More smoke and mirrors

America cannot carry on using Pakistan as both fig-leaf & whipping boy for its chronic serial failures in Afghanistan


Editorial October 29, 2017

Messages do not get much more mixed than those coming in the direction of Pakistan from President Donald Trump, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the senior US diplomat in South Asia Alice Wells. All have been giving the ‘do more’ mantra another run around the track, with the added ingredient from Tillerson that Pakistan was ‘incredibly important’ as a player addressing some of the security challenges of the region. He followed this up in New Delhi saying that extremist groups were threatening the ‘stability and security’ of the government — the very same government that is ‘incredibly important’ in the battle against extremism.

There is not a shred of evidence that extremism or any extremist group — and there are many — presents an existential threat to the state or its stability. Terrorist incidents have dropped dramatically over the last two years and continue to do so. Operations in the northwest of the country have displaced extremist groups and squeezed them over the border into Afghanistan. That said there will undoubtedly be more that have not left, voluntarily or otherwise, and Pakistan cannot afford to lose impetus or political will when it comes to tackling that which remains a toxin within — a reality recently acknowledged by the foreign minister.

Being blunt, America cannot carry on using Pakistan as both fig-leaf and whipping boy for its chronic serial failures in Afghanistan. The Taliban remain undefeated there and directly or indirectly control as much as 40 per cent of it. There are recent reports that the Haqqani network is currently somewhat disgruntled with Pakistan. There are also credible reports of the Islamic State (IS) entrenching itself in Afghanistan, a development that can hardly be laid at the door of Pakistan. This country is indeed ‘incredibly important’ to regional stability, but American ham-fistedness in terms of emerging foreign policy — the push to engage India more closely in Afghan affairs for instance — is serving us poorly. Less with the smoke and mirrors, Uncle Sam.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2017.

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