Thursday, September 22, 2011



The past few days have seen the US fretting and fuming against Pakistan for its use of the Haqqani network to make the US forces bleed in Afghanistan reach an unprecedented new high.

2.This has been due to the US intelligence concluding that the Haqqani network, backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for three recent terrorist strikes---two in Kabul directed against the hotel Inter-Continental (June) and the US Embassy ( September 13) and one (September 11 ) in the Wardak province against a NATO base in which many US troops were injured.

3.While the US agencies seem convinced of the ISI’s role in backing these attacks, they still do not have an answer to the question as to why the ISI has been doing this. What does Pakistan hope to gain not only by ignoring the US pressure to act against the Haqqani network, but even by facilitating the Haqqani network’s acts of terrorism directed against US troops and interests in Afghanistan.

4. The Pakistani defiance of the US pressure to act against the Haqqani network has an underlying mix of two motives---one strategic and the other tactical. The strategic motive is to make it clear to the US that the success of President Barack Obama’s plans for a thinning out of the US presence in Afghanistan well before next year’s Presidential elections would depend on the US accepting Pakistan’s strategic interests and presence in Afghanistan. The tactical motive is to give vent to its anger over the USA’s unilateral raid into the hide-out of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2 last. The ISI cannot hit out at US interests in Pakistani territory. It is, therefore, doing so in Afghan territory.

5. In Pakistan’s calculation it holds two strong cards against the US which would continue to enable it to defy the US pressure to act. The strongest of these cards is the continuing US dependence on Pakistan for the transit of logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. The US attempts to develop alternate options through Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have not made the required headway that could enable the US to reduce its dependence on Pakistan significantly. The option to airlift the supplies directly to Afghanistan will be expensive and will result in a big surge in the cost of the US military operations in Afghanistan.

6. The other card which Pakistan thinks it holds is next year’s US presidential elections and Mr.Obama’s keenness to reduce the US involvement before the elections. Pakistan feels that this would rule out any undue escalation of US operations against the sanctuaries of the Haqqani network in Pakistani territory. As the elections approach, Mr.Obama may not want to get involved in a new bloody phase of the US operations in Afghanistan---this time directed against the Haqqani network in Pakistani territory.

7. The US operations against the Haqqani network have till now been confined to the use of Drone (pilotless plane) strikes from the US bases in Afghanistan. The Drone strikes have been effective against Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, but have been ineffective against the Haqqani network due to the poor flow of human and technical intelligence regarding the exact location of its bases in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the movements of its leaders and cadres. For reasons that are not clear to me, while the flow of HUMINT and TECHINT about Al Qaeda and its other affiliates to the US agencies has improved, they continue to grope in the dark about the Haqqani network. This is evident from their inability to prevent repeated attacks on US targets in Afghanistan and from the poor record of the Drone strikes against the Haqqani network.

8. The US has to remove from the Pakistani mind the impression that the US is pathetically dependent on the transit of logistic supplies for the NATO forces through Pakistani territory. This would be possible only by the US immediately starting an air bridge from its bases in the Gulf to Afghanistan to ferry by air the logistic supplies directly to the NATO bases. This has to be done whatever be the surge in the cost of the operation.

9. Once the US frees itself of its dependence on Pakistan, other options would be available such as declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism and stopping all aid and ground operations in the FATA to supplement the present Drone-dependent operations. ( 23-9-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: .Twitter : @SORBONNE75 )



The assassination on September 20,2011, of Burhanuddin Rabbani , a Tajik leader of Afghanistan, is of strategic significance to India.

2.Rabbani was the President of Afghanistan in the 1990s when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister ( 1993-96) of Pakistan. After the Taliban captured power in Kabul in September,1996, he became a prominent leader of the Tajik-dominant Northern Alliance motivated by the late Ahmed Shah Masood which played an active role in assisting the US post-9/11 in the defeat of the Taliban. It was Rabbani who, with Benazir’s concurrence, allowed Osama bin Laden to shift from Khartoum in the Sudan to Jalalabad in Afghanistan when the Sudan came under pressure from the US to act against bin Laden. When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 it took bin Laden under its protection and shifted him to Kandahar where Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, and its Shura were also based.

3. In the subsequent fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) helped the Taliban while a triumvirate consisting of India, Russia and Iran supported the Northern Alliance. The success of Al Qaeda in having Masood assassinated through an Arab suicide bomber a day before the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US Homeland could not dent the fighting capability of the Northern Alliance, which paved the way for the victory of the US forces, which defeated the Taliban and captured power in Afghanistan after freeing the country from the control of the Taliban.

4. Subsequently under pressure from Gen.Pervez Musharraf, who viewed the Northern Alliance as a pro-India and anti-Pakistan group, the Alliance and its leaders found themselves marginalised in the new dispensation in Kabul---with the blessings of the US.

5. The political rehabilitation of Rabbani by President Hamid Karzai and his appointment as the head of the High Peace Council to hold talks with the Taliban and wean it away from the military conflict which it had been waging from its sanctuaries in the Quetta area of Balochistan, set alarm bells ringing in Pakistan’s GHQ.

6.Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), and Lt.Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the Director-General of the ISI, saw in it a possible prelude to the re-emergence of the Northern Alliance as a strong force on the ground with the blessings of India in order to counter once again the Taliban and the ISI should they stage a come-back in Kabul after the US-led NATO forces thin out from Afghanistan as planned by President Barack Obama. The concern in the GHQ was enhanced when Rabbani visited New Delhi in July last to seek India’s support for the peace process. The GHQ saw in his visit a hidden objective---- to discuss with Indian leaders and officials the possible future scenarios should the Taliban stage a come-back in Kabul.

7. The assassination of Rabbani was a pre-emptive strike by unidentified elements----which could be the Taliban or the Haqqani network or Gulbuddin Heckmatyar’s Hizbe Islami or Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Al Qaeda--- to prevent the re-emergence of the Northern Alliance as a strong force capable of standing up to the Taliban and its affiliates. It was a warning to Karzai against any future alliance with the Tajijks. It was meant to drive a wedge between the Pashtuns and the Tajijks. There is no other way of explaining the assassination.

8. The explanation advanced by some analysts that the assassination was meant to derail the peace process and indicated the presence of elements in the Taliban which are opposed to the peace talks, does not sound convincing. If the Taliban wanted to derail the peace process, all it had to do was to withdraw from the talks with Rabbani and his Council. It did not have to kill Rabbani. He was killed not because he posed a danger immediately, but because he was viewed by the Taliban and its affiliates as likely to pose a danger in the future should the Taliban stage a come-back in Kabul. His assassination could weaken the support of the Tajiks for Karzai and make Karzai even more vulnerable to pressure from the Taliban than he has been till now.

9. The assassination has strategic implications for India. It could weaken the Tajik leadership, which has been an objective ally of India. It could weaken Karzai with whom India has built up an excellent working relationship. In the uncertain period after the thinning out of the US presence starts, India would need strong allies in Afghanistan--- in all the communities. It is likely that in the months to come more of the leaders who are perceived by the Taliban and the ISI as well disposed to India might be eliminated one by one.

10. What options would be available to India? This is a question that needs to be discussed by New Delhi with those in Afghanistan with whom it has a close relationship as well as with the US. Russia and the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have been cultivating Pakistan and vice versa. It is doubtful whether Russia would be amenable to the kind of co-operation that India and Russia had developed after the Taliban captured power in Kabul in 1996. Iran is out of question now in view of the hostility of the US to the present Iranian regime.

11. Co-operation with the US is the only strategic option we have. The US is now as concerned as we are over Pakistani machinations in Afghanistan. It could be more amenable to feelers from India for joint moves by India and the US to prevent a return to power of the Taliban with the ISI’s backing. Till now, the US has been hesitant to let India play any major role in training and equipping the Afghan security forces due to a fear over its adverse fall-out in Pakistan. We should persuade the US to get rid of its hesitation and let India play a more important role in this regard. This is the first step that would be called for. Others have to be identified. India and the US should not hum and haw and wait till the events overtake them. ( 22-9-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: . Twitter: SORBONNE75 )