Monday, June 16, 2008
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
PESHAWAR: Afghan President Hamid Karzai must have been very angry and frustrated that he put all diplomatic niceties aside and threatened to send his troops across the international border into Pakistan to combat Taliban commanders such as Baitullah Mahsud and Maulvi Omar.
His tone was bitter in the press conference that he addressed in Kabul on Sunday. The rise in Taliban attacks across Afghanistan and the setback that his forces are suffering must be weighing heavily on his mind when he spoke those words. There couldn’t be a bigger embarrassment for his beleaguered government than the jailbreak in Kandahar following a spectacular Taliban attack that freed more than 1,000 inmates. This must be one of the biggest jailbreaks in history.
President Karzai should know that sending Afghan troops across the Pak-Afghan border would constitute violation of Pakistan’s territory and resisted. Pakistan’s armed forces until now have not made any effort to stop violations of its airspace by US gunship helicopters, jet-fighters and drones but they would certainly not allow Afghan troops to intrude into Pakistani territory to hit targets.
This is the first time that Mr Karzai has hurled a threat to send his soldiers into Pakistan. Earlier, he was pleading with US-led Nato forces to take action against the bases of militants that in his view operated in Pakistan. His argument was that the Nato troops should focus on targeting Taliban hiding in Pakistan instead of launching attacks against the militants in Afghanistan. There is also this feeling that the Afghan President was speaking on behalf of the US, which has lately increased pressure on Pakistan by opposing its peace accords with Taliban militants and launching airstrikes in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
One is sure President Karzai doesn’t mean to carry out his threat to send Afghan troops across the border to Pakistan. The only manner in which he can hope to do so is to convince the US and its Nato allies to undertake such a mission in Pakistan and then order some of his Afghan soldiers to accompany the Western forces. The US until now has refrained from sending its ground troops into Pakistan and has instead relied on its pilotless Predator planes to carry out airstrikes against suspected hideouts of militants in South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Bajaur. Also, it is no secret that the fledgling Afghan National Army is confronted with major military challenges at home due to the spreading Taliban insurgency and ordering it to launch strikes in another country would be unwise.
Pakistan has been insisting that its own forces would carry out operations against militants in its territory. It has resisted demands by the US that its troops be allowed to conduct operations in Pakistan. The issue has caused friction in their ties. The relationship has become uncertain following the recent US airstrikes that killed several civilians and 13 Pakistani paramilitary soldiers manning a border post in Mohmand Agency.
Mr Karzai cited the right of self-defence as the reason that gave Afghan forces the excuse to go after the Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mahsud. It wasn’t clear if he meant the Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar or the Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar when he issued a similar warning. It appears that he meant the spokesman Maulvi Omar, who like Baitullah Mahsud is a Pakistani and has admitted sending fighters across the border to Afghanistan to fight US-led coalition forces. While it is wrong on the part of these Pakistani Taliban commanders to send their men to Afghanistan to attack Afghan and Nato forces, still it doesn’t give Afghan National Army the right to cross the international border and operate in Pakistani territory. As Pakistan Army isn’t crossing the Durand Line border to enter Afghanistan and fight there, the same principle would apply to the Afghan National Army. Crossing the border by regular armies of the two neighbouring countries would complicate the situation and fuel hostility in their already uneasy relations. A better option would be to pool efforts to stop the militants infiltrating the long and porous Pak-Afghan border. It is another matter that such efforts didn’t succeed in the past. One probable reason for this is that all the armies fighting the militants and ranging from the US and Nato forces to those from Afghanistan and Pakistan have been under-estimating the strength of the resilient and resurgent Taliban.