AFGHANISTAN’S former president Hamid Karzai in his interview with the Associated Press, on February 7, stated that both the US and Pakistan were using the Afghan war to further their own national interests, and that they have brought Afghanistan to its knees to further their own, separate agendas. Kathy Gannon reported him as saying that Afghanistan is in “terrible shape”. He commented that Afghans who had embraced the US as a friend and liberator, now see it as “hurting us, not helping us…” “The US cannot tell us, ‘Well if I am not here, you will be worse off’, he commented.”
Referring to President Trump’s New Year’s Pakistan bashing tweet, Karzai said, “We hope the US will now act in Pakistan.” But he added that “[It] doesn’t mean that the Pakistani people should be hurt or that war should be launched in Pakistan.” “In other words, I want the US to impose sanctions on the Pakistan military and the intelligence, not on the Pakistani people,” he added. Earlier this year, Trump had hyped up pressure on Pakistan, suspending over $900 million in military aid. However, on February 8, the US State Department informed Congress during a hearing, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Trump’s South Asia strategy, that the decision to suspend assistance to Pakistan had failed to achieve its objectives as Pakistan had not changed its policies. However, Committee’s Chairman Senator Robert Corker, echoed Hamid Karzai; he said, “This administration has also rightly drawn a clear line with Pakistan, suspending security assistance”.
Defence Secretary James Matti’s told the US House Armed Services Committee that the regional strategy would be “connected to the geographical reality of where this enemy is fighting from.” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said, “There certainly hasn’t been any change that we would consider final and irrevocable.” American stance is that assistance could be restored if Islamabad took ‘decisive and sustained’ action against terrorist groups. Karzai also believes, and rightly so, that the US wants to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan to project power in the region. He is of the view that foreign forces are not in Afghanistan “to stop extremism.” “In my view, their intention is to keep us divided and weak so they can carry on their objectives in this region,” Karzai said. “They have their global politics and rivalries”. He even suggested that reports from northern Afghanistan accused the US of aiding the Islamic State affiliates against ethnic Tajik fighters in a bid to threaten Russia. Public opinion in Afghanistan has increasingly turned against the US as the war drags on. Public sentiment also runs against the presence of foreigners in the country along with the Kabul government, which is perceived as deeply corrupt and incompetent. For deteriorating security in Kabul, Afghan people squarely blame Afghan government and coalition troops. Karzai said “Afghans have to retake their country”.
In a policy reversal Trump has recently declared that he will “not negotiate with the Taliban”. Even though Trump has long advertised his negotiation prowess. “I don’t see any talking taking place … Innocent people are being killed left and right … So, we don’t want to talk with the Taliban,” Trump said. The Taliban issued an immediate rebuke, saying Trump’s comments had “exposed his war-mongering face.” President Ghani, soon jumped the Trump’s bandwagon: “The door of peace for those behind the [recent] tragedy is closed … We will chase them anywhere they hide.” Kabul’s cardinal mistake is not to let direct parleys take place between the US and Taliban. It feels happy with some non-entities laying down their arms, which gives them false hope for an agreement with the larger Taliban movement. “We are an independent government that represents the Afghan people. If they are truly an Afghan movement then they should come talk to the leaders of Afghanistan. No one else,” a government spokesperson said. America needs Pakistan if its war plan for Afghanistan is to have a chance of success. However, uncertainty over the bilateral engagement has intensified. During his recent visit to the US, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal vehemently denied the usual US charges in an interview and called for direct talks to address increasing mistrust between the US and Pakistani governments. “Pakistan’s partnership is most critical for the success of the Trump administration’s strategy”, he commented. During a wide-ranging discussion at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, he also spoke of China’s growing economic influence in his nation. He stressed that Islamabad’s wish is to have a relationship with Washington that could one day grow “beyond the prism of security.” Ahsan Iqbal dismissed the administration’s claims of Pakistani support for terrorist groups. He said Islamabad has responded with an aggressive four-year internal military campaign against extremists.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan had earlier stated in an interview, with the Financial Times, saying Islamabad was undergoing a “regional recalibration” of its foreign and security policy. “The fact that we have recalibrated our way forward in the form of better relations with Russia, and deepening our relationship with China, is a response to what the Americans have been doing,” Dastgir said. However, Pakistan prefers to buy military hardware from Washington. Because its security infrastructure is based on US equipment and logistics. Pakistan and the US have a long history of cooperation and partnership between their militaries. The US remains Pakistan’s largest single export market So, there is a strong foundation, on which both countries could easily continue to build.
The US military’s troubles with subduing insurgent groups in Afghanistan shows the difficulty of the US mission. With American and Afghan governments’ lacking will for a political solution, peace in Afghanistan is hard to come by. Mainstream combatant Taliban are not likely to follow the footsteps of Gulbadeen’s Hizb-i-Islami. Afghanistan and the US need to recalibrate their vision with regard to future of Afghanistan. Pakistan is ready to extend help for making Afghanistan peaceful, but it cannot be bullied to be a part of dirty game to keep Afghanistan simmering for times to come.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.