Another brilliant article by Ahmad Qureshi. You can reach him at ahmaquraishi.com or the email address at the bottom of this article
Destabilisation game Tuesday, February 12, 2008, Ahmed Quraishi
“The Pakistanis,” said former US president Richard Nixon, “are straightforward and sometimes extremely stupid. The Indians are more devious, sometimes so smart that we fall for their line.”
In their desperation to salvage their near-failure in Afghanistan, the Americans are certainly falling for the latest line the Indians and their Afghan proxies in Kabul have been feeding them for months now: If you want to reign in the Taliban in Afghanistan, go after the Pashtuns in Pakistan.
So while the US military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, spent time in Islamabad over the weekend, an unnamed American official in Washington singled out Pakistan’s Pashtuns as the source of all evil, highlighting the “very clear Pashtun tribal links” connecting the Afghan insurgency to Pakistan. He also alleged that Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda leaders were hiding in Quetta.
Weakening the Pashtuns fits in well with the current Afghan power holders in Kabul and their Indian friends, who insist on keeping Afghanistan’s traditional rulers away from power after the bitter experience of the 1990s.
But there is more to this anti-Pashtun tirade than meets the eye. There are signs that, after the attempt to spark an ethnic war in Balochistan in 2005 a situation is being created on the ground for a Pashtun rebellion in Pakistan. And in both cases, support, weapons and finances are pouring in from unnamed and unknown actors based in Afghanistan. The already inflamed Pashtun passions received another setback last week when scores of Pashtun-dominated ANP activists were killed in a suicide attack only days after the assassination of a senior ANP leader in mysterious circumstances in Karachi.
It is ironic that in this dangerous mix, Pakistani politics appear to have no room now for nationalist Pakistanis who believe in a strong, rising Pakistan. Given the chance, every one of these parties is willing to descend into ethnic and linguistic politics. And none of them have a realistic agenda reflecting the strengths of the nation. All of these political parties are conveniently hiding their ineptitude behind a one-point, anti-Musharraf campaign.
The Indians, now comfortably based in Afghanistan under the American watch, have historically shown a special interest in nurturing ethnic insurgencies inside Pakistan. The game plan now is to try to convince Pakistani Pashtun nationalists to join hands with religious parties to fan unrest after next week’s elections.
It would be wise for most Pakistanis to view the role of the United States in this whole situation with a healthy dose of skepticism and suspicion. US officials have been trying to convince Islamabad that the Afghan Taliban and the Al Qaeda are shifting their attention from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Interestingly, the Afghan Taliban are wearing to the Pakistanis that they have nothing to do with the insurgencies of Baitullah Mehsud and the couple of other shadowy religious groups that have sprung up in parts of NWFP.
To underscore this point, Mullah Omar has publicly disowned Mr Mehsud, isolating this warlord and raising serious doubts about the sources of his weapons and funding. Seeing these terrorists isolated and exposed, Pakistani authorities swooped in on Mehsud and the rest of his allies and crippled them militarily.
Our American friends continue to use the good-cop-bad-cop routine on their Pakistani ally. After successfully raising a false global alarm over the security of Pakistani nukes, they sent their top military chief to tell the world from Islamabad that our nukes are safe. While US officials tell their Pakistani counterparts how much they value the relationship, it is a disturbing fact that the US media and the think-tank circuit continue to depict Pakistan as the next Iraq and churn out endless scenarios about the breakup of the country.
In this environment, it is expected that the Americans will exploit the shaky foundations of a flawed and weak Pakistani political system to interfere and exert political pressure on Islamabad. We as Pakistanis have no option but to reform this political system by creating a strong and stable civilian political setup closely backed by the military institution, without whom this process of strengthening the system cannot succeed.
The writer is a host of a foreign policy talk show. Email: email@example.com