Several recent developments in the West’s War on Terror (WoT) are signaling that the Western alliance in Afghanistan is considering a ‘deal’ with the Taliban. Western troops have been battling an increasingly sophisticated Taliban, which is undoubtedly getting logistical and technical assistance from “elements” in Pakistan. The NATO forces are expecting the level of violence to get much nastier this year and after the snow melts it is going to be better fighting conditions for the Taliban.
Taking advantage of these developments is Pakistan, which is trying to get the best possible deal for themselves and the Taliban under their control. One of the mediums used by Pakistan to convince the West what it wants is the press. Stratfor reports that Pakistan using Asia Times Online (ATO) is deliberately attempting to tell the West that the Taliban needs to be treated differently from Al Qaeda. ATO is a medium through which Pakistan is trying to set up the parameters for a potential negotiated settlement involving the Taliban.
Former Afghan Prime Minister and Pashtun Islamist rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said March 8 that his group's alliance with the Taliban has ended and that he is open to the idea of negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. Hekmatyar, a one-time CIA asset, said certain elements among the Taliban decided to part ways with his Hizb-i-Islami, which he said was a mistake. He also said his group is prepared to talk but that Kabul -- and particularly its Western backers -- might not accept his conditions of a cease-fire followed by negotiations.
Hekmatyar's statement comes within days of some eccentric news reports exclusively from Web-based news publication Asia Times Online (ATO). ATO reported March 1 that Pakistan and the Taliban have worked out a deal and that Mullah Dadullah is Islamabad's point man among the Pashtun jihadists. The report also says al Qaeda and the Taliban have split from each other over ideological differences and the Taliban's relationship with Pakistan, but that links between the two groups remain.
Two days later, ATO reported differences between al Qaeda and Pakistani jihadist and Islamist forces. It named two people in particular for whom al Qaeda had reportedly developed a strong dislike. One is Fazlur Rehman, leader of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (the largest group within the six-party Islamist coalition Muttahida Majilis-e-Amal, which rules Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province). According to the report, al Qaeda is angry with Rehman, who also leads the opposition in the Pakistani parliament, for aiding Islamabad's efforts to capture al Qaeda operatives.
The other is Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawah, the largest radical Wahhabi group in Pakistan and a successor to the defunct Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Al Qaeda accuses Saeed of embezzling $3 million that the jihadist network gave him to relocate Arab jihadists' families following the U.S. move to effect regime change in Kabul. The report goes on to state that captured senior al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah was the one who gave Saeed the money and who demanded it be returned when Saeed failed to deliver on his part of the bargain. Shortly thereafter, Zubaydah was captured from an LeT safe-house in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad. Al Qaeda is convinced that Saeed betrayed the global jihadist movement. The report quotes an al Qaeda source as saying that the network will kill men like Rehman and Saeed and all other such "hypocrites."
Details notwithstanding, these unusual reports raise a number of questions. Why is ATO the only outlet reporting such information? Who is releasing this information to ATO and why?
These reports are coming from ATO's Pakistan bureau office. Given ATO's track record of quoting jihadist, Islamist and government sources and of issuing reports found nowhere else, it seems that jihadists, Islamists, and certain elements connected to the Pakistani state have used the outlet as a convenient way to relay information. Considering that Islamabad is facing increasing pressure to crack down on jihadists operating on Pakistani soil and has spoken of the need to negotiate with the Taliban, it seems the ATO reports constitute an effort to reposition the fault lines among various Islamist nonstate actors and the Pakistani government.
Several inferences can be drawn from these reports: Islamabad has forged close ties with the Taliban; a significant rift has emerged between al Qaeda and the Taliban; and al Qaeda is also at loggerheads with Pakistani Islamists and jihadists.
Other things being equal, it would not make sense for the Pakistani government to allow a media organization to issue reports about sensitive matters that have a direct and adverse effect on the country's national security -- particularly from that organization's office based inside the country. But other things are not equal, especially when it comes to the murky nexus of jihadists in southwest Asia and the current political climate. In fact, it is in Islamabad's interests to allow such reports to flow or even to feed the system with such reports.
Pakistan has gradually floated the idea of negotiating with the Taliban. However, Islamabad knows that the Pashtun jihadists have ties to al Qaeda. Moreover, Pakistan is seen as the hub of transnational jihadist forces with which the West is not willing to negotiate. The way around these problems is to shape the global perception of the situation by saying that al Qaeda and the Afghan and Pakistani jihadists are actually at odds with each other. The mentioning of Rehman and Saeed is especially telling, because Pakistan would want to underscore that there is a world of difference between Pakistani/Kashmiri Islamists and al Qaeda.
In this context, even Hekmatyar's March 8 statement is not surprising. In December 2006, Pakistani Sen. Mushahid Hussain Sayed, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, described to visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store a proposed four-point formula to resolve the crisis in Afghanistan. One of the points was to begin talks with Hekmatyar.
It is therefore quite likely that ATO's anomalous reports regarding shifting alliances within the southwest Asian jihadist universe are an attempt to lay the foundation for eventual negotiations with the Taliban.[Stratfor]
And what is Pakistan looking for? According to Stratfor:
The Pakistanis know NATO will need their assistance in dealing with the Taliban, both militarily and politically, and they are trying to exploit this to their advantage. Islamabad would be willing to help -- for a price:
1. The international community would have to recognize Pakistani interests in Afghanistan by allowing Islamabad's proxies to have a share of the political pie in Kabul.
2. Pakistan would want U.S. assurances that India would be kept out of Afghanistan.
3. The United States would have to guarantee that its relations with Pakistan would not decline once the jihadists have been contained.[Stratfor]
If Pakistan can use the media to manipulate the War on Terror so that its vital strategic interests are safeguarded, then why cant India use the same medium to the tell the West about the dangers of negotiating with the Taliban?
A decisive military victory is possible in Afghanistan but that would demand a level of casualties in terms of body bags of white men and women that will be unacceptable to the West. If USA and allies want to win the WoT in Afghanistan, which is imperative to safeguard the West and rest of the world from the nasty ideology of fascist Islam, then their only option is to take the battle to the next level – the nuclear level. If the United States thinks the Second World War came to a quick end coz they nuked Japan, then the WoT too can. Yes there will be disastrous consequences to the environment in that area that can also affect North India. But then there are prices to pay in every war.