Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Pakistani Invasion of Waziristan Likely Pointless

Happy you're back to civilization, sweetheart; I've missed you.
Map of the Federally-Adminstered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

Since the 15th of June, 70 000 of Pakistan’s ‘’valiant armed forces have tasked to eliminate [Waziristan’s] terrorists regardless of hue and color, along with their sanctuaries’’, in the words of Pakistani Major General Asim Bajwa. The Pakistan army states that, in the first 15 days of the operation, almost 400 terrorists were killed. This claim cannot be independently verified given that journalists are not allowed to operate in the Waziristan regions, meaning the army is the only source of information about the operation. Given that the army also claims not a single civilian has been killed during this time, doubt is cast on these numbers.

A development long urged by Washington, this offensive into the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is unlikely to have the long-term effect sought.

Three factors support my claim, with the third being a reason for even greater worry.

 

Happy you're back to civilization, sweetheart; I've missed you.
Interior divisions of Pakistan. Waziristan is part of the FATA.
Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Administrative_units_of_Pakistan

First, the circumstances leading to this ground war. Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, is accused by critics of trusting too much in negotiations, to the point of foregoing any other options. For months, negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban had been ongoing, with few concrete results. Ignoring a vote in which most of the ruling party’s parliamentarians supported a military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, followed the following day by a top official describing the country as being ‘’on a war footing’’ (events taking place respectively on the 27th and 28th of January 2014), Sharif announced the creation of a peace committee, trying yet another time to bring the militants in from the cold. While talks were losing steam, a brazen attack on Karachi’s international airport, responsible for over two dozen deaths, on June 8th precipitated the declaration of war.

While various negotiations between Taliban factions and governments have failed to stop the insurgency, Pakistan is in a prime position to understand that open war only escalates tensions. In 2004, ex-President Musharraf allied himself to the War on Terror, sending Pakistani troops into the FATA. In response, Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (the capital’s largest place of worship, the Red Mosque) became a center for protests against the ‘un-Islamic’ military action. On the 12th of July 2007, after the army was forced to besiege and storm the mosque, the Swat Valley Taliban declared war on the Pakistani government, becoming the militant group known as the Pakistani Taliban.

The Prime Minister’s reluctance to abandon the peace talks, coupled with fears of creating new anti-state extremist groups, may lead to the ongoing ground war not having the strength needed to deal a death-blow to the Taliban.

 

Second, a very possible betrayal by Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency, the ISI. As Afghan mujahedeen were battling the Soviet invasion of 1979, the United States used Pakistan as a proxy in order to fund and train the asymmetrical resistance. Since then, various entities—Washington, analysts from Harvard and the London School of Economics, NATO, Kabul—have accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of maintaining Cold War ties to militant groups in Afghanistan, in essence dictating and executing a foreign policy targeting Afghanistan, running in parallel to Islamabad’s. The relation between the two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, has hence grown to be so important that the two are often contemplated together, as with the United States’ ”Af-Pak” grouping. Two causes are partially responsible for this.

Since independence from the British Empire in 1947, Pakistan’s greatest perceived threat has been India. Three Indo-Pakistani wars, with a fourth narrowly avoided in 1999, have left the Pakistani military wary of their much larger neighbor. Due to the strong cultural and historical ties between India and Afghanistan, diplomatic bonds strengthened by the return of an elected Afghan administration could lead to Pakistan being surrounded by Indian allies. Hence, by keeping Kabul in an either unstable or anti-Indian state, the ISI pre-emptively protects one border. By going one step further and supporting a pro-Pakistan government—Pakistan was one of the only three nations to recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan—, additional ‘’strategic depth’’, perceived as being necessary in the event of all-out warfare with India, is gained.

Map of areas inhabited by the Pashtun people. Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtun_people#mediaviewer/File:Pashtun_Language_Location_Map.svg
Map of areas inhabited by the Pashtun people.
Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtun_people#mediaviewer/File:Pashtun_Language_Location_Map.svg

Related to this is the fact that Kabul refuses to recognize the Durand Line, the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan traced in 1893. Last year, now-outgoing President Karzai of Afghanistan reiterated that Kabul has never, and that his government will not, recognize this frontier. Fears that a stable government in Kabul would attempt to seduce Pashtun regions in Pakistan before annexing them into Afghanistan, the ‘’original home’’ of the Pashtun, support the claim that a strong Afghan government is not in Islamabad’s favor.

The Taliban have without a doubt managed to destabilize Afghanistan for close to two decades. By continuing support for terrorist groups targeting India or Afghanistan, either by warning members of imminent strikes or by using their influence in the military to veto certain targets, the anti-insurgent campaign will be undermined. However, it can also be seen as being sharpened: by allowing only anti-Islamabad groups to be struck down, the ISI protects national interests while advancing its version of foreign policy.

Given the close ties between the ISI and the Pakistani Army, this conspiracy is only facilitated.

 

Third, the lull in Afghan security and stability. The FATA are aligned along the Durand Line, meaning that as Pakistani troops sweep through the territories, they will be pushing militants against the Afghan frontier. For various reasons, if only because the Taliban factions have been in effective control of the largely-ungoverned FATA, it is easy to suspect that the international border is too porous to stop any fleeing militants.

Pakistan has requested help from Kabul in sealing the frontier, understanding that the porous border is not the ‘hard place’ needed to smash the insurgent front. However, it is widely doubted that the Afghan army is truly ready to maintain national security independently, let alone surge into Taliban territory and decimate waves of insurgents crossing the border. Furthermore, training of this army had recently been suspended due to infestation by Talibanized suicide bombers. Due to the withdrawal of international forces, what remains of the ISAF coalition is mostly various aircraft, not the ideal tool for enforcing border control. Despite this, Washington has complained about being warned of the operation’s commencement only three days previous, leaving it too little time to mobilize an adequate border patrol.

The Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America, shortened to Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) is a binding agreement seeking to create a long-term bond between the United States and Afghanistan prioritizing Afghanistan’s territorial integrity and prosperity, while advancing their common goal of destroying al-Qaeda and like-minded organisations. More specifically, the United States will (amongst other promises), upon the signing of the SPA: be granted access to governmental facilities in Afghanistan post 2014; be allowed to station troops in Afghanistan with the goal of forming Afghan forces and eliminating the remnants of al-Qaida and like-minded networks; for the next ten years, annually seek Congress-approved funding for the support of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Flag of Afghanistan.  Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Afghanistan
Flag of Afghanistan.
Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Afghanistan

The SPA will hence aid United States personnel and intelligence in the targeting and elimination of extremists in Afghanistan, allowing Kabul to secure more of its land. However, the outgoing President Karzai has stated he will not sign this agreement, leaving whoever succeeds him to approve the partnership. While both remaining candidates have declared they would sign the agreement once inaugurated, allegations of massive fraud have led to a full vote audit. Even if over a thousand ballot boxes are verified per day, the new leader will not be designated until mid-August (roughly a month from today). Add to that the recruitment of observers by the European Union, considered particularly important for disproving rumors of American interference, and Afghanistan’s first national audit may well push the inauguration past the unofficial deadline.

 

Given the operation is expected to last only a few weeks, it seems likely that militants will abandon their strongholds in Pakistan for only as long as the army occupies the Waziristans, with minimal casualties in Afghanistan for reasons detailed above. The Taliban, as NATO forces have learnt, are of a slippery nature. Nonetheless, the sudden influx of militants pushed over the border by Pakistan’s storming of North and South Waziristan, during Kabul’s temporary weakness may prove too much for the fledgling government. However, its survival is important to two of the world’s powers: China and the United States.

The United States, having dragged countless soldiers from allies and

Flag of the United States.  Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_the_United_States.svg
Flag of the United States.
Image taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

coalitions into two wars, will certainly be affected by the events in Afghanistan. The Iraqi and Afghan wars were, amongst others, meant to erect strong democracies in the two Asian countries. Iraq, with its sectarian head of state and international militant crisis, is difficultly definable as a success. If the Taliban succeed in re-conquering Kabul, reversing any progress made since the 2001 invasion, Washington’s international reputation will be damaged, despite the wars being sparked by a different President over a decade ago.

Flag of China.  Picture taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_China#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China.svg
Flag of China.
Picture taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_China#mediaviewer/File:Flag_of_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China.svg

China, on the other hand, had tried and failed to form an alliance with the previous Taliban government. In exchange for diplomatic recognition and protection from UNSC sanctions, the Taliban would refuse to aid Uyghur militants in their separatist revolution. The failure of this alliance has likely convinced the Communist Party that it stands more to gain from a strong government capable of smothering international terrorism than from an Islamic dictatorship.

ISIL threats may destabilize India

This article attempts to draw lines between three major events:

  • the Syrian civil war and Iran’s role
  • the creation of an Islamic caliphate by ISIL
  • demotic religious conscription in Hindustan (India)

——————————————————————————-

July 2014 marked the 24th month of the Syrian civil war proper, the designation having been issued by the United Nations fifteen months after its beginning. In that time, various entities have flocked to both sides of the conflict: Russia, Iran and Hezbollah surged to the defense of the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia, the West and al-Qaeda supported the armed opposition.

Since then, various governments and newspapers have picked up on rumours that the Islamic Republic of Iran was bribing Afghan refugees to support them in Syria: in exchange for 500$ per month, schooling for their children, and Iranian residency, the refugees would serve as loyalist soldiers. This implies the recruit being not only armed and trained, but flown the just-over-1400 kilometres from Tehran to Damascus. However, as an unnamed Western official stated, this allows Tehran to avoid human losses (from the slain members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) and political fallout (from the stream of aforementioned bodies) without abandoning their role in their holy war against the largely Sunni rebels.

The most well-known of the rebel groups is doubtlessly that of the Islamic State (IS), previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The name change occurred following the creation of a

Map indicating ISIL's current geopolitical situation.  Picture taken from http://www.arabnews.com/news/594131
Map indicating ISIL’s current geopolitical situation.
Picture taken from http://www.arabnews.com/news/594131

Sunni caliphate stretching from roughly Syria’s Aleppo to Iraq’s Baghdad. Despite struggling to crush resistance within the claimed territories, their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already exposed a future goal: invade and destroy two of Shia Islam’s holiest cities, Karbala and Najaf, claiming they have ‘’scores to settle’’.

This threat has aggravated Shia-majority Iran, who has promised to, if necessary, defend the two shrines no matter the cost. The repercussions have been felt much further than Iran, however. An Indian organization regrouping Shia Muslims, Anjuman Haideri Hallaur, says over 30 000 of its members have already volunteered to travel to Iraq to defend the cities, and claims it can send over 100 000 fighters.

This project, however, will not be sanctioned or permitted by the Indian government, who has stated such travel would not be allowed. 46 Indian nurses are known to be trapped in Tikrit, one of the cities taken over by IS, while 100 others are believed to be in contested areas. Almost 10 000 Indian nationals work in Iraq, mostly in parts as of yet untouched by the fighting. Officials from the India’s Iraqi embassy had not yet stated whether or not such volunteers would be granted visas as of this time.

One Indian columnist, Saeed Naqvi, mocked the move as being ‘’sentimental’’ and ‘’foolish’’, asking if the ‘’bunch of nuts planning this journey’’ would travel by horseback. That may not be necessary, given Iran may be open to the idea of transporting these jihadists, who deplore IS’s twisting of the term. While diplomatic—especially economic—relations may suffer, bringing these Muslim volunteers to Karbala and Najaf would have the same impacts as the Afghan mercenaries: dilute the political and human losses inflicted by the insurgents.

The second problem that arises when one considers the Hindustani organisation’s proposed modus operandi: either ‘’form a human chain around the holy shrines of Karbala and Najaf [‘’with a million volunteers’’]’’ or ‘’fight [the IS] barehanded’’. When the horrors of the ISIL’s advance are contemplated—a tweet involving a soldier minus the body being called a soccer ball (with hashtags referring to the FIFA World Cup) comes to mind—, it is difficult to believe these tactics would lead to anything but the slaughter of the Hindustanis.

This fact is lost surely on neither the volunteers, regardless of their allegiance, or on the Iranians. In order to be of any use (and to survive, not a negligible benefit) in the event that IS reaches the two cities, the volunteers will need to be armed. Given the use of Afghan mercenaries, this would not prove a problem for Iran. Reports state that at least two of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force battalions have already been sent to Iraq, although the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman have denied the accusation (the Foreign Minister himself stated he ‘’frankly [had] no idea about that’’). Their presence, or the summoning of other military personnel, would then provide an ideal setting for the simultaneous militarization and radicalization of the Indian volunteers, both directed by Tehran. One could note similarities to accusations that Iran was funding and arming the Afghan Taliban in an attempt to defeat the Western incursion. By creating powerful Shia militias, Iran would continue to contribute to the heritage of the Islamic Revolution, as well as create opponents to Sunni expansion.

The same fear that today haunts Western nations—the return of radicalized citizens from overseas conflicts such as the Syrian civil war—would thus become much more relevant to India. A map of Shia/Sunni geographical majorities shows that Shia Muslims are most

A map indicating where Muslim communities are mostly Sunni or mostly Shia. Picture taken from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~ali22a/page%20three.html.
A map indicating where Muslim communities are mostly Sunni or mostly Shia.                                                                              Picture taken from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~ali22a/page%20three.html.

common in the contested province of Jammu and Kashmir, near the ‘’red corridor’’ (a swathe of land along India’s eastern coast subjected to attacks from Maoist insurgents), and in the West Bengal province (found within the red corridor) allegedly lusted after by neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh. There is also a Shia population around the province of Uttar Pradesh, but the region is less restive than the others named.

Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority province, is claimed in part or in whole by four political groups: India, Pakistan, China and the Kashmiris themselves, divided between remaining united with India, joining Pakistan, or becoming sovereign. The presence of Kashmir within the Indian nation has led to the creation of a Pakistani terrorist group (Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks), is responsible for the 1947 and 1965 Indo-Pakistani wars, and multiple eruptions of unrest. Pakistan may be more inclined to facilitate transport of volunteers from this region, if allegations of Pakistan fomenting unrest in the region are as true as they were during the 1999 Kargil War, as veterans may attempt to detach Jammu and Kashmir from the other provinces of India.

As for the volunteers originating from the red corridor, stirrings of

Map of India highlighting provinces dealing with a Maoist insurgency. Image taken from http://pksecurity.blogspot.ca/2011/09/global-peace-demands-balkanization-of.html
Map of India highlighting provinces dealing with a Maoist insurgency.
Image taken from http://pksecurity.blogspot.ca/2011/09/global-peace-demands-balkanization-of.html

nationalist or anti-India sentiments may lead to cooperation with the various Maoist groups in the region. Such alliances had been seen as during Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iran’s Communist Party, the Tudeh, had aided the Islamists in their revolution against the Shah before being cast down. The West Bengal Hindustanis could boast the same motivations, coupled to a desire of seceding from India to be integrated into Bangladesh (Indian journalists and politicians allege Bangladesh is behind some of the armed groups seeking such changes, as well as pointing out that massive illegal immigration could be an attempt to islamicize the regions and strengthen pro-Bangladeshi sentiments).

There have been fears that Indian Prime Minister Modi, having described himself as a Hindu nationalist, would attempt to pass laws targeting minorities—which could add to the reasons listed above—, but such concerns seem to be unfounded as of yet.

For these reasons, one can assume the Indian government will put in place stricter punishments for citizens traveling abroad for purposes of jihad, similar to measures put in place by Great Britain. Regardless, an increase in the number of Indian fighters in southern Iraq would not be surprising, with Iran being the most likely responsible.