Monday, 26 July 2010

Afghanistan: the US military negotiates with the Taliban?

Clinton rode into Islamabad atop her pure white horse last week. (Anyone remember the Whitewater scandal and the suspicious death / suicide of Vince Foster?) She may have been clutching a check of USD 500 million in her left hand but her right hand was, as always, admonishing Pakistan.

Go and occupy North Waziristan? Why haven't you dealt with the Haqqani group in North Waziristan yet? You must do more. Look at what we the Americans have achieved in Afghanistan.
Wells, she didn't really make that last statement. How could she.
Other than dethroning the Taliban regime there are few tangible success stories in Afghanistan for the Americans to tout. Hasn't US nurtured economic development created a viable middle class and broken the back of the insurgency yet?
Based on the USD 3.65 billion capital flight from Afghanistan one would think we are referring to a wealthy state.
I am referring to the USD 3.65 billion cash that leaves Afghanistan annually. Yes, that is cash, mostly US Dollar bills. Suitcases and suitcases stuffed with cash. "Because the cash leaving the country is so large, it has little to do with the aid money Afghanistan manages," said Afghanistan's finance minister Mr. Zakhilwal.
The bulk of the cash finds its way into the international banking system via Dubai. For those who are interested, the United Arab Emirates through a regional organization, is a party to the anti-terrorism and money laundering rules determined by the global Financial Action Task Force body.
Any economist can tell you that Afghanistan's dynamic economy is so productive none should be suspicious of such large cash transactions. It's part of the free market system foisted on the backward tribal land by the US and its partners.
Is this the same country where a firebrand mullah can preach vicious Islam and raise a militia to fight for a few thousand dollars a month? Yes, I made up that last number. But surely with a per capita income of USD 935 and few job opportunities, it can't be too expensive to buy loyalty in Afghanistan. Weapons are not the issue. Guns can easily be purchased from disgruntled recruits of the Afghanistan National Army.

But I digress.
I was talking about America lecturing Pakistan to get tough with the Taliban in North Waziristan. (South Waziristan is no longer a topic of discussion. Nor Swat.)
Never mind that the US military does deals with the Taliban on the Afghan ('its') side of the border, that's development.
The most recent US - Taliban deal to become public concerns the Kajaki hydropower project. The facility was upgraded with the help of USD 100 million in US aid. It now provides electricity to large parts of southern Afghanistan. Almost half of the electricity flows into Taliban controlled districts where the residents pay a flat fee for the luxury.
Nothing unusual about paying electricity bills, except when the fee is paid to the Taliban, not the utility company. The fee is a flat monthly rate of 1,000 Pakistani Rupees.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Haji Gul Mohammad Khan, tribal-affairs adviser to the government of Helmand, as saying, "The more electricity there is, the more money the Taliban make." Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior representative in Kabul and the civilian counterpart to General Petraeus said, "Some compromises are inevitable in such a complex conflict. We always want to be in a situation where the government of Afghanistan has full authority over every square inch of its territory—but that's not yet the situation."
There can be no doubt there are many more unpublicized deals.
Are the Americans suddenly realizing that conflicts are multidimensional? Weaponry can only take combatants so far. Much of the road to peace is travelled by negotiations and governed by practical ground realities.
In Afghanistan, the unpleasant reality is that the Taliban have a legitimate political constituency. After nine years of military occupation, the Taliban's unconditional surrender to US / NATO forces is a remote possibility. If anything, the Taliban is positioned to declare 'victory' following the planned US 'retreat' from Afghanistan in 2011.
The US behaviour in Afghanistan demonstrates that Pakistan's deal making attempts in its tribal areas are legitimate in advancing the interests of the state. Especially when these agreements are placed in the context of the legal status of the tribal areas – the districts are not a part of 'settled' Pakistan.
The Pakistani army is as much an occupying force in Pakistan's tribal areas as the Americans are in Afghanistan.
Swat is a different matter. It is not a tribal district. It is subject to the laws of Pakistan, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Restoring federal government control over Swat was not an option, it was a necessity.
Islamabad, it may be recalled, was about to fall to the Taliban. From Swat, Taliban warriors were preparing to drive into the capital on pick-ups mounted with machine guns while the Pakistan military and population were readying a rose petal parade for the grand entrance.
After approximately one year of a military presence in Swat, the government is back in control.
Pakistan's success in Swat is measured through various indicators. The level of violence in the district has diminished considerably. A locally recruited police force is making progress in 'civilianizing' the responsibility for maintaining law and order. Tourists are trickling back into the valley. The recently concluded eight day Swat Film and Music Festival is of particular importance, given the hostility of the Taliban to both forms of entertainment.
More telling is the notion that the western media has 'forgotten' about Swat. (No excuse to keep Pakistan in the doghouse is typically left untouched.)  This fact alone is enough to suggest that the military's Swat campaign has been successful.  
Pakistan's regional interests are not the same as the Americans. Pakistan will share a 2,640 kilometres border with Afghanistan long after Western troops have left.
So, Madam Secretary Clinton, the Pakistani people are grateful for the promise of USD 500 million. However, alongside the aid please request Admiral Mullen to launch an operation against Swat's dreaded Mullah Fazlullah, currently hiding in Afghanistan's Nuristan province. And since the dreaded Haqqani clan spend a large portion of their time inside Afghanistan please arrest them on your own turf rather than pass the buck to Pakistan.

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