PAKISTAN SHOULD BE CAREFUL ENOUGH NOT TO BE USED AGAIN
Obama’s first and second Af-Pak Strategy failed and now the third strategy “to extricate from Afghanistan”, will be finalized on 24th March Washington conference. Giving the details of the new strategy, David Miliband said: “The objective is to build a self-governing, self-policing, but heavily subsidized Afghanistan.” Richard Hallbrooke stressed the importance of neighbouring countries and a “non-centralized Afghan State, because, the way forward is to work more with the tribes in a more de-centralized Afghanistan.” Pakistan, apparently endorsed this strategy and hopes to gain “strategic advantages.”
Unfortunately, Pakistan, since independence has failed to evolve a pragmatic Afghan policy. Particularly for the last thirty years, it followed a policy, subordinated to American interests. General Ziaul Haq supported the American war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but was abandoned by the Americans, to experience the painful fall-out of Afghan quagmire. General Musharraf, without a second thought, accepted all the conditionalities forced on him and decided to join the American war on Afghanistan, with no moral or legal justification. As a result Pakistan has continued to suffer the consequences of such jerky decisions and has been forced to fight the war on reversed fronts.
As if this was not enough, the Pakistan government now has decided to support the Af-pak exit strategy, worked out by Karzai and approved by the Americans at the Maldives meeting held last month. It envisages a government comprising Karzai supporters, the Northern Alliance and some Taliban dissidents, under the leadership of Mustafa Zahir Shah. Karzai hoping to gain the approval of this set-up, through a loe-jirga, he will be calling next month.
Surprisingly, the ground work has already been laid, to implement the Maldives Plan. On all counts, Pakistan has already started “delivering brick-by-brick demolition of Jehadi infrastructure.” Washington has given its endorsement of Pakistan’s “genuine interests” in Afghanistan and the assurances that America will “not walk away from Pakistan, and would guarantee Pakistan’s political and economic interests in the region.” In order to allow Pakistan, to disengage its forces from the eastern borders and move them to the north western borders, America is helping to defuse tension with India by inducing ‘composite dialogue’ and would also telling India to curtail activities in Afghanistan, which are causing concern to Pakistan. The stage therefore is set to prop-up a coalition government in Afghanistan, minus the Taliban, who control 33 provinces, out of 35 in Afghanistan, because Hallbrooke calls it a “non centralized Afghanistan”, denying the reality of control by the Taliban, who are the real arbiters of the destiny of the people of Afghanistan. Thus the America will be repeating the mistake of 1989-90, of abandoning the Mujahideen, which created a mess in Afghanistan and continues to afflict the entire region.
It is interesting to see that the American policy makers having found the shift in Pakistan’s policy, are now visiting Pakistan and Kabul; Karzai to Islamabad; ex DGISI to Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Minister and the COAS will be visiting Washington, for the 24 March meeting. There is hpw an urgency to actualize the Maldives Plan, whereas the Taliban are discreetly watching this game and appear so calm, cool and collected, in their scheme of things, waiting for the occupation forces to leave Afghanistan and the Taliban to demolish the Maldives Plan, bit by bit and establish their rule. Once again Afghanistan will be plunged into turmoil and a second front will be opened, with no guarantee for Pakistan. The Washington conference, therefore is not a peace conference either. In fact, it is a search for an “easier and less expensive American war and to extricate ourselves from our burden.”
Pakistan appears willing to implement the Maldives Plan, without any understanding with the Afghan Taliban. The Taliban are the real arbiters of the destiny of the people of Afghanistan and must not be kept out of the plan for peace. No doubt, Pakistan Army has been able to establish the writ of the government along the entire border region, including the FATA areas, and for the first time, our borders with Afghanistan have acquired strategic significance. The integrity of our borders therefore must be maintained, only when we are at peace with the future government in Kabul, which will be none else than the government by the Taliban, who control 90% of Afghanistan. Therefore Pakistan has a clear choice to have a friendly Afghanistan, and peaceful borders or a hostile Afghanistan and a situation of two front war.
There exists a serious “Trust Deficit” between Afghan Taliban and USA, Pakistan Government, Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies, who betrayed the Taliban in 1988-90. Pakistan later on joined the American war against Afghanistan in 2001. Majority of the Taliban therefore consider Pakistan as their enemy. Whereas the Pakistani Taliban narrate the story of betrayal by the Musharraf government, not once, but several times. Their minds are also being polluted by Indian tirade of brutalities of the Pakistani Army of rape and arson in Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan areas. They have no trust in the present government either. The question therefore arises: who has the courage and the ability to break the Trust Deficit, and engage in dialogue with the Taliban, on both sides of the border and negotiate peace. This is the dilemma, facing all the stake holders in Afghanistan. “Without triggering bigger chaotic conditions, and to avoid terrifying prospects of defeat,” it must be understood that “neither extra troops, not extra aid, not more hugs – not slugs counter – insurgency nonsense, is the answer.” (Ralf Peters).
The geo-political and geo-strategic environment of Afghanistan of the next decade, will be determined by the converging interests of its neighbours, i.e., Russia, China, Iran, the Central Asian States and the United States of America. If we are looking for peace in Afghanistan, we have to accommodate the interests of others. And therefore, Pakistan needs to “recalibrate its position on Afghan. It means harmonizing Pakistan’s geo-strategic interests with Afghanistan and regional neighbours and real accommodation of some US & NATO interests.”
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Pakistan Army Chief of Army Staff. He is the Founding Chairman of FRIENDS, a Think Tank based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He is a regular contributor to www.oly.com.pk