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Time to recognise the real enemy

Zafar Hilaly
While the Afghan Tajiks parade their hostility to Pakistan openly, the Dari- speaking elite among
the Afghan Pakhtuns are only a step behind. They blame Pakistan for all of Afghanistan's woes,
including support for the Taliban-driven insurgency and, of course, for hanging on to a part of
Afghanistan that the British had extracted from King Abdul Rahman. Over time, this hatred has
festered, so much so that they now seem to believe that all that ails them is due to the ISI. But for
Pakistan, everything would be well in the land of pomegranates and grapes.
This Dari-speaking lot is like the Indians. The nicest thing that they can say about Pakistanis is
that we are unbearable. And yet it is to Pakistan that they flee whenever trouble arises and it is
Pakistan that gives them refuge and becomes for many of them, like for Karzai, their "second
home."
So blind is their hatred of Pakistan that they forget that India supported the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan and, but for Pakistan, they may well have become another Soviet republic. Instead,
they beckon India to Afghanistan and connive with India to stir up revolt in Pakistan; and are no
less keen that Iran joins with them and India to offset Pakistan's influence.
It's really extraordinary how quickly the Dari-speaking Pakhtuns take to outsiders, any outsider
but Pakistan. The love of communism that some of them sported, whether as members of the
Parcham or Khalq brands, fooled the Russians into believing that they would be welcomed by the
Afghans. And their nascent fondness for democracy, conjured out of the blue, because
Afghanistan has never had any truck with democracy, has seemingly impressed the Americans,
much like it did the British when King Amanullah tried to propel a mediaeval kingdom into the 20th
century by forcing women to wear skirts.
Actually, this Dari-speaking Pakhtun elite are a confused lot. They accuse Pakistan of harbouring
and launching the Taliban, but when Pakistan proposes that we fence the Durand Line they
oppose the move vehemently. They wish the Durand Line to be porous when it comes to the
thousands of Afghans crossing daily from their country to Pakistan, mostly without visas. And yet,
when it comes to the Afghan Taliban, most of whom actually have homes across the Durand
Line, they insist that they should be shot when attempting to do so. They obtain multiple-entry
visas to visit Pakistan but deny Pakistanis the same facility. They say they do not want foreign
interference but have slavishly embraced the American occupation, and while they claim to
oppose the presence of foreign insurgents, they say scarcely a word about the lethal Arab and
Central Asian militants who abound in Afghanistan. They harbour Baloch secessionists. But when
Pakistan retaliates, they complain that Pakistan has a soft spot for their enemies. Nor do they
have any qualms about being the largest producers of heroin and opium in the world or the havoc
it has caused in Pakistan and elsewhere. Like any effete elite that is selfish, self-serving and self-
absorbed, they have proved self-destructive.
Not that Pakistan is blameless. We have interfered in the internal affairs of Afghanistan to an
extent that is indeed objectionable. We treat the foreign policy of another state not as its exclusive
right and preserve but in some ways also ours. There are good reasons for us to fear that a
hostile Afghan elite linked to India will pose a dire strategic threat to our security. But rather than
guard against such a contingency by forging closer and more constructive relations with the
regime in Kabul, regardless of its political or ethnic hue, we prefer to aid those Afghans who want
to replace them.
This "an enemy of my enemy is my friend" approach is short-sighted and outdated. To expect that
we can continue in this manner without raising Afghan hackles is naive. And pitting one group of
Afghans against another is counter productive. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan, and an
Afghanistan that is friendly and alive to our strategic concerns, is much more in our interest than
one riven by civil wars, with a shaky regime in Kabul propped up by the US and on the lookout for
other sponsors such as India.
Ironically, the two countries that have most to lose by their mutual antipathy and continued war
and instability – which, as we speak, is forcing others to look for alternative road and rail routes
and those for oil and gas pipelines to Central Asia and the Indian Ocean – are Afghanistan and
Pakistan. In fact, it is India and the US which stand to benefit most. India by playing on the anti-
Pakistan sentiments of the Dari-speaking Pakhtun elite to work its mischief against Pakistan, and
America by taking advantage of the their dread of Pakistan and the Taliban to establish
permanent bases in Afghanistan and thereby sit atop an important oil and gas pipeline route.
Never forgetting, of course, the American desire to indulge its new obsession – the containment
of China.
No wonder, then, that India opposes a US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Similarly, while America
is keen to thin out its troop presence, quitting Afghanistan is not what America has in mind, as
shown by the manic activity all over Afghanistan building dozens of forward operating bases. The
fact that there will be no peace until that happens does not bother the US overly. That is a bridge
Washington feels it can cross when it comes to it. Sadly, it is also a state of affairs with which our
military feels comfortable, although that is hardly a solution to Afghanistan's woes and eventually
could prove inimical to our interests when, rather than if, relations with Washington sour.
Pakistan has also been remiss in not appreciating the genuine fear among Afghanistan's other
ethnic and religious groups that if the Taliban obtain untrammelled power they will once again
impose their mediaeval doctrines on the hapless Afghan population, and that it is not enough for
Pakistan to say that it is none of our business. Supporting a movement that is the living
perversion of Islam and helping them in their fight against fellow Muslims is inexcusable as much
as it is short-sighted, for these very same bigots will turn on Pakistan, if they are successful in
Afghanistan; indeed, they already have, buoyed by their initial gains in Afghanistan.
But it would be no less an error to exaggerate their prospects of success. The Taliban are no
longer the irresistible force that they once were; nor as monolithic. Nor is the domestic opposition
that the Taliban will face as weak as it was. Actually, given the respective strength of the Taliban
and their domestic opponents, including the powerful and well-armed and -trained force that the
Tajiks have formed, it is inconceivable that the Taliban will prevail decisively in Afghanistan even
if the Afghans were left to fight it out amongst themselves. Anyway, as that won't happen, the
inevitable foreign interference will likely augment the strength of their opponents rather than the
Taliban's, and hence the latter's success is far less certain.
The question the Dari-speaking Pakhtun elite should ask themselves is, how will their hatred of
Pakistan help in fighting off the accursed Taliban? Would it not be far better to have equable
relations with Pakistan, somewhat like what Karzai promises but never fulfils, so that whatever
Pakistan's support of the Taliban will be diluted and its influence used to counsel restraint? And, if
ever there is going to be a Pakistani-Afghan united front against antediluvian elements like the
Taliban, Afghanistan must not allow itself to become an Indian dagger pointed at Pakistan,
because that in the final analysis is what Pakistan cannot allow at any cost.
As for the issue of Paktunistan, even today, at the worst of times, it is difficult to discover on the
ground where Pakistan ends and Afghanistan begins. And no one was really bothered about it
except the Dari-speaking Pakhtun elite. Most other Pakhtuns on both sides of the border have felt
that the two countries are like lips to teeth. We share the same destiny and the rest does not
really count.
Surely it is time for both to recognise their real enemy: namely, their traditional mindsets and age-
old and by now irrelevant differences, which have rendered both vulnerable to all kinds of
disorder and intervention and made enemies of those who should be brothers.