Shadow of the Enemy
There are murmurs about outbreak of civil war in Afghanistan, if the withdrawal of international forces leads to domination by Pakistan
Shrinivasrao Sohoni Kabul
A strange sense of resignation and ennui has surfaced in political circles in Afghanistan even as conditions here worsen by the day. The military effort of the 46-nation NATO-led ISAF is turning ineffectual as the Pakistan-based, ISI-mentored armed insurgency and Saudi-sponsored Wahabi Islam expands its wings in the region. NATO policy makers, given their enormous information resources, are surely aware of the simple truth that the international security force can make no meaningful headway in Afghanistan so long as the armed opposition has base support and a safe haven in Pakistan, even while there is Saudi propagation of Wahabi Islam on war footing.
Almost nine years in the theatre, the West has not succeeded one inch in deterring Pakistan from pursuing a policy since 2001 of feigning partnership in the NATO effort while supporting the armed opposition; nor has it succeeded in deterring the Saudis from fuelling inflammatory Wahabi Islam.
Is there a lack of will to deal with these two countries within the paradigm of western interests?
The counterinsurgency campaign is floundering as it strains to contain the armed opposition in Afghanistan without confronting, let alone neutralising, the mainstay of the insurgency. (Drone attacks on sundry targets in frontier areas, while effective in killing some militants and arousing fear, can hardly neutralise the real provenance of the insurgency.)
The mainstay of the armed opposition in Afghanistan are the military leadership in Pakistan and Saudi ruling strategists, and these worthies remain undisturbed. Cultivated and pampered, they continue to flourish with excellent and cordial terms with the West.
The West, especially the US, has for decades lavished on Pakistan financial aid and a formidable array of weaponry, and has currently initiated a phase of enhanced assistance. For years it has shied away from confronting the three-fold nexus: between the Royal House of Saud and Wahabism towards proselytising for extremist radical orthodox Islam, the nexus between Saudi and Pakistani leaderships aiming at domination of Afghanistan and the Central Asian region, and the nexus between Pakistan and narco-terrorism.
Is there another key nexus operating? There are reports of aircraft laden with narcotics taking off each day from a particularly strategic military airport under international air traffic control. Indeed, the burgeoning, illicit drugs trade needs bulk supply of precursor chemicals from Pakistan to narco-terrorist cartels for manufacture of heroin.
In Pakistan, the proliferation of rigid and strict Wahabism and the diktats of Hanbali interpretation of Sharia law - in vogue in Saudi Arabia - created pressure on the adherents of Sufism, the Barelvi school and the traditional Hanafi interpretation of Sharia. Wahabism treats as 'shirk' (deviant and prohibited) the veneration at 'dargahs' (shrines), the wearing of amulets and talismans, and warns even professedly Sunni Muslims of reprisals and severe punishment in case they fail to conform strictly with Wahabi norms and practices.
In Mingora, the main town of the scenic Swat Valley, Wahabis beheaded and threw at the crossroads the body of a young Sunni Muslim school teacher for the 'crime' of daring to wear a salwar not short enough to expose his ankles. As further indignity and warning, the corpse was hung from a meat hook.
Wahabism has intensified the campaign of murdering Shias. The Shias are termed 'mushrikeen' and are legitimate targets for killing. Terrorists from the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba, Lashkar-e-Janghvi, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, and the Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan, periodically attack the Shia community.
Pakistani Shias, on their part, have not remained passive. They have armed themselves, are aggressive, and do not lack support from Iran. Indeed, Sunnis as well as Shias in Pakistan condemn and call for the elimination of the minority Ahmadiya community. The Ahmadiyas remain officially notified in Pakistan as non-Muslims, prohibited by law from claiming to be Muslims, referring to their places of worship as mosques, or even using Islamic greetings. Posters and banners on streets in Pakistan call for the wholesale massacre of the Ahmadiyas - as an act of pious Islamic duty by the faithful.
In Afghanistan, Wahabism, funded by Saudi money, is gaining ground, even in the northern and north-eastern provinces. It is penetrating countries adjoining Afghanistan - Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirgyzstan, and the Uighur region of southwestern China.
Will the overwhelmingly Shia Islamic Republic of Iran allow the unchallenged ascendance of Wahabism? Experts discount that possibility, pointing to Iran's multi-pronged capability to interfere in Afghanistan, and particularly, the leverage Iran has with the Shia Hazara community in the central highlands.
The recent Hazara versus Sunni Kuchi violent confrontation over sheep-grazing lands brought to light the preparations made by the Hazaras to arm and equip themselves for defence as well as attack. Afghanistan's Vice President Karim Khalili, a leader of the community, is reported to have declared at a public meeting in the Hazarajat region, that his will be the first blood to be spilled. This is the intensity of sentiment over the usage rights in pasture land! Feelings will run higher if the issue concerns faith, community identity and survival.
President Hamid Karzai has initiated 'reconciliation' and 'reintegration' - terms understood to have specific meanings in official circles. 'Reconciliation' is the process of coming to an understanding with the higher echelons of the armed opposition, for a peaceful dispute resolution. As distinguished from this, 'reintegration' means the absorption and rehabilitation of foot soldiers of the armed opposition in the mainstream of Afghanistan national life, with they abiding by the Constitution and laws of the land.
In the recent National Consultative Peace Jirga in Kabul, delegates reached a consensus in favour of initiating negotiations with the armed opposition towards achieving a peaceful resolution. Subsequent discussions with representatives of the Pakistan government and connected agencies have, however, revealed crucial differences in Afghan and Pakistani perceptions.
There is conviction (and exultation) on the Pakistan side that the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving in a direction that will make it unnecessary for the armed opposition to make any compromises, and that the US-led forces will swiftly erode, and consequently quit Afghanistan. Hence arrangements are being made for governing the country as per Pakistan's choosing.
The Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities, and a significant section of the Pashtun community, are watchful and apprehensive about Pakistan's demands in matters of governance, including key appointments, security and foreign policy. There are murmurs about the outbreak of civil war in Afghanistan if the withdrawal of international forces leads to domination by Pakistan. Observers feel such a contingency will be a political and security disaster practically in the heart of Asia.
Meanwhile, a surreal touch is being added by the preparations underway for the Kabul conference scheduled in the last week of July - to be attended by government representatives and donors of 70 countries - to marshal financial support for the Afghan government's national reconstruction plans.
On considerations of security, some believe that the conference should be convened in some other country. Rocket attacks on the National Consultative Peace Jirga indicate that the armed opposition has the ability to pierce through security arrangements in any location.
Aspirants for 12 vacancies in the cabinet are doing the rounds, canvassing in the expectation that new cabinet appointments will be announced shortly - ahead of the conference. Democracy seems to be taking roots. Nominations were completed for elections to Parliament scheduled on September 18 this year. For 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga (People's Meeting), there are 2,577 candidates, including 405 women from Afghanistan's 34 provinces. Seats from Kabul province alone have attracted 700 applications. The ballot paper here would have to be a book.
Based in Kabul, the author is a senior advisor in the office of the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan