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One day they tell us training camps of so-called ‘Baloch’ separatists are closed. Next day Brahamdagh Bugti springs up in Kandahar or Helmand.
By SALEEM SAFI | Tuesday, 19 October 2010 | The News International
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—The recent visit to Kabul has produced strange results for me. Though it was very informative, it has created more confusion in my mind. This time round, I had the opportunity to listen to many parties to the conflict in Afghanistan. I held long discussions with Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Ahsan Iqbal, Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Gen (r) Asad Durrani, Afrasiyab Khattak, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi and Najmuddin Sheikh as all these prominent personalities were invited, like the scribe, to attend the second conference of the Abu Dhabi process held under the auspices of the East-West Institute and the UAE government.
This time my meetings in Kabul were not restricted to ministers and advisers of the Karzai government. Rather I held meetings with former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mulla Abdus Salam Zaeef, ex-foreign minister of the Taliban regime Maulvi Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, some old-time friends from Hizb-e-Islami, Afghan intellectuals and the UAE and German ambassadors to Kabul. We also enjoyed the hospitality of the intellectual but very active Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, Mr Muhammad Sadiq. All these discussions and meetings were very useful as I listened to almost all parties to the Afghan conflict.
However these different opinions and positions created a comprehensive, but extremely shocking, picture of the whole spectrum of issues. Once you observe a snapshot of the double standards and group and national prejudices, you would be able to easily understand the reasons behind the spiralling conflict and its debilitating consequences for Pakistan. And why, despite international and regional efforts, this region has been destined for further instability and chaos.
Pakistan is a frontline state and an indispensable ally of the US in the war against terrorism. But the US does not treat it as an ally. There is a huge trust-deficit between the two partners. The US neither shares its ambitions and plans for the region with Pakistan, nor is ready to disclose its strategy to this vital partner. The Americans say one thing but do another thing. For example, Pakistan was informed that NATO was making preparations for action in Kandahar. But suddenly that plan was scrapped without intimating Pakistan and action was initiated instead in the border areas of provinces like Khost, Paktia and Paktika. One day the US assures Pakistan that all camps of Baloch separatists in Afghanistan have been dismantled, while the next day Brahamdagh Bugti surfaces in Kandahar or Helmand.
As far as the Afghans’ behavior is concerned, it thoroughly betrays double standards. Those Afghans who are up in arms against Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan are trying to make room for Iranian and Indian influence. Similarly, those Afghan militants, who consider the presence of foreign militants on Afghan soil as against their sovereignty have completely shut their eyes to the presence of foreign troops in all corners of that country.
Strangely, Afghans who consider the presence of foreign troops a violation of their honor are making no noise about the presence of foreign militants from the Arab countries and Central Asia. Similarly, people who waste no opportunity to condemn the Taliban regime’s excesses have no time to criticise the internecine conflict between Mujahideen groups and the resulting catastrophe for the people of Afghanistan.
The majority of Afghans believe that Pakistan is supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. But when Pakistanis propose regulating cross-border movements and fencing of the Durand Line to stop infiltration, the same Pakistan-bashers are vehemently opposed to such moves. Thousands of Afghans are crossing into Pakistan everyday without proper visas, but even prominent figures like Mehmood Khan Achakzai are not allowed to enter Afghanistan without a proper visa. The Pakistani embassy in Kabul issues six-months’ multiple-entry visas to Afghans, but the Afghan foreign ministry, despite so many requests, does not issue multiple-entry visas even to Pakistani citizens who, like this scribe, visit Kabul at least once a month.
The story of Pakistani double standards presents a picture of its own. Our establishment always requests India for normalization of relations, but is not amenable to the idea of Afghanistan’s relations with India. The retired generals and religious leaders who do not hesitate to criticize America’s imperial behavior towards Pakistan are strongly desirous of Pakistani behavior of this kind regarding Afghanistan.
The rulers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad are engaged in supporting the idea of negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but they have shut all doors to such initiatives on this side of the border. These rulers get furious at American helicopters’ intrusion into Pakistan, but have tacitly permitted drone attacks. The Pakhtun nationalists, who are opposed to the Durand Line as a proper border and vociferously advocate the cause of a single Pakhtun nation on both sides of the border, are highly critical of Pakhtun Taliban’s presence in Pakistan. But the question is: if the Durand line is ineffective as a border for other Pakhtuns, then why should it be sacrosanct for the Taliban?
The confusion and double standards are a baffling riddle. The region is up for grabs; every player within its borders and beyond is trying to become the sole master of the region. It appears that this fire will not remain restricted to Quetta and Peshawar. Rather, God forbid, it is going to engulf the whole country. But the tragedy is that the residents of the fortresses of Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore neither comprehend the intensity of this fire nor have any sense to feel it before it engulfs everybody around.
Here everyone is busy playing the “NRO” and other such games. All important individuals and institutions are fighting to grab more powers and authority. Incomprehensibly, our rulers, policymakers and leaders forget the fact that war and anarchy forgive none. The masses, rulers, religious and nationalist Pakhtuns and Punjabis would be indistinguishable sufferers of war and anarchy. Once a country is turned into “Afghanistan” then its people do not remain masters of their own destiny, nor are they allowed to think on their own. Resultantly, the international and regional powers rule such nations through local faces.
Mr. Safi is a renowned Pakistani journalist and an expert on Pak-Afghan affairs. This op-ed was published by The News International. Reach Mr. Safi at
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