Pakistan’s Afghanistan imbroglio

Mohammad Umar Shabbir

While President Donald Trump’s brainy aides are contemplating comprehensive US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington DC, there is a need to carry out reappraisal of past policies and strategies initiated to calm troubling situation in Afghanistan. Though it is still to be seen as to how Trump’s policies would be different from that of his anti-war predecessor Barrack Obama but an interesting analogy emerges from the situation that US administration is faced with at the moment. In the beginning of America longest war, the objective of Afghan policy was to push or to be precise ouster Taliban and now towards the likely culmination of the same war the objective is to push Taliban back in to peace talks for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. Strange though it may appear but the US seems to confront limited options in this impasse.
Currently, the situation in Afghanistan is pretty grim and in assessment of military and intelligence officialsis that it may potentially deteriorate further if no concrete measures are taken by the US and in terms of sustainable peace, by Afghanistan. Afghan national army lacks capacity and perhaps will to tackle insurgent Taliban in their rural bases resulting in to limiting 57 per cent control by Kabul government. The security situation reviewers are considering an increase in troop’s contribution from 3000 to 5000. Though it is largely believed that addition of this ‘modest’ number to 8000 troops already in combat in Afghanistan may hardly create required stability lest expect them turn the tide altogether and bring normalcy and stability in Afghanistan. Reinforcing failures in Afghanistan must be a hard choice for Trump administration in the backdrop of ‘shockingly high’ toll of battle casualties claiming 2300 lives and wounding 17000 American soldiers.
Handling continuous uncertain security situation in Afghanistan, former President Barrack Obama too was driven by the security concerns and ordered troops to Afghanistan though he wished US troops to be out of Afghanistan. The two main objectives that Obama administration chose to pursue were firstly, support to Afghan government and enhance capacities of security forces to handle situation and secondly, support the idea of reconciliation between Taliban and Afghan government. Among host of other measures that Trump administration is likely to initiate; enhancing Afghan government capacity and eventual workable peace deal with Taliban are likely to top the order.
Part of the South Asia Strategy that it is known inside National Security Council, there are number of expectations from Pakistan, firstly, Washington thinks Taliban have sanctuaries inside Pakistani soil and the insurgency is being fuelled from the bordering regions of Pakistan. Secondly, Trump administration, like that of Obama may push Pakistan to help get Taliban on the peace table. Pakistan however has consistently been insisting that it has ceased to enjoy the leverage it once had with Taliban. TargetingHaqqani network and convincing Pakistanthat their security interests would be better served by cooperating with the US and not opposing are important US objectives to attain peace in Afghanistan. There are divergent views in Washington to address this quagmire. Moeed Yusuf of USIP urges a dialogue with Pakistan over Afghanistan whereas former Pakistani envoy to the US HussainHaqqani (not to be confused with Haqqani network) consider ‘going tough’ on Pakistan is more appropriate policy option for Washington.
The US, Pakistan and Afghanistanstrategic troika faces a dilemma with regards to the political as well as military choices in the theatre of operations. President Donald Trump neither desire to continue reinforcing failures that the US military largely faced in Afghanistan nor wants to emerge as an American President who lost Afghanistan: an infamy that is likely to go down in the history of the US wars. To the US administration, peace and stability in Afghanistan is foremost objective and that has become subject to establishing writ of Afghan government over swaths of the country, on which the belligerent insurgents enjoy almost total domination. The writ of Afghan state will remain any body’s guess with the existing capacity of Afghan national army and police. Though addition of 5000 soldiers to existing little over 8000 as is on cards, will not make much difference in military sense but building political capacity of Afghan political dispensation, enhancing operational capacity of Afghan armed forces and engagement in some form with Taliban should top the US objectives in Afghanistan. What the US expects from Pakistan is to be on board and either contain or prevent Taliban consolidating gains inside Afghanistan or help bring Taliban on peace table. The US largely fails to achieve its objective in Afghanistan and its ability to control Afghan affairs is fast diminishing.
From Pakistan’s perspective too, the problem is all the more complex. Pakistan and Afghanistan have treaded in disillusion and misunderstanding that became grimmer with terrorist attack on either side of Pakistan-Afghanistan border followed by accusations and counter accusations by both the countries. Unlike Afghanistan{and the US}, Pakistan thinks problem lies inside Afghanistan whereas Afghanistan believes Pakistan is a reason for all the mess inside Afghanistan and accuses Pakistan of not facilitating or helping them quell insurgency. Afghanistan also accuses Pakistan of supporting various proxies that serve its interests.
In a situation where distrust and misunderstanding are ripe, it would be vital for the framer of the US policy on Afghanistan to take in to account interests and limitations of stakeholders as the US too has limitations in the scenario. The US has objectives of saving the situation failing which its credibility as super power will diminish. Afghanistan has concerns for durable peace and stability managed via its own security apparatus. Pakistan has stakes towards its Western border that directly impact its national security interests. It would be apt to take in to consideration concerns of all stakeholders by being fair. Unilateral thinking on issues vital to one’s national interests would be counter-productive to envisaged peace process. A sane question; Why on earth, Pakistan wouldn’t wish to have stability in Afghanistan resulting in to peace on its Western border?

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