"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: Noman
Full Name: Noman Zafar
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Strategic Forecasting, Inc.

A U.S. airstrike on Sept. 8 in Pakistan's tribal belt targeted the leadership of a Taliban group with ties to Islamabad. On the same day, India's ambassador to Kabul announced the completion of a road that Indian army engineers have been constructing in southwestern Afghanistan that could decrease Afghan dependency on Pakistan for access to the outside world. These two developments are cutting at the very heart of Pakistan's attempts to re-establish its influence in Afghanistan. Islamabad, whose writ over its own territory is waning, is unlikely to do much to reverse its dwindling fortunes in Afghanistan.

A series of explosions destroyed a complex comprising a house and a madrassa in Pakistan's tribal belt Sept. 8. Six impacts were reported from what has been claimed to be a U.S. Air Force or CIA unmanned aerial vehicle. One villager claims that two drones fired three missiles apiece. The MQ-9 Reaper -- a newer and larger version of the venerable RQ-1 Predator -- regularly carries a combination of four AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs fitted with either laser or Global Positioning System guidance kits.

The attack killed 23 people related to a very senior Taliban commander, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a major network of fighters and suicide bombers in Afghanistan managed by his son Sirajuddin. Another son, Badruddin, told media that his father and elder brother were not in the targeted house in the village of Dandi Darpakheil in the North Waziristan agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), at the time of the attack. Those killed included one of Haqqani's wives, his sister-in-law, a sister, two nieces, eight grandchildren and another male relative. One of Haqqani's sons-in-law was wounded.

A U.S. attack targeting a jihadist figure close to Islamabad -- and resulting in the death of his family -- could make matters worse in Pakistan. Islamabad is already dealing with an insurgency waged by jihadists gone rogue and growing anger among the public for increasing U.S. attacks in the country's northwest. The death of Haqqani's relatives could lead to Islamabad losing control over his group as well. A loss of control over key Pashtun militant figures and factions will lead Islamabad to completely lose the ability to shape Afghanistan.

The Haqqanis
Haqqani's importance can be gauged by the reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2004 offered to make him prime minister in exchange for ending the insurgency. Haqqani established his Islamist militant credentials as a mujahideen commander during the 1980s war triggered by the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. He was affiliated with Hizbi-i-Islami (Younis Khalis Group) -- one of the seven groups seeking to topple the Moscow-backed communist stratocracy in Kabul.

After the overthrow of the Marxist regime in 1992, Haqqani became justice minister in the first mujahideen government. Four years later, just before the Taliban captured Kabul, he joined Mullah Omar's movement and served as minister of borders and tribal affairs and as governor of Paktia province in the Taliban regime. He has had long-standing ties to Pakistani intelligence, and, during the days of the Taliban, he also grew close to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Since the fall the Taliban regime in late 2001, Haqqani has been a major force behind the growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, operating out of Pakistan's North Waziristan region and maintaining close ties with Islamabad. Haqqani's group falls into the category of jihadists that Stratfor has identified as being close to both the Pakistanis and al Qaeda. He has been calling for a focus on operations in Afghanistan and is not in favor of the jihadist insurgency being waged against Pakistan by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Baitullah Mehsud. There have been reports that Haqqani's son Sirajuddin has been involved in mediation efforts between the TTP and Pakistani authorities.

More recently, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and CIA Deputy Director Steve Kappes, in a visit to Islamabad, gave the Pakistani military leadership evidence of the involvement of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. A key piece of the evidence submitted to Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani was communications between ISI officials and the Haqqani network, which is believed to have been behind the attack.

The Sept. 8 airstrike targeting the leadership of the Haqqani network suggests two things. First, the United States has made a significant breakthrough in terms of intelligence on the whereabouts of various Taliban and al Qaeda high-value targets. Second, and more important, Washington has now decided to go after jihadists who are still under Islamabad's control -- an indicator of the increasing U.S. mistrust with Pakistan.

Islamabad's Limited Options
At a time when Islamabad is already having a hard time sorting out the "bad" Taliban from the "good" ones, U.S. unilateral action against jihadist elements still willing to work with Pakistan is a serious blow to Pakistan's struggle to regain influence in Afghanistan.

Ongoing overt U.S. operations, including the use of ground troops, have already put the Pakistani military under a lot of stress. Now, the Pakistani military has been forced to use some very strong language in speaking out against U.S. strikes to cater to a domestic audience angry over the violation of the country's sovereignty and the killing of noncombatants. Pakistani Maj. Murad Khan, a military spokesperson, told Iran's Press TV that Pakistani forces will act in self-defense if U.S. forces continue launching cross-border attacks, and Pakistan's air force chief told reporters that Pakistani forces need government permission to react to coalition attacks.

Pakistani authorities also engaged in some unorthodox moves when they briefly shut down the Torkham border crossing Aug. 6, preventing supplies from getting to NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis said they could not guarantee the security of the shipments, given that their forces are battling three different militant groups in the region. That said, the Pakistanis kept open the main artery in Chaman -- which links Pakistan to southern Afghanistan, the main theater of NATO operations against Taliban forces.

The Highway
The Pakistanis, however, were dealt a much larger blow. Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Jayant Prasad, in an interview with Reuters published Sept. 8, announced the completion of a strategic road in southwestern Afghanistan built by Indian engineers that will allow the landlocked Afghans to reduce their dependency on Pakistan. The 135-mile road running from Delaram to Zaranj in Nimruz province was constructed by India's Border Roads Organization, a corps of engineers from the Indian army.

The road -- the centerpiece of New Delhi's $1.1 billion reconstruction effort -- opens up an alternate access route into Afghanistan. Currently, Afghanistan relies mostly on Pakistan for imports, with goods coming from Pakistani ports and then overland via the Khyber Pass. The new highway has been built upon an old road between two towns on the Iranian border that connects to a road to the Iranian port of Chahbahar -- a free trade zone along the coast with the Gulf of Oman.

The starting point of the road is Delaram, which is situated on the "Garland Highway" linking Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz. In a country without any major railway lines, this road serves as a national transportation system that has access to the outside world.

Islamabad views any Indian involvement in Afghanistan with suspicion and hostility. And this road -- built by the Indian army and able to reduce Afghan dependency on Pakistan as an access route for trade with the outside world -- is something that will hurt Pakistan's position. Pakistan has historically tried to establish a sphere of influence in Afghanistan in order to counter the threat Islamabad perceives from India.

Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan for access to a port was one of the factors working in Islamabad's favor. But with Kabul gaining access to the Iranian port of Chahbahar, the Pakistanis lose a key element of influence in the country. The construction of the highway only further undermines Pakistan's options as Islamabad faces blowback from the Taliban issue.

From Islamabad's point of view, the timing of the U.S. airstrike and the highway's completion could not be worse, given the growing internal political, economic and security chaos in the country. And because it is unlikely that the new Pakistani government will be able to turn things around at home any time soon, it cannot do much to counter the United States' and India's moves to cut down Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.

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