According to populist wisdom (its leading proponent is Imran Khan), if America were to quit Afghanistan right away, Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s problems of terrorism would simply melt away. But that is not the GHQ’s view, even though it has never formally said as much, because it doesn’t want to be perceived as supporting America in Afghanistan in any way. Only Gen Pervez Musharraf is on record as saying that a quick and unplanned American exit from Afghanistan “would be a disaster” because it would lead to civil war, anarchy and disintegration of Afghanistan, with hugely destabilising blowback consequences for Pakistan.
Ahmad Mukhtar, the defence minister, has referred rather unthinkingly to a related dimension of the problem. Speaking about the recent US suspension of $800 million in military aid to Pakistan, he warned that if American money to fight the terrorists was not forthcoming, Pakistan would be obliged to withdraw its army from the western border with Afghanistan (147,000 troops, 900 border posts), and let Nato/ISAF suffer the consequences of cross-border attacks from Al-Qaeda/Taliban networks safely havened in Fata. It didn’t occur to him that the Pakistani army is stationed on the border partly to discourage American boots-on-ground incursions into Fata and partly to block the same Taliban-Al/Qaeda network in Afghanistan and Pakistan from establishing a long-term base area in the northern and eastern regions along both sides of the Durand Line as a launch pad for seizing Pakistani territory.
Rather more disturbing are serious analyses that argue that if American money is not forthcoming, the Pakistani military might get “upset” and not help America, perhaps even going so far as to “initiate peace deals with the militants,” the implication being that “the Taliban terrorists will then take a heavier toll of American lives in Afghanistan.” This is a patently ridiculous and dangerous line of thinking. First, the peace-deal phenomenon of earlier times was between the Pakistani military-political administrations and the Pakistani Taliban, and not between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistanis. Second, it was proven to be a disastrous policy when it simply enabled the Pakistani Taliban to seize more Pakistani space and become stronger over time, instead of abandoning their aggressive designs against Pakistan. Third, as Saleem Shahzad’s book makes clear, it is precisely the link between Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban that is a current problem for America and a potentially graver one for Pakistan in the future. So any Pakistani “peace deals” with the Afghan Taliban are likely to prove even more destabilising and dangerous for Pakistan than the defunct ones with the Pakistani Taliban. Incidentally, the Pakistani military’s existing covert peace deals with the Haqqani network and various Mullahs in Waziristan (Pakistani assets) are already the core straining issue between Washington and Islamabad, and the last thing that we should be threatening to enlarge and strengthen!
Thankfully, the ISPR has set the record straight. “The Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan have become sanctuaries and launching pads for attacks on Pakistan by a host of terrorist groups and their leaders,” says Maj-Gen Athar Abbas. He ticked off Nato-ISAF for abandoning their military posts in these border Afghan regions and emboldening them to attack Pakistan’s Lower Dir regions. Imagine if the Americans were to flee Afghanistan without a plausible stabilising endgame, Kabul would fall to Al-Qaeda overnight and the terrorist network would overwhelm into Pakistan like a tsunami.
Therefore, if America’s endgame in Afghanistan is problematic for many reasons, Pakistan’s input is no more credible. The US is caught in the matrix of President Obama’s short-term domestic political goals and the Pentagon’s long-term and ambitious international outreach. Pakistan too cannot escape the grip of its own defence ministry which stubbornly insists on exclusively defining both national security and national interest in the context of a defunct notion of Pakistani nationalism and misplaced obsession with India. Consider.
The fact is that the military strategists of America who want to “save” Afghanistan from their Al-Qaeda enemy and the military establishment of Pakistan which wants to “secure” Afghanistan for its Taliban “assets,” have both got it tragically wrong. If they insist on having it their exclusive way, they will lose both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consider.
America’s strategy in the run-up to the Afghan endgame is inconsistent and contradictory. Ten years after 9/11, with $1 trillion down the drain, Afghan “nationhood” is out, counterinsurgency is being substituted with counterterrorism, troop surges with troop draw-downs, and not all good Taliban are dead ones. So key Taliban leaders have to be targeted by drones in order to soften up their resistance and make them amenable to a US-sponsored power-sharing arrangement in Kabul. But this strategic direction-change is tripping up for two reasons.
First, the post-2014 “Base-Afghanistan” envisioned by Washington is critically based on two factors which are eroding faster than they are being consolidated. The first is the failure to build a reliable Afghan National Army that can do America’s bidding—Taliban infiltration has made it an unreliable future adjunct. The second is America’s inability to create a viable puppet regime of strongmen that can capture space and sustain stability00as testified by the assassination of the police head of Northern Afghanistan, Gen Dawood Dawood, two months ago, and that of Hamid Karzai’s powerful, alliance-building brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, last week, followed by the abortive attempt on the life of Home Minister Bismillah Mohammadi the same day. America’s man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has never been more vulnerable than he is now.
The second is a continuing American failure to persuade Pakistan’s defence establishment to help knock out the core Al-Qaeda/Taliban troublemakers in Fata. A carrot-and-stick policy that is based on “peanuts-for-aid” for Pakistan (compared to $200 billion spent in Afghanistan) and that ignores or denies Pakistan’s legitimate security concerns (the need for a stable if not fully “friendly” Afghanistan on its western border in post-America Afghanistan) will not work. American unaccountability and unilateralism has also fuelled anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s strategy of continuing to obsess about India and making it an element of the future Afghan matrix on the basis of its Taliban “assets” is also coming a cropper. These Taliban “assets” were problematic even during Mulla Umar’s reign from 1996 to 2001 when they refused to recognise the Durand Line as the international border with Pakistan, refused to kick out radical Islamic sectarian elements belonging to the Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and refused to break relations with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, even though they were plotting against both America and Pakistan. These same Afghan Taliban “assets” have since networked with Al-Qaeda in Fata to give birth to and sustain the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan which has exacted a toll of 35,000 Pakistan civilians and over 3,000 Pakistani soldiers in the last two years.
The real aim of the Al-Qaeda/Taliban network is to infiltrate the Pakistani state, pit it into conflict with India (new Mumbais), erode the army’s fighting capacity by de-motivating its rank and file, seize control of its nuclear weapons and transform its territory as a base area for a world Islamic revolution. On the basis of Mullah Umar’s past record, the Haqqani network’s current liaison with Al-Qaeda, and Al-Qaeda’s future ambitions, the Pakistani military’s rigid protection of such assets is souring its longer-term “strategic” relationship with the international community, America in particular. This is something it can ill-afford, given its military, trade and aid dependency on the West.
Pakistan and America should put their interests and concerns squarely on the table, conduct joint operations and abstain from airing their political differences or applying countervailing pressures through the media. America’s carrot-and-stick policy won’t yield dividends with Pakistan just as Pakistan’s “double-game” breaches the trust redline. Washington’s plans for Afghanistan must not exclude Mulla Umar and the Haqqani network, just as Islamabad’s plans must not be exclusively based on them. In fact, America and Pakistan must not stake their all on their perception of their interests in the end-game in Afghanistan, because its final outcome holds no great guarantees for either of them.
The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.
THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM THE NEWS.