Last week threw up a few fictional and factual settings impacting Pakistan in one way or the other. It will be interesting to review some of these.
First the fiction. Indian media has come up with an interesting report. Sounding like an act of comedy, Times of India has reported that a Pakistan Navy submarine had fired at four Indian boats carrying 25 fishermen on port of Jakhau village in Gujarat, injuring one fisherman; and subsequently arrested 24 fishermen on October 15.
The missing dots in the submarine story are: submarines are a deep water system and cannot be used to harass ports, what to talk about village ports. Torpedo is a heavy duty and an expensive weapon used against ships and submarines and not against the fishing boats. And if at all a torpedo was fired on a small boat, nothing would be left of the boat and its passengers. A typical submarine’s detections systems are designed for locating bigger vessels, both surface and subsurface, these detection tools are not geared for detecting small fishing boats. And above all, it is Pakistan Maritime Security Agency that is mandated to guard the boundaries of Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone and not Pakistan Navy. Maritime Security Agency in an equivalent of border rangers equipped only with boats and guns. Indian media could have avoided this embarrassment, had it taken the advice of Indian Navy’s Public Relations Officer.
Also, while Hindu mobs are busy killing beef eaters in India, ostensibly with the connivance of law enforcing agencies, Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar of BJP has come up with a funny solution. He has asked people—read Muslims— “stop eating beef to avid mob attacks”!
And to offset the embarrassment of hitting a hospital in Kunduz, CIA has had an afterthought to implicate their “on call scapegoat”—Pakistan. Associated Press (AP) has carried a story that American special operations analysts believed that the hospital was being used by a Pakistani intelligence operative to coordinate Taliban activity. “Doctors Without Borders” a humanitarian outfit that was running the hospital has denied this. Spokesperson of Pakistan’s foreign office has termed the story by the AP as baseless and unwarranted. Even if the allegations are true, the billion dollars question is: Was bombing the hospital—in a typical cowboy style— the only available option?
And now coming to facts. In a long anticipated move, President Barack Obama has extended the stay of current level of American forces— 9,800 US troops through most of 2016. Now this contingent shall be available to help or say rescue the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) when Taliban launch their next “Spring Offensive” in April 2016. Obama has set aside his promise to end the war during his presidency; now he will hand over the longest conflict to his successor; he has also abandoned his plans to leave just a small, embassy based force of around 1,000 personnel in Kabul beyond 2016. Now, nearly 5,500 soldiers would still be lingering in Afghanistan when Obama leaves Presidency. Citing an Afghan force which is “still not as strong as they need to be”, Obama said that the level of 9,800 troops will be maintained through most of 2016. “I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases.” These forces will be based in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar; and will be able to operate quickly when needed. Obama said that while Afghan forces have made progress, the security situation in the country remains fragile: “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president”.
President Obama has also acknowledged efforts of Pakistan and its ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan.” Obama has said that he would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 22 to discuss his plan for peace in the Pak-Afghan region. “I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve,” Obama said. “By now it should be clear to the Taliban, and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.”
Earlier this week, Nawaz had said that he “wants to bring the Taliban back to the negotiation table.” Afghanistan has hailed the remarks made by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would exert efforts in bringing back the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Afghanistan’s CEO Dr Abdullah also wanted Islamabad’s help in ending the “capability” of the Taliban in launching major attacks. Nawaz and Obama will discuss a host of issues including peace in Afghanistan, border tensions between Pakistan and India, and a prospective nuclear deal.
The Taliban insurgents, no longer called as terrorists by Americans, are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the recent United Nations estimates. During previous weeks, the Taliban scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks. Incidents of breaking Ghazni Jail, freeing hundreds of militant inmates and later threatening posture toward this urban center speak for themselves. Earlier unrelenting attacks in and around Kabul had amply demonstrated the expanse of Taliban’s combat activities.
As Obama announced to extend stay of US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban responded: “The Islamic Emirate believes that military solution is not a way out of the Afghan issue. We believe that when Afghans are convinced, regarding the end of occupation and withdrawal of foreign troops, then all problems could be easily solved through intra-Afghan understanding and dialogue”. And, “To end fighting, we are ready to initiate meaningful negotiations with all concerned sides”, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement.
President Obama conceded that his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon officials, field commanders and White House advisers about how best to support Afghan forces. The US troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, they will not be engaged in combat missions, he said.
Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election. Jeb Bush, one of Republican candidates, welcomed the move: “While I am glad President Obama has dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely, if he is truly committed to fighting terrorism and securing a stable Afghanistan, he shouldn’t short change what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission”. The foreign ministry of Russia, remarked that it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country, RIA news agency reported.
State Department has issued a fact sheet on its ties with Pakistan, a week before Nawaz-Obama summit, which highlights co-operation between the two countries in various fields. “Pakistan has generally co-operated with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts and since 2001, has captured more than 600 Al Qaeda members and their allies,” says the statement. And that security assistance to Pakistan is focused on “strengthening the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities of the Pakistan security forces”.
Through perseverance, Pakistan is bravely charting its way forward through vortices thrown up by assortment of fictions and myths. It wishes to continue its contributions for making Afghanistan a peaceful and stable country, it certainly needs a break from an unrelenting fiction based bashing spree.
[The Nation, October 19, 2015]
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.