Mosul and FATA

by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Fighters of al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad

In 2006 Presidential candidate and then US Senator Joe Biden, now Vice President, proposed a plan that Iraq should be divided into three states i.e. Shia, Sunni and Kurd. That plan now seems to be a realty as Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) conquers city after city along a line on a map that divides Sunni majority areas from Shia majority. In my personal view there is no danger to Baghdad as ISIS objective is to gain international recognition for its state which could be jeopardized by attacking Iraqi capital. Although they may use a probable attack on Baghdad as a bargaining chip. Turkish and British newspapers are already preparing public opinion for acceptance of this new realty. There are also opinions that Turkey along with Saudi Arabia are providing support for this new state emerging on the map. Turkey feels there is an economic benefit from this development by providing land route for export of Kurdish oil and gas to Europe to earn transit fee as well as gain access to steady supply for its own needs. This will reduce Turkish reliance on Iranian supplies.

Many analyst are blaming US for the current state of affairs as a natural fall out of a questionable Iraqi war that dissolved the army after entering Baghdad; disbanded Baathist party that controlled much of bureaucracy; and allowed arming of Syrian rebels that included fighters of ISIS. These are overt actions while there are covert factors that are also playing out. British Foreign Minister William Hague accepted the fact that over 400 British citizens are participating in ISIS attacks. It is hard to believe that the intelligence was unaware of this large number of citizens transitioning to Syria.

Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi

The leader of ISIS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was a doctoral candidate at University of Baghdad at the time of US invasion in 2003. He was reportedly in US custody from 2004 to 2009 and it is unknown why he was kept under custody or who was involved in his incarceration. After his release from custody, he became a prominent member of Al-Qaida in Iraq which later transformed itself into ISIS. It was decided that a covert support led by CIA will be provided to the rebels in the early days of Syrian conflict when there was a debate in the US about how to handle the crisis. It is hard to believe that CIA was unaware of the rise of ISIS and their plans for the future. Secondly ISIS could not have pulled off an attack on Mosul without detailed knowledge of the military bases that were constructed by American forces during their occupation of Iraq. One key question is who provided this ground intelligence to ISIS? Usual suspects is not hard to find.

A state is dissolved when judicial system is broken down in the form of jail breaks and judges killed; coercive power of the state is decimated and replaced by another as was done in Northern Iraq; and economic resources accessed by the new entity. ISIS achieved all three objectives by breaking all jails in the cities occupied by them which provided them manpower to increase their numbers. They also seized over $435 million worth of currency from Mosul branch of Iraqi Central bank. And finally they bagged all the weapons stored in the army bases that included 1500 humvees and 50 tanks among other items. British and Turkish newspapers are already proposing that a framework should be developed to accept the political realty of a new state. The final piece in this puzzle may be a referendum conducted under the supervision of UN to finally accept a new state with full powers vested in it. A compromise might include that ISIS should give up terrorism and convert their fighters into a regular army as well as respect sovereignty of its neighbors including Iraq, Kurdistan and Syria.

US has strategic interest in accepting a new state that becomes a buffer between Shite controlled Iranian proxy Iraq and Syria/Hezbollah. This will curtail the Iranian influence in the region to half which is an outcome preferred by long time US ally Saudi Arabia. Iranians may be forced to accept the new status quo as a bargain for a deal with the West to lift sanctions and abandon its nuclear program. Recent announcement of extending the interim agreement for another six months may be an effort to buy time to achieve that objective. Iranian policy makers are divided over handling of the crisis. Speaker of Iranian Assembly Ali Larijani as well as President Rouhani are against military involvement of Iran while revolutionary guards may be more interested in it. President Bashar Al-Assad may be forced to accept the smaller Syria which is the second time in its history to give up territory as Lebanon was carved out of it after the First World War.

Why should we be concerned about Mosul as a Pakistani? In these pages I have written in my earlier pieces that there is a nexus between Pakistan and Afghan Taliban which may become a danger to the Pakistani state after the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. The release of five top Afghan Taliban commanders should have rang alarm bells in both Kabul and Islamabad. If Kabul was unaware of their release there is a likelihood that Islamabad was not taken into confidence as well. TTP has engaged in similar tactics as employed by ISIS which is jail break in Bannu and D I Khan to release their comrades. Kidnapping for ransom, looting and seeking toll from the Afghan transit trade to get economic resources to pay salaries to their militants. And engage in sectarian fight by targeting Shite in Gilgit Baltistan area. The final piece for them would have been announcement of an Islamic State comprising of South Eastern Afghanistan, FATA and some settled areas like district Tank of Pakistan. It is important to note that Afghan Taliban do not accept Durand line as an international border although there is a perception that Pakistan supports them. The only weak link in this puzzle is absence of any international support for this state which is available to ISIS from Europe, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Considering the above scenario we should be relieved that civil-military leaders realized the danger posed to the nation and state by terrorists in FATA. Operation Zarbe Azb should not be just viewed in the context of local dynamics but it also has international dimension. Russia, China, India, Iran and Afghanistan all wanted Pakistan to take action against terrorist sanctuaries in FATA. Presence of Uighurs, Uzbeks and Chechens was a worry for all our neighbors. China was particularly disturbed by the recent wave of terrorist acts in its Western Xinjiang province and was pressuring Pakistan to close these sanctuaries. China’s economic interests in Pakistan to develop a trading route could have been jeopardized by continued presence of terrorists in FATA. In my personal view Pakistan’s military operation was more to please Beijing than Washington as US is already in the process of withdrawal. The success of Zarbe Azb could result in a new era for Pakistan focusing on trade and regional stability as well as ending its doctrine of strategic depth introduced by General Zia ul Haq. Positive reactions and promise of cooperation by Afghanistan is heartening and increases the probability of success for the operation.

talibanAt the same time government of Pakistan must make all necessary steps to accommodate internally displaced persons (IDPs) by working closely with KP government. A political solution should be found for FATA through an extensive debate and consultation through a parliamentary committee. Reverting to old imperial system of political agents is disrespectful to the tribes as it disenfranchises them from having a voice in the system. A more practical solution could be converting FATA into a province with allocation of development funds to build roads, schools and hospitals. FATA can be economically viable as a province benefiting from the fees collected from Afghan transit trade as well as agriculture production.

It is a defining moment for Pakistan and a political misstep could be very costly. Politicians must realize that they have a national responsibility to avoid playing opportunistic politics at this time.

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