By Dr. Haider Mehdi

Demography of Afghanistan

“We don’t have to wait for the verdict of future generations. We know what happened in our own time. We know the suffering this war has caused and will continue to cause.” – Henry Porter in The Observer: On ending the war in Afghanistan

A historical opportunity knocked at Pakistan’s door for it to emerge as the leading world nation in shaping global conflict management and resolution by peaceful and political means. The day was September 13th, 2001. The caller to Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, was General Colin Powell, the then US Secretary of State. Powell wanted Pakistan’s political and military collaboration for an American war on Afghanistan. The Pakistani dictator agreed – mind it, instantly and unilaterally without consulting a single soul. Consequently, because of that flawed judgment, both Pakistan and Afghanistan are faced with massive destruction that has been unleashed on the two nations.  On top of that, a US-West geo-political alliance has taken shape in the region with a new political actor calling the shots: India has assumed a strategic partnership with the US-NATO that is exclusively detrimental to Pakistan’s interests and poses an existentialist threat to this country.

Upon reflection, this is what Musharraf should have said to Powell: Mr. Secretary, we live in a different world today: a world that prefers peace over war, a world that prefers conflict resolution by peaceful political means.  We are a hundred percent with you in a bid for a peaceful political initiative to sort out this problem. But my nation will not allow me to go to war against a brotherly Muslim nation which is our next door neighbor. I assure you that your legitimate interests will be served by peaceful political means. We look forward to working with you for a peaceful resolution through mutual dialogue and deliberations.

Had Pervez Musharraf acted in wisdom, with a visionary strategic plan and judicious political discourse, Pakistan today would have emerged as a leading player in geo-political mediation and arbitration. But the former General acted from his personal weakness for power and wealth. As a result, contemporary Pakistan is on the verge of a total political collapse.

Ironically, the incumbent political leadership in Pakistan is still following in the exact footsteps of Musharraf’s flawed legacy.  The lack of political insightfulness and colossal misguided ego-centric failures of the Musharraf’s era are quite evident in the power corridors and political conduct of the present leadership in Islamabad. Consequently, Pakistan is faced with an uncertain future – an expanding encirclement threatening its survival: a rising India to the east, uncertain relations with Iran, because of American-Western pressure, to the West, and growing Indian influence in Afghanistan to the north-west.

Lucky for the Pakistani nation, another historic opportunity knocks at its door to re-shape geo-political dynamics in the region and carve a place for itself as a major player in the peace process as an arbitrator in the Afghan conflict and in the overall strategic political dimensions of South Asian politics. In this altering political discourse, Pakistan can defeat India’s designs to relegate it to an absolute subservient role within an Indo-US-NATO hegemony in the region which is also directed at China’s containment.  In the process, Pakistan can recover its decades-lost sovereignty to conduct itself with complete independence in its foreign policy and geo-political behavior.

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We should tell the Americans what Musharraf should have told Powell a decade ago: Give peace a chance! Stop your historic reliance on the use of power! Commit to dialogue and conflict resolution by peaceful political means! Re-define “containment” of other nations and ideologies as a fair political bargaining between equals! Support the masses’ aspirations the world over for democracy, prosperity, self rule and good for all! Stop installing your hand-picked governments in Third World countries to promote your multi-national corporate interests and ideology!

The fresh opportunity that is at Pakistan’s doorstep is this: Obama’s need to win a second term in 2012.  He needs Pakistan’s help to scale down the Afghan conflict to a low level intensity and to a political profile that in some way indicates a US-NATO victory. Pakistan must exploit Obama’s political vulnerability in his bid for a second term and maneuver itself into a commanding role in the evolving process of Afghan settlement – thereby putting India back into its place of secondary actor and getting itself into the driver’s seat for a Karzai-Taliban rapprochement.

But getting India out of the political loop of Afghanistan and the US-initiated military political end-game will not be an easy task. It will require the kind of skillful diplomatic expertise that the incumbent PPP leadership cannot fathom. It is precisely for this reason that Pakistan’s military leadership has stepped in and the Obama administration has given it de-facto recognition.

Given the present political ground realities inside and outside the country, what should Pakistan do now to expand its role in the Karzai-Taliban rapprochement process? There are some fundamental perceptions and assumptions that need to be corrected!

First, let us stop pretending that, because of the recent US-Pak dialogue, the US has undergone a change of heart in its strategic objectives in South Asia and the Central Asian states. It is only a tactical move to make Pakistan “feel good” and placate its people.

Second, let us not believe that the US will walk away from Afghanistan on Obama’s military withdrawal schedule.  It still harbors its strategic goals to planned military air force bases in Afghanistan. Until Obama’s re-election is threatened by an Afghanistan stalemate, the US will not alter its longstanding objectives in this region.

Third, let us be clear about the fact that the US will not compromise its Indian alliance (and containment of China) for the sake of Pakistani national interests.

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Fourth, let us not assume that India is going to roll back its presence in Afghanistan easily. It has invested heavily in Afghanistan’s infrastructure and political management. India is bound to continue to work for its strategic interests in Afghanistan – one of which is to marginalize Pakistan’s military-political capabilities vis-à-vis India and limit Pakistan’s role in the future US-Indo strategy of the “containment” of China.

Today’s Pakistan is in a very tight spot. And yet, skillful diplomacy and strategic political re- alignments with a number of political forces can make it emerge as a powerful player in the region.

What are the practical steps that Pakistan must take?

(A)  Pakistan should make Obama’s administration understand that without an end to the so-called “war on terrorism” and a complete withdrawal of US-NATO occupational forces in Afghanistan (and covert Indo-US presence in Pakistan), peace and stability will not come to this region. This translated into “Realpolitik” means that the continued war and occupation of Afghanistan could cost Obama his second term of presidency.  On top of that, the Indo-US alliance will further fuel political-military tensions in the region eroding Obama’s popularity in the US and abroad.  Hence, there is an urgent need for a political settlement in Afghanistan. And Pakistan’s role at this moment in history is indispensible to resolve the Afghan crisis and, as a result, Obama’s political future.  And continued US-NATO intransigence could cost American lives.  Obama needs to be reminded of that as well.

(B)  Pakistan should be fully cognizant of the fact that “Afghanistan is filled with…Indian spies…American mercenaries, Indian diplomats…India was involved from day one…Bush settled into this poorly managed war…at the behest of Israel and India…India needed a base of operations to train guerrillas to attack Pakistan… India and now Israel have continually pushed to keep Pakistan drowning, facing enemies on both sides, and Karzai was a leader India knew it had in its pocket, has played all along…Karzai himself went to university in India and has always hated Pakistan, suspecting them of killing his father…  India has been given free rein of the country and is arming and training terrorists at war against Pakistan,” wrote Gordon Duff recently in Military Veterans and Foreign Affairs Journal.

(C)  However, the tables are turned: President Karzai is a desperate man who now needs to make peace with the Taliban to salvage his place in the political history of Afghanistan. He knows all too well that US-NATO forces cannot win this war against the Taliban. He recently met with a delegation of Hizb-i-Islami in Kabul. The delegation brought a 15 point peace plan, which calls for all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan within six months beginning in July, a full year before Obama would begin withdrawing US forces. Karzai is fully aware of the fact that Pakistan’s help in his peace initiative with the Taliban is vital. Pakistan should capitalize on this window of opportunity and assist Karzai in integrating the Taliban and in attaining full political reconciliation with them. Karzai should be left with no illusions that, without Pakistan’s help, the reconciliation process with the Taliban will not move forward.  Pakistan’s role in this peace process is central, and as such, a lifeline to Karzai’s and Obama’s future political plans and political life-cycle.

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(D)  It is here that India’s role is limited vis-à-vis Pakistan in Afghan affairs.  This opportunity must be exploited to its fullest extent and for the political stability and peace of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(E)  Pakistan should help NATO get out of Afghanistan. This can be accomplished by diplomatic maneuvers and political pressure in favor of peaceful settlement and, if push comes to shove, by military tactical moves to deny NATO supply routes for its military hardware through Pakistani territory.

(F)  Pakistan should demand that the US stop “drone attacks” on its territory. Already in the US, some legal experts have informed the government that drone attacks against “Pakistani targets and elsewhere” could result in CIA officers being prosecuted for war crimes in the Hague and foreign courts. Pakistan should clearly inform the Obama administration that it intends to go to the Hague should the drone attacks continue against its citizens. After all, this “undeclared” US war against Pakistani civilians cannot go on forever and must stop now. It is an appropriate time that Pakistan exercises its full sovereignty in its political decision making and foreign policy management, including against US excesses on its territory.

Finally: Defeating India’s Afghan political agenda against Pakistan is fair game. After all, India’s hostility towards Pakistan is quite obvious and well-documented. It is important for Pakistan to declare in its foreign policy doctrine that India is its number one adversary- and the international community should be made fully cognizant of it. However, an adversarial relationship does not preclude peaceful co-existence with India. The process of engagement with India will have to entail diplomatic, trade, cultural and communicative dialogue at a far more sophisticated and constructive level.  Indeed, Pakistan can equivocally promote the idea that India should espouse a leadership role in regional politics rather than join a US-West alliance with the intentions to dominate South Asia, Central Asia and for the containment of China.

But the first and foremost step for Pakistan is to help President Karzai in his reconciliation and re-integration initiative for the inclusion of the Taliban in Afghan political affairs.

That is the trick to end the war and comprehensively defeat the Indo-US alliance in Afghanistan – and, by political implication, India’s Afghan-based agenda against Pakistan!

We can grab the opportunity – or continue to live under the American-Indo shadow and witness our gradual but sure decline as a nation!

The choice is ours!

The writer is an academic, political analyst and conflict-resolution expert. Dr Mehdi is a regular contributor to

Dr Haider Mehdi

Opinion Maker