By Imran Malik
The Afghanistan Pakistan Region (APR) continues to evolve throwing up massive geopolitical and geostrategic challenges for the two protagonists and the external powers involved. This has been most noticeable during the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations during which Russia and China (SCO-?) have made perceptible ingresses into the region as has the IS. The CPEC too is emerging as a game changing phenomenon with long term inter – and intraregional ramifications. Peripheral India continues to brew trouble in the APR especially on Pakistan’s western flank.
India’s current strategy against Pakistan is quite obvious and predictable. It has launched a double pincer maneuver to envelop it on both fronts while a dutiful and compliant fifth column from within Pakistan supports its hostile machinations. This harks back to the Indian Army strategy in erstwhile East Pakistan – multidirectional offensives supported by the Mukti Bahini from within.
Pakistan is thus facing an increasingly belligerent India along the LOC/Working Boundary (WB) on its eastern front as well as a deep two pronged exterior maneuver from it on its western front – one prong emanating from Afghanistan and the other from Iran (Kulbushan Yadav!). The Afghan prong comprises of the Afghan Army, certain terrorist groups and proxies. The LOC/WB continues to blow hot while the entire western front (including the Pak-Iran border, Torkham and Chaman) is now getting hotter by the hour. All these efforts are supported by a massive diplomatic offensive and information and psychological warfare operations.
The fifth column comprises mainly of the various terrorist groups (both Afghanistan and Pakistan based) and their collaborators who are tangibly involved in carrying out physical attacks against Pakistan, its public and its Armed Forces. In their direct support we have certain media houses, with a degree of monopoly over both the print and electronic media, as a proactive and assertive part of the fifth column too. They are continuously spreading disinformation, vilifying and creating ill will against the Armed Forces and trying to run them down. They resort to spreading fear, despair, despondency, hopelessness, rumors and doubts in the viability of the country and its Armed Forces. They target Pakistan’s national unity, integrity, morale and will to fight and resist Indian hegemony. They end up directly and indirectly reinforcing India’s strategic maneuvers against Pakistan; and those of the Afghans, some western powers and certain hostile intelligence agencies too. Certain political personalities too have a compulsive penchant to appease India and thus consciously bolster the fifth column and the attainment of Indian objectives in the process.
Pakistan has generally been accused by the Indians of using terrorism as a state policy by employing proxies. However, it is the Indians who are actually guilty of doing exactly that. They have maintained proxies in Afghanistan in the shape of IS, (15-20 RAW agents were reportedly killed in the US MOAB attack on IS locations in the Nangarhar Province), TTP (Mullah Fazlullah), Jamaat ul Ahraar (Umar Khalid Khorasani group) and others whom they employ against Pakistan with callous impunity.
India is achieving its foreign policy objectives vis a vis Pakistan through Afghanistan by skillfully exploiting their perceived mutual differences. It has cleverly sustained a state of “no war-no peace” between them. It cannot conceivably bring peace to Afghanistan. Instead, it relentlessly instigates the Afghans and exploits the NDS-RAW nexus to carry the fight to Pakistan. It is singularly incapable of bringing the Afghan Taliban or Haqqani Network around to the negotiations table or bludgeoning them militarily into submission either. Yet it pitilessly exploits the hapless Afghans as dispensable cannon fodder against Pakistan. It relentlessly smites the Afghan nose to spite Pakistan’s face – at no real cost to itself!! The Afghans must refuse to be further taken in by this devious Chanakyan policy!
The US seeks to fight terrorism in all its manifestations however, in Afghanistan it is rather selective in focusing only on terrorist groups of interest to itself. It has conveniently overlooked attacking the TTP and Jamaat ul Ahraar elements operating out of Kunar and Nooristan regions. These groups are patronized, equipped, trained, directed, maintained and launched by the NDS-RAW duo to specifically target Pakistan. The US must recalibrate its Afghan policy and remedy this travesty and inconsistency.
There can be peace and quiet on this part of Pakistan’s western front. It requires a two pronged approach. At the sub regional level Afghanistan and Pakistan must get down to the brass tacks and craft a road to peace in the region. Both countries must use their influence to get the other belligerents onto the negotiations table. Pakistan must help and keep Afghanistan from being exploited by peripheral states for their own nefarious designs. It must fence (and if need be, selectively mine) the Durand Line and have an effective border management system in place. The transit trade must be better controlled, and monitored. The Afghan refugees must be immediately albeit honorably returned to their homeland. In Phase One the Afghan refugees must be moved back to IDP camps within Afghanistan by the UN. In Phase Two they should then be moved to their respective home regions.
At the regional level the US, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan along with Russia and China must sit down to devise a comprehensive regional strategy to genuinely attack and eliminate terrorists of all hues and persuasions as well as their respective support systems – regardless of any affiliations or strategic/political considerations. Terrorism in ALL its manifestations must be targeted under this regional/extra regional plan. Joint plans and operations astride the Durand Line and further within will be inevitable. We need to isolate these groups and then destroy them piecemeal in fluid and massive military strikes. A near simultaneous, focused, ferocious, all encompassing assault on ALL terrorist groups will be key to success!
And the US (and a regional approach) holds this key – to either bring peace and sanity to the APR by destroying the regional base of global terrorism or letting the APR bleed in perpetuity as it pursues its geostrategic and geopolitical interests in a rather gruesome manner!!
The author is a retired Brigadier and is currently on the faculty of NIPCONS (NUST).