x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Will the war in Afghanistan spill over into Baluchistan?

The US President Barack Obama has authorised the CIA to expand the areas in which it conducts remotely-controlled missile attacks, most likely inside Pakistan's vast south western province of Baluchistan. The province's governor Zulfiqar Magsi said on Saturday that Washington can do 'whatever it pleases' because it is 'paying money' to Pakistan. Mr Obama's directive had yet to receive consent from the Pakistani government.

The US President Barack Obama has authorised the CIA to expand the areas in which it conducts remotely-controlled missile attacks, most likely inside Pakistan's vast south western province of Baluchistan. The province's governor Zulfiqar Magsi said on Saturday that Washington can do "whatever it pleases" because it is "paying money" to Pakistan, the Daily Times reported. The New York Times said Mr Obama's directive had yet to receive consent from the Pakistani government. Reporting from the US Congress, the Associated Press said: "Rep Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism, acknowledged that there have been 'discussions, in Congress and a lot of different places, to expand the area' where the drone attacks are being conducted. " 'We have limited operations now, and there are threats from other places in the region,' Smith said. "He would not provide details, but a US government official said Friday that discussions are under way to expand those attacks into Baluchistan." Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was interviewed by The Times on Thursday during a visit to Britain. "Gilani brushed away reports yesterday that President Barack Obama planned to increase the number of attacks by unmanned drone aircraft within Pakistan, and even extend them to the volatile province of Baluchistan, in pursuit of al Qa'eda and Taliban leaders. Such attacks were 'entirely counter-productive' in uniting militants and civilians, he said, adding that Pakistan was asking the US to hand over technology to let it pursue the terrorists itself. "Pakistan's public position has been to oppose the drone attacks, but US and British officials assert privately that it is complicit. "Gilani declined to say whether he was aware of a planned US increase, saying that 'we are carefully examining the new policy [for Afghanistan] and the implications for us', but that he was confident that Obama would 'respect the integrity and prosperity of Pakistan'. He denied that drones would prove a point of conflict with the US, arguing that Pakistan wanted 'a long-term strategic alliance that goes beyond terrorism'. "He acknowledged that if America's planned surge poured more troops into Helmand province there could be a flight of refugees - or terrorists - into Baluchistan, but declared that 'we will be able to resolve that'." An editorial in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper said: "Tiresome and wholly unnecessary is how we would describe the American complaints about Pakistan's alleged reluctance to act against al Qa'eda militants taking refuge on Pakistani soil. On a day that Pakistan army officers and their family members were brutally attacked in Rawalpindi, the US consul general in Peshawar thought it fit to allege that the leadership, or some elements thereof, of al Qa'eda, in addition to the Afghan Taliban, has taken refuge in Baluchistan and that the authorities here know of their presence in the province. Let us be clear: few could rationally argue that there are no Afghan Taliban or al Qa'eda militants in Pakistan, including Baluchistan. Such is the terrain along the Pak-Afghan border that sanctuaries and other hiding spots are easily found. "But the American allegations raise an issue that goes beyond a simple trust deficit between the two countries. Essentially, in claiming that the Pakistani authorities know where al Qa'eda militants are hiding but refuse to act against them, the Americans are alleging that the Pakistani state is letting its people and soldiers die at the hands of the very militants it is shielding and offering protection to. Al Qa'eda has repeatedly attacked the Pakistani security establishment and forcefully stated its vitriolic opposition to the policies of the Pakistan army time and again. So why should the Pakistan army be protecting al Qa'eda? Furthermore, nobody, not on the American, Afghan or European side, has proffered any explanation of what strategic or tactical advantage Pakistan has to gain from nurturing and protecting al Qa'eda. With other militant groups, it is relatively straightforward to see a possible motive, however disagreeable, on the part of the security establishment to shield them: the 'protection' of our interests in Afghanistan, India, etc. But with al Qa'eda? What advantage, however perverse, does Pakistan gain from protecting and enabling al Qa'eda? "The Americans need to realise something quite obvious to Pakistanis: publicly aired allegations and threats undermine the position of the US in the country and make it more difficult for the two states to achieve meaningful success against the militants." Shafqat Mahmood in a commentary for The News wrote: "the Americans clearly don't want to be in Afghanistan for long. Obama does not want to have the Afghanistan war around his neck as the next presidential election comes around. Already by this escalation he is having problems with his core constituency of liberal democrats. "If the Americans are not here for the long haul, what kind of a message does it send to Pakistan: that they should turn every possible Afghan group against them and have no leverage left in Afghanistan after the Americans leave? "This would suggest that the new American strategy in Afghanistan has it and Pakistan at cross-purposes. This could have negative consequences for both, but a far greater potential of damage to Pakistan. The only win-win situation is for them to collaborate. "Pakistan can help the Americans enormously by using their influence and knowledge of the Afghan Taliban to sponsor a serious dialogue between the two sides. This is the only viable exit strategy for the Americans. And this is the only way in which both countries can focus on their shared objective of eliminating al Qa'eda." Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported: "The Taliban said in a statement Saturday it would provide a 'legal guarantee' that they would not intervene in foreign countries if international troops withdraw from Afghanistan. "The Taliban have 'no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan,' the group said in a statement emailed to news organisations. "The statement did not specify what such a guarantee would look like. A Taliban spokesman was not available for comment."

pwoodward@thenational.ae