Gen Mirza Aslam Beg
Sunday, October 24, 2010 – Charles Dickens in his novel – A Tale of Two Cities depicts a paradoxical depiction of the Post-French Revolution. He says: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” but the situation of the two capitals, Kabul and Islamabad, however is outrightly reminiscent of only the “worst of times,” being the most tormented regions of the world, due to insane invasion of Afghanistan, which has wrecked the country and has caused the wanton killing of millions of innocent men, women and children. It is being repeated in Pakistan also by various means, including the men-killing machine called drones, blind and oblivious of all humane considerations. Kabul is fighting for its national freedom for the last thirty years, while Islamabad is fighting against terrorism and for the consolidation of the democratic order, against despoticism. In both cases, the struggle has reached the point of decision.
Islamabad is engaged in a grim struggle on several fronts: The most serious is the confrontation with the judiciary, where the government is trying to shield the NRO beneficiaries and the 18th amendment through manipulations of utterly indescent nature. The nation holds it breath, while the decisive moment is drawing closer for the final judgment to provide change and the opportunity for democracy to flourish under the supremacy of the Constitution. The failure to ameliorate the sufferings of the under-privileged is causing deep resentment. The scale of corruption has not only tarnished the image of the country but has also made the life of the common man miserable. The escalating prices of daily consumer goods, energy crisis, appalling law and order situation and the fear of the administrative system collapsing, has created a deep sense of despondency. People, therefore, demand a change, which is being resisted by means unbecoming of a democratic government. The print and the electronic media of Pakistan, during the last decade, has gained much of respectability, freedom of expression and expertise in investigative journalism and is keeping the public informed of the good and evil, causing deep friction between the government and the media. The confrontational situation on our borders with Afghanistan has had a deep impact on Pak-US relations, at this critical moment, when the occupation forces are facing the problem of safe exit from Afghanistan. Pakistan is not ready to commit its forces in North Waziristan, which is the bone of contention between Pakistan and USA, and is viciously not only linked to the issue of aid and assistance, but also the reimbursement of heavy expenditure Pakistan has incurred for engaging in War on Terror!
Notwithstanding this critical situation, there is no fear of the system collapsing, because the prime institutions of Pakistan, such as the judiciary, the armed forces, the political opposition, the media and the civil society are not asking for any drastic change, but a clean-up of the system, to ensure a sustainable democratic order.
Kabul stands at the turning point of history, as it was in Vienna in 1683, when the advancing Ottoman armies had laid siege to it, the heartland of Europe, and suffered a major defeat, resulting into the dismantling of the Ottoman Umpire and the resultant decline, defeat and degradation of the Muslim World as a whole. However, after World War II, as the colonial forces weakened, many Muslim countries gained independence, which was seen as threat to the interests of the western world, particularly after defeat of the Soviet Union at the hands of the Taliban and its retreat from Kabul. The vacuum thus created was promptly filled by the United States and its allies, by occupying Afghanistan – the heartland of the Muslim World. The purpose was to degrade and defeat the Taliban power, and extend American primacy and pre-eminence into Eurasia and beyond. But that was not to be, because the people of Afghanistan, after defeating the Soviets, have convincingly defeated the sole super-power of the world and its allies. The Afghans, therefore stands at the cross-roads, ready to lay down the parameters of peace in Afghanistan and the region. Kabul establishes the historical linkage with Vienna, which inflicted defeat on the rising Muslim Power, its fall, and now its rises again from the soil of Afghanistan, after a long period of over three centuries. Civilizations, thus cyclically rise, fall and then rise again, with a new momentum, thus repudiating the notion of clash of Civilizations. On the contrary, civilizations get matured through intermingling with each other.
The Americans and their allies – European Union and India, therefore are faced with a sense of humiliating defeat on several fronts, with no clear modality for a safe exit from Afghanistan. Taliban now control over eighty percent of Afghanistan and the occupation forces, control main air bases, communication centres and the garrisons of Kandahar and Kabul only. The Afpak Strategy, i.e. the troops surge and intensified drone attacks also have failed to provide the “position of strength needed for meaningful negotiation with the Taliban”, who are demanding withdrawal of the occupation forces, prior to the negotiations. The effort to divide the Taliban has also failed, thus limiting the option to direct negotiations with the Taliban, on their terms. The immediate neighbours of Afghanistan, i.e., Pakistan, Iran and Russia, constitute the external front to Afghanistan. Admiral Petreaus’ policy of pressurizing and confronting Pakistan has back-fired and Pakistan has succeeded in giving a clear message that no such venture will be entertained in future. Iran being unduly pressurized by USA for the last several years, is paying back, by keeping a blind eye, to the smuggling of arms and ammunition into Afghanistan from the neighbouring countries. The Russians, since 2004-5 have let loose the regional smugglers of arms and ammunition, in retaliation to the revolutions whipped-up by the Americans in the Russian ‘near abroad’ in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Thus the hostility of the neighbours has come heavy on the occupation forces, with defeat staring into their faces.
The Americans are facing a serious political dilemma at home, as the French faced in Vietnam, and lost the war in Paris. Due to the split between Pentagon and the State Department, on Afghan military and political strategy, the Security Advisor to the President, James Jones, the economic advisor and the strategic planner Axelrod, have resigned, while the public opinion is gradually turning against the war, with 65% demanding troops withdrawal from Afghanistan. The economic situation is further deteriorating, adversely impacting the life of the common man. While the strategic talks are being held at Washington, seeking a peaceful solution of the Afghan issue, the US policy appears working on cross-purposes as explained by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton: “The US is working on an outreach process with Taliban promising that if they remove Al-Qaeda, (numbering not more than seventy, according to CIA), the US will help them re-integrate into the Afghan society,” whereas a society destroyed by invasion, with institutions demolished and the country ravaged by lawlessness, it is beyond the capacity of the defeated armed forces of USA and the allies to integrate the society. Only Taliban under Mullah Omer could do that, as they did during the nineties – 1996-2001. With such a mindset the strategic dialogue in all probability would be working at cross-purposes. However the saving grace for the talk could be, if there was an agreement on the issue of drone attacks; immediate allocation of two billion dollars flood relief and not military aid package as proposed, would win the hearts of the Pakistani people; firm commitment on exit from Afghanistan, and the willingness to negotiate with the Taliban. The current strategic talks are not transactional any more, in which America could seek only to buy Pakistan’s loyalty through threat, coercion or aid. These talks would have no meaning, if “America looses substance in its relationship with Pakistan.”
It is time for USA and its allies to accept gracefully their mistake and consequent failures. Alexander Pope rightly counseled: “A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that, he is wiser today than he was yesterday.” Will USA display the moral courage to accept the mistake, is the question. —The writer is former Chief of Army Staff.