KARACHI: Have we given up on our Afghan policy (after it failed to deliver what we planned to achieve?) The address by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani at the sixth convocation ceremony of National Defence University(NDU) is important not only for its content but for the choice of venue. Most beneficiaries of the NDU will be handling high-profile appointments at least to regulate and run the military strategy drawn from the ‘renewed’ Afghan policy.
At the core of this policy are three important factors that the prime minister spelled out in his speech: 1) The solution to Afghanistan will come from within Afghanistan, 2) Kabul is the most important capital in the world for Pakistan and 3) a peaceful, stable and sovereign Afghanistan is an absolute necessity for Pakistan.
What have been our Afghan policy goals in the past? We always sought a quiet and peaceful Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier; not a 1500-miles-long border that drained our troops, resources, effort and attention. Did we have a friendly border that allowed us to concentrate all our resources and efforts against the border with India?
Once the Americans withdraw, they will leave behind 250,000 trained Afghan Army soldiers, 20,000 US troops (battle enablers) and 2,000 Nato trainers. Besides this, the US will provide the Afghan Army close air support, logistical backup and air surveillance. The world will not abandon Afghanistan. In fact, it will provide $3.6 billion for supporting the ANSF (Afghan National Security Force). Afghanistan may not have an active/operational air force but it surely will have a trained army mandated to guard and defend its frontiers.
Today, our military is split over trying to match threats that exist on both fronts. On the Afghan border, the threat is not only from within but also from without. Will this threat diminish after the Americans leave in 2014? Most likely not. Will the world witness another Taliban regime in place in Kabul? Unlikely, given that US drones are regularly patrolling the Af-Pak skies. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there will be a dearth of people willing to take part in suicide missions and this is where, perhaps, the Taliban will continue to be lethal.
As for Pakistan, its military needs to look at increased military engagement on the western frontier. Also, our policy of strategic depth has taken us nowhere so we should be prepared to jettison it.
The prime minister has done well to spell out the core foundations of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. The question, of course, is that will his government be able to execute it? Only time will tell.
Lt-Col (retd) Muhammad Ali Ehsan
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2012.
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