The verdict is already out even before the new plan has been put to the test. American commentators, retired generals and even media outlets there are skeptical if the new US strategy for Afghanistan unveiled by President Donald Trump will succeed. But they all agree on one thing that it is Pakistan that is largely responsible for denying the US-led foreign forces a victory against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Islamabad continues to be blamed for a ‘double cross’ ever since it joined the US-led campaign against the Taliban after 9/11 attacks in 2001. This despite the fact that Bush declared Pakistan a frontline state against terrorism while Obama went a step further by giving Pakistan a status of major non-Nato ally.
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Such laurels aside, the two countries have failed to come on the same page despite 16 years of their long cooperation.
The reason is known to everyone. Washington strongly believes that Islamabad still provides support to the Afghan Taliban and its affiliated group the Haqqani network. Even a series of relentless counter-terrorism campaigns in the country, including North Waziristan Agency, once considered as headquarters of the Haqqanis, could not convince the US of Pakistan’s sincerity.
But let’s for a moment assume that the US allegations are true. Can Pakistan’s support to Afghan Taliban deny the US and its allies a victory in Afghanistan? The reason Pakistan gets the blame for the mess in Afghanistan is due to its historical ties with the insurgent group. Our retired generals take the credit for defeating the former Soviet Union through Mujahideen in Afghanistan. However, we often missed a point that Pakistan could do nothing had the US and literally the entire world not backed those efforts. So effectively it was the former Soviet Union versus the rest of the world. The CIA had not only funnelled money but arms and other resources to help propel Mujahideen against the powerful Soviets. The result was inevitable: Soviet forces had to retreat. Ironically, today, the same countries, which once backed ‘holy warriors’ against the Soviets, are now battling them. It is now effectively a fight between the Taliban and rest of the world. If the Taliban are indeed Pakistan’s proxy then you could say it is Pakistan versus rest of the world. Now just imagine that for 16 long years Pakistan has withstood the military might of US-led Western forces that at one time was around 150,000 in Afghanistan. Not only that Pakistan has outsmarted and outclassed the sophisticated and most modern militaries in the world which employed the best available resources to defeat the Taliban.
There is no denying the fact that some Afghan Taliban commanders and their families had been living in Pakistan and this was publicly acknowledged by former adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. It is also true that like other countries including the United States, China, Russia and Iran, Pakistan maintains contacts with the Taliban and other groups. But to say that Pakistan’s backing of Taliban is the main reason that victory remains elusive in Afghanistan is a compliment we don’t deserve at all. We wish Pakistan had the capability and skill for such meticulous planning and execution. Had that been the case Pakistan would not have been in a dire situation where it is today.
Reality is that it is because of lack of wisdom, political acumen and leadership that we have so far not been able to find our right place in the comity of nations. So how come a country that is struggling to overcome a host of its own security, political and economic challenges can successfully keep the entire world at bay in Afghanistan through its proxies.
Pakistan’s contacts with the Taliban may have bearing but it can never be a decisive factor in determining the final outcome of Afghanistan. Make no mistake. The real problem lies in Afghanistan where today the Taliban control or have influence over almost over 40 per cent of the country.
So why is Pakistan being singled out. The answer is simple — the US needs a scapegoat. The more the US suffers in Afghanistan the more Pakistan is flogged.
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Having said that we can’t change how the US or its allies view Pakistan. But surely we can put our own house in order as lessons need to be learnt from our follies. We need to ask ourselves why the US does not issue ultimatums to countries such as Russia, Iran and even China which all now maintain contacts with the Taliban in one way or the other. The reason is simple: all these countries don’t rely and thrive on foreign aid and hence are not answerable and accountable as we are today to the Americans. Debates and discussions that whether the US’s new plan sees light at the end of the tunnel would continue. What we need to do is serious introspection and device a strategy that takes us out of this cycle of reliance on others in terms of our economic and other needs. It may be daunting or for some impossible goal to surmount but great nations often look for such moments to rise and shine.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2017.
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