The post-2014 scenario — continuing uncertainties

More cooperation between Islamabad, Kabul would be most welcome, but developments so far haven't minimised confusion.

Tariq Fatemi February 26, 2013
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999 [email protected]

During his State of the Union address on February 12, President Barack Obama sought to remove the impression of any vacillation as regards the US intention to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan. He explained that the US would ensure a phased withdrawal, meant to halve the number of American troops within a year’s time, reducing the present force of roughly 66,000 by 34,000. The remainder would then make a rather hasty retreat between October 2014 and the start of 2015, with a possible residual force of several thousand staying on in a training and support capacity.

This reiteration of American resolve has been welcomed widely, but none more so than in the US, where anti-war sentiments and an unending fiscal crisis have made continued military involvement in Afghanistan hugely unpopular. At the same time, the prospect of foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan rather ‘precipitously’ and in circumstances shrouded in uncertainty, has given rise to great concern.

It is, therefore, no surprise that there is for the first time, an air of urgency and anxiety. While most states favour an end to foreign troop presence in Afghanistan, nearly all are apprehensive about what this would mean for peace in that country and the region. Nato defence ministers, in their meeting in Brussels last week, tried to dispel these fears by giving the assurance that the organisation would not ‘abandon’ Afghanistan. But there was no clarity on what this meant, with the German defence minister acknowledging that “many difficult questions would need to be answered before this issue could be settled”. Unofficially, they spoke of their disappointment with the US determination to keep its participation in training missions of Afghans to the minimum, which according to the President’s special assistant, General Douglas Lute, would mean no more than 10,000 troops. And yet, the US has also indicated that it favours an Afghan force of 350,000, which would mean that the planned budget of $4 billion would be inadequate, necessitating greater contribution by Nato member states at a time when European leaders have promised disengagement from Afghanistan and reduced defence expenditure.

With US/Nato troop departure on the anvil, there is evidence of increasing anxiety in Pakistan, too. With the elected government having ceded policymaking on this issue to the military, the latter has been highlighting the importance of giving Pakistan a role commensurate with its sacrifices in anti-terrorism efforts, while giving assurances of its willingness to make a genuine contribution to the peace process in Afghanistan. Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s public declaration that ending domestic extremism is the priority, rather than confronting India or trying to exert influence on Afghanistan, represents a positive development.

But what exactly can Pakistan do? Does it have the kind of influence on the Taliban, which has been ascribed to it? Most unlikely, given the track record of past efforts. Moreover, with visible expansion in the Taliban influence and activities, there is fear that militants on both sides of the Durand Line, could pool their resources and enhance their operations in both countries. If this frightening prospect leads to more cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul, it would be most welcome. But developments, so far, have not minimised continuing confusion and uncertainty. The much-heralded peace process remains stalled even on procedural matters, with the US refusing to make even symbolic gestures, and Hamid Karzai, though not a candidate in the 2014 presidential elections, desperate to ensure that a fellow Pashtun loyal to him wins, so as to retain influence.

The recent Chequers Summit confirmed the huge challenges confronting any initiative to promote a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan. But this realisation should spur all sides to redouble their efforts because a failure to do so would be a truly frightening prospect.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2013.


Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply

The article reflects the mind of the writer which is very much influenced by his experience as a diplomat. what is surprising, however, is that he is telling us about the pronouncements of the leader of the USA, whose ship is sending SOS calls. Roma fluid duit, Nunc potens minus est!! Rome has flourishe long, now it has lost its power.

They want help to get out of the debt crisis; they want help to get out of Afghanistan with their lethal equipment. They want help from Europe for free trade to help their economy. They want technical help to renew their manufacturing industry. They want help for thir broken infra structure and they want help to have the fast trains similar to those which China haveas them And above all they want help to dismember their military, which they cannot afford; chuck hagel will do it without any outside help.

Afghanistan will rid itself of uninvited guests. Karzai has set this objective in motio. Pakistan should better not send diplomats emmissories who do not speak Pushto language; WatanDar(fellow county men) is the term used by Afghans for the Pushtoons across the border. Let Pakistan take over the responsible position with its neighbours and break open the route to central Asian countries and Iran. There is a great potential for free trade.

Rex Minor

ahmed41 | 8 years ago | Reply

Let there be peace & goodwill in the region.

We need economic growth~~~~~~why waste money on guns.

Stop the population explosion.

love thine neighbour.

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