Amidst all the grief in the aftermath of the horrific attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar, there has been one question on everybody’s lips: When is Fazlullah going to be killed?
And each time the COAS or the DG ISI have made a trip to Kabul, the rumour mills have been busily spinning their yarn: He’s gone to share details on Fazlullah’s whereabouts; it’s only a matter of time now; he’s told the Afghans: you take care of him or we’ll have to come in and do it ourselves.
But Fazlullah’s still alive and probably plotting another horrific crime. Yes, one of the visits of the top brass revolved around sharing incriminating evidence, but all we have so far is that the planners of the attacks have been apprehended.
Obviously, this is not enough.
Do we not have the capability of taking this one person out? Do we not have any actionable intelligence? The answer to both questions is: yes, we do. But it would be naive to assume that just because we have the intel and the capability, there are no other obstacles in the way. After all, this is spooky statecraft.
We live in a Machiavellian world – the truth is mostly impossible to unearth, hidden by layers upon layers of lies and deceit. It is correct that evidence on the whereabouts of enemy number one was shared with officials across the border. But what happened next?
Sources privy to the interactions in Kabul suggest that a dossier was thrown our way as well – a dossier spilling over with evidence of violence in Afghanistan planned and operated within our borders. We were adamant – for something, anything. And shortly after the spate of visits, the Afghans launched an operation in the eastern province of Kunar where, intel suggests, Fazlullah was holed up. And soon enough, five people were arrested for involvement in the horrific Peshawar attack.
The truth is that, while an operation has indeed been launched in Kunar, the government in Kabul does not exert much control or influence in the outwardly provinces of Nuristan, Kunar, Paktika and the like. And if one is to believe what one is hearing, Fazlullah and his cronies roam between these provinces with ease and freedom. However, as we Pakistanis know very well, where this is an absence of control and governance, the only institutions that can operate are intelligence agencies. And not only your own. Take for example, the vast network of CIA operatives that continue to roam across Pakistan, and using their fixers in the tribal regions, plant little blue homing chips on future drone strike targets. That’s how it goes.
In the same vein, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan equivalent of the ISI, operates in these restive and far-flung regions. And let me take you back to the episode of one Latif Mehsud. This fellow was nabbed by US Special Forces as he made his way to a meeting with the NDS. And while the Afghans described Mehsud as an ‘insurgent peace emissary’, as reported by the New York Times,” according to Afghan officials, the ultimate plan was to take revenge on the Pakistani military”.
Another reason to accept that the Afghans perhaps don’t have too much control is that we also approached both the United States and the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) for help in getting Fazlullah.
While this is most disturbing, one cannot be surprised by such behaviour – like I said, this is spooky statecraft. But all this went down during former president Karzai’s tenure, and we are all well-versed in his dislike for Pakistan. It is pertinent to mention here that for the longest time Pakistan has held a senior Afghan Taliban member by the name of Abdul Ghani Baradar, a man long sought by the Karzai government to add a much needed impetus into peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Now President Ghani is in charge, and the real questions to ask are: is the Afghan president’s fresh start with Pakistan something unanimous or just something that he alone desires; and b) What kind of control does the government in Kabul have on the NDS?
The NDS and, by association, the Afghan government have long sought the ability to have some kind of negotiating leverage against Pakistan. The attempt to collude with Latif Mehsud is a prime example, and now, Mullah Fazlullah.
This is not acceptable. The Afghan president must rein in his intelligence agency, which it seems increasingly likely is allowing refuge to Fazlullah. Or, really, why can’t we do it ourselves?
Another aspect of spooky statecraft: Cross-border assassinations are part and parcel of how intelligence agencies take care of business. The CIA and Mossad are some of the best exponents of this part. Perhaps it’s time we start dabbling in this dark art ourselves.
Postscript: One usually does not believe in rumours, but sometimes they tend to make sense. Under the overused Machiavellian rule of the enemy’s enemy is your friend, reports suggest that one foreign intelligence agency is also playing its part in protecting Fazlullah.