Of double games and triple crossing

Published: June 4, 2016


PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is a PhD candidate and coordinator of the South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney

If we are to believe the Americans, Pakistan is responsible for the US failure in Afghanistan — the double games played by our security establishment to bring America down to its knees, and the triple-crossing to hook the Afghan Taliban under its wings, all show that Pakistan has been at it from the very start.

As sensational as it sounds, it is equally absurd to rationalise that Pakistan has the muscle or enough strategic depth to play out the Americans at a game that the US has played for over a century. Indeed, the chessboard was supposed to have only two players: the Americans against al Qaeda/Taliban. It was supposed to be easy, clearing out foremost, al Qaeda and the brutal Taliban regime from Afghanistan, capturing the perpetrators of 9/11 and establishing the American ideology in the post-Cold War era.  But it wasn’t Pakistan that advised the US to go into Iraq or sponsor ‘freedom’ movements throughout the Middle East and in the process let the Taliban take back control of parts of Afghanistan.

To then see Pakistan as a player that has the US locked into the longest war in its history is misplaced. Pakistan, from the perspective of the US, neither helped enough in winning in Afghanistan, nor backstabbed enough to completely force the Americans to leave the region. Its role was enough to keep the Americans engaged and the money flowing. From Pakistan’s perspective, the American allegations of double games are nothing new; instead, American adventurism and idealism around spreading freedom and democracy distracted the US from the fundamental objective of fighting terror. Pakistan, hence, felt reluctant to entirely trust the US, and instead kept its options open.

The problem with the US-Pakistan relationship is that both sides are equally justified in their arguments against each other and casually exaggerate the extent of each other’s power, allowing little room for introspection. Essentially, the problem in the relationship is more about how it is structured and practiced than the two countries’ ideology per se.  For one, the relations are not centralised or specifically led by diplomats in both countries. What the US-Pakistan relationship suffers from is the institutional relationship that almost always clashes with other institutional interests and broader goals of the relationship. And this has been the case since the 1960s when the US took Pakistan on board in its security and economic camp. More recently, Ambassador Munter’s frustration with the CIA station chief in Islamabad, and discrediting of Ambassador Robin Rafael from the DC policy circles is also a reflection of competing institutional interests on how best to fight terrorism, or manage Pakistan.

More than Pakistan’s double games, Afghanistan is a mess due to the competing ideologies in American political and security circles, and America’s restlessness on how best to deal with Afghanistan. Also, a major problem in this matrix is that the decision-makers are open to outside influences through lobbying and pressures that don’t allow any one policy to sustain long enough to produce results. The tussle between the State Department, Pentagon and other agencies involved in fixing Afghanistan and the constant point-scoring in the capital doesn’t allow enough time and patience for one policy to work. It was with some effort that the peace deal with the Taliban was being brokered, and it was easy to witness that competing institutions in the US and in the region ensured that the talks collapsed — starting from the breaking news of Mullah Omar’s death to Mullah Mansoor’s killing in a drone strike. The pendulum in DC is oscillating under competing institutional, national and regional interests of the players involved in the Afghan end game. The longer this pendulum swings, the harder it will be to have any sustainable solution for Afghanistan other than a full-on resurgence of the Afghan Taliban that may or may not be under Pakistan’s influence.

If we can learn one thing from the history of empires, it is that empires learn nothing from history. After decades of American wars in the region, the world is more unstable, there is less freedom around the world, and terrorism has washed up on the shores of Europe and the entire Western world. How much of that is Pakistan’s doing is questionable, but what is obvious is the internal competing interest of corporations, contractors, institutions and lobbyists driving American policy around the world. Such is the danger that while America may become great again, the rest of the world may not be the same again.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 5, 2016 - 4:56AM

    Note that nowhere in this piece is any mention of the Americans/Afghans decade long requests of Pakistan to honor its obligations under UNSCR 1373 (viewable at UNSCR.org!) to act against those world famous FATA terrorist “Safe Havens” used by Pakistan’s Good Taliban Assets!
    Instead, the author somehow justifies Pakistan’s duplicity “in keeping its options open” by supporting the Good Taliban that caused so much death and misery in Afghanistan!Recommend

  • ahmed41
    Jun 5, 2016 - 7:45AM

    If we can learn one thing from the history of empires, it is that empires learn nothing from history. After decades of American wars in the region, the world is more unstable, there is less freedom around the world, and terrorism has washed up on the shores of Europe and the entire Western world. ..”

    Does South Asia have imperial ambitions ???Recommend

  • Srinath
    Jun 5, 2016 - 9:13AM

    The US can afford to do what it is doing. But the important question is what Pakistan, which along with Afghanistan has suffered for the three decades, should do. The price for “keeping the options open”is too high to be sustained. Write-ups like this one can only serve to distract us from the crux of the problem.Solution lies in some soul-searching and doing what is best for Pakistanis. Recommend

  • Ahmad Rafiq
    Jun 5, 2016 - 2:04PM

    Good article.

    Every country plays double games. 1st game is for the ally country and the 2nd game is for the country herself.

    And frankly any country which doesn’t do that is outright stupid or doesn’t really care about herself.Recommend

  • NDA
    Jun 5, 2016 - 2:39PM

    This ‘duplicity’ allegation is overstated. Pak-American interests did not converge on all issues and all times. Pakistan’s basic requirement is a friendly or at minimum a neutral government in Kabul. US did not appreciate this necessity and imposed a hostile and anti-Pakistan regime there in addition to enabling India assume a role which was to the determent of Pakistan’s interests.

    India never played not will it ever play any role in peace building or in anti terrorism activities in Afghanistan. For Pakistan, India was an outsider and intruder whose only interest was to hurt Pakistan .

    Genuinely, Afghan Taliban whose majority is Pushtuns can not and should not be excluded from any regime in Kabul. Without them, the regimes will be weak and unstable. For this to happen, talks and a negotiated settlement is the only option . The present order in Kabul is not inclusive and will not survive. It is upto US and Afghan Government to decide what they want. Recommend

  • Sexton Blake
    Jun 5, 2016 - 6:43PM

    I suppose we have to feel sorry for those poor Americans. After all it was not really their fault that they had to rumble around the Islamic world leaving behind numerous cities converted to piles of rubble, and countries being run by US puppet governments. Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Jun 5, 2016 - 11:24PM

    @Sexton Blake:to @numbersnumbers:

    I suppose we have to feel sorry for those poor Americans. After all it was not really their fault that they had to rumble around the Islamic world leaving behind numerous cities converted to piles of rubble, and countries being run by US puppet governments.

    Well said sir, the man from chcago regrets that his surge in Iraq and Afghanistan has not worked nor his “No foots” in Libya and Syria, but does not see the need to stop his remote control droning ventue.

    Rex Minor Recommend

  • Naresh
    Jun 6, 2016 - 12:24AM

    In International Relations Nations do not have Friends. They only have “Interests”. Thus in terms of Relationship with the United States Pakistan’s Actions were ONLY IN PAKISTAN’S INTEREST. I am sure that the USA also in its Relationships with Pakistan acted in its own i.e. USA’s Interest.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 6, 2016 - 12:53AM

    @Sexton Blake:
    Notice that @Sexton Blake, as usual can’t provide any examples for his delusions!
    Please list all those mideast cities “reduced to rubble” so that readers can use Google Earth to call his bluff!
    As for puppet governments, I would note that those governments were freely elected by the citizens, which is rare in the Mideast!Recommend

  • someone
    Jun 6, 2016 - 1:27AM

    Pakistan was getting paid for it’s services. However it did not perform it’s duty and so employer is right in being disappointed with it’s employee. Recommend

  • Afghan Jawedan
    Jun 6, 2016 - 11:20AM

    Afghan government is headed by an elected Pashtun and Pashtuns of all stripes are well represented in every branch of the government. This whole narrative about Pashtuns being excluded from the regime is a Pakistani construct that serves to legitimize its proxy as a sidelined ethnic group. The Taliban, Haqqani Network and all other stooges serving Pakistan are Pakistanis not Afghans, and the proof was Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s Pakistani passport and identification card.

    The crux of the matter is that Pakistan wants illiterate Afghans perceived as Pakistan’s allies ruling Afghanistan, and that is not going to happen. Afghanistan is run by Western educated technocrats with advanced degrees, and in this political landscape simpleton stooges have nothing to offer to the Afghan nation. It is better Pakistanis realize this now and get used to the regional dynamics, so it doesn’t waste another thirty years chasing a mirage.Recommend

  • NDA
    Jun 6, 2016 - 6:57PM

    @Afghan Jawedan: Earlier Afghanistan had a whole army of Soviet trained ‘technocrats’ who brought ruin, devastation, civil war, killings , slaughter and the rest. Now Indian and Western trained swill take their turn.

    If Afghanistan is that democratic, then these very ‘illiterates’ and ‘simpleton’ Taliban must have a share in the government and governing of the country. The very fact that the present Afghan regime is not inclined to talk to them is a manifestation that it is un-representative and lacks legitimacy.

    How come 3.5 million Afghan refugees are still left in Pakistan. Are they 2nd class citizens and not worthy of coming back to homes and fields. Recommend

  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 7, 2016 - 1:21AM

    By your reasoning that the Afghan Taliban deserves a place in the government, you must ALSO think that the Pakistani Taliban (TTP!) deserve to be fully represented in the Pakistani government, OTHERWISE the Pakistani government would “lack legitimacy”!!!Recommend

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