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Pakistan the Odd One Out

Asia Times, Hong Kong
September 16, 2003

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreeing in their condemnation of terrorism, elements within the Pakistani intelligence and security apparatus see the two as part of an unholy alliance, and a threat to Pakistani interests, especially in Indian-held Kashmir.

This comes at a time when Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf is under US pressure to improve relations with India, as well as to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

Sources in Pakistan's strategic quarters told Asia Times Online that initially the foreign office was encouraged to react cautiously to the new Indian-Israeli warmth following Sharon's visit to India last week, even though it could be detrimental to Pakistan's interests.

However, the Strategic and Planning Department, which comprises army officers and which was established to safeguard national interests and keep a vigilant eye on departments like the foreign office, then stepped forward and instructed foreign affairs on how to respond. Consequently, the foreign office issued a strongly-worded protest, terming the India-Israel alliance as Yahood-o-Honoud (Judia-Hindu) and against Pakistan's interests.

The India-Israel nexus, however, is not a new development. Israeli intelligence has consulted with India ever since Hamas and Islamic Jihad recruits trained in Afghanistan during the Taliban days, when Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had complete influence in that country, as well as orchestrating the Kashmiri struggle.

However, the situation has changed completely in Afghanistan following Musharraf's reversal of support, under US pressure, of the Taliban, and even in Kashmir, overtly at least, the ISI has had to back away from supporting militants in the Kashmir struggle.

Nowadays, after US and French intelligence agencies, Israeli and Indian intelligence have the biggest presence in Afghanistan. Israel, reportedly through Mossad, has established indirect contact with Kabul, and both countries are secretly making trade deals and cooperating in various fields.

According to Pakistani security sources, Israel and India aim to further their aims on Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan. Under the guise of non-governmental organizations, they are coordinating with Pakistani Pashtun nationalists and providing them with resources to promote the idea of a "Pashtun land" and revive the contentious issue of the Durand Line.

This revolves around the so-called Durand Line, named after a British colonial official, that marks the present day border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The present-day Afghan government says that the agreement reached between their King Abdur Rahman Khan and British colonial official Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 was for 100 years only, and expired in 1993. The Afghans are now asking the US to renegotiate the border, and some Afghan officials have already issued a new map that shows such major Pakistani cities as Peshawar and Quetta in Afghanistan.

The issue has already caused several skirmishes between Pakistan and Afghanistan and has forced the US to form a tripartite commission to resolve border disputes between its two allies. The commission, which also includes the US, has already held three meetings and officials in Washington say that they expect the Durand Line issue also to dominate the fourth meeting, scheduled this month in Rawalpindi.

In the previous meetings the US administration made it clear to both sides that it has no desire to get involved in re-negotiating a deal made more than a 100 years ago between Afghanistan and Britain. In its last meeting, the tripartite commission asked its sub-committee to continue with deliberations on proposals to sort out disputes over some border posts. The commission also established a hotline between Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent further armed clashes between the two countries. The hotline also allows the two US allies to stay in touch with US military officials based in the region.

But apparently Afghanistan wants more. The sources say that Kabul has officially asked the US to use its influence on Pakistan to force it to re-demarcate the Durand Line. Islamabad, however, has already rejected this demand, saying that the Durand Line is a settled issue and it has no desire to reopen it. Informally, Pakistani officials are believed to have complained to the US that they believe India is using its influence on the Northern Alliance, which dominates the present government in Kabul and has close ties to New Delhi, to revive an old and settled issue.

The heart of the problem is that the Durand Line runs through the middle of the lands of the most important eastern Afghan Pashtun tribes, and since the line was drawn, these eastern Pashtun have resolutely refused to recognize it. The Pashtun are divided into more than 60 clans, all speaking the common Pashto language. They number some 12.5 million in Afghanistan, where the major clans are the Durrani and Ghilzai, and 14 million in Pakistan. In Pakistan, Pashto speakers are only 8 percent of the population of 145 million, which is otherwise dominated by Punjabis and four lesser ethnic groups. In Afghanistan, however, with a population of barely 26 million, the Pashtun constitute nearly half and naturally dominate Afghan affairs.

No Afghan regime after 1893, even the Taliban, has accepted the validity of the Durand Line. But Pakistan - formed out of old British India in 1947 - has always sought to make it permanent while trying to keep the problem at arm's length. The fact that 14 million Pashtun inhabit western Pakistan is why Pakistan has tolerated the "Free" Tribal area west of Peshawar. This fact also explains why Islamabad always enjoyed better relations with the southeastern Kandahari Pashtuns, who are fewer and had not suffered at all from the 1893 map-making.

Pakistan continued its "arm's length" policy by putting the Federally Administered Tribal Agency (FATA), as the Pashtun-inhabited border area with Afghanistan is identified in Pakistan, under the direct control of the central government. Frontier regulations stipulated that the clans could retain their own legal order, with elders' councils and local jirgas (courts), as well as the practice of going to war to resolve tribal feuds over land and livestock. There remain to this day places in FATA where general tribal law is in force.

Now Asia Times Online has learned that in the past few months the Indian-Israel nexus has been operating in Kandahar and Jalalabad in Afghanistan, from where it has activated nationalist elements on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line to question the validity of this border.

On the Kashmiri front, meanwhile, under US pressure, Pakistan's cooling in support of militants has affected their morale, while the split in the Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella grouping of 25 secessionist Kashmiri groups, is also a political setback and will weaken Pakistan's grip on events in the disputed area. In this environment, if Israel provides India with technical and intelligence assistance to combat Kashmiri militancy, it would be a further setback for Pakistan.

Thus the wheel has turned against the ISI. Afghanistan is now an open playing field for Indian and Israeli intelligence, but a prohibited area for the ISI. As is Kashmir. The situation is reaching a stage where Pakistan will have to take a decisive step - complete surrender or an open fight.

Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd.


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