Pakistani-U.S. Raid Nabs Mullah Baradar: Kayani Doctrine in Full Effect

The New York Times reveals this evening that the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, Mullah Baradar, was arrested in Karachi on Thursday in a joint raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.  The move is clear demonstration that the Pakistan Army, under the command of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, has a more flexible approach toward Afghanistan, guided by the realization that it has permanent interests, not permanent allies in its neighbor to the northwest.

In a recent briefing to foreign correspondents, Kayani said that Pakistan seeks a friendly government, stability, and ”strategic depth” (meaning, at the very least, that Kabul is not allied with New Delhi) in Afghanistan.  The Pakistan Army is willing to play by more conventional rules and begin to engage so-called good actors to secure these goals in Afghanistan.  Toward this, Kayani offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.  Having denied India a strategic pivot into Central Asia and northwestern/western Pakistan via Afghanistan (note India’s minimal role in the London talks and absence from the Istanbul talks), the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment feels more secure to broaden its ties in Afghanistan and engage the current Afghan leadership.

In addition to having been provided an opportunity to diversify its contacts in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army likely also feels a need to do so.  In my previous post, I speculated that Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.  Pakistan has an opportunity to come in from the cold and project its regional influence through more conventional and “legitimate” means.  In doing so, it can secure its interests and the respect and trust of others, while also containing the Taliban contagion infesting its border areas with Afghanistan.

The Kayani Doctrine

On Monday, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani briefed foreign correspondents in Rawalpindi and was unusually candid.  

In the briefing, Kayani articulated his Afghanistan doctrine.  Pakistan, he said, seeks a friendly government, stability, and “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  He also added that Pakistan does not seek a Talibanized Afghanistan and offered to train the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

Kayani, like many others in the region, is preparing for a post-American and post-ISAF Afghanistan.  Many actors fear the emergence of a security vacuum in such a context.  Kayani is expressing Pakistan’s willingness (or better put, desire) to fill the void, prevent an outbreak of instability, and even come to support the Karzai government.  His message to Karzai is: if you become our ally (because strategic depth really calls for an alliance, not just friendship) and ditch India, we can help keep you alive and in power.  And, it seems as if there’s an implicit message to the Afghan Taliban — key as both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia try to pull the group away from al-Qaeda: you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted. 

Kayani’s doctrine is not revolutionary.  Its objectives are no different from Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy from the past thirty years.  But, for the first time, he is publicly demonstrating great flexibility in terms of choice of alliances.  Kayani is essentially a cold realist.  He believes Pakistan has permanent interests, not permanent alliances, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.  And he and the Pakistan Army will do business with the entity that best facilitates achieving those objectives.  Behavior, not personalities, is key.   

Pakistan’s army chief also said that he impressed upon NATO that Pakistan’s “strategic paradigm” needs to be realized.  In that strategic paradigm, India remains a natural, long-term threat and Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence – the latter being a perspective no different from America’s Monroe Doctrine.  Pakistan’s desire to be the predominant foreign power in Afghanistan is, as I said on a recent radio appearance, a policy that began in the late 1970s with military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.  But the key difference between the two is that the Kayani doctrine is largely agnostic, while the Zia doctrine was heavily religious.

The Pakistan Army’s behavior since 9/11 and India’s isolation from the two recent conferences on Afghanistan in Istanbul and London, demonstrate that Rawalpindi, at the very least, has a veto power on the key decisions regarding Afghanistan’s future.  Pakistan is not simply a nuisance or basketcase, but a regional power that has the capability to leverage a superpower’s depedency on it and check the regional growth of India, a rival, neighbor, and potential superpower. 

In the midst of this high wire act, Pakistan neared bankruptcy.  It has mastered the art of making a dollar out of fifteen cents.  Some would say, it’s done this by getting the United States to pay the remaining eighty five cents.


Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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