Spearhead Analysis – 25.05.2016
President Obama announced that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been killed in a Drone strike in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province near the Pakistan-Afghan border. He did not clarify the confusion created by earlier telephone calls to Pakistani officials whether Pakistan had been informed before the strike or after it. Not everyone readily believed the President because Pakistan did not confirm that Mullah Mansour had been killed pending the result of DNA tests underway. There was also the matter of an earlier announcement by President Obama that Raymond Davis was a US diplomat whereas he was actually a two bit CIA contractor. Before that President Obama’s predecessor had declared from an aircraft carrier that the war on terror was over and that the US had won. This time, however, Afghanistan dutifully chimed in with a confirmation of the US claim and there were reports of the Taliban having started the process of choosing Mullah Mansour’s successor and confirming that he is indeed dead. Chances are that Wali Mohammad, the man killed and identified from his ID documents, was indeed Mullah Mansour — the US did not opt for DNA confirmation probably because of the OBL raid fallout that had exposed collaborators. If the rumors of Mullah Mansour’s family being in Iran are true then there may have been covert and undisclosed DNA testing there. It is important to note that this attack signifies a shift in US’ Afghanistan policy following President Obama’s hint previously of more drone attacks in future. This could also be the start of a new strategy of a US drone campaign against the Taliban in Baluchistan, which could push Taliban leaders to relocate back to Afghanistan or elsewhere in Pakistan.
There were several unanswered questions. Was the Drone in Pakistani territory when it fired the missile or was it in a neighboring country? The US State Department spokesman has been non-committal. According to the Wall Street Journal the Drones crossed the border into Pakistan for the attack. Does this make a difference at all? How could identity documents found at the attack site have survived intact when the vehicle was gutted and the bodies of the two passengers charred beyond recognition? Were these planted after the attack to further incriminate Pakistan by indicating that false identity documents could be obtained or perhaps issued? Probably to make sure that the trail leads to Pakistan harboring Mullah Mansour and by implication other Taliban leaders. If so then were there US assets at the attack site to facilitate the attack? According to the New York Times, satellite imagery, signals intelligence and human assets were used to track Mullah Mansour’s movements. Is a combing operation of the kind that followed the Raymond Davis fiasco and the OBL attack required to expose the collaborators? If Mullah Mansour had indeed been targeted and killed then what about the murder of the driver who perhaps did not even know who his passenger was or is he to be written off as collateral damage? Can Pakistan accept the killing of an innocent citizen? —in the Raymond Davis case the families of the victims were compensated by the US. Can this attack be justified? Pakistan’s Interior Minister has already said that there is no way that this can be accepted. What kind of precedence does it set especially with the US implying more such attacks on similar targets?
Pakistan’s Minster of Interior made no bones about what he thought about this attack and those who ordered it adding that a full response would be made after a meeting of the National Security Council when the Prime Minister returns from London. For Pakistan this was the most significant intrusion into its territory after the raid to get OBL and the insertion of CIA contractors for covert purposes, and it comes after President Obama has been quoted as having called Pakistan an ‘abysmally dysfunctional country’ and questioning whether it could be an ally at all. The Army Chief has weighed in by telling the US Ambassador that violation of sovereignty is detrimental to Pak-US ties and is counter-productive to the ongoing peace process for regional stability.
This attack should not have come as a surprise. Obama would not want to leave a legacy of abject failure. There were indications that the continuing failure in Afghanistan was making the US desperate and it could act rashly. There was the arm twisting on the F 16 purchase, the raising of issues like the CIA agent Dr Afridi, the concern on some aspects of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs, the return of the ‘do more’ mantra with pressure to act against the Afghan Taliban especially the Haqani network. There was the Afghan Presidents’ diatribe against Pakistan–no doubt after suitable inspiration, the outright rejection of Mullah Mansour’s preconditions for talks, the Taliban successes on the ground and the attitude of the Afghan delegation at the last QCG meeting with talk of irreconcilables. (In the last meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprising the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Afghan government demanded that all obstacles to political reconciliation in Afghanistan should be removed by force), and, of course, the US Congress acting to block a 450 million dollar aid package for Pakistan and finally the looming NSG meeting where the US is expected to back the entry of India as a non NPT member but seeks to block Pakistan. Putting all this together does give a sense of the build up to the Drone attack inside Pakistan.
What this attack does to Pakistan-US and Pakistan-Afghan relations is not quite clear. Equally uncertain is the Taliban strategy once they have chosen a new leader (reportedly Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, an influential religious figure has been chosen) but chances are that there will be revenge attacks and an escalation of violence ( the operational deputies of Mullah Mansour have not been changed). No doubt that the killing of Mullah Mansur is a setback for the Taliban but the scale and dimension of the conflict will not change. There are several possibilities. The Taliban could unite (most likely) or split into factions that start power struggles but one effect could be the end of the QCG with entities like the IS-Khurasan looking for opportunities to make inroads. There is pressure building up on President Obama to review his decision to halve the number of troops in Afghanistan and to maintain current levels for as long as it takes. He is also being pushed to permit more bombing missions and of course to continue the Drone attacks on Taliban wherever and whenever targets are presented. There is a move to delink Af-Pak as far as funding and reimbursements are concerned and to make all payments to Pakistan conditional to action against the Haqqani network. Pakistan must also factor in its trade, aid and defense relationship with the US as well as with international financial institutions over which the US has influence.
In the broader picture there is the long awaited India-Afghanistan-Iran Agreement on development of Iran’s Chabahar port by India and overland rail and road networks through Iran to Afghanistan and well beyond. Equally relevant is the growing US-India strategic relation as US-India Maritime Security Dialogue picks up pace and moves into Logistics Base Agreements, Joint Training and joint development of assets like aircraft carriers — all part of the US pivot to the Pacific and India’s thrust towards maritime strategy nicely dovetailing with it including improved relations with Vietnam, Philippines and Japan. India has also brought Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) to South Asia with its test of an interceptor missile.
It is in this overall context that Pakistan has to chart a new foreign policy that takes into consideration the situation within Pakistan, across its borders and its image and place in the region and the world. Much work needs to be done and much talent has to be recruited to undertake this work — this is no time for firing from the hip or knee jerk reactions. Pakistan needs to harden from within if it is to have an effective foreign policy and for this the priority has to be internal security, political stability and economic growth with zero tolerance for anyone and anything that obstructs the move towards this goal.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)