IST

Taliban chief Mullah Mansour's killing doesn't mean Pakistan wants peace

India's stakes, along with that of Iran and Afghanistan, in the great game have only become larger.

 |  IST  |  6-minute read |   27-05-2016
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"At what point do we realise a militant is a militant is a militant? Or that "strategic depth" is a pipe dream; a mad plot thrown together by hacks like Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani a generation ago - that it defies history, geography, and good sense?"

The death of Mullah Mansour on May 21, the Taliban leader who was outed as the successor to Mullah Omar in 2015 - much to the dismay of the Pakistani establishment, which had succeeded in keeping it under wraps for about two years - has led to a string of reactions in the Pakistani press.

Also read: Taliban leader Mullah Mansour's killing major embarrassment for Pakistan

Asad Rahim Khan, writing in the Pakistani daily, The Tribune last week, is clearly upset. The quote above belongs to him. Elsewhere in The News, Pakistan's other influential newspaper, Nasim Zehra admitted that Mullah Mansour, who was killed on the express orders of President Barack Obama by a US drone in Pakistan's Balochistan, was carrying a Pakistani passport and a Pakistani ID card.

haqqani_052716061608.jpg Sirajuddin Haqqani.

A third Pakistani security analyst, Amir Rana, said that although Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, an Islamic scholar, has taken over the Taliban after Mansour's death, the real power behind the throne is his first deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani.

India's stakes in that oft-cited but terribly true cliché about the great game in this part of the world, have only become larger.

First of all, the Haqqani Network led by Sirajuddin himself, was responsible for executing a suicide bombing in 2008 in which former Indian diplomat Venkat Rao, the military attaché to the Indian embassy and several others were killed. Two years later, the Haqqanis targeted the Hamid Guesthouse in Kabul, in which several young Army and ITBP personnel were killed.

Also read: Killing of Taliban chief Mullah Mansour will damage US-Pakistan ties

This information is sourced both from Indian and US intelligence. None other than former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has confirmed it. Delhi's subsequent pressure on Washington, to hold Pakistan, its ostensible ally in the war against terror to account, has since resulted in a $5 million bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani's head.

Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, has known the Haqqanis well for decades. Sirajuddin's father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a favourite of the Pakistani and US establishment in the war against the former Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, from 1979-89. From their protected frontyard in North Waziristan, the Haqqanis carried out some of the deadliest attacks against Soviet forces.

The elevation of Sirajuddin - as well as Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Yaqoob - to being the first deputy of the new Taliban chief, means that the Pakistani establishment has no intention of relaxing its control over the on-again, off-again "peace talks" that have been taking place between the Taliban on one hand, and Pakistan, the US and China on the other.

Still, as the US continues to draw down its troops from Afghanistan - a mere 9,800 troops remain today, which will likely be reduced gradually - it seems that America's deliberate distancing from the Pakistani establishment's real role in the continuing Afghan war may be coming to an end.

Five years ago in May, Obama ordered the attack on Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, a mere two hours from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi. On May 21, Osama again ordered that Mullah Mansour be taken out, after he had crossed back into Pakistan's Balochistan after meeting his family in next door Iran.

The influential Atlantic magazine last month quoted Obama as "privately questioning why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all." A few weeks ago the US Congress told the Obama administration that if it insisted on selling F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, it must sell them at full price.

Some Pakistani analysts believe that the Pakistani state is incapable of denying its territory to militants, like the Taliban and the Haqqanis. Meaning, that Pakistan has been fighting the war against terrorism for so long that it has had to make inevitable compromises with some of the terrorists it has been fighting against.

But that is an incomplete analysis. Pakistan has got so used to creating "good terrorists" (against India) and "bad terrorists" (against itself) that it has forgotten that there is actually no real difference between them.

There are voices few and far between in Pakistan, like Asad Rahim Khan, deploring Pakistan's decades-old strategy, through former army chiefs like Aslam Beg and former ISI chiefs like Asad Burrani, of trying to subvert the Afghan state. Meanwhile, as US forces hand over to the Afghan National Army (ANA), the new Afghan administration had hoped the Pakistani establishment would have persuaded the Taliban leaders it hosts to stop the deadly offensive it ritually carries out every spring.

None other than Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who was determined to shake hands with Pakistan's powerful ISI and army, in the hope that both sides could together defeat the Taliban, is a disillusioned man today.

But for the first time since the Taliban was ousted by the US in December 2015, there is new hope in Afghanistan. Despite the increased insecurity - the Taliban has been successful in taking towns like Kunduz in the north, while other militant groups have partitioned parts of the south under their control - and notwithstanding the ragtag bunch of people that pass off as the ANA, Afghans believe they actually have the opportunity, after several decades, of taking charge of their own destiny.

For the first time in decades, the external environment may be coming together in support of that dream. Having made peace with Iran over its nuclear programme, the US quietly encouraged India to go ahead on May 22 - coincidentally, the day after Mullah Mansour was killed - with signing the trilateral agreement on developing the Chabahar port in the north Indian Ocean. Ashraf Ghani and Iran president Hassan Rouhani stood next to Modi as the pact was signed.

All the world knows that Chabahar is being developed because Pakistan has refused to let Indian goods travel over its territory to reach land-locked Afghanistan. The Americans have been trying for years to persuade Pakistan to allow this, but Rawalpindi only relented a few years ago to the extent of allowing Afghan goods to reach India.

Chabahar, meanwhile, is located a mere 72km from Gwadar on the Makran coast - incidentally, until 1958, Gwadar was part of the Omani Sultan's larger kingdom. Today, Gwadar is part of China's ambitious project to link the Karakoram to the Indian Ocean, upgrade Pakistan's development potential and encircle India as a consequence.

No wonder India is looking at the Americans for support - in exchange, no doubt, for its own support for the US position in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the US approval of Modi's upgraded engagement with Afghanistan through Chabahar means that Obama will embrace Modi a shade tighter when they meet in the US on June 7.

Such are the games big and small nations play in pursuit of their own interests. This particular version just got more exciting.

Writer

Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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