Muhammad Saad Khattak
A lot is out in the market about the new US strategy for Afghanistan. This would also, by implication formally expose the mindset prevailing in President Trump’s camp on the way it is looking at South Asia in general and Afghanistan-Pakistan in particular. The decision to increase US forces in Afghanistan by another 3000 – 5000 clearly indicates that Pentagon would occupy the driving seat effectively putting the state department in the back seat. This simply put, would mean more killings of the Afghan people and US forces in days and months ahead.
What is it that over 100,000 troops couldn’t achieve over a decade would be achieved by adding 3000 – 5000 to the already present 8800 US Resolute Force in Afghanistan? The recent decision taken by the White House to scrap the office of US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is yet another indication that President Trump is determined to give the already failed strategy yet another try this time with not much visible diplomatic manoeuvre by the state department. If both, the proponents and critics of the new strategy are unanimous on one thing, it is there lack of faith and conviction in the success of the new strategy, so essential for any endeavour involving human lives on both sides.
The recent wave of violence across the length and breadth of Pakistan may not be taken accidental. This is surely part of a broader US strategy employing its local tools and proxies to generate the desired pressure on Pakistan that all will not be smooth for her if it doesn’t align herself with long term US goals for the region. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan will continue to pay the price for its geography and recent realignment in the region, it can still be a very useful player in any endeavour that would bring peace to Afghanistan if it plays its cards well even in the new US strategy. Does the present dispensation at Islamabad (which is fully embroiled in JIT and other issues) have the wherewithal and moral authority to respond to the challenges at hand is not difficult to comprehend. Could anyone think that in a crisis situation that we are in right now, the Chief Executive of the country would be abroad with his family to celebrate Eid while the country is left at the mercy of Ministers and Advisors who either are clearly lacking the moral authority or desired vision and energy to deliver?
Given the evolving scenario accompanying the new US strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan need to be vigilant about some of the following development while taking necessary measures. One, with expectedly more fighting in Afghanistan in coming days and months, there is likely to be increasing movement across the porous Pak-Afghan border demanding greater vigilance from the security apparatus. Two, combining their efforts for survival and effectiveness against Pakistan, terrorist entities (TTP, Jammat ul Ahrar, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Daesh) duly supported by foreign powers are likely to be more lethal on the internal front warranting stringent counter measures. Three, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to actively persuade China to accelerate its peace initiative for Afghanistan by employing its good offices in minimizing the existing trust deficit between the two countries.
Close engagement between the US and China on the latest initiatives by US and China both will lend more credence to the effort. Four, Pakistan need to proceed full swing with its CPEC developmental projects especially concentrating along the western route and those within Balochistan to deny exploitation of frustrated elements by the enemies within these provinces and our society at large. Five, fully cognizant of the heavy price both Afghanistan and Pakistan are paying, the two countries will have to find bilateral common grounds to defeat the common enemies. Remaining on board foreign sponsored peace initiatives with unrealistic /unacceptable terms and conditions has until now been a major impediment in reaching at mutually agreed solutions.
The sooner the two countries prevail over these alien forces in shaping their destinies the better. Easier said than done though. Six, on the upcoming US strategy, Pakistan must ensure its homework for a more US militarily aggressive outlook to the region. In this regard there is every likelihood of increasing demands on our military instrument to do more as a part of the overall US strategy to maintain its pressure on Pakistan. The two front (East West) dilemma for Pakistan will continue to remain their favourite instrument thus warranting tangible balance on ground.
Viewed dispassionately, the new US strategy for Afghanistan harbours greater potential for enhanced instability in the region. Pure military or predominantly military endeavours have neither worked in the past nor likely to work this time. With US visibly getting frustrated, this might be the last attempt by Trump administration to find a solution. Unless led by a genuine political and diplomatic manoeuvre the effort is bound to fail. The US may then remain present in the region more as a spoiling force remaining content by keeping the region unstable much to the peril of poor teeming millions and its own well professed moral high ground.
— The writer, a retired Maj Gen, is DG Pakistan Institute for Conflict & Security Studies, an independent think-tank based in Islamabad.