Fateful Triangle: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan

From a recent Newsweek article on the suicide bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan:

Afghan authorities wasted little time in assigning blame. With blood and debris still littering the streets of Kabul after a suicide bomb at the Indian embassy killed 41 and injured 150 on Monday, an Afghan defense spokesman promptly pointed an accusatory figure at Pakistan. “The sophistication of this attack, and the kind of material that was used and the specific targeting, everything has the hallmark of a particular intelligence agency that has conducted similar attacks inside Afghanistan in the past. We have sufficient evidence to say that,” the spokesman told reporters Tuesday morning, refusing to mention Pakistan by name but acknowledging the reference as “pretty obvious.”

The “obvious reference” is, of course, to the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISI-D), Pakistan’s intelligence agency and secret police. While Pakistan is nominally one of our biggest allies in the “war on terror,” in reality only President Pervez Musharaff and the military are pro-American, and it is borne out of strategic neccessity rather than genuine affection. Almost everyone else is lined up against us: The ISI-D is full to bursting with Islamists and maintains strong ties to the Afghan insurgency; the Bhutto movement, while paying lip service to the American obsession with democracy, are the people who created and funded the Taliban in the first place; and the general population is becoming increasingly radicalized.

The most disturbing part of the whole incident is that the Karzai government is openly blaming Pakistan, supposedly their biggest ally after America, in a public forum. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, but it bespeaks some serious behind-the-scenes maneuvering in both countries.

Just because ISI-D was behind it, and they are the definition of a rogue intelligence service, that doesn’t mean that the suicide bombing in Afghanistan wasn’t approved at the highest levels of the Pakistani government. It goes like this: India and Pakistan are mortal enemies in a nuclear standoff, with Kashmir as the flashpoint. The last three times they went to war, the Pakistanis got their asses kicked badly, and are understandably pretty nervous about it happening again. Alot of the reason Pakistan funded the Taliban movement was that they couldn’t afford to have hostile states on either side of them.

So the Indians, naturally, are investing heavily in Afghanistan, including building the new parliament and a road that would connect Afghanistan to the Middle East without going through Pakistan. An allied Afghanistan would allow them to pull the old pincer move, preventing Musharraf from committing the bulk of his military to the Indian border and putting Pakistan in an even more precarious strategic position (which wasn’t that great to begin with). At the very least, the Pakistanis consider Afghanistan to be their little buddy, and don’t want the Indians horning in.

Pakistan is not going to take this lying down. Even Musharraf knows the danger to his country posed by Indian influence in Afghanistan. The actual actors in the bombing were almost definitely one of the three groups who are collectively called “the Taliban” by the media: Mullah Omar’s people operating out of Quetta, the Haqqani, who are so zealous they think Omar is a big softy, or the “Afghan Arab” foreign fighters. Standing behind them organizing and financing the attack was the ISI-D, whose Islamist connections go all the way back to the Afghan-Soviet War.

So the million dollar question is, was it a rogue operation or did the Musharraf government approve it? Most likely no one will ever know, but I would give good odds it was at least tacitly condoned by our biggest ally in the region.

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by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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