Endgame Afghanistan ? Implications For Pakistan
Sequel to the soft resistance offered by Taliban during the US and NATO march into Marjah the forces are now busy in consolidating their positions in there. Off and on attacks by pockets of Taliban bands on the security forces are being effectively retaliated by them. Once the town of Marjah is cleared of the insurgents, it is planned that a US designated civilian reconstruction team will move into Marjah. Meanwhile, another US team is helping out Karzai government place Afghan civil servants and raise their pays up to US $ 300 as an incentive. At the moment the situation on ground does not spell out organized attacks by the Taliban since the terrain does not offer Taliban style attack and run strategy.
One of the possibilities for not having put up strong resistance to the advancing forces on Marjah is that the Taliban may have dispersed. Some may have gone to the North whereas the maximum exodus could be towards Qandahar to regroup and consolidate before impending US and the NATO onslaught. As far as the Allied Forces are concerned some elements are already knocking at the doors of Qandahar in a bid to smoothen the ground environment through their moles inside Qandahar prior full scale operations take place. This onslaught will certainly be a prelude to the end game however it is still hazy for one to predict the shape of things that would eventually follow the end game.
The US and NATO war in Afghanistan by all means is nearing its decisive stage and logical conclusion. The future of the shape of things in Afghanistan thenceforth will depend on how the United States formulates its policies towards it that would consequently affect regional and extra regional countries plus the countries that spared their forces for Afghan war. The commitment given by Mr. Obama to his nation on 1st December last year that US troops will start with drawing from Afghanistan from Middle of 2011 had drawn a considerable critique from the Americans at home as well as the allies abroad. A lot of diplomacy followed then to ease out their apprehensions. To say that the withdrawal would commence from mid 2011, may or may not be possible. Some less relevant elements of the US contingent may start withdrawing in 2011 to be followed with gradual withdrawal of others. However, some troops will stay for sure in Afghanistan for a long time to come.
The London Conference on Afghanistan held on 28 January echoed the immediate need to talk to Taliban as the only way out to stabilize the country. The NATO military Chiefs Conference in Brussels in which the Chief of the Army Staff General Kayani effectively presented the dismal scenario with a single door of hope leading only through Pakistan was also lent full ears and the participants overwhelmingly agreed that Pakistan has a central role to play in reconciliation and stability of Afghanistan. Pakistan has lost precious lives of its soldiers and the civilians in the anti insurgency campaign with concurrent loss of economy worth over US $35 bn. Whereas Pakistani security forces are busy in stabilizing the FATA and the Northern Areas, ordinary citizens continue loosing their lives elsewhere in the towns and cities as a consequence of terrorist strikes on soft targets. Pakistan thus has the right to have a say in stabilizing efforts for Afghanistan as whatever happens in Afghanistan, directly affects the security and the stability of Pakistan.
The crux of the inter action between various participants at the London Conference harped on only one theme and that was the process of reconciliation with the Taliban. This theme incidentally was also an essential element of General McCrystal’s proposed strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan. Consensus however cannot be observed as yet especially within the United States on pursuing the negotiated settlement of the Afghan issue. As oppose to Afghan Presidents proposal to adopt the process of reconciliation the US Secretary of State said, “…pursuing military action……creating an opportunity for Taliban….re-enter society.” She has thus given credence to the strategy of General McCrystal who had said that meaningful dialogue can only take place once the Taliban are under pressure and can be negotiated from a position of strength.
Out of this uncertainty, what should Pakistan expect to be confronted with? Though the country confronts many challenges in the wake of fall out of Afghan war yet, it has got itself to be prepared to deal and comprehend the consequences that may arise once the war reaches its logical end. The drawing down of the troops from the border zones in the south has created islands of insecurity which will put a larger territory under the governorship of Taliban. Similarly, in the north, the draw down has provided TTP and TNSM greater area to maneuver their terrorism and violence in Pakistan. The concentration of US and the NATO force through the placement of fresh troops in the south and the east of Afghanistan would pressurize the Afghan Taliban present in the border areas of North/South Waziristan besides Balochistan to cross over onto Pakistan. The responsibility of the Pakistani state to ensure stability in its areas therefore would multiply wherein they would be largely expected to take them on.
Most importantly, it would be in the interest of Pakistan if it continues to ensure its relevance to achieving the peace in Afghanistan and its efforts as a major player in helping reconciliation between various Afghan factions and the Taliban with the sitting government in Kabul. Naturally after having suffered as no other nation has in the fight against terrorism, Pakistan cannot afford to remain marginalized especially when the war seems to be nearing its end. The major concentration in the south of the US forces and its taking over Marjah and exploratory actions in Qandahar, Pakistan may have another exodus of Taliban into its territory that would be difficult to clear by the already over stretched military. Elsewhere, a possible US-Israel or a singular strike by either of the two on Iranian nuclear facilities would also complicate the border situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan as a consequence of Iranian retaliation. Also, the expanded US military bases established over years in the south are destined to be used by long term presence of the US to overlook Iran and Pakistan. It is imperative that Pakistan also works out its own security plans and keep on reviewing them. Pakistan must also look to forge understanding with its immediate neighbours rather than the distant ones and carve out the role of partnerships so developed in the advent of US departure from Afghanistan. The end of 2010 may be the time that may herald a new era for peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. With the other regional and international states in full play to grab a piece of pie in Afghanistan in the name of their individual strategic interests, Pakistan being the immediate neighbour and with so much of stakes in Afghanistan would have to take actions that ultimately must balance out competing interests of various players in Afghanistan. Whatever, the outcome is at the end of the war the challenges for Pakistan are going to be diverse. Of necessity, therefore, the nation must create space for itself in order to strive for and attain its strategic interests within the parameters of a broad strategy aimed not just at ensuring political stability but securing vital economic objectives such as bridging the growing energy gap as well as reducing the large fiscal deficit resulting more from the war against extremism and terrorism than from anything else.