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Ehsan Azari Stanizai Headshot

Pakistan's aim is to control Afghanistan for its own survival

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Over the last few weeks, amid the NATO and US record-high casualties in Afghanistan and the bad news further coming out of the country, skepticism is growing about President Barack Obama's surge strategy.

The angst was further exacerbated recently as a new report by the London School of Economics alleged that Pakistan continues, as part of its official but covert policy, to provide funding, training, and guidance to the Taliban field operations in Afghanistan.
The new evidence based on a set of face-to-face interviews with the Taliban field commanders, also alleges that Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and top officials from Inter-State Intelligence (ISI), made a secret meeting with Taliban prisoners in a Pakistani jail in February. "You are our people, we are friends, and after release we will of course support you to do your operations," Zardari and his top spies ensured the Taliban leaders according to the report.

Pakistan's secret objectives in the Afghan war are not something new. Since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, Afghan specialists, diplomats and Western intelligence agencies have been repeatedly accusing Pakistan of an agenda that threatens to derail Western efforts to uproot terrorism.

It is not hard to figure out Pakistan's hidden intentions. A recent editorial in the New York Times makes clear that Pakistan is not doing all it needs to, because of military incapability and "political cowardice." Nevertheless, those who have a profound local knowledge of the regional history, know that Pakistan was born in 1947 with two compulsive obsessions-- India and Afghanistan, especially its dominant Pashtun community. What is known as Pakistan's northwestern Pashtun tribal belt was to became a buffer zone between British India and Afghanistan, when this larger-than-Portugal area was coercively annexed in 1893.

During the past sixty-three years of its existence, Pakistan has followed old British colonial policy--the only way to tame and rule these fiercely independent Pashtun tribes is to impose on them a medieval and retrograde religious ideology. The late Ghafar Khan, known as Frontier Gandhi for his advocacy of non-violence, once famously said, "When folks want to kill a people they poison their food, but when they want to kill the Pashtuns, they poison their religion." This has been achieved by the Pakistani military.

The use of religious extremism for political gains has been a Pakistani long modus operandi. The ISI successfully mobilized and sent Pashtun tribes to invade Kashmir in 1947. In the early 1970s, Pakistan trained and dispatched the first bunch of extremist Islamists into Afghanistan to de-stabilize Daud Khan's left-leaning government in Kabul before the Soviet invasion of the country. Warlords Rabbani and Hekmatyar were among the first extremist breed of ISI. Mr Rabbani is now cooperating with the US-backed Kabul government while Hekmatyar is fighting with the Taliban against it.

The 1980s was ISI's golden era, when it began training and organizing Afghan anti-communist guerrilla fighters with American and Saudi money. The 1990s was the Taliban era, during which the ISI top spies were roaming about in the streets of Kabul and Kandahar like Mughal princes.

The Pakistani paranoid ruling elite believe that the control over the Pashtuns of both Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential for the survival of the country. Losing this control or risking it is tantamount to a suicide mission. This explains the rationale behind Pakistan's bizarre duplicity in the Afghan war. The Obama's troop withdrawal deadline, July 2011, has provided yet additional stimulus to this paranoia.

Such appalling double-dealings was signaled by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 10, 2010 when she told 60 Minutes, "I believe somewhere in this government (Pakistan) are people who know where Osama bin Ladin and al-Qaida and where Mullah Omar (Taliban leader) and the leadership of the Taliban are."

This month's media reports offer a new testimony to such claims. Pakistan began to ask for money and weapons to uproot the same militants that it plans to cut deals with. The Washington Times revealed on June 15 that in order to fight militants in North Waziristan, Pakistan asked the US for $2.5 billion worth of advanced weapons including Apache-64-D, UH-60 Black Hawk, and CH-47D Chinook helicopter gunships.

Quoting Pakistani senior security officials, the next day the Karachi-based Dawn newspaper wrote, "Primary contacts have been established with Siraj Haqqani through intermediaries in a bid to engineer a rapprochement with the Karzai administration." One might argue that Karzai and Haqqani both speak Pashtu; why should they ever need a Punjabi interpreter? "Haqanni's group clearly commanded and controlled recent attacks" in Kabul, General David Petraeus told a congressional hearing on June 16.

Pakistan is always quick to deny any liability. The Pakistani media is creating a narrative about its suffering in the war against Islamic militancy. It claims that Islamabad has deployed 120,000 troops in tribal areas and suffered thousands of casualties. This is true, but this war is waged primarily against those militants who are determined to destroy the Pakistani state, an issue that is increasingly becoming irrelevant to the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan also asserts that its army has cleared Swat, Bajaur, Orakzai, and South Waziristan entirely of Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida. However, many commentators believe that Pakistan only allowed those militants to infiltrate Afghanistan and North Waziristan--a quasi al-Qaida kingdom.

Thus, peace and stability would not return to Afghanistan unless the plug is pulled on Pakistan's invisible game. The US has little or no time to wait until another attack on American soil is traced back to Pakistan. Pakistan is interested only in American money and weaponss and the use of Taliban in future of the country.

The US has always overlooked Pakistan's underhanded way of milking US money and seeking a foothold in Afghanistan. However, the price will be paid ultimately by the US, which has been bogged down in self-destructive mission in Afghanistan.