What is important for Pakistan to understand is that her policy towards Afghanistan must not be based on pressures or directions from any quarter. Let’s see some excerpts of various newspapers published recently:
“Returning from a UN Security Council visit to Afghanistan, US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Wednesday stressed the Kabul government wants world powers to step up pressure on Pakistan. While the peace talks will be Afghan-led, the Kabul government did request that the Security Council weigh in to bring Pakistan onboard. “They did ask us for consensus to put further pressure on Pakistan to come to the table and change their behaviour,” Haley said. (January 17, 2018)
“Trump’s point person for the region Alice Wells, however, offered a ‘new relationship’ to Pakistan while underlining the critical role of Islamabad in bringing about peace in Afghanistan. Speaking against the backdrop of current stalemate in ties between the two countries, the foreign minister told the parliamentary panel that the US had not changed its stance nor had Pakistan budged from its position.” (January 17, 2018)
Eric Margolis in his latest article writes, “Henry Kissinger rightly noted that it’s often more dangerous being an ally of the United States than its enemy. The latest victim of this sad truism is Pakistan, a loyal ally of the US since the dawn of our era. Frustrated and outwitted in Afghanistan, US imperial generals, Pentagon bureaucrats and politicians have been trying to cast blame on anyone they can find, with Pakistan the primary whipping boy. Next in line is the notorious Haqqani network which is blamed for most US military failures in Afghanistan, though its active combat role is modest. I knew its founder, old man Haqqani. In the 1980s, he was the golden boy of the CIA/Pakistani-led effort to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan.” (January 13, 2018)
There is every reason to believe that US interests as they stand today in Afghanistan is different as compared post 9/11. There are no efforts at nation building in Afghanistan. Trump keeps on discussing the past ignoring the changed ground realities. The most glaring one is that Pakistan is at war within her own borders with militants of various shades and hues. Many times it becomes difficult to distinguish who is coming from where. The second fact is the counter interests of many stakeholders in Afghanistan including Afghanistan herself who cannot afford US to leave in light of the latter’s financial commitments. So with an exit-policy strategy pursued by US (real or as pressure tactic) the more Afghan government has created security issues convincing US to stay.
An important question rises here. Does US truly want to leave in a probable situation where Afghanistan can be overrun soon after it exits? If this situation happens what are the chances of these militants of launching an attack on America? (This is what should concern Trump). Can there be other reasons for US to stay in Afghanistan? Zafar Hilaly, says, “The Orangutan is hell bent on making money out of the US sojourn in Afghanistan (digging for minerals) and plans to stay on indefinitely which, ipso facto, precludes successful negotiations over Afghanistan.” (Zafar Hilaly has served as ambassador of Pakistan in Italy, Yemen and Nigeria)
He refers to what New York Times referred to (July 25, 2017), “Trump is drawn to Afghanistan’s vast mineral wealth, which his advisers and Afghan officials have told him could be profitably extracted by western companies. To explore the possibilities, the White House is considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials. Last week, as the White House fell into an increasingly fractious debate over Afghanistan policy, three of Mr Trump’s senior aides met with a chemical executive, Michael N. Silver, to discuss the potential for extracting rare-earth minerals. Mr Silver’s firm, American Elements, specialises in these minerals, which are used in a range of high-tech products.”
Of course, looking at a more obvious reason, staying in the region to make herself relevant here, US will be in a better position to counter China’s rise in the world.
Coming back to Pakistan — what must be her strategy for Afghanistan? Pakistan’s repeated insistence on its positive role in Afghanistan, her repeated mantra of being the first casualty in WoT has not led to any revisit of US policy in Afghanistan and neither will it. For the simple reason that interests of US as they stand today in Afghanistan are different from interests of US post 9/11.
Although Pakistan has adopted, for once, a more self-respecting approach without being confrontational — explaining to US that funds are not needed but their understanding certainly is; Pakistan now needs to try another option to make her point understood.
Afghanistan asking US to put pressure on Pakistan as an add-on to US own pressure on Pakistan reminds one of the adverts we see; “buy one get one free,” must not make Pakistan jump to US bidding like a whipping boy aptly described by Eric Margolis. Nor must US play the role of Afghanistan’s errand boy.
To implement the new strategy Pakistan must overcome her fear of certain steps being taken against her. The fact is even with doing US bidding they still may happen. First, all stakeholders are aware that Afghanistan now is a strategic depth area for India. It will continue to be used against Pakistan whether or not Pakistan plays ball. Second, US interests are different from that of Pakistan so far as Afghanistan is concerned. Pakistan needs to stop explaining herself any more like an errant school boy. This only happens in unequal partnerships. This has to change. Pakistan must not worry about US attacking Pakistan through drones if they do not do US bidding. These attacks have happened even when both were “allies.” With or without being an ally Pakistan needs a strategy to deal with this occurrence. Pakistan also must overcome the fear that without being a part of every initiative in Afghanistan some catastrophe is going to befall her.
Once Pakistan’s policy makers get these fears out of their psyche they need to put their strategy for Afghanistan in place. The strategy is to sit back and not be a part of any initiative of any type in Afghanistan. They need to step up on the border fencing coupling it with mining and manning to be effective. Pakistan must return the Afghan refugees to their native land as soon as possible. They are a security hazard also offering easy cover to ingressions from other side of the border besides being an economic burden.
Pakistan must for the time being stay out of any initiative. Post 9/11 Pakistan has gone out of her way at the cost of lives, at the cost of the economy and at the cost of the erosion of her social fabric to help US in Afghanistan without getting even appreciation. The result has been threats and name calling. Time for Pakistan to let all stakeholders determine upon and put in place whatever strategy they deem fit to put in place. Let not Pakistan yet again become a party to be used a whipping boy yet again.
Yes we should facilitate transit routes for US/NATO goods into Afghanistan from Pakistan. So it’s really simple and balanced. We support WoT and are fighting it in Pakistan and anyone crossing into our territory will not be allowed. We support US /NATO in their efforts in Afghanistan and do facilitate goods without which they cannot fight in Afghanistan. However, we must focus on the anti-terrorism efforts in Pakistan to the exclusion of our involvement in any form anywhere else!
Yasmeen Aftab Ali, Pakistani lawyer