Rome '08 Workshop

Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S., and NATO 

Ambassador Munir Akram

Pakistan Ambassador to the United Nations 

Ambassador Munir Akram

The present situation in Afghanistan and the frontier regions of Pakistan is the result of a number of developments that have taken place since December 1979. The process of radicalization in the region was the outcome of a series of strategic mistakes, including the use of Islamic extremists in the war against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. 


After September 11, when the United States intervened in Afghanistan, Pakistan had advised against using the Northern Alliance (which was largely a non-Pashtun coalition) to oust the Taliban regime from power. Our advice was not heeded. In October 2001, the Taliban left Kabul and dispersed to the south and the east, back to its home areas. Those in the Taliban were not militarily eliminated or defeated. 

But Afghanistan’s south and east stayed mostly dormant and neglected until 2003. It was only after the physical ingress of NATO into the region that the insurgency seriously commenced. Between 2003 and 2006, the insurgency became organized in five command countries led by, among others, Mullah Omer, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Dadullah, and Gulbedin Hikmatyar. The spread and intensity of the insurgency was the result of several factors: 

1. Natural (Pashtun) local sympathy for the largely Pashtun Taliban 

2. Further alienation of the Pashtun tribal leaders because of indiscriminate bombing and military tactics resulting in civilian casualties; political exclusion, especially after parliamentary elections; Tajik and non-Pashtun control of the Afghan National Army (less now); disenchantment of the common people/villages because of counterinsurgency tactics; the absence of development; corruption and injustice, especially at the local level; selective destruction of poppy crops; and growing insecurity (being caught in the cross-fire). 

Cross-border support from FATA ((Federally Administered Tribal Areas) to the insurgency (mainly recruits, rest, and regrouping) was only a partial and arbitrary cause of the insurgency. Its major location and motivation was and remains within Afghanistan. 


Pakistan has taken several measures, including 1,000 check posts, over 100 military operations in FATA, and capturing or killing 2,000 Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders/commanders, to check cross-border infiltration. While these measures had considerable impact on cross-border movement, the security environment in FATA and in neighboring “settled” areas deteriorated sharply. In 2007, Al-Qaeda and some Taliban-linked groups turned on Pakistan and its security forces, and there were more suicide bombings in Pakistan than Afghanistan that year, with 2,000 civilian casualties. The main result was greater popular alienation from FATA’s “forward strategy.” Paradoxically, within FATA and NWFP, there was also popular disenchantment with Islamic militancy. The February 18 elections led to the success of the secular, Pashtun candidates of the ANP even in FATA. 


The new government is committed to adopting a new strategy to (1) end suicide bombings, (2) pacify FATA, (3) halt the spread of Taliban and militant influence, and (4) continue to cooperate with and support the stabilization of Afghanistan. Negotiations to halt the violence have been opened at several levels. The cause of violence in each of the FATA agencies is different. In the Swat district of NWFP, for example, the underlying cause is land disputes and the demand for speedy justice. The most critical negotiations relate to South Waziristan, where Behtullah Mehsud and the “Pakistani Taliban” are located. 

The concept of these peace deals is consistent with long-standing tribal customs and traditions, placing collective responsibility on the tribes for the maintenance of law and order in their areas. Of course, the tribal leaders have to bring the insurgents active in their area into these peace agreements. The implementation and effect of these agreements will be slow. No doubt, there will be periodic reversals. However, the strategy is comprehensive, and contains military, political, and economic elements. The local militias, especially the F.C., will need to be strengthened and equipped to assume larger security functions. The Pakistan Army will be located in identified positions and posts and respond to security threats as and when required. 

The widespread assertions that the peace talks with FATA tribes and militants have led to an increase in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan are at best premature. The rising incidents in Afghanistan take place mostly at a distance from the border. As well, fighting always escalates during the spring and summer. In response to these concerns, specific clauses are being added to the agreements, especially within South Waziristan, committing the tribes to prevent cross-border attacks and to expel Al-Qaeda elements and other foreigners. 


While there have been well-publicized complaints from coalition commanders about the rise in cross-border attacks, Pakistan too has many reasons to complain. At the operational level, Pakistan confronts the following difficulties: 

1. Insufficient check posts and troops on the Afghan side of the border: Pakistan has established 1,200 check posts, and there are less than 100 on the other side 

2. Inadequate real-time intelligence-sharing by the coalition/Afghanistan 

3. Coalition/Afghan National Army incursions into Pakistan territory 

4. Not being supplied with the equipment requested by Pakistan for counterinsurgency purposes (night vision equipment, UAVs, electronic surveillance, helicopters) 

5. Inflow into Pakistan/FATA of foreign fighters—Uzbeks, Chechens, etc.—from and through Afghanistan 

6. Attacks on Pakistan territory, especially artillery and aerial attacks (without warning or coordination); one of the most serious was a recent attack on Pakistani check posts that killed 12 Pakistani soldiers 

At the political level, we also face several problems with the Afghan government and, at times, with coalition partners, including: 

1. Nonrecognition of the border by Kabul (if there is no border, how can there be “cross-border” movement?) 

2. Opposition to border control measures, e.g., fencing of parts of the border, the distinction of biometric I.D. cards to check 40,000 daily legal crossings 

3. The reluctance and refusal to relocate Afghan refugee camps close to the border on the other side (as a means of reducing the cross-border problem and allegations regarding “safe havens” in Pakistan) 

4. Indian consulates in Kandhar and Jalalabad being involved in activities negatively affecting Pakistan’s security and stability 

5. Provocative statements by Afghan leaders and officials blaming Pakistan for all of Afghanistan’s security problems, including the recent atrocious threat from Karzai to intervene in Pakistan territory 

6. Threats mainly from U.S. legislators to cut off “assistance” to Pakistan and unjustified delays in reimbursements 


Pakistan-U.S. cooperation is currently strained. The political and operational challenges being confronted in the campaign to eliminate terrorism and to stabilize Afghanistan need to be addressed urgently through strategic dialogue between Pakistan and the United States. The U.S. and NATO also need to review their strategic objectives vis-à-vis Afghanistan and to redefine “success.” They will: 1) not be able to transform Afghanistan overnight into a modern democracy; 2) not be able to change the conservative Islamic ideology and beliefs of the people of Afghanistan; and 3) not be able to eliminate or ignore the major power components in Afghanistan, especially the Pashtun tribes. The new strategy will need to be truly comprehensive, including political, economic, and military components. 

The political strategy should aim at reconciliation. It should be designed to 1) isolate the violent extremists from the moderate, non-violent, and non-involved majority; 2) win hearts and minds through practical assistance (health, food, housing, agricultural support); 3) build peace through grass-roots measures, district by district, village by village; and 4) utilize traditional modalities, for example, the Jirga system, for dispute settlement and accommodation. 

The economic strategy should utilize the “power of finance” to win the cooperation of tribal and local leaders, have urgently needed and locally required reconstruction and job-creation projects as the priority, improve transport and communications, encourage local entrepreneurship, and find a viable solution to the poppy problem, for example, buy up the crops of small farmers. 

The military option should remain the option of last, not first, resort. While the larger presence of coalition forces may be required in the short term, given Afghan antipathy to foreigners, these forces should be progressively replaced with strengthened elements from the Afghan National Army, especially local militias. The major military targets should be Al-Qaeda terrorists, hard-core militants, and criminal elements, not part-time (Taliban) fighters. 

None of the components of this strategy will work unless governance and the system of justice are improved throughout Afghanistan. 

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