Afghan War

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Don’t expect a miracle to happen

The ignoble massacre of children and teachers in Peshawar has led to unprecedented anger and grief across the country. The state has responded by ending the moratorium on the death penalty and convicted terrorists are now being hanged. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced that the days of differentiating between the good and the bad Taliban are over. A parliamentarians’ committee is reviewing counterterrorism measures that need to be adopted. The military leadership has undertaken the diplomatic-security initiative to engage with Afghan authorities on potential action that can nab the Taliban leadership based in Afghanistan.
All these measures are important and noteworthy. The ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb is here to stay and perhaps, is likely to be extended to other areas. But the central question is, whether these tactical moves are sufficient to tackle the hydra-headed Frankenstein’s monsters that Pakistan’s flawed national security policy has created, sustained and nurtured, sometimes with outside support and on occasions totally on its own. There is a name for this Frankenstein’s monster and it is known as jihad — a narrow, self-seeking interpretation of an otherwise lofty and ethereal religious concept. The struggle embedded in jihad — according to most scholars and not semi-literate clerics — is self-improvement. Instead, this has turned into a spectator sport where private militias carry out state objectives in the region and within the land of the pure.
This trajectory is an old one. It did not happen overnight nor was it a ploy of the Unites States and other powers to get Pakistan into a royal mess. In 1948, ‘jihadis’ from the tribal regions started with the battle of Kashmir that continues to date. Conventional wars or private ‘jihad’ efforts have brought neither glory to Pakistan nor relief for the Kashmiris, most of whom are sick of India and Pakistan treating their land and rights as national fiefs. […]

In too deep: Afghanistan, Pakistan & the region

My piece for Himal published in March 2014..

Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is caught in the muddled terrain of domestic political machinations and regional ambitions

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Afghanistan’s history is a turbulent one filled with civil wars, invading armies, foreign political meddling, and disputed successions. Sitting on trade routes between the Mediterranean and China, the Silk Road, and the entrance to India, it has been seen as a prize for many conquering empires. Sadly, Afghans have paid a heavy price for this curse of geography. The British Empire in the 19th century could not subjugate the territories, nor could the Soviets in the 20th. Now the US-led coalition forces, after a disastrous occupation of 12 years, plan to leave the country later this year. 2014 is not just significant for Afghanistan: it will result in regional shifts of power and a new security paradigm, with serious implications for Pakistan.

The Soviet invasion in 1979 unleashed a period of intense conflict as the US and the West responded by mobilising unprecedented resources and funnelling support to mujahideen fighters through regional proxies, most notably Pakistan. Driven by its regional ambitions and perennial fear of India, Pakistan entered the game and for a decade supported the development and oversight of a jihad industry that played on Islamist passions against the ‘infidel’ Soviets. Thus, a stream of jihadists crossed the Durand Line and found many allies to further the rise of Deobandi Islam on both sides of the border. This was a defining moment when jihad acquired a legitimacy of its own and engulfed not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan. […]