Malik M AshrafSunday, July 10, 2011 - Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and UN Zalmay khalilzad in an article published in Washington Times has said “ Pakistan despite being a partner of US in the war on terror was maintaining strong links with the militants” a rhetoric that has been persistently employed by the US leadership to pressurize Pakistan to do more. There is nothing new about this contention and it hardly needs to be contested. Nevertheless it is hard not to take an issue with the reasons that he has given for Pakistan to foster those alleged links with the militants.
His observation that in sustaining the extremist threat Pakistan may see a way to keep the US engaged in the region and, therefore, financially supportive of its military and civilian governments, belies logic and the ground realities. Pakistan as a front line state has suffered the most, by sustaining a loss of US$ 68 billion that has had a crippling affect on its already febrile economy. The loss of thirty five thousand civilians and five thousand military, Para-military and police personnel in combating terrorism and terror related incidents and consequently the burgeoning deterioration in the law and order in the country, are strong enough reasons for Pakistan to wish an early end to the war on terror and American exit from Afghanistan. Why would Pakistan wish American engagement in the region for an insignificant financial support for its military and the civilian government, at the cost of its national security? The proposition seems outrageous and preposterous to say the least.
The suggestion that Pakistan perhaps wanted to install a subordinate regime in Kabul as a first step to consolidate regional hegemony in Central Asia, again has no relevance to the geo-political realities in the region. There are bigger powers than Pakistan in the region, like Russia, China and India. With Russia and USA vying for influence in Central Asia, Pakistan figures no where in the race. Pakistan more than any other country would like to see peace returning to Afghanistan as it is the only way, it could ensure peace and stability within its own borders. However it would never welcome and afford an Afghan government backed by India trying to destabilize Pakistan. The acknowledged Indian involvement in insurgency in Balochistan amply justifies this stance by Pakistan. The trouble with Khalilzad’s contention and the recipe suggested by him for dissuading Pakistan from its alleged nexus with militants is that, he, like the US administration is looking at the problem from purely American perspective without any regard to the interests and sensitivities of its partner. Partnerships are always based on mutuality of interest. Pakistan belongs to this region and needs to make sure that its vital national interests are not undermined by any arrangement in Afghanistan in the wake of American withdrawal from that country.
The perception that Pakistan with its links with the Taliban is the real threat to any settlement in Afghanistan, is extremely naïve. The actual threat to peace in Afghanistan is the American strategy itself as it is trying to foist a solution divorced from the demographic and historic realities in that country. Pushtuns constitute 40% of the nearly 29 million population of Afghanistan and equal number of Pushtuns live on Pakistani side of the border. They have strong links with each other. The envisaged handing over of security control to the newly raised and trained Afghan army is also likely to backfire. About ninety percent of the newly raised Afghan Army consists of Hazaras, Tajiks and other communities to the exclusion of Pushtuns who are the major component of the Afghan population.
That again is not a palatable proposition for the Taliban and Pushtuns. The Indian factor may also act as a great hindrance in choreographing Afghan settlement because that the Taliban may not like it due Indian links with the Northern Alliance. The most important factor in successful negotiations with Taliban perhaps would be the renunciation of US declared policy of taking out Mulla Umar, like Osama Bin Laden. The Americans must understand that killing Mulla Umar will be akin to stoking the already burning fire. Mulla Umar is an undisputed leader of the Taliban and any negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio would require his blessings. Pakistan of course holds a pivotal position in facilitating peace in Afghanistan. To win its unqualified support the US will have to address its security concerns rather than utilizing the coaxing and coercing tactics.