August 25, 2004

Remember That Election?

Will the impending Afghan elections (scheduled for October 9th) be imperiled by a massive terror campaign? And, if so, to what extent might one blame Pakistan (whether Musharraf, rogue ISI elements, NWFP tribal leaders, or some combination thereto) should such a scenario occur? These are some of the critical questions begged by this David Rohde piece in today's NYT.

While Mr. Musharraf, playing host to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, vowed that anyone seeking to act against Afghanistan from his soil would be stopped, the diplomats said Pakistan was turning a blind eye to just such activity.

"They are training, financing and organizing these operations on Pakistani soil," said a Western diplomat in Kabul, the Afghan capital. "There is evidence from people who have been picked up in Afghanistan that they are receiving training in Pakistan."

Three senior diplomats, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were speaking now because Western intelligence agencies had concluded that the Taliban were planning major attacks to disrupt Afghanistan's first presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, including spectacular attacks in Kabul, the capital.

They called on Pakistani officials to rein in Taliban operations immediately.

"If these attacks do take place, the responsibility will be shared," one diplomat warned, referring to Pakistan. "Our process is being attacked from the territory of Pakistan. That is the responsibility of Pakistan."

The blunt comments about Pakistan appear to be the first public step in an effort to press Pakistan regarding the Taliban ahead of the Afghan election.

The worst problems appear to be in Baluchistan Province where the Taliban, neo-Talib, and assorted sympathizers appear to be moving into southern and easterly portions of Afghanistan with relative impunity and creating real trouble. Diplomats on the ground think the activity is so large in scale it could not occur without Islamabad turning something of a blind eye.

So, of course, the main speculation turns to Musharraf.

"Musharraf does not have complete control over everybody," a senior military officer in Washington said. "But he's trying methodically to do what he can. When he kicks over a rock and the cockroaches scurry, he tries to kill them."

Other officials argue that it is difficult for General Musharraf to control the isolated tribal areas that lie along the border because of alliances that have built up between the tribesmen there and the Taliban.

Still others argue that he is playing a double game with the United States. He hopes to keep the Taliban alive to influence events in Afghanistan, particularly if the United States should capture Mr. bin Laden and abandon the region, those analysts say.

"They think we don't have the staying power to stay here indefinitely," said one of the Western diplomats in Kabul. "There will be another play for Afghanistan, and they would like to have some horses."

Look, I can't really blame Pervez for keeping his anti-India 'strategic depth' card in play should the U.S. end up scaling back in Afghanistan post, say, a UBL apprehension (which, recall, was supposed to happen around the time John Kerry stepped up to the podium in Boston a few weeks back). After all, we didn't exhibit much, er, follow-through after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 80's and Afghanistan descended into chaos before coming under brutish Taliban rule.

Yes, 9/11 changed everything. And yes, especially as Afghanistan is where the war on terror started, I think we will be there for a very long time yet. Still, Musharraf must keep the Pakistani (not American) national interest utmost in his mind. Let's not deceive ourselves here.

So, if I had to guess, I'd bet Musharraf is letting the ISI give some pretty free rein to certain more moderate Taliban types that are deemed to be relatively innocuous pro-Pakistani influences--while striking out at al-Qaeda and harder core Talibs that are more radicalized and less willing to respect any red-lines communicated by Musharraf and/or the ISI.

The old debate about HVTs is a bit of a chimera (as employed by Spence Ackerman and such). It's not just Dubya that would love UBL turned over pre-November. Musharraf would love to get him too--before the Afghan elections. That would make the Western diplomats huff and puff less in Islamabad. And so let Musharraf tell Washington--I delivered your main nemesis--give me a little more breathing room (Translation: More Pashtun muscle-flexing through Afghanistan with major Pakistani assistance).

So, yeah, Musharraf doesn't control every inch of the tribal areas. And he doesn't even necessarily control all elements within the ISI. But, all told, the biggest reason that diplomats in Pakistan are concerned about Pakistan's role vis-a-vis the security situation for the impending Afghan elections is likely mostly a result of Musharraf wanting to ensure that Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan remain protected well into the future--a future where the U.S. (just might) be long gone.

The diplomat added that Pakistan's Embassy in Kabul was still "full of ISI." That shows, he said, that the Pakistanis still view Afghanistan "through a strategic security lens almost to the exclusion of everything else."

Heh. You think (reminds me of the quite large Iranian Embassy in Sarajevo circa. '96)?

As for those elections:

The three Western diplomats said they were particularly concerned about the election. In the last four months, 12 election workers have been killed and 33 wounded in Taliban attacks, and as the election approaches, 100,000 election workers will fan out across the country.

"The number of targets is going to be phenomenal," a diplomat said.

The number will be phenomenal in Iraq too--when those elections roll around. Sounds like it's time for another come to Jesus chat as between Colin Powell and Musharraf. Let's do everything we can to make this election as bloodless as possible. And learn from our mistakes as the inevitable attempts at carnage and scuttling the vote occur nevertheless. After all, we'll have an, all told, more difficult electoral excercise coming up pretty soon a little to the West...

Posted by Gregory at August 25, 2004 01:17 AM
Comments

You're probably right, Greg.

But one thing I'm still confused about is how the Taliban/AQ types play with the Baluchi resistance movement.

Remember, the Baluchistan Liberation Army was behind those Quetta attacks. There's a budding insurgent movement against the Pakistani government that seems mostly independent of any crackdown on behalf of the Americans.

Anybody know what's going down?

Posted by: praktike at August 25, 2004 01:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't have any answers to that praktike, but am equally curious.

Posted by: Eric Martin at August 25, 2004 04:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

isn't the BLA pretty non-influential even w/in Baluchistan, all told?

Posted by: sam at August 25, 2004 06:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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