The Globe and Mail
February 1, 2012
It’s not much of a secret.
The Taliban are poised to retake control of Afghanistan once President Barack Obama pulls out the 100,000-plus American troops, according to a supposedly ‘secret’ conclusion in a leaked U.S. military report compiled after thousands of Taliban detainees were questioned.
Equally stunning for its evident obviousness was another conclusion: that Pakistan’s murky and powerful intelligence agency was in close contact with the Taliban and helping the Islamic insurgents target and kill western troops.
Despite the predictable howls of outrage and denial, especially from Pakistan, the stark realities are ever more obvious.
After a decade of war, the U.S.-led effort has failed to crush the Taliban and Mr. Obama has set an exit date. The Taliban know – and have publicly said for years – that they can outwait the westerners who abandoned Afghanistan to a bloody, impoverished, fate once before, after creating and arming the Islamic mujahedeen to fight the Soviets in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, Pakistan, for all its protestations of fealty to the ‘war on terrorism’ has evidently hedged its bets, knowing it will remain stuck coping with the wild, lawless and strife-torn region long after outsiders lose interest in Afghan ‘nation-building.’ The leaked report came, co-incidentally, on the same day that yet another Afghan soldier –supposedly being ‘trained’ by foreign troops to defend democracy in Kabul and take over security from them – turned his weapon on his mentors and killed one.
There have been least 40 such ‘fratricides,’ many linked to Taliban infiltrators. Meanwhile, in Washington, Mr. Obama’s top intelligence chiefs confirmed that they recognized the need to release five top Taliban commanders currently held in Guantanamo so they can be part of ‘peace’ talks held in Qatar.
Instead of defeating the ‘detestable murderers and scumbags,’ as Canada’s former top soldier Rick Hillier called the Taliban, a decade of death will end in a western pullout and peace talks.
Pakistan, it seems, was right to play both sides.
“The Taliban remains a resilient, determined adversary,” Mr. Obama’s top intelligence czar James Clapper said Tuesday, adding with some evident recognition of the reality that the Islamic fundamentalists will play a powerful, ongoing role in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think anyone harbors any illusions about it ... the position is to at least explore the potential for negotiating with them as a part of this overall resolution of the situation in Afghanistan.”
So Pakistan’s longstanding – and never-believed – denials that it was staying close to the Taliban was playing the long game in its own national interests.
But then Washington’s many denials that it was flying missile-flying drones over Pakistan to target and kill Taliban leaders turned out to be equally suspect.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, dismissed the brouhaha over the ‘secret’ report as yet another attempt to discredit and disgrace Islamabad as she was about to visit Kabul to discuss with Mr. Karzai the pending peace talks with the Taliban.
“I can disregard this as a potentially strategic leak ...This is old wine in an even older bottle,” she said.
In Washington, the old ‘whine’ is that Pakistan is double-crossing its western allies.
But in Islamabad and Kabul, memories stretch back long before Sept 11, 2001, when the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks destroyed New York’s twin towers, damaged the Pentagon and suddenly shifted American attention back to Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s then military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was instantly transformed from international pariah for toppling a democracy into a key ally and close friend, but only after being threatened with destruction unless he agreed to side with America against the Taliban.
Faced with an ultimatum, Gen. Musharraf agreed to be George W. Bush’s friend and ally. A decade later, with different leaders in both Washington and Islamabad, and deep hostility and mistrust between the two nations, the strategic Pakistani decision to hedge its bets and retain influence, if not control, over the Taliban seems to be paying off.