By Yasmeen Aftab Ali
There is a very real possibility of US and her NATO allies going in for “zero option” ie leaving no troops behind as the forces withdraw in 2014 from Afghanistan, if the significant complications of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) are not resolved. Although an obvious desire and reason for leaving behind a residue force is to train and equip Afghan security forces, yet there is an unquestionably strong concern in Washington about the neighboring nuclear Pakistan. The cascading effect on Pakistan if the Karzai’s government cannot hold and is overrun by the Taliban with the eventual American exit is an outcome one must be prepared for. It can turn into the same situation it did in Afghanistan from 1996-2001 where there was intense internal struggle that was supported by Jihadist and militant organizations. It will spill over into Pakistan and is likely to attain ethnic and sectarian dimensions. United States is well aware that Afghanistan may well end up being de facto governed in some areas by the Taliban. David E. Sanger gives yet another reason for Americans’ desire to retain bases in Afghanistan, ‘the American forces in Afghanistan had a rule “a break a glass” emergency force if Pakistan and its arsenal, appeared to be coming apart at the seam’. (Correspondent NYT, Author ‘Confront And Conceal’: Pg 46)
The Americans have spent billions to arm and equip the Afghan police and military. Reportedly in 2011 alone the amount was $12 billion. However, the question that whether or not the security forces will be prepared to ensure law and order, in absence of American forces backing them, is not a one that has figured prominently in the decision of the withdrawal date. Neither do US have any peace plan to bring an end to their adventurism in Afghanistan. Funds for “War on Terror” will be whittled down drastically. In case of an Afghan meltdown, the influx of Afghans from the Durand Line and into the FATA area and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be inevitable. From here it will trickle downwards to other provinces. This makes for a volatile country taking a hike with a combustible powder keg.
“War on Terror” has gone on for over a decade now. Though the capability of Al-Qaeda has been downgraded to attack USA and her allies, Al-Qaeda and the other militant groups are not beaten by any long shot. They are armed, they have a mission and they are not afraid to lose anything. Not even their lives. Such an enemy is formidable.
Pakistan has many a time been accused of following a “double policy” with America ; doing just enough to give the Americans a feeling of having their diktat followed and on the other hand supporting the militants; Haqqani group in particular; being a major militant group in Afghanistan-also sarcastically referred as the Pakistan’s insurance policy for post 2014. Richard Holbrooke in 2010 said, “The biggest problem is that the Pakistanis know that sooner or later we are leaving. Because that’s what we do. And that drives everything.” (David E. Sanger, Confront And Conceal: Pg 20)
Pakistan needs to think on its feet and think fast ideally dealing with this problem at two levels; with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (not those marauding disguised as members) and the militant outfits in Afghanistan. What Pakistan must do to face an Afghanistan sans America is to reach a negotiated settlement with them. This does not mean to say, Pakistan should be cowed down. What it does mean to say is; there is a time and place for everything. The time and place in face of American imminent departure from next door is to hold talks with the militants. Bad news for those who think the militants will fizzle away; they won’t!
While extending a hand to the militant right wing outfits in Afghanistan; let us not forget the multiethnic groups within. Approximately 40 percent of Afghans are Pashtun; Tajiks make up the second largest ethnic group with 25.3 percent of the population, followed by Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Qizilbash, and others. Pakistan must include all stakeholders in the across-the-board dialogue. Lest we forget, shoring up with militants in Afghanistan is very important now because of a very real danger of cross border infiltration by India via Afghanistan, also acknowledged by US Special Representative James Dobbins recently. Pakistan cannot afford to leave its western flank uncovered. Chuck Hagel suggested that India has over the years “financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.” A comment made while speaking at the Cameron University in Oklahoma in 2011.
With the US troops proposed withdrawal, it is the militants who are on a strong wicket and the Pakistan government on a weaker one. However, Pakistan can turn this disadvantage to an advantage, if it can convince America to broaden the base of those governing Afghanistan before its troops leave, with a good representation of a cross mix of its ethnic races and sell this idea to the different tribes, it may place Pakistan in a strong position to call the shots. This will be an added leverage for Pakistan in dealing with Taliban in Pakistan, though the profile of Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan diversifies at many levels. A source claims terrorists are trained and propped up by intelligence agencies from counties having a vested interest in creating chaos in Pakistan, projecting themselves as members of the organization within Pakistan. The first question this claim raises in my mind is are we really dealing with the Taliban here or with a motley of terrorists claiming to be part of the organization? The accepting of responsibility for the stunning attack that killed three Pakistan army officials including two officers in Upper Dir this Sunday at a time when “talks” just went underway, does bail out the claim. According to a report in Wall Street Journal (Published September 12, 2013) a draft of demands by the insurgents in Pakistan has already been drawn up. Many of the “demands” within are patently unacceptable. What Pakistan government must do is to put together a “doable” counter-list for the insurgents with some not so doable points too, to be bartered against points that would be unacceptable to any government. The objective is for the government to work towards developing space for mutually acceptable steps. Demands are always made, sometimes in excess to what a person demanding actually expects will come through- they also know not all will be met.
The “Taliban” however have declared that it would not negotiate with the government unless two preconditions were met; first army troops should pull out from the entire tribal area. And second, their prisoners should be released. Ideally, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan should be made to come around to the view that these suggested points should form agenda for peace talks and not a pre-condition to it. The choice of the people selected to lead Pakistan through these talks will be crucial to its success. The government may want to make two committees to deal with militants in the two countries. But first it must ensure it is indeed dealing with the Taliban and not with terrorists using a name. With terrorists, there can be no talks. For dealing with terrorists one needs to give the army a clear mandate and support them unconditionally. Irrespective of the name they use.
One cannot deny the truth of Noam Chomsky’s statement; ““Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.