Diplomatic Bubbles: Why Afghans are so averse to ISI now?

Diplomatic Bubbles: Why Afghans are so averse to ISI now?

Saeed Minhas

Islamabad: As a stunned diplomatic community in Islamabad is looking at the knee jerk reactions of the politicians and finding the over-arching institution of the country licking its wounds after a humiliating month of May, things continue to shape up in and around Pakistan at an alarming pace seeking this nuclear state to not only answer some key questions about its abilities, capacities and reasons to keep a nuclear arsenal as well it’s age-old relationship with the nexuses of evil.  

If the local media is silenced by the all powerful uniformed guys over these things, international media continues to hammer rather rub salt in the wounds of Pakistan by posing new questions and theories to which Pakistani uniformed establishment prefers to avoid at best and when approached does not want to discuss with the local population. I wonder when this hush-hush policy will end in Pakistan and when they will realize that no matter how secret they believe they are, internet world shows not only all what they are doing and where they are hiding their strategic ‘assets’—Google earth is just one recent example in this regard. I remember asking the ISPR chaps to provide me a seniority list of the serving army generals but after finding weeks of silence from them when I goggled the same query there it was whole updated list with their dates of joining, extensions and even possible extensions and what not.

This approach to keep everything to oneself assuming that its safe has bounced back so many times that one wonders can our Khakis learn anything from the past, given the fact that our politicians and even our text books want to keep us in the glory of hired historical accounts without telling us that have they learned anything from the debacles of all those empires whom we consider as ours just because they had Muslim names? The answer is a big and resounding NO because had they done so they would not be marching around from Saudia to China after OBL’s killing and rather would have congregated to revise their strategies, assessed their capabilities and drawn a comprehensive plan to engage the world not lock themselves up in the confines of GHQ and wait for some miracle to take this Abbottabad bashing away.

We will have more on this some other time and let me give you my account of a recent trip to Kabul.  What smacks you in the face once you land in Kabul is a fact that if Taliban were living in a self-created (poppy backed) bubble which busted with daisy-cutters then same can be said about Americans who want to show to the world that how they have transformed a civil-war-torn country by infusing new ethnic balances in some (not more than eight) major cities of a troubled land without knowing what awaits them the very next moment and will they ever be able to bring any sort of sanity or rule to a country where tribal and ethnic divides are so strong that even many of them believe that it seems a far cry.

The security, patrolling and continuous state of paranoid was so visible that it is no wonder that Americans have to shift gears and venture into the possibility of finding a political–no matter how feeble and artificial it may be–solution to get (at-lest sizeable numbers if not all) their back-packers out of Afghanistan to ease off its huge economic burden (over 140 billion dollars a year plus development and emergency ops) as well as cool down its own tax-payers and even a growing jobless and homeless population.

It was a surprise to find out that not only the local population, including Pashtuns (comparatively less) and Dari (more harsh) speaking ones, and more so the official coterie have grown so much averse to ISI that in my short stint I had to attend a couple of press conferences from the Afghan Intelligence led home ministry to see more than 18 arrests in the past one week out of which eight belonged to Pakistan (mostly from Peshawar and two from Punjab). Once the bed fellows are considered with all sorts of suspicisions these days that it’s hard to believe that it’s the same Kabul where even our low ranking officials used to call the shots and the same Afghans used to respect them like true masters of their destiny.

 Second thing was the arrest of four kids, aged between eight and ten years, all hailing from Peshawar and were under detention at the juvenile centre of infamous Pul-e-Charkhi jail in Kabul on suspicion of being suicide bombers. Since some local know-how (or you may say some journalistic connections) led us to these kids inside the jail, we found these innocent looking alleged suicide bombers giggling and least bothered in front of the cameras.

Upon interviewing them they admitted that they have come from Khairabad area of Peshawar where they were studying at a madrasa (religious seminary) run by one Mulla Farooq and since they were very naughty they were sent by Mulla to Kabul to work with Uncle of one of the kids who makes and sells solar batteries there. However, the lead kid in the ‘gang’ who knew Urdu and Pashtu both, said that as they entered into Afghanistan from Torkham and were looking for a bus to take them to Kabul they were picked up by Afghan soldiers and were rushed to Jalalabad jail where Afghan police lured them into admitting that they were suicide bombers from Pakistan and in lieu would be compensated with ten thousand rupees each. The lead boy also said at one point that they have nothing to do with suicide bombing because why they should come to kill Muslims and that they have neither seen nor worn any kind of belts before coming here. But the insistent lady warden of the jail said that they are under interrogation by Afghan intelligence and would be released if found innocent. But strangely enough neither the alleged uncle of boys was traced nor Pakistan was contacted to trace this seminary where the lead boy said still more than three dozen girls and about a dozen boys of their age group are studying? But the event was used quite often on the media to highlight that how ISI is responsible for destabilizing a ‘growing’ country.

Finding it no surprise, soon I had to be detained by sprawling street spies of Afghan Intelligence, just because being a Pakistani journalist I was sitting in a restaurant with some foreign TV crew and that too at a time when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh landed in Kabul without much announcement. During almost six hours of mild detention and interviews with various Generals (as there seems to be more generals in Afghan Army than soldiers because every other one was called a General) I was asked to tell ISI to mend its way and let Afghan live in peace without meddling in their affairs. But having no such fortune of knowing many in ISI or Jihadi networks, as many of our media people have to at least claim to have, when I told them that it has to come officially, they said that once we find more agents here then we certainly would like to sit with Pakistani counter parts and tell them to forget about Afghanistan and take care of their own backyard where they believed not only Mullah Omer but even Zawahri is hiding.

Once out of the detention, one thing was quite clear that in the post OBL, everyone is waiting for the next US move, especially with regard to their pull out. As many educated from across the board and seasoned ex-Taliban (many of whom are finding it secure to reside in Kabul then getting killed by drones in their villages) hinted with a unique unanimity that once the Americans start or even announce a withdrawal, then there will be no more room for them in this land. They have a strong hunch that the either the American bubble will be busted by civil war or Taliban might come back to claim Kabul and rest of it. With no governance model in place and with writ of the government stalled to only few cities, there are huge lands outside the ISAF, NATO and dwindling Karzai’s preview where either war lords or Taliban insurgents are holding the sway, claimed none other than Mullah Salam, residing in one of the Kabul residential areas with his four wives and a dozen kids.

Mullah Salam (not Mullah Salam Zaeef) was the governor of Urzgan province during Taliban rule but as Karzai reached out to him and installed him in Musa Qalla as administrator of the province, he soon became vocal against the British forces secret pact (of co-existence without disturbing each other) with Taliban and later with Karzai for not protecting him against a Taliban attack on his family where his two sons got killed. Mullah Salam like two dozen other known names of Taliban regime including Mullah Mutwakil, Habib Ullah Fozi, Mujahid Saaf, Naeem Jan Kochi, Mullah Salam Rocketi along with many others are residing in Kabul waiting for the times to change because as most of them and many others confirmed it said it in so many words that “once a Taliban is always a Taliban”. That’s perhaps the encrypted message on which many of their sympathizers across the border in Pakistan are relying rather relishing on, commented a senior military analyst who has worked with Taliban and CIA throughout 1980s.