By C Raja Mohan
India and Afghanistan have been complaining for decades about the sources of cross-border terrorism from Pakistani soil. Militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network have long enjoyed unstinting patronage of the Pakistan army.
Now Pakistan is the one protesting against external sanctuaries for forces fighting the Pakistani state. Pakistan is accusing the United States and its allies of turning a blind eye to the activities of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Afghan soil.
Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani military, sees the TTP as the principal security threat to Pakistan. The TTP, which brings together various Islamist outfits in Pakistan under one umbrella, has begun to operate from across the border after the US wound up some border posts in northeastern Afghanistan.
The Pakistan army’s efforts to win over the TTP in recent years have failed as the organisation mounts increasingly bold attacks on Pakistan’s security forces on the border and deep inside Pakistan’s urban heartland.
Over the last weekend, Islamabad’s envoy to Washington, Sherry Rehman, accused the US of failing to act against the TTP’s cross-border activities, despite the Pakistan army providing intelligence. Rehman counted 52 such occasions in recent months. The US and its allies were swift in their rebuttal of Rehman’s charges. Whenever they were notified in advance, the statement from the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) said, military units were dispatched to deal with the TTP activity.
Washington is angry at Rehman’s suggestion of a moral equivalence between the Pakistan army’s deliberate support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network and the TTP’s sanctuaries in a difficult borderland that Kabul and its international allies don’t control. Unlike the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which enjoy the support of the Pakistan army, neither Kabul nor Washington have any reason to support the TTP, which has organised terror attacks in both Afghanistan and the US.
The US has been pressing the Pakistan army to act against the Haqqani Network over the last two years. A reluctant Pakistan appears to be countering that pressure by raising the noise on cross-border attacks from Afghanistan.
The latest barrage of exchanges between US and Pakistani officials has dampened hopes for an upswing in bilateral relations after Washington apologised for an attack last November on a Pakistani border post that killed 24 men and Islamabad lifted the blockade on NATO’s overland supply routes into Afghanistan.
The US and Pakistan will make yet another effort to resolve current tensions over cross-border attacks this week at the meetings between the heads of their intelligence agencies in Washington.
Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, the ISI boss, is in Washington for talks with the CIA director David Petraeus. This is the first visit by Islam after he was appointed to run the ISI last March. During the talks, Petraeus is expected to renew the demand that the Pakistan army launch operations against the Haqqani Network, which is seen as a big threat to the stability of Afghanistan, as the US begins to downsize its military footprint in Afghanistan.
Last year, a top American official had described the Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm" of the ISI and the Pakistan army. Pakistan makes no secret of its desire to install the Haqqani Network into new political structures in Kabul after the withdrawal of American forces.
Congress has been pressing the Obama administration to declare the Haqqani Network an international terrorist organisation. The White House is more than eager to turn up the heat on the Haqqani Network, but is aware that designating it a terrorist organisation would deepen the divide with Pakistan and reduce the prospects for cooperation with the Pakistan army.
It is not often that the Afghan Taliban supports its adversaries in Kabul and Washington and criticises its patrons in Rawalpindi. That is precisely what the leadership of the Afghan Taliban did last week.
The Taliban joined the Hamid Karzai government in Kabul and the NATO forces in condemning the Pakistan army’s rocket and artillery attacks on Afghan villages across the Durand Line that separates the two countries.
Pakistan says it is targeting the sanctuaries of the TTP. Kabul says the attacks are indiscriminate and displacing thousands of people. According to media reports, the Taliban has declared that the Pakistan army’s attacks on Afghan soil are unacceptable. Although it survives on the Pakistan military’s support, the Taliban might have good reasons to publicly affirm its independence and nationalism.
This post was originally published at The Indian Express.
1 August 2012