Expert-group at the Centre for Contemporary Afghan Studies (CISA)
On the 28th of November, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a telephone conversation with his Pakistani counterpart Ms. Rabbani. During the discussion initiated by Islamabad, Russia supported steps taken by Pakistan in response to an attack on a Pakistani checkpoint on the Afghan border by NATO forces.
However, Pakistan started carrying out work on the creation of an anti-American coalition long before. Several days after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul and as the U.S. and NATO started exerting more political pressure on Pakistan, Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani paid another visit to Beijing. At a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Prime Minister Gilani declared that China’s enemy is Pakistan’s enemy.
Some analysts in Kabul interpreted the statement by Reza Gilani as a certain guarantee given by Pakistan to China in case the Taliban movement comes to power in Afghanistan. On its part, the Chinese Prime Minister described the relations between Beijing and Islamabad as strategic.
After the Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing, Russian experts reported on the forthcoming visit to Moscow of the Pakistani President Zardari.
Clearly, on a background against growing American pressure on Islamabad, Pakistan is trying to find new partners showing that the country is not in a desperate position.
In fact, an opinion poll conducted by CISA among Afghan politicians shows that they believe that Islamabad will hardly find such an ally like the U.S. in the East. Neither Russia nor China will give Pakistan such an amount of money which it has received from the West in the past 30 years, an expert in Kabul said. According to him, for Islamabad, its partnership with Russia is a tactical move aimed at putting pressure on the U.S. At the same time, Afghan experts do not exclude that China might offer large-scale joint energy projects to Pakistan, which could be a good alternative to American aid.
Pakistan is trying to disrupt setting up of American bases in Afghanistan
Since the beginning of the 2011 summer, Islamabad has done a lot of work aimed at convincing the countries in the region of the need to work out a common policy directed against plans to set up American bases in Afghanistan.
In the middle of September, Pakistani experts told the CISA that Pakistani diplomats had held successful talks in Teheran, Beijing and Moscow. Interestingly, reports on Pakistani diplomacy’s success in countering the project to set up American bases in Afghanistan appeared after Pakistan’s senior officials paid visits to the countries in the region.
According to Pakistani experts, Teheran is inclined to agree with the return to Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. “Teheran experiences far less threats from the Taliban rule in Afghanistan than that from the U.S. presence,” speaking at a forum in Moscow, a Pakistani diplomat said. At the same time, according to Pakistani analysts, Teheran insists that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan should be restricted to the country’s south and east.
In short, the Pakistani diplomacy’s key argument at the talks with the leaders in Teheran, Beijing, Dushanbe and Moscow amounts to the delivery of a guarantee that the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan will be restricted. On this basis, Islamabad is trying to mould a favourable attitude towards the possible return to power of the Taliban and unfavourable attitude towards Washington’s plan to set up American permanent (long-term) bases in Afghanistan.
At present, Kabul is trying to avert the formation of an anti-Afghan alliance between Teheran and Islamabad and degrade the growing partnership between Iran and Pakistan clearly, fearing first and foremost, for its pro-Taliban tendency. The Afghan authorities are doing this by agreeing with certain Pakistani-Iranian initiatives and showing their readiness to promote political and economic relations with China informing it the strategic decisions taken by the Afghan President.
On the 10th of October, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had a telephone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the two leaders focused on strengthening regional ties. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the resumption of mutual consultations between Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan at various levels would promote cooperation between the countries in the region. Hamid Karzai supported the proposal made by his Iranian counterpart. “Such meetings and consultations are extremely important and definitely help to strengthen the atmosphere of friendship and cooperation in the region,” Hamid Karzai said. During the discussion, the Afghan President emphasized the significance of making coordinated efforts to stabilize the general situation in the region.
On the 19th of October, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun met with Afghan Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin in Beijing. He said that China firmly supports independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and was ready to resume its support for peaceful reconstruction in Afghanistan. Jawed Ludin thanked China for rendering assistance and said that Afghanistan would cooperate with China to make progress in bilateral exchange and cooperation in all areas. The two sides exchanged their opinions concerning the situation in Afghanistan, the international community’s cooperation in rendering assistance to Afghanistan and other issues.
Notably, before the visit to Beijing, Jawed Ludin had talks in Moscow.
The CISA experts believe that the visits of the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister, who is in charge of drafting an agreement on strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the U.S., were aimed at holding talks with the countries in the region on the possibility of setting up American bases in Afghanistan. In view of this, Jawed Ludin’s visits have to be perceived as Kabul’s response to Pakistani delegations’ visits to Teheran, Beijing and Moscow. According to information received by the CISA, Kabul believes that Islamabad’s unfavourable attitude towards the issue of American bases in Afghanistan is being lobbied in Moscow by Beijing. Consequently, Jawed Ludin’s visit to China was most likely aimed at consoling neighbouring China and preventing China from lobbying the Pakistani position in the Kremlin. Interestingly, in October of 2011, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul visited Beijing.
Pakistan’s moves against the U.S. surveillance activity in the region
In September-October of 2011, Islamabad showed its determination to restrict the surveillance capabilities of the CIA in Pakistan and the region as a whole.
Early October, the Pakistani authorities arrested four American citizens in the eastern province of Punjab on suspicion of espionage. The Americans were detained by Pakistani security services near a military base in the city of Jehlum.
Early September, Pakistan and Iran pressed the Afghan authorities so that they agreed to take back Afghan citizens illegally living in the two countries at the earliest. This decision was taken at a joint meeting of officials from migration services of the three countries.
According to the head of migration service of Iran’s Interior Ministry, Mohammad-Hossein Takhuri, 2.7 million illegal immigrants lived in Iran until recently, while 1.7 million people have already returned home. “At present, we are working on returning the remaining one million back to Afghanistan,” Takhuri said. The majority of Afghan citizens are living illegally in the border regions of Iran and Pakistan.
According to CISA experts, most likely, Afghan special services have an extensive network of information providers among illegal immigrants and might use it in the interests of American surveillance. Clearly, both Islamabad and Teheran are aware of this. Since the authorities of the two countries are afraid of American military presence in the region, they consider the deportation of Afghan migrants as a prophylactic measure aimed at restricting surveillance capabilities of Afghanistan’s national security agency and the American CIA.
Notably, since the beginning of the summer of 2011, the CIA has been trying to compensate its forthcoming troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the formation of alternative armed units. According to well-informed sources in Kabul, the CIA is now training special task force groups in Afghanistan to fight against terrorist units. These groups will be deployed in the Afghan cities to protect the Afghan-Pakistani border in the south and east of the country. Reportedly, by August of 2011, about 400 people were trained under a new CIA programme for Afghanistan.