Participants in the plenary session ‘Transitions in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ that was held yesterday at the 10th US-Islamic World Forum. Right: Marti
10 June 2013 – Gulf Times
By Salman Siddiqui/ Staff Reporter
After decades of war in Afghanistan and its spillover into Pakistan, the level of mistrust between the two countries today is at an all-time high.
This became evident even during the high voltage plenary session ‘Transitions in Afghanistan and Pakistan’ that was held yesterday at the 10th US-Islamic World Forum ‘A Decade of Dialogue’.
Numerous tongue in cheek yet delightful exchanges occurred between Pakistan’s Hussain Haqqani and Afghanistan’s Amrullah Saleh. Eventually, the forum proved that it was only through dialogue that one could bridge the gap between the two countries.
Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, who is also a professor at Boston University, explained Pakistan’s narrative of terrorism and Taliban by recalling how it spawned during General Zia’s regime in the 80s and how the same “strategic depth” argument was still being used by the security establishment in the country.
He said that President Asif Zardari and Pakistan Peoples Party government had to pay a heavy price for withdrawing itself from national security policies. He added that it remained to be seen whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would also leave matters relating to security and foreign policy to the security establishment in Pakistan.
Haqqani said the reason why Pakistan security agencies prefer to talk to the Afghan Taliban was because they believed that President Karzai and his other officials don’t wield real power in Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan feared that just like in the 80s, US again would abandon it to deal on its own with various groups in Afghanistan after the foreign troops pull out in 2014 and believed, rightly or wrongly, that Afghan Taliban hold the key to stability.
When questioned by Bruce Riedel, Director, The Intelligence Project, about the expected retirement of Pakistan’s army chief General Kayani this fall, which some people in the US believed was an even more important development than the democratic transition that recently took place, Haqqani said the overemphasis on individuals rather than focusing on strengthening institutions in Pakistan by the United States would lead it nowhere.
Surprisingly, Haqqani said Pakistan’s stance that US drone attacks violated its sovereignty lacked substance, especially since the strikes were taking place in areas where they lacked writ.
He also said Pakistan should have thought about its sovereignty when Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden operated in the country.
Amrullah Saleh, Former director of National Directorate of Security Afghanistan, disagreed with Haqqani and said Osama bin Laden (OBL) didn’t violate Pakistan’s sovereignty because he was welcomed by every powerful quarter in the country.
He also narrated his meeting with General Musharraf back in the days, when he supposedly told the Pakistani dictator that OBL was not in some cave, but in fact hiding in a settled area of Pakistan called Mansehra, which was very close to Abbottabad where OBL was eventually killed by the US forces. “Musharraf had become very emotional and told me that Pakistan was not some banana republic and that how dare some low-level Afghan intelligence official make a claim like that…however, later we were proved right.”
Saleh also questioned whether the Afghan war would end when the international forces pull out from Afghanistan in 2014. “The Afghan war is between democratic space backed by US and extremist groups, the Taliban and al Qaeda, backed by Pakistan…this war is not ending,” he said.
He said the Americans said they were tired after a decade of war, but why don’t they put themselves in Afghan shoes and see how they felt after suffering war for 35 years.
He said that everyday US and Nato forces claim to be killing a number of terrorists, but he said these meant nothing because such strikes targeted low level foot soldiers of the Taliban. “The only high level Taliban leader they managed to kill was Mullah Dadullah in 2007.”
He accused Pakistan of continuing to give safe havens and sanctuaries to all the current top leadership of the Taliban and Al Qaeda just like it allegedly did with OBL.
“Suppose there is a Taliban office in Doha. Just ask where do the Taliban negotiators from here go to pass on the messages they receive from here. They take flights to Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore from Doha [to meet the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan],” he alleged.
Saleh said that although they would like the Taliban to eventually participate in the democratic process, the Taliban know that by participating in such a process, they’ll be rejected by the people and therefore, he predicted, the Taliban would carry on with militancy even when international forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
“The Taliban want to eventually be like Hezbollah in Lebanon, a state within a state,” he said.
About Iran’s links with Afghan Taliban, Saleh downplayed Iran’s influence on the Taliban. He said that Iran reestablished links with all groups in Afghanistan purely for opportunistic and strategic reasons.
Bruce Riedel likened the exchange between Haqqani and Saleh in broader terms as how politicians and intelligence officers views differed when they come across flowers. “When a politician sees flowers, he asks where is the wedding, while when the intelligence officer sees the same, he asks where is the funeral.”
Ambassador Martin S. Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Programme at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, said that the American people were tired after a decade of war, but at the same time didn’t want to disengage with the world.
He stated the irony that when the US intervenes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is reviled and rejected by the Islamic world. But when it chooses to not intervene directly in Syria, it is again reviled and rejected.
He restated President Obama’s policy that it was not at war with Islam.
The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World is being held in partnership with the State of Qatar that will carry on till June 11.
Earlier, HE Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Jabr Al-Thani, Minister’s Assistant for International Cooperation Affairs and the Chairman of Permanent Committee for Organizing Conferences, Qatar, in his speech said that this year’s forum entitled ‘A Decade of Dialogue” marked the ten-year anniversary.
He said the Forum had become the premier platform for engagement by American leaders from government, business, and civil society with their counterparts from Muslim-majority countries around the world.
Further, he added that this year’s sessions would highlight the changing landscape in Pakistan and Afghanistan and its effect on internal and regional security; the challenges of democracy and development that have loomed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring; the conflict in Syria and the spiraling effects of the conflict on the Middle East region and the roles played by the United States and other outside actors.