Home Lightbox Pressure Tactics

Pressure Tactics

by Ejaz Haider
Courtesy PID

Courtesy PID

There’s no alternative to the Ghani initiative.

On Aug. 30, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Newsweek that Pakistan’s “extensive dossier” on India’s covert activities against Pakistan would be shared with Susan Rice, the U.S. national-security adviser, who was visiting Islamabad and Rawalpindi. But Asif was not part of the happenings that day; he was in Sialkot tending to his constituents. No statement from Rice or her staff mentions either the dossier or Pakistan-India relations.

According to U.S. and Pakistani officials, Rice discussed Afghanistan (Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, the Haqqani network, rising levels of violence in Afghanistan and the threat to regional peace) and invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House in October. Her message was clear: Pakistan must move against the Haqqani network. The implication being that Operation Zarb-e-Azb hasn’t taken on that group. Rice also made plain that the recent attacks in Kabul were carried out by Haqqani fighters and were unacceptable.

Pakistani officials (the Army, really) had their own complaints. Sources say Rice was told about Pakistani Taliban sanctuaries in the eastern and northeastern provinces of Afghanistan and the reluctance of Kabul to take out Pakistani Taliban emir Mullah Fazlullah. They also complained about elements within Kabul (both in the National Directorate of Security and the political opposition to President Ashraf Ghani) that are making every effort to derail Ghani’s reach-out to Pakistan and Islamabad’s Murree effort to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. They also expressed displeasure at Ghani’s using the media to lash out at Pakistan. Rice was also told that the leak by the NDS of Mullah Omar’s death was designed to sabotage the second round of talks in Murree between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban. She was also informed that the Haqqani network’s top leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is now the No. 2 of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who, despite opposition from Omar’s son and the Qatar-based Taliban faction, supports talks.

Afghanistan is not a linear affair and Pakistan is not the only actor responsible for streamlining it. Not enough is being done by the U.S. and Kabul. On any given day, one can draw up a list of all that has been wrong with U.S. policy. But two important factors need to be put on the table.

One, for all the years that the U.S. was actively present in Afghanistan, Islamabad continued to play the spoiler and signaled that it could—but would not—deliver until it had got a seat at the table. This is where the second factor comes in. Ghani assessed Pakistan and its concerns correctly. He took two important steps: moving away from India to allay Pakistan’s fear of Indian influence in Kabul, and reaching out to Pakistan to give it the role Islamabad had been asking for.

In return, Ghani wanted Pakistan to get the Taliban to the table and ensure that the level of violence in Afghanistan came down visibly. In the short term, it’s relative peace that Ghani requires to survive the piranha-infested political waters in Kabul. He took a big political risk by reaching out to Pakistan; there’s any number of political and other actors in Kabul’s diffused power configuration that were and remain opposed to Ghani’s Pakistan initiative.

Ghani put the ball in Pakistan’s court but didn’t get much out of it. Not because Pakistan didn’t play straight with him but because, in reality, Pakistan does not have the kind of leverage it has been marketing. Partially, this has to do with the ground situation. The Taliban are not a monolith any more. While most of the old guard stayed in Pakistan, rather comfortably, the ground saw the emergence of local commanders who actually did the fighting and thus acquired their own clout and carved out their own satrapies.

In many ways, the Haqqanis are the only ones who provided frontline leadership, which is one reason that Mansoor aimed to strengthen his hand by pulling Sirajuddin to his side. How does Pakistan move against the Haqqani network when Mansoor’s group is the only bet, so far, for negotiations with Kabul?

This is just one part of the problem. Another has to do with the stalled talks. With the NDS outing news of Omar’s death and the internal disarray it has caused, how does Mansoor remain relevant in the short term? Presumably: by ratcheting up violence against Kabul to seek legitimacy with the outliers before he can get enough support to start talks again. This is precisely what Ghani thinks is unacceptable because higher levels of violence play into the hands of his opponents and makes his Pakistan policy look flawed and hasty.

Not least ironically, it’s not just some of the hardline Taliban groups that want to continue fighting. Elements opposed to Ghani’s Pakistan initiative constitute the other group that would like to benefit from the violence to discredit Ghani’s policy. If violence were actually to come down and talks got underway, they would lose out to Ghani. That would make them politically weak and irrelevant and, conversely, make Ghani stronger. So they will continue to play spoilers.

The situation is complex but that does not absolve Pakistan of its responsibility to formulate a policy that seeks to exploit the leverage it has got through the Ghani initiative. The implication of this argument is that it would be naive on Pakistan’s part, after having played the spoiler, to now express surprise and dismay at other spoilers. Pakistan’s policy cannot—and should not—remain confined to simply pointing to and complaining about the spoilers. Instead, Islamabad should factor them in.

Ghani’s Pakistan initiative is on the ventilator and reviving it will be no easy challenge. Yet, there’s no alternative to the process he started. The foremost step should be to open the backchannel and restore confidence. That would require a realistic, frank assessment of what can and cannot be done immediately. There will be violence but there should be some mechanism for handling its fallout. That could include an understanding that both sides will let off steam publicly but stay engaged behind the scenes.

At the same time, Pakistan will have to lean heavily, as much as it can, on the Afghan Taliban to ensure that they rein in whatever groups need to be put on a tighter leash to give Ghani a respite and to restart talks. One of the biggest mistakes for both sides would be to get into blame-game mode and allow a further slide. That’s something neither can afford.

From our Sept. 5-12, 2015, issue. Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

Related Articles


raghav2k@gmail.com August 31, 2015 - 9:02 pm

Excellent analysis

Singh September 1, 2015 - 6:51 am

following is Editorial in Afghanistan Times. Just imagine how much respect Pakistan carry in Afghanistan.
For Pakistan, Afghanistan is a gadfly. For Afghanistan, Pakistan is a terrorist camp. For the United States both are allies in the international war on terror. But how the US treats the two is part of our contemporary history. When the one commits atrocities and kills Americans in Afghanistan it receives a sweet-scold. Oh no, is there any sweet-scold anyway? Perhaps not. Then? Yes the carrot is there for Pakistan but not the stick. Pakistan has had been flooded with American aid so generously that Islamabad thought it must be more rascal to get more aid. Why the US is so bounteous on Islamabad after all? Perhaps Washington thinks by giving more candies to this rascal Islamabad will ameliorate itself, but after all Pakistan is the experiment of English and the scars of what the English has done to this region are still being felt by many in the region. Being an experiment of the English, it has an inherited artifice and dreams about the incomplete mission of the then GB to bring Afghanistan under its fold. When Afghanistan commits some atrocities, then all of a sudden the US loses its temper and even thought of using nukes against Afghanistan for the 9/11 attacks. Even this idea is horrific let alone nuking. And the one who has been kicking their a** are being rewarded. This is not only ridiculous but extremely perturbing. Instead of slapping some economic sanctions, punishing Islamabad, the United States has been showing leniency. If the international community can slap economic sanctions on Russia why it cannot on Pakistan to teach it a lesson for rearing the snakes? At last what is the US weakness that makes it so emasculated in front of its own client state? Now look at the language the US national security advisor, Susan Rice, used during her official meetings with Pakistan’s top civilian and military leaderships. She told Pakistani officials the attacks in neighboring Afghanistan by Pakistan-based militants were absolutely unacceptable. This is hilariously funny. She just says this is unacceptable. Pakistan’s officials usually enjoy such sugary warnings or even the word of unacceptability doesn’t fit the definition of a warning. Perhaps in lexicology this expression means displeasure, but with no intention to do anything. Pakistan sheltered Bin Laden. Pakistan has been sheltering the dreaded Haqqani Network. Pakistan has been providing safe havens to the Taliban. Pakistan has been providing them travelling documents for international trips. And yet Islamabad brazenly says it is supporting peace in Afghanistan. And when Kabul screams and raises its fingers at Islamabad, then Afghanistan becomes a gadfly. And the US rushes to the scene, dictates Kabul to have patience and bear some more and gives a sweet-scold to Islamabad. The rascals reiterate they are supporting peace in Afghanistan and when the US officials fly back home, the play of chaos and bloodshed is run once again. This is happening since 2001. Before 2001, Pakistan was experimenting and the US was watching the developments from a far away. When Pakistan’s henchmen, the al-Qaeda and Taliban, set their teeth in the United States, Washington rushed to Kabul in a mad run instead of punishing the master. Perhaps the United States is afraid of punishing the master of the terrorists. This is the real hardest test of Afghanistan’s patience. None must underestimate the troubles of Afghanistan. They could explode Afghanistan and this time with its explosion, many other nations will explode.

Ajamal September 1, 2015 - 5:44 pm

With the current operation in North Waziristan (NWA) in its second year, it is unfair to ask Pakistan to do more. NWA was the last hotbed on the Pakistani soil and its Army has suffered major casualties during this operation.

Gp65 September 2, 2015 - 8:45 am

“. For good measure, Rice was also told how leaking the news of Mullah Omar’s death was designed to sabotage the second round of talks in Murree between the Kabul government and the Afghan Taliban movement. The leak came from the NDS.”

If news about his death had not been deliberately hidden and fake messages of support from a dead man were not provided at behest of ISI by Mansoor, NDS could not have leaked anything. If talks cannot survive the truth, then such agreements based on deception would have been short lived even if one had been reached,

“Asif, the Army chief’s boss, was in Sialkot, tending to his constituents and was therefore not part of the happenings in Islamabad and Rawalpindi”

Really? Khwaab Asif is Rahil Sharif’s boss? Who are you kidding? In Pakistan the COAS does not even report to the PM though he is appointed by the PM – let alone reporting to the defense minister. In fact, the media personnel that are controlled by army had conducted a major campaign against Khwaja Asif for his statements against Mtusharraf which were 7 years old by making it appear that they were current statements. If Inas an Indian woman know all this then surely you as a Pakistani journalist cannot be unaware?

Shahrukh September 2, 2015 - 10:38 am

@Gp65: legally and constitutionally, the army chief is subordinate to the defence minister. please inform yourself before slinging accusations.

Gp65 September 3, 2015 - 2:13 pm

You know even the defense secretary does not report to the defense minister. He reports to the COAS in Pakistan. When 26/11 was happening, the defense minister of Pakistan was keeping himself updated via BBC. He was certainly not being updated by the COAS whose boss he supposedly was.
Seriously no one believes this fiction that COAS considers the defense minister his boss in Pakistan. More often than not, not only is the COAS the boss of Pakistan’s security policy but also the foreign policy and the foreign minister as well as ambassador to India and US consider the COAS as their boss, not the foreign secretary or foreign minister.

Np September 3, 2015 - 2:18 pm

Ah so then when the COAS bypasses not just the defense minister but also his boss the PM, the COAS is acting illegally and unconstitutionally?

Waqar Ahmed September 10, 2015 - 6:45 pm

@Mr. Singh: Pakistan is helping and taking care of Afghan brothers from the start of USSR attack on Afghanistan. At this time there are 1.6 million Afghans refugees in Pakistan. If some body writes like this he is on mistake.This is all negative propaganda and is a part of negative and false media war against Pakistan.

Shakil September 27, 2015 - 8:41 pm

Since the British Raj days, Afghanistan has been a buffer between India (British Empire) and Russia along with other ideologically incongruous states. But it now has an additional partner in this role. The usefulness of a buffer is directly proportional to its quality of shakiness or, in other words, instability. It should be no surprise that anti-Pakistan Taliban sit in Afghanistan and vice versa. Terrorism thus seems to be permanently institutionalized in this region. With Pakistan eternally short of foreign exchange and always begging the donors for dollars, this kind of arrangement seems assured to endure for all foreseeable future.

BHAGWAT GOEL October 6, 2015 - 9:10 am



Leave a Comment