Smitten by Pakistan’s resistance to military operations in North Waziristan, a vengeful US riposte of our military effort in Fata was perhaps predictable and, sure enough, it is contained in the latest biannual White House report on Afghanistan. The Pentagon says that the Pakistan Army has not really achieved much against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while the army believes that it has done well. Well, what’s new? That’s been a continuing refrain on both sides, except that the US seems to have become more impatient now that it has to start the process of handing over more responsibility to the Afghans. American success on the ground has been so nominal that the withdrawal process will be more staggered and mostly symbolic when it kick-starts this summer.
Needless to say that our army’s performance hasn’t pleased the Americans, bothers no one here. But it will not help to improve ties badly shaken by the Raymond Davis affair, the delay in the release of coalition support funds and differences on war strategy, etc. Not to worry, says the Foreign Office spokesperson, we will overcome our differences soon enough because ‘we have common challenges and shared goals’.
Let’s hope she is wrong. Because nothing would be worse than to allow ourselves to become a victim of American paranoia; or to lose more lives merely to fulfil American desires and allay fears. The impression that American prejudices in the guise of policy are being rammed down our throats is already rife. To strengthen such an impression risks setting anti-Americanism further ablaze. In any case, to deploy more forces from the eastern frontier, to ease the strain on the Americans, is militarily reckless. Perhaps America needs reminding that India is her strategic ally, not ours.
For the past several years, the Americans have insisted that, as a precondition to negotiations, the Taliban must agree to abandon violence, forsake al Qaeda and accept the present Afghan Constitution. At least two of these points were absurd because taken together, they amounted to calling for a Taliban surrender. Then, two months ago, Hillary Clinton dropped all of them as a ‘precondition’ for talks, saying only that they remain ‘necessary outcomes of any negotiation’.
Such hair-splitting is lost on the Taliban. What they see is a waning superpower, having taken a beating, dictating to an adversary which has effectively fought it to a standstill regardless of the outcome of the peace talks. And, in our case, it means asking that Pakistan risk antagonising a post-war Taliban-led dispensation in Afghanistan and stake her future to provide America a convenient exit strategy so that Americans can leave, believing they have prevailed, and then watch from afar or through the sights of the occasional drone, the mayhem their policy has visited on Pakistan.
American Congressmen are fond of reminding one and all that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Hence, if they want to achieve their objectives of eliminating al Qaeda and defeating the Taliban, they had better deploy a much larger force, prepare to take on many more casualties and bed down in Afghanistan for decades to come. Seeking Pakistani goodwill, by forsaking arrogance, might also be a good idea; and also adding several billions more to the pot to enable Pakistan to offset the cost of the war. However, as the American public does not have that kind of appetite and having failed to achieve little if anything, in 10 years of occupation, the propensity of Congressmen to lecture others on what’s best for them is irritating. As for the notion that this war is as much Pakistan’s as that of the US, let’s concede that for the moment, but then let’s also insist that we fight our war in our own way.
Actually, for all its public posturing and reports to Congress, the Obama administration is already engaging the Taliban in talks, both directly and through surrogates such as Karzai and the Saudis. In fact, $50 million has been set aside exclusively for this purpose. Happily, the US has finally conceded that the war cannot be won, the surge of General Petraeus ‘Bonaparte’ notwithstanding.
The US administration could usefully share this perception with Congressmen like Gary Ackerman (Republican, from New York) who are demanding that the US government ‘forsake Pakistan’ (for not taking the war to the Taliban) and which, he claimed, is about to go ‘broke or collapse’. Ackerman went on to say that he would much prefer America confine her dealings in South Asia to India.
Ambassador Hussain Haqqani should inform Ackerman that 80 per cent of Pakistanis are praying that his wishes come true. As for Pakistan being on the verge of collapse, Haqqani should remind Ackerman and his ilk that several years ago they were predicting Pakistan’s impending collapse and spreading fear that the Taliban from Swat were advancing on Islamabad. Such fears are clearly infectious; the Indians too have caught the bug, judging by the emails I receive.
For whatever reason they came to Afghanistan, the Americans will be leaving because they know that apart from incurring casualties and producing more fighters for the Taliban, little else will be achieved. True, the al Qaeda presence has been marginalised, but for each homicidal maniac killed, several more will volunteer. So plentiful are the opportunities for this murderous group to ply their trade elsewhere, like in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, etc, that they may well ignore Afghanistan for richer pickings elsewhere.
Surely, by now intelligent Congressmen must know the American presence in Afghanistan degrades, rather than enhances, their security and that the longer the Americans stay and the longer the war continues unabated, Pakistan and Afghanistan will act as a magnet for extremists from all over the Muslim world and from within. Hence, calling on his considerable powers of persuasion, Hussain Haqqani should convey to Congressman Ackerman and others of his ilk, perhaps over a tea party, to which some of them seem so partial, that the best assistance Pakistan can render America today is to help negotiations for a peaceful end to the war. Realising, of course, that while we can cajole the horse to walk to the water’s edge, we cannot make it drink.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.
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