The US, China and Russian Relationship
As previously noted in Politact’s Entropy Alert (June 30, 2009), a full-scale military operation by Pakistan in Waziristan was unlikely, due to the circumstances at that time.
Politact’s analysis has been further validated by reports that Pakistan may be on the way to, or have already reached, an agreement with Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The intent of this article is to further explore the changing ground realities, the regional and global political environment and what to expect next regarding Waziristan.
As indicated by recent statements from Mike Mullen, David Miliband and other high-level US and British officials, the ground realities are changing swiftly. One can sense a new urgency to better understand the Taliban’s composition and start some kind of dialogue as part of the political strategy. This shift is occurring against the backdrop of mounting military casualties among the coalition forces, especially during the ongoing Hilmand Operation (Khanjar). Meanwhile, divisions persist within the NATO alliance regarding the strategy for the Afghan Mission and the resources needed to accomplish it, with the US having to assume additional burdens.
It has recently been reported in the press that Pakistan and Afghanistan have broken down the Taliban into the following three categories, requiring appropriate strategies for dealing with each:
- The Taliban with links to Al-Qaeda
- The Taliban with local grievances
- The Taliban with Ideological leanings, but with a local agenda
So Afghanistan and Pakistan are changing both their tactical and strategic approach towards extremists and the Taliban, based on these emerging realities and shifts in the positions of NATO and the United States. It appears that as the coalition’s resolve on a military solution weakens, that of the Pakistan Army has increased. As the latter senses the winds of change, it wants to counter perceptions regarding its lackluster role in the past and is therefore acting with the utmost vigor against the Taliban elements, particularly those involved in anti-state activities.
This new-found zeal has been strengthened by economic and security assurances and by support from NATO, EU and the United States; other regional and global factors have played a role.
China is deeply worried about the recent disturbances and riots related to the Uighur in the Xinjiang region, which it has always suspected of having links to extremists with a safe haven in FATA. Furthermore, in the recently concluded China-US Strategic meeting in Washington DC, US has impressed upon China to play a more active role in the war against extremists and other regional and global issues such as Iranian and North Korean Nuclear ambitions.
The US-Iran dynamic is also changing in the wake of the post- Election crisis in Iran. The US will perhaps now adopt a more aggressive posture towards Iran and the discussions regarding this issue now occupy the high-level talks taking place almost around the clock between Israel and United States. These talks have been accompanied by military exercises conducted by the US, Israel and the UK designed to convey veiled threats to Iran and to encourage it to join the negotiations. Iran and Russia have matched these military maneuvers with naval exercise of their own in the Caspian Sea. Syria, an ally of Iran, is also being actively courted, with the intent of pulling it away from Iran. Turkey has been playing an active role in this; this development makes the Arabs nervous enough to be more receptive to the United States vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it also serves as a check to Russia.
On the other hand, US-Russia talks headed by President Obama and Prime Minister Medvedev have not been very productive. Vice President Biden’s recent trip to Georgia and the Ukraine was not successful in assuaging the Russian anxiety regarding its Near Abroad. With rumors of a very active Russian role during the Iran election crisis, the whole US-Russian relationship can take on a new twist.
This is the global context under which the new classification of Taliban is emerging, with emphasis on a political solution. On the whole, the Obama Administration is taking a much more assertive diplomatic engagement around the globe, as opposed to the going-it -alone approach seen the during the Bush years. The Obama strategy will have to ultimately involve compromise and a delicate balancing of different leverages and interests.
Meanwhile, The Pakistani Taliban have received the message of the Swat operation: it knows that the Army means business this time. The earnestness displayed by Pakistan’s military directly impacts the supply and support of the Afghan Taliban which exists in FATA. Pakistan and the United States are jointly creating the juggernaut by slowly choking the Baitullah Mehsud’s supply lines, hitting the hiding places through aerial and artillery attacks. He will have to accept reality and renounce anti-state activities against Pakistan.
If Baitullah Mehsud enters into an agreement with the Pakistan Army, it would help convince Mowlawi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar to also back off, who due to US drone attacks, have terminated their 16 month-old treaty. In the present global and regional political context described above, however, any such agreement with Baitullah will prove to be short-lived, as witnessed during the Swat peace treaty with TNSM, which was violated soon afterwards by militants, resulting in the launch of the Swat Operation.
It is quite possible that public awareness of Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s classification of Taliban will lead to an opportunistic eagerness on the part of some groups to portray themselves as only having local grievances and agendas, but it could also drive Mullah Omar to be more forthcoming regarding negotiations and a political solution.
Moreover, the cataloging will empower the Pakistan Army to convince the Pakistani Taliban in particular and the Afghan Taliban in general to alter their behavior if they wish to survive. This is going to be a very nerve-racking exercise for India, who will no doubt portray this as a ploy on the part of Pakistan to preserve its proxies. The US and NATO do not want to distract Pakistan from its campaign against the Taliban. Meanwhile India itself wants to harness Pakistan’s energy against the Kashmiri Jihadis.
In this local, regional and global context, the Waziristan operation will continue its current modus operandi, barring significant shifts in US-Iran-Russia dynamics at the global level and India-Pakistan relations at the local level.
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