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New head of ISI; Karzai calls for Taliban talks

As the ongoing conflict in Pakistan and Afghanistan continues with coalition forces taking a beating, Eric Margolis believes that "there will never be stability in Afghanistan until the largest ethnic group is brought into the political process."

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Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Pakistan replaced the head of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, in an apparent effort to clean up the military spy agency amid claims from Washington that it secretly backs the Taliban. Lieutenant General Ahmed Pasha will now assume the post of director-general of the ISI. The appointment of General Pasha by army general Ashfaq Kiyani is seen by some as a move to placate Washington, which accuses the ISI of collaborating with Taliban fighters, despite government assurances the agency has been reformed. General Pasha’s appointment comes after a major standoff between the Pakistani government and General Kiyani, who resisted attempts to put the ISI under civilian control. Kiyani also replaced four of nine corps commanders. The appointments come amidst an ongoing Pakistani military offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border, as Pakistani tribesmen battle Taliban fighters. Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated on Tuesday that he had asked the Saudi King to facilitate peace talks with the Taliban in order to bring an end to the ongoing conflict. He also called on Taliban leader Mullah Omar to return for peace talks. Omar rejected the offer. To discuss these events, we go to Real News Analyst Eric Margolis. Eric, welcome to The Real News. General Ashfaq Kiyani has replaced the head of the ISI. What do you make of this?

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: First of all, Kiyani, the new commander-in-chief of Pakistan’s Armed Forces, has had a wholesale change of the entire top command of the military. And in fact he has appointed new—he’s put his own men into the position of all the key corps commanders. These are lieutenant generals who command army corps who are the real power in Pakistan. They’re the sharp edge of the military’s power. They’ve all been replaced. Major generals have been promoted up to lieutenant general. And Kiyani has put one of his own men, a respected, very professional lieutenant general, Pasha, into the ISI role. So General Kiyani’s simply cementing his role on the army.

NKWETA: Is this seen as a move to placate Washington, in the light of the accusations that the ISI is corrupted with Taliban sympathizers?

MARGOLIS: It could be interpreted as such. I personally don’t think so, because the army would not be ready to admit that it was playing footsie with Taliban or that there’s a great deal of sympathy for the Taliban in the Pakistani Armed Forces, which of course there is, as there is amongst 90 percent of Pakistanis as well.

NKWETA: Now, there is an ongoing offensive taking place right now in the Bajaur region, in which Pakistani tribesmen are fighting alongside the Pakistani army against the Taliban. Is this a realignment? What should we make of this structural change in terms of fighting the Taliban?

MARGOLIS: Well, this much-ballyhooed event that is local tribesmen fighting against the pro-Taliban groups has been ballyhooed around the world. And clearly Washington has adopted the tactic it used in Iraq to try and buy or rent local tribesmen to turn against their enemies, like these awakening councils in Iraq. Essentially they’ve been bought. These are tribes who are being paid handsome sums of money in a very poor part of the world to turn their guns against the pro-Taliban groups. But I think right now there’s more hot air about this than there is actual military development. But it is potentially serious, because Washington has a lot of money, and it can rent a lot of loyalty in mercenary groups. And already General Petraeus has suggested that they follow this policy as sort of a divide-and-rule policy to split the Pashtun tribes of the tribal areas and enlist them on the side of the Americans. The net result of all of this is, if it’s successful, would be a much more confused and chaotic and wider conflict in the area.

NKWETA: So where are we now, Eric, in terms of the state of play, in terms of the coalition forces against Taliban forces, in terms of, you know, these cross-border offenses over Pakistan and Afghanistan?

MARGOLIS: No, it’s getting worse, and the NATO commanders are saying it quite openly. The war has turned very much against the Western occupation forces in Afghanistan. The war is spreading into neighboring Pakistan. We’ve had the first reports of refugees fleeing from Pakistan into Afghanistan, when usually it’s the other way around. But the fighting is intensifying. Taliban and its allies are getting stronger; they’re better-armed; they’re fighting more effectively. NATO is really on the defensive. And what you don’t hear about is the NATO supply lines that snake through this tribal territory are coming increasingly under attack from pro-Taliban or sympathetic tribesmen there. So NATO is in big trouble. And instead of trying to lower the intensity of the war, the US authorities are running forward into it by advocating deeper US ground attacks into the tribal territory, which runs the risk of bringing the Pakistani army into direct conflict with the US forces, as we have seen recent examples of.

NKWETA: President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai put out a plea to the Saudi king to foster peace talks. He also put out a call to Mullah Omar to return to Afghanistan in order to get this process underway. Are these desperate measures for an offensive in a situation that is increasingly spiraling out of control?

MARGOLIS: Well, as someone who’s covered Afghanistan for 25 years like myself, I would say that these are sensible, long-overdue, and most welcome measures, the first steps of common sense in this conflict. Even the secretary general of NATO has said last April that there will be no military solution to this war, only a political one. The US and its allies simply do not have enough troops to impose a military settlement, to pacify—to use an old colonial word—Afghanistan, to occupy it successfully. There’s no reason to do it, either. So this is an unnecessary war at the end of the world that is both expensive and destructive. The only solution is to bring Taliban into the political process. Taliban represents essentially half of the Afghan people. Pashtun tribes, 50 percent of the population, have largely been excluded from power by the American occupation forces. They have to be included to stabilize Pakistan. There will never be stability in this country until the largest ethnic group there is brought into the political process. And it is essential to start on this path towards reconciliation and talks before this war spreads deeper into Pakistan and drags US and NATO forces into an endless and much larger conflict.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.