Once again, uttering the right words, both US and Pakistan have ignored the ground reality in the recent US Pakistan strategic dialogue. Interests of both countries in the evolving dynamics of the region, with US on the eve of pulling out its combat forces from Afghanistan can be different on many levels. This case of varying expectations from each other has marked the relationship between Pakistan and US from its very inception. Undoubtedly, there was a spectrum of topics that came under discussion; however, the spotlight was on Afghanistan. A local newspaper supports this assessment by stating, “The officials will work to “put together a blueprint of where we can take this relationship over the course of the next six months to a year”, a State Department official said.” (January26, 2014)John Kerry says, “We recognize that Pakistan is a vital partner in supporting a secure Afghanistan, and we know how closely Pakistan’s own security is linked to Afghanistan’s success. That’s why addressing the threats posed to both Pakistan and Afghanistan by cross-border militancy is a key aspect of our conversations this week.” (Remarks at the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue: January 27, 2014, US Department of State)
This does not mean to state that US interest in the region will completely dissipate after withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan- however how Pakistan handles the challenges during this period will have a cascading impact on the relationship of both nations in the foreseeable future. An interesting question is; exactly how Pakistan’s input works in light of the Bilateral Security Agreement between US and Afghanistan that envisages Afghanistan to retain between 5,000 and 20,000 US troops and military personnel in the country as trainers? The ground dynamics in Afghanistan itself are going to shift with Presidential elections looming up in April 2014. With Karzai barred from contesting a third time, the stance of the incoming President towards US and Taliban will have a crucial impact on events to come. How will the tide turn then within Afghanistan? Patrick Martin in his article, “Crisis deepens for US occupation in Afghanistan” states, “Both the US-NATO occupation and the stooge regime of President Hamid Karzai are widely hated by the Afghan population…Karzai himself confirmed the completely venal character of his own government, acknowledging at a press conference … that his office received regular cash payments from the US Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues to state, “The Times account portrayed the cash payments as a slush fund for bribing Afghan warlords to remain loyal to the Karzai government. “(May 6, 2013)
US and allies have in the meanwhile been training the Afghan army and its police to be able to take over from their forces upon their exit from Afghanistan. Award winning journalist Dave Llindorff in his article published on his blog, ‘This Can’t Be Happening!’ gives a brutally honest version of things to come, “The “government” of Afghanistan, meanwhile, knowing its days are numbered, will be preparing its exit, with money spirited out of the country, while the police and army, knowing that they will ultimately pay a deadly price for serving the US master, and too poor to buy their way out of the country, will increasingly turn on American forces, or simply switch to what they know will be the ultimate winning side. This is all totally predictable.” (Monday 05/21/2012)
Enter Pakistan. Mired by in-house terrorism, floundering economy, energy crisis et al, the expectations of US that Pakistan helps negotiate a political settlement will also to a great degree depend upon Pakistan’s handling of terrorism within its borders. Coming to the verge of deciding to weed out ‘foreign terrorists’ from their hideouts from within Pakistan the government instead announced formation of a committee to hold talks with Taliban. This decision came on heels of the dialogue recently held between US and Pakistan. Not forgetting talks with Taliban have historically never succeeded, was hype about military operation a ruse to bring Taliban to the table? Is this play at talks to deter attack by armed forces and to recoup? Every negotiation is based on give and take. Has the government prepared a blueprint? Will the government be willing to release the terrorists arrested if ‘negotiated’? What will be the government response if imposition of their interpretation of Sharia is demanded? What guarantees can the government demand to ensure Taliban stick to their word if any kind of settlement is reached? What is the time frame of the talk, or is it open ended? Is the talkshort term strategy to allow smooth exit to US forces to curtail any hiccups?
If talks do not work out; is military operation next step? Interesting questions again emerge; once these operations start will the Taliban shift to Afghanistan? How will the present and incoming government of Afghanistan look at this? Will the border areas be used as a hideout and launching pad for their attacks? How will these operations affect Pakistan in its role of bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan as expected by US? Needless to say, Pakistan has to face the issue of terrorism and take a proactive action aimed to end killings of innocent citizens. These questions are intricately linked with exit of American forces from Afghanistan.
How will Pakistan secure peace within if Afghanistan does descend into civil war with drug barons and warlords running amok? This seems to be a likely outcome of post US forces withdrawal in Afghanistan. Pakistan must be seen as a solution to the problem, not as a problem adding to the problem.
Another issue discussed which both countries approach from opposing tangents is of India. The joint statement by US and Pakistan starts by stating, “Pakistan and the United States have also expressed the view that improved Islamabad-New Delhi relations would enhance the prospects of regional stability and prosperity, while also reaffirming that Afghan-led reconciliation process would help end violence and ensure peace in Afghanistan and the region.” (The Nation, January 29, 2014)No one can deny the importance of good, neighborly relationships between both countries. Yet the points of irritants will not go away by being brushed under the carpet. The slightest incident has the power to flare into a full blown controversy. This is itself a manifestation of the causes embedded within the relationship, crying for attention. Violation of Indus Water Treaty 1960 by India is a major concern.
Pakistan is also concerned about India’s role through its presence in Afghanistan. According to a report India has spent $2 billion on development projects in Afghanistan and has strong diplomatic and trade ties with Kabul. Interestingly, US for the first time acknowledged the merit in Pakistan’s concern on this front with US Special Envoy James Dobbins saying that Islamabad’s concerns over New Delhi’s presence in Afghanistan are exaggerated but ‘not groundless’. The Nation (August 08, 2013) Manzar Qureshi, a London based analyst, with a keen eye on development on the Afghanistan situation in a mail wrote, “Exit US-NATO forces; be prepared for a mother of all proxy wars.” According to Dean Nelson, “For India, which had been frozen out under the Taliban regime as a supporter of the Northern Alliance’s warlords, Afghanistan holds the keys to the Central Asian mineral and energy reserves it needs to sustain its rapid economic growth. To that end, and to increase its chances of gaining access to Afghanistan’s own rich reserves of iron ore, India has pledged another half a billion dollars in aid.” (The Telegraph November 2, 2011)
That’s right; the pot is coming to a boil, Pakistan needs to check out the burner fast!
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.