The Strategic Triangle: FATA-Paksitan-Afghanistan
There are no quick fixes or easy solutions to problems that have their roots in the support provided to the more extreme elements of the Mujahhedin during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and more recently on a series of policy errors by the US and some other members of the international community in the initial years after Bonn, aggravated by shortcomings on the part of the Afghan government and by the ability of the Taliban to find sanctuary in Pakistan. A revised strategy towards Afghanistan needs to include tackling extremism and underdevelopment in the FATA as well as in other areas of NWFP and Balochistan. The appointments of American and British Special representatives constitute steps in the right direction. A new approach ought to include the following elements:
- Any increase in the international military presence in Afghanistan should await an overall policy revision and should only take place with the full support of, and in close consultation with, the Afghan Government and Parliament.
- The US may find that, unless its European allies are closely involved in such a revision, they may balk at increasing their [military] involvement in Afghanistan.
- The conclusion of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), governing the conduct of international forces in Afghanistan, along the lines of the one recently reached with Iraq, should not be delayed before it becomes a major bone of contention. Civilian casualties by international forces must be avoided at all costs even if it means allowing suspected Taliban hiding among the civilian population to escape. House searches and arrests by US forces must cease. The status of the detention facilities in Bagram and other US bases needs to be reviewed.
- Since a consensus supposedly exists that there is no military solution to the conflict, it is urgent to define what a 'political solution" would look like and what steps need to be taken by the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) and the international community (IC) to achieve it.
- The GoA should seek a consensus first with the main political forces in the country and then with key international actors on a framework for "reconciliation" talks with the insurgents, including whom among the latter to approach, what kind of concessions might be required and "red lines" that must not to be crossed. Diplomatic efforts should be undertaken to obtain, if not the support, at least the genuine acquiescence of Pakistan, Iran, India and Russia. The UN's good offices may be required to achieve such a consensus as well as in facilitating talks with the insurgents.
- It would be helpful in achieving a regional consensus on Afghanistan if the US were to declare that it has no interest in establishing permanent military bases in that country and for Afghanistan to reaffirm its non-aligned and neutral status.
- Urgent and measurable reforms need to be carried out by the GoA to improve provincial and local governance. Likewise concrete steps need to be taken by the GoA to convince its citizens (and the IC) that it is serious in fighting corruption and impunity, starting with administrative action against public figures widely suspected of corruption or links to narcotics.
- It is essential that the presidential poll, now scheduled for late August, be held in an environment conducive to the holding of free and fair elections. An electoral process that lacked credibility with important sections of the Afghan population would only exacerbate the current crisis and deepen ethnic tensions.
- The IC should avoid playing favourites among potential Presidential candidates, while ensuring that there is a level playing field for them in the electoral process.
- Reformist and pluralistic groups, which in all likelihod represent large sectors of the urban population, require support if they are to become effective. Democracy will not take root in the absence of political parties.
- Efforts should be redoubled to reform the Afghan police and to train Afghan Security Forces, while concurrently strengthening civilian institutions, including the judiciary and the civil service.
- Priority should be given to job creation projects, while implementing the commitment agreed in the Paris Conference last June to prioritise agriculture, irrigation and electricity.
II. Pakistan and the FATA
- The improved climate between Afghanistan and Pakistan should not be limited to a warm personal relationship between their respective Presidents. Decades of mistrust and points of friction will only be resolved through a process of quiet, frank and in-depth dialogue between the two countries that could be structured and facilitated by a third party. Only with the establishment of an atmosphere of trust will genuine cooperation be possible between the two countries' security services, essential to combat the insurgency on both sides of the Durand Line.
- An early Confidence Building Measure (CBM) should be for Pakistan to end its selective protection of Afghan Taliban militants including the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani and Hekmatyar network.
- Further steps should be taken to expel foreign militants from the FATA.
- International assistance should be provided to enable Pakistan to improve its educational system and bring the Madrasas under state control.
- The advent of a civilian government in Pakistan has opened a window of opportunity that should be seized by the US, the UK and the EU to strengthen civilian control over the country's security services, the Army and the ISI in particular.
- The capacity of Pakistan's army to conduct anti-insurgency warfare needs strengthening. The same applies to other security forces such as the Police and the Frontier Corps.
- Though the insurgency has spread to the seven tribal agencies in FATA and to 15 of the 25 settled districts on the NWFP, some Pakistani policy makers would appear to cling to the notion that insecurity can be contained to areas west of the Hindus. Thus the defeat of the insurgency has yet to become the government's top priority. A consensus is needed on what policy to follow to deal with a spreading insurgency.
- Political dialogue and agreements with the insurgents have failed to achieve results (perhaps because they have not been negotiated from a position of strength, nor backed with a credible threat of force or subjected to a serious monitoring mechanism).
- Reforms in FATA need to be speeded up, including a review of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), FATA representation in the NWFP Provincial Assembly and judicial review of certain kind of decisions taken by the Political Agents, providing a secure environment for secular political parties as well as for traditional structures (maliks and political agents) to operate effectively and supporting those willing to take a stand against the militants.
- A major development and reconstruction programme needs to set up with the involvement of the people of FATA and with an efficient monitoring system to ensure that the funds are disbursed for the purposes for which they are intended.
- Drone attacks, preferable as they are to ground operations by US forces, should only be conducted with either the express or tacit consent of the Pakistani authorities. Absent such consent, they are likely to create further support for the militants and further deepen anti-American feelings in the country.
- The sealing of the long, mountainous Afghan-Pakistani border is neither feasible nor desirable. On the other hand, further use should be made of tribal Jirgas bringing together people from both sides of the Durand Line.
- Until a formal, comprehensive agreement can be reached between the GoA and the GoP, the Durand Line should be regarded as a fact of life. Development programmes should be aimed at communities living on both sides of the border.
- Efforts should be made to involve China and Saudi Arabia, two key allies of Pakistan, in the policies set forth above.
- Removing Afghanistan from the Indo-Pakistani confrontation is in the interest of both countries as well as Afghanistan's.
- A fair solution to the Kashmir conflict that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri peoples would encourage the Pakistani Army to re-orient its strategic doctrine in a western direction.
London, February 19, 2009