A war neither America nor Pakistan want any more

Published: October 24, 2011
The writer is a defence and security analyst who served as vice-chief of the Pakistan Air Force and as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka

The writer is a defence and security analyst who served as vice-chief of the Pakistan Air Force and as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka

Three aspects in US-Pakistan relations have escaped attention in the broad discourse: areas of convergence in US-Pakistan policies; underlying reasons for strategic dissonance in approaches by both partners; and how those variations in approach can be bridged towards achievement of common interests.

A popular reading of the Afghanistan situation suggests that peace and stability in that country must remain the overriding objective of all the players. The Afghans have been in a war now for the last three decades, with a testing period of Taliban rule in between. They deserve their share of sanity and normalcy. They have been mauled by history and by the ‘Great Game’ players. This should equally be what both America and Pakistan must seek. America is now suffering the consequences of involvement in a prolonged war. Public opinion, both at home and abroad, is tiring, and a possibility of another recession because of a depressed economy and a mountain of debt emerging from the cost of fighting two wars in the last decade is growing. Also, there is an increasing need at home (in the US) to focus on the approaching 2012 presidential elections.

Pakistan is in worse straits. Having been declared a ‘front line ally’ in this war against terror it has gotten mired deeper and deeper in the war. In that role, she has suffered some telling adversity. The blowback effect of an unpopular war has been the hardest: bomb blasts, IEDs, abductions and killings are all a part of its sad narrative. The economic consequences are well-documented but what has been most devastating to the economy is the damaging erosion of its economic potential, reducing both domestic and foreign investment. Society is divided along various fault lines with ethnic, religious, poor-rich and civil-military divides rearing their head amid increasing tensions. Pakistan needs peace and stability in Afghanistan so that she can obviate the cascading effect of the war there that has rendered Pakistan’s state, society and the economy to deep fissures.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan remains the most fundamental and central convergence in objectives for Pakistan and the United States. We tend to forsake this most eminent reality and objective similarity when comparing the policies and the imperatives of the war. Why then the dissonance?

The difficulty lies in affiliated objectives, interim interests and inspired commitments. Pakistan and the US currently are embroiled in a one-item deviation — the Haqqani network. Consider that groups of Afghan Taliban inimical to the United States, likely not its interests, remain outside the pale of current efforts by the US to reconcile and reintegrate in the Afghan mainstream. America has attempted contacts but on a selective basis, leaving groups out of a comprehensive effort. Given Pakistan’s precarious sensitivities around ethnic and cultural similarities in tribes straddling both sides of the border, Pakistan cannot be seen to be partial towards a group at the cost of their continuing ire. Any attempt to reconcile and reintegrate must be uniformly applicable to all groups contending against American presence in Afghanistan, including the Haqqanis.

America would like Pakistan to militarily reduce the Haqqanis so that it can save grace when it exits Afghanistan. Pakistan considers it entirely imprudent to initiate hostilities with Afghan Taliban groups when the war is coming to a closure and any such action can only infuse abiding hostilities with tribal Pashtun groups across the border. America can kill its way out of Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot. Pakistan has to continue to live in the region, among the people that form its neighbourhood. America’s short-term interest is to seek a semblance of victory when her 10 year effort in Afghanistan has clearly gone awry; Pakistan seeks to avoid continuing strife in her tribal regions and find space to usher sustainable peace and stability. In so doing, Pakistan is in congruence with the most fundamental objective of the war in Afghanistan while the US is wedded to interim objectives that dominate the more profound central objective of war.

Clearly, these are two different approaches to achieving a common objective. Considering that there remains work cut out for both the US and Pakistan to bring closure to this war, it would be prudent to pursue strategies that suit each in their respective areas of influence. It is popularly accepted that large swathes of Afghan lands remain outside the remit of the Afghan and US establishment, conferring implicitly safe havens to inimical elements within Afghanistan. If America wishes to pursue the military option, they could do so to bring these parts too, under the central remit. The Haqqani group is known to control Paktia, Paktika and the Khost provinces of Afghanistan, with a dominating influence in four others; perhaps it should become the object of American focus in Afghanistan, if indeed that is what America may wish to pursue. Pakistan, on the other hand, wishing to seek a negotiated settlement, should continue to encourage Afghan groups that remain ensconced in Pakistan to initiate dialogue with the central government in Afghanistan. That shall be Pakistan’s remit to deliver following her preferred strategy.

Bringing closure to the war in Afghanistan shall remain only a partial first step in what is likely to initiate another long haul of nation-building in Afghanistan and Pakistan respectively. Afghanistan will need to do so from scratch; most of its state and societal institutions having long been buried under the debris of imposed wars while Pakistan has serious healing to do within. That is likely to take a couple of decades, if not more. The process must begin in earnest only if the US and Pakistan can avoid the pitfalls of becoming preys to a project-based relationship. Typically, as Project Afghanistan comes to a closure and a separation looms, the pain and plight of having been in a relationship of convenience makes the break-up messy. Both must have the maturity to remain wedded to only delivering a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Arindom
    Oct 24, 2011 - 12:27AM

    In short – you support ‘Strategic Depth’.


  • Nadeem
    Oct 24, 2011 - 9:27AM

    America’s definition of a stable Afghanistan – at least for the next few decades – would be a place from where attacks cannot be planned on the homeland. Pakistan’s army (clearly distinct from Pakistan’s 180 million people) has shown since 1995 a clear preference for a group of Afghanis who – if they come to power in Afghanistan – would create an environment in which new attacks could be planned on the American homeland. I’m talking of the Taliban. This is the cause of distrust and friction.Recommend

  • antanu g
    Oct 24, 2011 - 3:15PM

    its a well thought of piece of article based on saner and logical analysis. We dont have to criticize everything due to our prejudice. Why US is fighting wars on many fronts…obviously for strategic depth shrewdly worded as national interest. You appear to be a literate person …but …well …bias opinions have made fools of many in the past.


  • Aryabhat
    Oct 24, 2011 - 3:20PM

    The same argument will be forwarded when Quetta Shura is driven to Kandhar (or Kabul) that pakistan would like a stable Afghanistan and would not like to antagonise whoever is in power there.

    When most peole cite what happened to Greek invaders on Afghan soil, they forget that throughout history most devastation that occured, it was in today’s Pakistan! It was the fertile land of Indus that invaders came, over and over again for next 2000 years.

    Prize is NOT Afghanistan! It is Pakistan!

    You can please Taliban (or any such brutal power hungry mafia) as much as you want! Target is to get power on the banks of Indus!

    So think before you choose friends!


  • antanu g
    Oct 24, 2011 - 5:19PM

    it was not only indus…but entire indian subcontinent with indus beeing the gate. US is not breathing down at Pakistan but on entire sub continent…we should be wary of its designs.


  • Rajendra Kalkhande
    Oct 24, 2011 - 5:45PM

    @Aryabhat.. You are 100% correct. Afghanistan has always been the route and not the destination. First destination has been the present day Pakistan and then the Gangetic planes. Unfortunately Indus planes were never ruled by strong rulers and were the first to fall. If we forget about the religion for the time being, outsiders ruled North India (including present day Pakistan) through proxies most of the time. Greeks left Magesthnese, Mohamed Bin Kasim left some one else, Ghouri left his Ghulams and so on. To best of my limited knowledge Maharaja ranjit Singh was the only son of soil ruler present day Pakistan ever had. If one looks at the list of present day Pakistan ruling elite, I am sure most of them would be of central Asian and Arabic origin. Liyakat Alis and Bhuttos have all been murdered. India has been able to resist this onslaught to some extent because of our South-Indian depth. If I am pardoned for my saying, even religion is a sort of proxy which helps the outsiders to rule these parts of sub-continent. This is why we see Ghouri, Abdali and Babur missiles and not a single one after any Pakistan war hero’s name.


  • ali
    Oct 24, 2011 - 9:56PM

    It is a wishful think Air Commodore Sahib,
    The genesis of problem is the fact that we have always expressed it as US war.
    Is it really a US war? Even after GHQ attack or Parade lane attack ………;
    The fact is that it is our war that has been forced upon us by Taliban with their own version / brand of Islam.
    There are no good Talibans Air Commodore Sahib, I wish if our real decision makers could understand it & by now we would have been over with it.
    Please come out of the conspiracy theories of GREAT GAME and let us have the guts to face the looming reality. No strange, I am not impressed at least today,…….


  • Aryabhat
    Oct 25, 2011 - 4:49PM

    Thank you everyone for your feedback.

    Yes, agreed, Pakistan has been entry point for invasions of India. Point taken.

    However, all such invasions have brought hugh amount of deaths and destructions on the land that is Pakistan. Case in Point – Gazanvi’s massacre of Multan before destruction of Somnath.

    So the biggest fear should be who controls Afghanistan – not who invades it. Not Americans but Taliban. Americans will go. Taliban ideology – that intolerant expansive thought process – is Viral. It will spread everywhere, eat everything that comes in its way and destroy all life forms. Unless – some Vaccination is done.

    And that fear of infectious death and destruction should be bigger in Pakistan – if History is a good teacher.


  • Cynical
    Oct 26, 2011 - 3:16AM

    A good taliban is the dead taliban.
    Case closed.


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