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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Afghanistan and Pakistan


The year, 1979 was very eventful, to say the least; early in the year, the Iranian revolution overthrew the western stooge Raza Shah; Pakistan was under martial law, while Afghanistan was still under turmoil, after the Saur Revolution of 1978.However, there was one event which left an indelible impact, not only on Afghanistan, but also on Pakistan; the event in question is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This invasion culminated into a proxy war between the two heavyweights, namely USA and USSR; this was the last Cold War battle. Afghanistan became the centre of attention for a good part of 9 years, but Pakistan had a significant role to play in the surrogate war. The country became a conduit, which assisted the Afghan freedom fighters to resist the Soviet Union. President, General Zia turned from a pariah to a champion of modernity. Pakistan became a US ally in the war, and hence, received huge sums of money, which helped her a great deal, but she had to bear the brunt of millions of refugees; a Kalashnikov culture and extremism, which continues to haunt her. Hence, the events in Afghanistan have a direct bearing on Pakistan. Even after the soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan was typified by in-fighting, political instability and extremism; to a certain extent these problems were faced by the country across the Durand line too. The international community shifted their attention from Afghanistan, after 1989; however, after the Taliban entry, started to initiate peace processes. The interest in this region was brought back after the infamous 9/11. The Taliban’s refusal to handover Bin Laden forced the start of operation “ENDURING FREEDOM” in Afghanistan, which continues to date

Again, the new phase of the Afghan War has labelled this region as perilous; peace has not been restored in Afghanistan, despite all efforts. Pakistan is again an ally in this “War on Terror”, and has given great sacrifices in these 10 years; a wave of terrorism has crippled the country’s economy, not to forget the loss of 40,000 lives. Hence, it is clear that both countries are beset with problems, which are similar and dissimilar both. The coalition forces want a safe exit from this quagmire, while both, Afghanistan and Pakistan look forward to a peaceful and prosperous region. Ostensibly, this book is written to provide in-depth analysis on the problems which have marred the two countries. The author has called conflict as the main problem in Afghanistan, and extremism as that of Pakistan.

The author, Riaz Mohammad Khan was an experienced diplomat.  He held important assignments, to include Ambassadorial responsibilities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, European Union, Belgium and China. However, the assignments that make him an authority in AF-PAK affairs, is his designation as director general of Afghan and soviet affairs (1986-92); and foreign secretary of Pakistan from 2005-2008.The book is divided in three parts; the first deals with Afghanistan; the second deals with Pakistan; and the last part deals with the concluding opinions and perspective of the author.


The book reviews the conflicts in Afghanistan after the Soviet departure in the first part of the book, which comprises of 4 chapters. The first chapter discusses the post-Soviet period from 1989 to 1995.Firstly, the study talks about the permutations that were being discussed by stakeholders, for the future; Pakistan was a proponent of a government based on national reconciliation: dialogue between the Mujahedin and Najibullah. However, the Geneva accords were signed, leaving Afghanistan amidst a new phase of conflict. Then, the chapter goes on to examine the intra-Afghan fight for power. The study talks about the creation of AIG, as a representative body; the botched-up Jalalabad operation, which led to the defeat and division of the ISI, backed Mujahedins.Furthermore, the chapter analyses the peace initiative taken to stabilize Afghanistan. The UN efforts were led by Diego Cordovez and later Benon Sevon; these efforts for a broad based government failed because the hardliners like Gulbaddin refused any UN intervention, while some were ambivalent, or sceptic about the UN’s role. Next, Pakistan’s efforts for political stability are discussed, in the chapter. The study shows, the efforts made by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, to convince the Afghan parties for making a broad-based government; then, Pakistan  wanted to pursue UN’S involvement, but was enable to do so. Pakistan held the bag, even after the world lost interest. A short-lived Pak-Iran co-operation also followed. The chapter further elaborates the somewhat, concerted efforts to oust Najibullah’s government. The Mujahedin unitedly launched a successful operation of khost; this eventually led to the abdication of Najibullah.However, stability was a far shot. Then, efforts were made to press upon the Tanzeemat, to work out the transfer of power with the UN. Differences arose over the nomination of office-bearers in the new government, adding to frustration. After deliberations, the eight Afghan parties signed the Peshawar accords. The accords defined two phases of interim government headed first by Mojadedi, and then Rabbani (rip); the ministries were divided among the parties. After a two months lull, yet turmoil started as Mojadedi wanted to perpetuate his rule, which was repugnant to the Peshawar accords. This period was marred by the rivalry between Ahmed Shah Massoud and Gulbadin; the latter was mollified by being installed as prime minister, in the newly drafted Islamabad accords. These overtures flunked in bringing peace. The chapter, at last, analysed Pakistan’s concerns over the subverted Afghanistan; she feared that the route to CIS would be hindered by the war-like situation in Afghanistan; and did not like the under representation of pashtuns in the new set-up.

The next chapter, analyses the advent and ascendency of the Taliban from 1995 to 2001.The author, refutes the claim that, ISI created the virulent Taliban, instead is of the opinion that it was the growth of madrassas; Islamization under zia, and discontent in Afghanistan, that created them. The author has written about the way in which people rallied together against the corrupt warlords: these warlords were hanged by these people known as Taliban. Soon, this new force swept through Uruzgan, Paktia and Paktita, and knocked at the gates of Kabul. However, were overpowered by Massoud. They recovered, and launched an assault on Kabul;      they captured Kabul with tactical acumen, and formed a government. Then, Taliban shifted their attention towards the north. Owing to desertions and fighting prowess, they captured Mazar e Sharif, but this was followed by their ouster too, temporarily though. Furthermore, this chapter discusses the involvement of UN with this newfound power .The UN instituted a mission for Afghanistan, mainly to encourage ceasefires; expedite the process of reconciliation, and to install a broad-based government. However, these efforts failed because of UN’s non recognition of the Taliban. Further efforts, such as “Six plus two” also failed, since it did not reach out to the masses. Then, the author goes on to explain US’s ambivalence towards the Taliban; he says that initially the US was neutral, if not supportive, but their views were influenced by two factors: first, the antipathy of Iran towards Taliban, second, a growing interest in oil pipelines. The chapter puts light on the rise of Al Qaeda, and its link with the Taliban. The Taliban were put under pressure to handover; UN resolutions were imposed. At last, the immediate ramifications are discussed by the author. The way Musharraf agreed to espouse the US; efforts to persuade Mullah Omar to handover OBL, and US military operation and the fall of the Taliban, were discussed by the author.

Chapter 3 delineated the happenings in Afghanistan after 9/11.The demand for a broad-based government was enlivened; eventually a Bonn Agreement was signed by Afghan notables, which  made Hamid Karzai as the head of the interim government. Hamid perpetuated his rule by winning the elections in 2004.Furthermore; the chapter identifies the failure of the new political dispensation; the agreement required a transitional government, which limited the ability to consolidate control. The country was still subverted, as the Taliban began to regroup. The governance of Karzai did not deliver because the ministers were preoccupied with political gimmicks. The study also analysed further developments such as Afghan compact, and its failures; the US involvement in Iraq, and the worsening situation on the Durand Line. Hamid felt that Taliban was being espoused by elements across the border; Pakistan always asked for concrete evidence. Pakistan’s proposals for improving border security were shunned by Afghanistan. The remaining chapter discusses the series of loya jirgas held by AF-PAK for peace; the military predicament of Pakistan in the tribal areas: the army faced multifarious challenges, to include the inability to divert forces from the eastern border, since India is a perennial enemy; a difficult terrain, and the ability of the miscreant to mix with the locals, which rose the likelihood of collateral damage. The mistrust between the militaries was developing faster; this is the incendiary force for the increase in predator strikes. The discontent grew in the dying days of the Bush administration. The chapter includes a section on the Af-Pak reviewed strategies too. The first review was a comprehensive strategy containing both, political and economic elements. The second review was the brainchild of General David concept of “TROOP SURGE” which he used in Iraq. Finally, the much debated Kerry-Lugar Bill is weighed up by the author; This Bill became a stumbling block in the military relations of the two countries, since the clauses required the infiltration in the army’s internal affairs.

The last chapter in the Afghan section outlines the interests and concerns of external powers in this landlocked country. The author has talked about the interests of Pakistan in gaining strategic depth for themselves; her advocacy for a pashtun government and other interests are discussed. Similarly Indian and Iranian support for the Northern Alliance; Saudi Arabia’s efforts for foisting Saudi Salafi version of Islam; US’s Afghan policy over the last three decades, and at last, the policies of Russia, China and CIS  were outlined in this chapter.

The second part of this book focuses on the Pakistani problem of rising radicalism. The first chapter in this part gives an account of the rise in militancy in the country; and the efforts by various regimes to control it. This chapter outlines the military campaigns in FATA, Malakand and in the Red Mosque. At last, the author enlightens us with the intellectual crisis and weak governance. The author has cited the contributions of towering personalities in shaping religious views; Islamization of Zia, and the tenures of successive governments.


I developed a profound interest in international relations, politics, and other related disciplines; I was particularly keen on enriching myself with more knowledge on what some people call the “arc of conflicts”. I had already got substantial information, but I needed a good book to understand the complexities of the region, which were evident, when I studied about AF-PAK hostile relations. This book provided me with a well-informed account of events in this theatre of conflict, which I had not found in other books. I think that the author has given an insider’s view from 1989 till date. This will prove very helpful for students like me to understand the impediments faced by this region.

There are plenty of things to like about this book. First, the author has put light on all the important events in this region; not a single event has eluded the author’s attention, be it the efforts to oust Najibullah; or the intra-Mujahedin feuds over power. The chapter on the Taliban thoroughly traces their rise up the ladder. I feel that the most compelling features of this book are the chapter which analyses the interests and concerns of the external players. I say this because, I had previously only heard about the meddling of foreign elements in Afghanistan, but didn’t know the policies of those powers for Afghanistan in detail. Then the author has gone deep to explain the reasons for the growth of religious fanaticism, to include the Afghan jihad and Islamization. Similarly he gives reasons for the institutional debacle: the politicization of the bureaucracy, judiciary and the military.

The author has not only unfolded events, of the past two decades, but has always equivocally given his point of view; in fact he has included a full chapter on perspectives and opinions. There is very little that one can bicker on, since he has roughed out 39 years in foreign dealings. However, there is always a divergence of opinions, probably due to a different frame of reference.

One can agree with the author that the idea of Pakistan seeking strategic depth is not sensible because its main enemy was on the eastern side, and Afghanistan cannot put a barrier between the two neighbours. However, it is difficult for me to reconcile with the notion that Taliban would have been different if they were recognized, since, they were recalcitrant, and going by the pashtun principle of “nanawati” which means providing sanctuary; they would have never budged an inch on handing over Osama. Then, I do not believe in the view that the Pakistan army were ill-trained to fight in FATA, which happens to be a built up area. I can’t believe this because fighting in built-up areas is taught all the way through, from Pakistan Military Academy, to probably the NDC. I do not agree with the author when he says that more time should have been allowed for students to get out of Red Mosque, since they had been given time in plenitude, but they were adamant not to bow-down. I think the author has belittled the meritorious contribution of the stalwart, Syed Ahmed Khan , by saying that MAO College just aimed at preparing the Muslims elite to become a part of the ruling class; his movement was a milestone for awakening the Muslim , it never aimed at ameliorating the status of the elites only. I tend to agree with the author that words such as traitor, unpatriotic and betrayal are loosely, because I even see those people using these words who are themselves are epitomes of the above-mentioned traits. I agree with the author, when he says that Z Bhutto squandered the opportunity of improving the state of affairs in the country; I think that his policies of nationalization of the industrial and educational sector; the politicization of the bureaucracy by appointing PPP loyalists, immensely harmed Pakistan.  Then one can also agree with the fact that Pakistan’s support for Mujahedin groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan actually spawned militancy in the country, since religious parties often galvanized the youth by hailing the resolve of those outfits in fighting the infidels. At last, the author gives his opinions and observations, which are certainly worth reading, since they are coming from horse’s mouth. He has enlisted the policies adopted previously that proved to be a nail in the coffin; he has aptly identified the under-representation of pashtun in the new set-up as hogwash. The under-representation of the largest ethnic group in the country is by all stretch of imagination a fatal error. Those who know something about Afghanistan would concur with the author’s view that military presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem, for the Afghan have always resisted foreign invaders, be it in the Anglo-Afghan Wars, or in the time of the Soviet invasion. Generally one can agree upon the fact that Pakistan should stop its endeavours to install favourites in the Afghan government, but this is what other powers did; India and Iran always supported the Northern Alliance, and since Pakistan is greatly influenced by the happenings in Afghanistan, so ought to have some reason to back “favourites”. The past bears witness to the fact that Afghanistan too tried to instigate “faqir of ipi” to revolt against Pakistan, so this gives vent to my argument. The author has generally given a balanced analysis on the imbroglio in this war zone, which provides information in plenitude, and that too is arranged chronologically. This book has taken care of the all issues from different perspectives.


All in all, this book is written, perhaps on the hottest topic going around these days. I say this simply because the turbulence in these strategically important countries is certainly a bane, not only for these countries, but the whole world. This book goes deep to explain the crux of the impediments faced in creating the highly-coveted peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan too, since the latter has also been plagued by Militancy. To be very honest, the author has touched upon every event that took place in the past two decades, and has explained each one of them from various angles; not forget his balanced analysis. The book has been released at a time when policy-makers are in a quandary about these two countries; and hence, the panaceas given by a person who has been in the thick of things in various capacities, can come in handy in making future policies. I recommend this book to students, who intend to understand the complexities involved in the region because even the un-important facts have not eluded the author’s attention.

This book has given me a lot of material, which was previously not available; this will enable me to develop my own viewpoint on the issues highlighted in this study; this will also increase my quest for more knowledge, which is the greatest wealth in life. One must eulogize the seasoned diplomat for enlightening us with the intricacies of the countries across the much-disputed Durand Line, with a historical perspective of imperative developments witnessed since the past 20 years. This book deserves a thorough reading

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