THE outgoing Obama administration’s (farewell) comment on our bilateral relationship makes interesting reading. Describing it as ‘extraordinarily complicated particularly when it comes to national security’, hope is expressed that Trump administration would deepen (counter-terrorism) cooperation with Pakistan ‘to make America a safer place’. A cursory look over the shoulder may help the perspicacious reader to discern the shape of things that was but no longer is! It is always sound policy to give time to some introspection, if only to separate the grain from the chaff. So here goes!
Several years ago, our then Foreign Minister was reported – datelined Washington – to have averred that the United States and Pakistan had agreed “to pursue a roadmap of cooperation” in an effort to “reinvigorate bilateral work in key areas of interest”. (Remember the old man in the tale, peddling ‘new lamps for old’?). The aforementioned took place during the hey-day of the Superpower’s declared War on Terror. A year or so earlier, an important development had been reported from the United Nations in New York, wherein it was reported that the UN Security Council had ‘split’ the international sanctions regime for the Taliban from that of Al-Qaeda ostensibly ‘to encourage the Taliban to join reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan’. Reportedly the powers that be wanted to highlight the ‘divide’ between Al-Qaeda’s global ‘jihadist’ agenda and the Taliban’s focus on Afghanistan.
Another report at about the same time had ‘disclosed’ that the United States had for the first time taken Pakistan into confidence about its clandestine dialogue with the Taliban. Considering the fait accompli, the question that thereby presented itself begging for an answer was this: where would this step leave entities like Pakistan that had hitched their wagons to the War on Terror, for better or for worse? The aforementioned developments represented something heavier than straws in the wind. One can only express the trust that our mandarins in the Foreign Office – and whoever else has a hand in fashioning what passes for our foreign policy – were aware of the sudden change in wind direction and the ominous clouds looming over the international horizon.
It may be recalled that the WoT was launched with the express objective of eliminating the entity named Al-Qaeda and, as a corollary, to punish the Taliban for having provided the latter with refuge and succour. The goal posts were subsequently moved to equate the Taliban with Al-Qaeda. This may have been necessitated by the ‘desire’ to install the less than popular ‘Northern Alliance’ regime in control of Kabul. The resistance to this foreign-imposed regime turned out to be more intense than anticipated. Hence the decision to go after the Taliban in a big way! To the task was added the ‘elimination’ of the remnants of the Taliban resistance crossing over into Pakistan for sanctuary.
The United States consequently opted to ‘outsource’ the daunting task to Pakistan and its armed forces. The then Pakistan leadership appears to have grasped the assignment as a golden opportunity to curry favour with the American Administration. This epoch marked the intensification of the insurgency in Pakistan and the indigenous terrorist threat that continues to this day. As an aftermath, this tormented country had to face a virtual war situation on its frontier, retaliatory terror attacks and suicide bombings within its cities, not to talk of the horrid drone attacks that killed more civilians than so-called militants and all in defense of a cause that is not and was never its own.
The country has lost thousands of its gallant soldiers as well as countless innocent civilians conveniently bunched together as ‘co-lateral damage’. All to what end? There are people who sincerely believe that our people sacrificed their lives in order to protect the soldiers of the NATO allies in Afghanistan from harm. And what about the innocent men, women and children who were cut down in the process? These are some of the factors that will come back to haunt the nation in the years to come.
Those who have been asserting from the housetops that the War on Terror is ‘our war’ had better be prepared for the day when the originators of this war will effortlessly extricate themselves from the maze leaving Pakistan high and dry. No prizes for guessing who will be left holding the WoT baby. If history is any guide, there are several instances of big powers extricating themselves from sticky situations leaving their weaker allies to fend for themselves. Cambodia’s sorry state after the end of the Vietnam War is a case in point. We find ourselves at a fork in the road. The choice is ours. A wrong choice can lead us to a dead end with its myriad deadly ramifications. Sooner or later, the United States and NATO are bound to reach an understanding with the Afghan resistance. The priority of the former will be to safeguard their economic and security interests and then withdraw the bulk of their combat forces. We need to act before that stage is reached.
The present may well be the opportune time for our leadership to take a firm decision on when to say ‘enough is enough’, on when to cut our losses and lead the country onto the path of national conciliation and pacification. The ship of the state, regrettably, is fast approaching choppy and uncharted waters. The need is for all good men to come to the aid of the party. What is needed above all is national unity. And what are all men of substance in this blessed land engaged in? They are busy playing ducks and drakes with the destiny of the state. It is not yet too late for the people who matter to rise to the occasion and make amends.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.