President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is to visit Pakistan this month, ostensibly to help increasing tensions between the two countries. He has his work cut out for him. Last month, Karzai had rubbished such “high profile” visits while Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz was in Kabul for talks on January 6. Despite Karzai’s outburst, Aziz announced that Islamabad would increase its development aid to Afghanistan to US$350 million. He politely sidestepped Karzai’s tantrum by pointing out that both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to address their own internal problems. It was a polite way of telling his Afghan host that he must put his own house in order; Pakistan is not going to do it for him.
Addressing a new session of the warlord-dominated Afghan parliament on January 21, Karzai again lashed out at Pakistan, alleging that “certain Pakistani groups wanted to martyr Afghan women and children”. But he was also forced to admit that his government has failed to end corruption, which is alienating the Afghan people. He could be more honest; his own brother is involved not only in various corrupt practices but also in benefiting from the drugs-trade, which has become the mainstay of Afghanistan’s otherwise non-existent economy. Lawlessness is so widespread that the three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan refuse to return home; Pakistan has virtually single-handedly supported them for nearly three decades. This is more than what any other country has done, yet Pakistan continues to get blamed for Afghanistan’s woes. In a new book, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence (New York, 2006), California-based writers Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls have exposed American and Western hypocrisy in their harping on the plight of Afghan women but doing nothing to alleviate it; indirectly they also refute Western allegations against Pakistan.
While the exchange of allegations between Kabul and Islamabad continues, an army of American and other Western officials has made a bee-line to Kabul to “see the situation” for themselves. Canadian foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay was there on January 7 and 8; Hillary Clinton, a US presidential aspirant, was next, followed closely by US assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher on January 13. Three days later it was the turn of Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary. All of them repeated the mantra that the Afghan resistance is getting stronger because of “infiltration” from Pakistan. Nobody has bothered to explain how infiltrators from across the Pakistani border can spread into twelve provinces of Afghanistan. What they are reluctant to admit is the brutality of the occupation forces and the corruption and incompetence of Karzai’s government, which have alienated Afghans who see no improvement in their conditions even five years after the Taliban were driven out. On December 13, 2006, Karzai made a rare visit to his home town, Qandahar, only to get an earful from residents about the lack of protection from trigger-happy British soldiers, who three days earlier had murdered seven Afghans, among them a young girl, in cold blood. When Karzai shed tears, the people told him: “If you cannot defend us like a man even from your friends, do not cry like a woman.”
Visibly irritated by the constant carping of the Afghans about “infiltration” that is uncritically repeated by Western officials, Pakistan has hit back. On December 26, 2006, Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Muhammed Khan announced that Pakistan was going to mine its border with Afghanistan, erect a fence at strategic points and start the process of repatriating the three million Afghan refugees on its soil. The Afghans go back and forth across the border freely and Pakistan is anxious to put an end to this. The Pakistani proposals seem to have touched a raw nerve not only in Kabul but also in Western capitals. The idea of mining the border is dangerous; the Afghans have already suffered immensely because of the millions of mines spread by the Soviets during their decade-long occupation of the country. Pakistan clearly needs to reconsider this proposal; fencing the border may be more practical for checking cross-border infiltration.
The Afghans are upset because they refuse to accept the validity of the Durand Line, which was drawn up by the British colonialists under a 100-year treaty signed in 1897. The Afghans rejected its validity as soon as Pakistan came into existence in 1947, saying that they did not recognise it as a successor state to British India. This is a spurious argument not supported by international law, but the Afghans maintain the fiction because they cannot bring themselves to admit Pakistan’s endless favours to their impoverished country. Landlocked Afghanistan would starve if Islamabad were to deny it transit facilities, not to mention the tremendous sacrifices Pakistan made during the Soviet occupation from December 1979 to February 1989. The Kabul regime, however, seeks comfort in the fact that it can generate more Western sympathy if it hurls allegations against Islamabad. It also helps divert attention away from its own failures.
If high-profile visits by foreign officials could solve Afghanistan’s myriad problems it would be the most peaceful place on earth, but the reality is very different. If they are not being shredded by the US-led NATO troops’ “precision” bombings, they are being victimised by Karzai’s officials or blackmailed by the warlords allied to him. It is this kind of mind-boggling hypocrisy and unending misery that has forced many Afghans to support the resistance that has now spread to so many provinces.
Despite the bold rhetoric of the Americans that they will “stay the course” and “bring the situation under control”, the resistance to foreign occupation is growing. The support it enjoys among the Afghans must surely give American and NATO military officers sleepless nights. An American military intelligence officer has disclosed for the first time statistics on the rise in resistance-led attacks last year. There were 139 “suicide” attacks (a new development for Afghanistan) in 2006, up from 27 in 2005, and use of roadside bombs more than doubled: 1,677 last year from 783 in 2005. The number of what the military calls “direct attacks,” meaning attacks by the resistance using small arms, grenades and other weapons, increased to 4,542 last year from 1,558 in 2005. Both Karzai and his American handlers expect more such attacks in the immediate future, and many observers say that 2007 will be critical; if the situation is not stabilised it will spin completely out of control.
It is this realisation that has led to a rising crescendo of allegations against Pakistan. The US and its NATO allies want Islamabad to fight its Afghan war. Having tried its hand in the tribal region of North Waziristan for two years (2004-2006) and getting a bloody nose, Pakistani officials have concluded that fighting one’s own people is not wise. On January 22, a “suicide” bomber killed four Pakistani soldiers near Mirali, North Waziristan, apparently in retaliation for a Pakistani missile strike at a madrassa in South Waziristan a few days earlier. Such actions will cost Pakistan dearly; it would be best to avoid them for the very simple reason that it is not good policy to fight one’s own people: one never knows when one might need them and need to be on good terms with them.