It is time now for Islamabad to come up with a plan ‘B’ to cope with the consequences of the Afghan endgame for Pakistan.
The notion of waiting the US out and setting up a puppet regime of its favourite Taliban in Kabul or for that matter continuing to provide safe havens to Afghan militants including the Haqqanis in Pakistan’s no-man’s land needs to be closely dissected and reviewed while crafting this plan. It is now very clear that on the pretext of helping the post-2014 Afghan regime to keep the Taliban from overrunning the country the US will maintain a significant strength of its troops in Afghanistan.
So, the new plan should be based on the premise that the US boots would remain in the region for all times to come. President Obama and his successors would not find it very difficult to sell the funding for the upkeep of these troops to their voters by multitasking them to keep a close eye on Iran, China, a mineral-rich Central Asia and, of course, a nuclear-armed Pakistan whose ability to keep militants from penetrating its internationally acknowledged secure security web around its nuclear assets has been questioned by the US media frequently.
The Musharraf plan currently in vogue is based on the lessons learnt in the aftermath of the endgame of the first Afghan war. Pakistan had suffered serious socio-economic as well as political setbacks as the US walked away from the region as abruptly as the Soviet Union began disappearing from the world map. By mid-1990 the US had invoked the Pressler amendment, cutting off all assistance to Pakistan by accusing Islamabad of crossing the nuclear red-line. And taking cue from Washington, as usually happens, most multilateral and bilateral donors except Japan had reduced their assistance to Pakistan to a trickle. And by the end of 1990s Pakistan had become the most sanctioned country in the world after Libya. All this happened because General Ziaul Haq in his military wisdom had thought that the Afghan war in which two superpowers were combatants would never come to an end and as a result wads of dollars would continue to flow Pakistan’s way for all times to come. He had no plan ‘B’ to cope with the consequences of the war ending so quickly with one of the superpowers conceding defeat.
In order perhaps to avoid the nightmarish post first Afghan war experience, Musharraf while appearing to be a wholehearted ally of the US in the second Afghan war launched by Washington in the name of war on terror, embarked on a side business of his own, which since he was found out is being hyped as his double game. His successor, COAS General Parvez Kayani has continued with this high risk game: Kill or hand over to the US as many al Qaeda militants as it could lay its hands on but provide sanctuaries in our no-man’s land to Afghan Taliban fleeing from Nato-Isaf war machine and even allowing them to mount from there militant missions against what these fighters considered to be occupying forces.
What our generals, both of Zia’s and Musharraf’s generations, missed to notice was, firstly, the erosion of Soviet Union from within in the 1980s, secondly, the fact that there were no US boots in the region in the first Afghan war (The CIA fought this war with money and hired jihadis from all over the Muslim world, including Pakistan plus the Pakistan Army) and, thirdly, the fact that since World War II, the US has never gone back home from regions where it had gone in with its boots except Vietnam but that was a qualitatively different war in which the US was pitted against China and an ascendant Soviet Union sitting on the borders of Vietnam with Washington’s logistic and communication links stretched beyond their limits.
But today look in whose camp Vietnam is prospering. And look how China is using trade and economy rather than its military might to expand its global influence. It is bending over backwards to avoid any military confrontation with the US or even India.
It is neither 1980s nor 1990s, nor even the decade of 2000. It is 2012. The US already has strategic partnership and a nuclear pact with an economically emergent India and the other day it upgraded Afghanistan with which it has a strategic arrangement into a major non-Nato ally. While making this announcement US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Saturday: “We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan. Quite the opposite. We are building a partnership with Afghanistan that will endure far into the future.” She reiterated that Washington did envision keeping US troops in Afghanistan, where they would provide the kind of air power and surveillance capabilities needed to give Afghan forces an edge over Taliban. She further said that the alliance and other US commitments to Afghanistan should make clear to the Taliban that “they cannot wait us out”. She maintained that the Taliban can renounce international terrorism and commit to an Afghan peace process, or “they will face the increasingly capable Afghan national security forces backed by the United States.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2012.