakhtun-dominated Frontier Corps, would be powerless or unwilling to stop this southward march of the Pakhtun Taleban.

This we believe is the clear message of the attack by a force of 200 Afghan militants into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If they can attack today despite the presence of American Forces, what will they do once America leaves Afghanistan?

The attack on the Pakistani Naval Base in Karachi would not have been possible without inside information and logistical help. This signals the increasing penetration of the core Pakistani Military by either militants or sympathizers of the militancy.

We have written in the past about the radicalization of the core Pakistani Army in the last decade. The  secular, scotch drinking generals have retired or are close to retirement. The officers below them are all trained in the Islamic curriculum established in the 1980s by General Zia Ul Haq, America’s staunch ally in the war against Soviets in Afghanistan. 

We believe that middle level officers in the core Pakistani army are far more Islamist and anti-American than is generally understood. We saw confirmation of this belief in an article by Karin Bruillard in the Washington Post.

Frankly, this represents a greater danger to the core Pakistani Army and the regime than it does to America. The Taleban have already voiced their long term goal of gaining control of the Pakistani Army and its arsenal. And why shouldn’t they? They have history on their side, the history of Pakhtun conquest of core Pakistan over the past 1,000 years.

Yet, the core Pakistani Army remains focused on their hatred of India and oblivious to the danger of being subverted from the inside by the Taleban.

Validation of the Model

The series of attacks through out Afghanistan and on Pakistani military stations took place soon after the brilliant raid on Bin Laden. The execution of Bin Laden was the most spectacular victory in America’s long war against Al Qaeda. We believe that this raid will be followed by other raids against Taleban commanders like Siraj-Ud-Din Haqqani, the deadliest and the most virulent of Taleban warlords.

But it seems that this spectacular victory had no effect on the Taleban conflict within Af-Pak. Actually, it seems to have strengthened the resolve of the Taleban local commanders. We think the same will be true of future raids against outfits like the Haqqani network. Our thinking is based on our model for the current Taleban war.

On April 9, 2011, we described in detail our case that the 1689-1707 War in Maha-Rashtra against Aurangzeb’s army was an appropriate model for today’s war by the Pakhtun Taleban. Interestingly, Aurangzeb was the spiritual ancestor of today’s Taleban and they tried to implement Aurangzeb’s tax regime in Taleban-controlled areas a couple of years ago.

The 1689-1707 war was waged against the then superpower by local fighting units using guerrilla tactics. The 500,000 strong occupying army won several victories that included brilliantly conceived and superbly executed commando raid like the Bin Laden raid. But these victories did not have any lasting impact on the war. New local commanders rose to take place of the ones killed or captured. And every major raid of the occupying army led to a spate of revenge attacks like the ones we saw in the last few weeks in Af-Pak. 

We sincerely hope that today’s war in Af-Pak does not follow the road map of the 1689-1707 war. We hope that American forces succeed in controlling the Taleban inside Afghanistan and the core Pakistani Army goes to war against the Taleban inside Pakistani-occupied areas. We hope that other Afghan groups like the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara unite to build a force that could prevail against the Pakhtun Taleban.

We hope but we are not sanguine. Because, unfortunately, the future in Af-Pak is becoming clearer.

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