PRESIDENT Trump’s recent broadside against Pakistan related to the Afghanistan situation and its sinister implications over-all should not be taken lightly. It would appear that the sole superpower having burnt its fingers badly in its Afghanistan adventure – much the same as happened in Iraq – is out looking for a ‘fall-guy’. President Trump’s advent has resulted in moving of the goal-posts; given that the new administration is not known for adhering to the norms of diplomatic conduct. As for Pakistan, we find ourselves in a tight corner. A serious look over the shoulder at the (evolving?) mess in Afghanistan and its blow-back may not be out of place.
The trouble with news trickling out of Afghanistan is that it always gives out mixed signals. One thing is clear, though. Major stake-holders have for quite some time past grudgingly acknowledged what a closer study of history should have brought home to them before they enthusiastically embarked on their adventure: that no invading force has ever managed to subjugate the fierce and proud Afghan people. It is not territory that is of significance per se; it is the people that inhabit it who make the difference. Let us take a cursory look at the recent history of the happenings in the troubled milieu of that historic land, especially after the Soviet withdrawal.
History is witness that the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan hardly fared any better than the earlier colonial expeditionary forces. The United States could perhaps be excused for having nursed the illusion that its awesome new and untested lethal weaponry would bring the ragged and comparatively lightly armed Afghan resistance to its knees. What it had failed to take into account was the indomitable will and raw courage of the Afghan people. The rest, as they say, is history. In 2011, the departing commander of the British forces in Afghanistan had averred his belief that the Taliban “will never be defeated”. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith was quoted as having told The Times of London that, in his opinion, a military victory over the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable”. He indicated that the only way forward was to find a political solution.
The head of the French military force General Jean-Louis Georgelin – according to AFP reporting from Paris – had backed the senior British military officer’s view that the war in Afghanistan was un-winnable. General Georgelin had asserted that all initiatives “aimed at encouraging reconciliation among Afghans are good and should be encouraged”. To top it all, US General David Petraeus had at that juncture confirmed that attempts were under way to open talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, did not rule out reconciliation with ousted (now late) Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
At around the same time, a senior United Nations official in Kabul had called for a political settlement. The top U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, was reported to have said that the war “has to be won through political means”. He expressed the opinion that, “if you want to have relevant results you must speak to those who are relevant”. He added that, “in my view a policy of engagement is the right policy”. Admittedly, all of the aforesaid represented mere straws in the wind. Prudence demanded that they not be accepted at face value and also not be allowed to become the basis of any hasty conclusions. The situation since has shown little signs of improvement though and the time to ‘wait and see’ is long past. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.
Whichever way the events move, Pakistan, this time, simply cannot afford to be left high and dry. For far too long we have fallen into the abominable habit of missing the opportunities that fate lets fall in our collective lap. Missing the bus in the current scenario could well prove fatal. Should the Americans move swiftly and Pakistan does not do its sums right, there is imminent danger that the latter would be left holding the ‘war on terror’ baby, with all its terrible ramifications. Americans can and will secure their vital interests in the region in any settlement, but for Pakistan the chickens let loose by the infamous U-turn may come back home to roost. The Taliban, who once led an Afghan regime that was not unfriendly towards Pakistan, may not be that accommodative this time around. The Northern Alliance leopard cannot be expected to change its spots. What is more, several variables have since entered the equation thanks to the vested interests of neighbours.
The détente between the United States and Iran sent out mixed signals. The result of the presidential election in Afghanistan resulted in moving the goal posts to Pakistan’s disadvantage. We have to be prepared to absorb the resulting shock-wave that thus materialized. The advent of the trump administration in the United States has further loaded the dice to Pakistan’s detriment. The portents could hardly be more daunting! Here’s hoping that the Foreign Office whiz kids are au fait with the turn of events and are busy in drawing up the viable options. To this may be added the hope and prayer that, when presented with these options, the powers that be will have the gumption and foresight to make the optimum choice. If not, the ship of the state may well be on its way to choppy and uncharted waters.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.