By S. M. Hali
Last week’s Afghan militants’ rampage in Dir with 300 Afghan based militants attacking villages after storming through the check post being manned jointly by the police and Levies at Shaltalo in Barawal Valley, Dir Upper, killing several security personnel, is a cause for serious concern. The incident is allegedly in retaliation to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and was reportedly conducted by Al-Qaeda. This is a very serious development as Pakistan appears to be caught in a double whammy. It is being ridiculed and accused by the US for remaining oblivious of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbotabad while the armed forces of Pakistan are being embarrassed because they failed to detect the incursion of the US Navy SEALs in the heart of Pakistan and on top of it, Al-Qaeda is accusing Pakistan of complicity in the assassination and is trying to target Pakistan’s armed forces as well as civilians. The US is expected to commence the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan from July 2011.
President Obama’s announcement of his new Af-Pak policy in 2009 had mentioned a civilian approach to the problem. Unfortunately, like his predecessor, President George W. Bush, President Obama appears to be caught in the same quagmire. All that has resulted of the Af-Pak strategy, which was subsequently revised, is a troops surge. Unfortunately, it failed to achieve the desired results. The resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan have been getting the better of the allied troops and NATO. President Obama’s strategy of achieving a swift victory and forcing the Taliban to come to the negotiation table for a political solution has so far evaded the US. Attempts at behind the scene negotiations with the Taliban too has been a fiasco as reportedly, fake Taliban made their way to the negotiation table, pocketed the funds provided to them and disappeared in oblivion. This is the reason that all negotiation should be carried out by the Afghans themselves, with the good offices of Pakistan as facilitators, if the Afghan leadership so desires.
The projected US political surge in Afghanistan was supposed to result in a credible government with control of the situation. Unfortunately, the US has not managed it so far. The much touted Marjah and Kandahar operations did not achieve the desired results either, thus the political surge remains a mirage. In hpw case the US withdraws from Afghanistan, without resolving the political imbroglio in Afghanistan, it will be in the depths of despair for the Afghans and equally dangerous for Pakistan. In a replay of the tribal wars in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan erupted into internecine wars, which brought the drugs and Kalashnikov to Pakistan and destabilized Pakistan.
After the US troops leave Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda will run amok, posing acute danger to Pakistan’s existence. The US should ensure that it addresses the problem of placing a civilian dispensation in Afghanistan before its departure, which is responsible and manages to govern in a way that civil strife dos not erupt and Al-Qaeda does not take root again. This will not be possible without engaging the Taliban. However there is a dichotomy here since the US has laid down a policy to track and kill the Taliban chief, Mullah Omar. This move is unlikely to win any brownie points for the US amongst the Taliban. The killing of Osama bin Laden has already brought about severe retaliation and hundreds of Pakistanis have been killed or maimed. Unless the US makes a concerted effort to seriously pursue its promised political surge, the situation will remain grave and if anything, deteriorate further.
Hamid Karzai’s visit to Islamabad was timely and may help in allaying the distrust, Politics chooses strange bedfellows but geography does not. Pakistan and Afghanistan are destined to be neighbours and the stability in one country affects the other. Pakistan does not want a repeat of the 1990s when the US withdrew hastily from Afghanistan after the Soviet retreat and Pakistan was left holding the Afghan baby and the upheaval that followed. This time around, the US must fix the political imbroglio and Pakistan would be more than happy to lend a helping hand in the political surge in Afghanistan. Pakistan has sacrificed tremendously for its western neighbour, having housed millions of Afghan refugees, bearing the brunt of the onslaught from the Soviets initially, then the warring tribesmen and now Al-Qaeda and Taliban. An Afghan political surge to be ensured by the US is the need of the hour.
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