If one could construct a real End of History scenario, the landlocked country on Pakistan’s northwest frontier will hold the singular distinction of remaining an unconquerable land through the centuries. Furthermore, it would also win a second prize as the only country which gave the appearance of being an easy prey at first sight, alluring its invaders, who would arrive without much difficulty, but only to discover that they can neither subjugate the Afghans nor leave their land at will. Such has been the fate of successive invaders—from the Median and Persian armies to that of the Alexander. All invaders of this unconquerable land have found this to be true. This has included the Seleucids, the successive waves of Indo-Greek, Turkish, and the Mongol armies. And such was the fate of the Soviet army and there is no reason to believe that history will not repeat itself in the case of the American led NATO force now occupying Afghanistan. It is already clear that this occupying army cannot leave at will, just as all previous invaders could not. Thus July 2011 may be a date marked on President Obama’s calendar; it is no where marked on any Afghan calendar.
Obviously, President Obama did not have Afghanistan as focus in his History 101 class, but it is never too late to brush up, especially for a man who has been singled out by the Nobel Committee for a peace prize based for a noble deed he has yet to perform. If change is still his defining slogan, then President Obama should quickly realize that he himself is the first person who needs to change. And if that really happens, and he changes to such an extent that he can see reality as it really is, he would immediately realize that his soldiers cannot leave Afghanistan at will.
Once this realization sinks in, he will find something much greater to work with: The Afghan future is now irrevocably twined with Pakistan’s future. This stark fact of contemporary geopolitics is a logical extension of the post-2001 events. And it holds tremendous importance for the entire region. Afghanistan is no more a mountain-bound 647,500 square kilometer of rough terrain, where some 28 million poor, uneducated, and resource-less people live as the States Department would have believer; but, rather, Afghanistan is now a place about which nothing can be decided without deciding the same for Pakistan. This linkage is not merely through the poorly organized Taliban nor because of the tribal groups operating on both sides of the border, but it is a direct result of American follies in the region and the misdeeds of Pakistani charlatans who sided with the Americans for whatever reasons they had for their misdeeds.
Pakistan at the end of 2009 stands at a crossroad like it never has. The new realities of Pakistan’s increasingly tragic and volatile situation are emerging so rapidly that all forecasts and strategic planning falls off the tracks by the sheer force of events: Those who played gods and brought BB back through a deal, had thought they have a perfect second run on home ground. Her sudden departure and equally sudden rise of a man they never wanted to deal with made short work of their strategic planning but the change did nothing to avert the integration of Pakistan’s future with Afghanistan’s past; in fact, it accelerated the process through an ever-expanding engagement of the Pakistani army in the conflict that remains, primarily, a war arising out of occupation of Afghanistan by a foreign army in the centuries-old tradition of invaders of that unconquerable land.
One cannot expect much by way of foresight and strategic vision from the Pakistani leadership if sixty years of Pakistani history are any indicator. But one hopes that the illusion of victory through a possible surge of troops is, deep down in the hearts of President Obama and his team, just that: an illusion. That both the historical depth and on-ground realities can teach them that with each passing day, they are sinking in a marsh, even as they might have the illusion of swimming; that they are, in fact, digging their heals in sand deeper and deeper and the only logical outcome of their stay in Afghanistan is a catastrophic expansion of the locale of this war of death and destruction further south, into the very heart of Pakistan. And if this is allowed to happen for an extended period of time, no one will be able to put this genie back in the bottle.
The Afghan-Pak genie may already be out of control, but one hopes, against hope, that this is not the case. That there is some way of putting it back in the bottle and that American thinkers will recognize that what they have not been able to do in Afghanistan cannot be done by the Pakistani army in the south. One hopes that there are enough minds and hearts in the inner chambers of the White House (even though it was not meant to be occupied by such people in the first place) and the Pentagon who realize this fundamental reality of the Afghan quagmire. One hopes that what is written on the wall is legible for those who are making decisions of immense proportions and consequences for generations to come.