This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive.The writer contributed the article to Pakpotpourri2.
By: Iqbal F Quadir
Vice Admiral (Retd) & Former Ambassador
The situation in and around Afghanistan; shorn of all political, diplomatic and security verbiage that surrounds all bits of information put out daily in the press and on the media; could candidly and briefly be described as firstly, Pakistan had been in a nut-cracker situation with its head in the vise ever since March 2001 when USA signed an agreement with the Afghan Northern Alliance (NA), Russia, India and Uzbekistan to equip NA Forces with Russian equipment and have them trained by the Indians in Uzbekistan to fight against the Afghan Taliban then fully backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Secondly, Pakistan now finds itself in the situation of a small ant inside the trunk of an elephant. A situation of recent creation after Salala and more by default of NATO / ISAF / USA than by design of Pakistan.
The worst of this situation had been that so far neither the elephant knew how to let go of the nut-cracker even if it wanted to do that, nor, did the Pakistani ant know which way to get out of the elephant’s trunk; a highly volatile situation that could be dangerous not only for Pakistan and USA / INSAF but for the neighboring countries too.
In these unpredictable and potentially explosive circumstances, compounded further by US-Iran estrangement, it was necessary to ensure that the ant’s little steps inside the trunk do not set up vibrations, which could excite the elephant into frenzy, be that of rage or of uncontrolled hilarity – both could be violent and destructive.
USA and Pakistan were equally to blame for the present situation. The former for the blind enforcement of decisions Washington perceived were in her national though oft changing aims and interests in the region. The latter, Pakistan, for blindly following US dictates without regard to their long term adverse affect on Pakistan’s own interests in the region, on the country and the populace. Pakistan was to be blamed again for not paying heed to how US policies were developing in Afghanistan and with India that in the longer run would clash with Pakistan’s own interests in Afghanistan and the region; even though like some others this scribe too had written three articles in a local paper between 2007 and 2009 specifically pointing out the same.
Pakistan should have acted at that time diplomatically and politically to save the situation from reaching the present pass we were now in.
Consequently the quagmire was now complete, which had to be disentangled but carefully, wisely, transparently and with patience on both sides. Nevertheless two things had to be realized. That it was a quagmire only and not a dispute and should be dealt with as such. And that there were only two parties, USA and Pakistan, which could resolve the dilemma being faced. More than two would become a crowd and must be avoided. Furthermore the process unlike the secret US-Afghan Taliban negotiations, which created more problems than they resolved, though USA achieved its strategic objective of possibly a permanent stay in Afghanistan, must remain transparent enough for all our neighbors.
With such an understanding between the two and goodwill plus regard on both sides there was no reason an equitable solution could not be found. In fact for peace in the region there was practically no other solution to the quagmire, which itself could not be left to fest further.
The recent statements of certain senior US politicians and by the new Pakistani Ambassador to Washington provide a reasonable base to build up on. In addition Pakistan and USA must quickly arrange exchange visits by selected parliamentarians and intellectuals, properly briefed, to recreate the needed confidence and understanding between the two governments and the two nations.
Here it should not be overlooked that the only viable route of withdrawal for US /NATO/ ISAF Forces from Afghanistan other than Pakistan was through Iran and history tells us that to achieve their objectives the followers of pragmatism change foes to friends overnight or vice versa. The softer approach adopted by IAEA and the 5 + 1 group at the recent Baghdad conference on Iran’s nuclear program if anything was a pointer towards what must have already transpired under the table .
However, Pakistan finally had to find a win-win situation not only with USA but with all its neighbors including USA as one across the sea. And while mending fences with that country, Pakistan must not repeat its perennial mistake of the last half century plus – of forgetting all our other neighbors.
It has been an extra long period of self-inflicted international isolation that must be avoided in the future and God in His infinite mercy has provided Pakistan that opportunity. Let us show wisdom and courage to utilize it for betterment of Pakistan, its people and the world.
Pakistan’s geographical location made it a natural communications cum trade hub not only for its neighbors but the whole world through the land, sea and air routes that either pass through its territory and the air space above it or which needed to be developed to achieve the economic win-win situation that the country urgently needs.
A policy the Quaid described as, “Friendship towards all and enmity towards none.”
The country could earn billions of dollars in this manner and simultaneously create thousands of jobs in service industries. In half a decade Pakistan could annually earn more foreign exchange than all the aid put together. But to achieve this objective neutrality in world affairs was not only important but a must. Only and only then the economic development of the country and the betterment of Pakistani people would become possible.
The people have already shown they want to be free of the chains that bind them domestically and also the constraints that our foreign policy has inflicted on the country during the past half century plus. They were willing to undergo hardships and to give sacrifices that might be forced on the country for exercising that necessary freedom. But did our ruling elite have the mettle and the will to to convert this national ethos into reality or would they again let this God given opportunity be lost? At the moment our future rests on that.