Visiting Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday and met US troops at Bagram Air Base. He asserted that the US “will never let this country [Afghanistan] serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again…This part of the world is the centre of a global effort where we are going to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.”

The Americans believe that if the Taliban manage to come back to power in Afghanistan, al Qaeda would once again be allowed to operate freely from Afghan soil. In order to pre-empt that, the US wants to damage the Taliban to such an extent that they are forced to negotiate on US terms. Mullah Omar’s Taliban faction is not ready to talk to the Karzai regime till the foreign forces leave Afghanistan but whether the Haqqani network shares the same view is not yet clear. On the other hand, the Karzai regime is under attack for rigging the elections. Before withdrawing its troops, the US and NATO wanted to put in place a credible political government but that has not happened. President Karzai has tried to distance himself from the foreign troops in recent days by openly criticising their special operations. It is not yet clear whether Mr Obama’s lightning visit was an attempt to boost the morale of the US troops or if it had anything to do with the recently released US diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks or to give a ‘message’ to Mr Karzai.

Prime Minister Gilani is also on a visit to Afghanistan to boost bilateral relations and economic ties. After meeting President Karzai, Mr Gilani said that “now there is an equal realisation that both the countries are equally suffering because of terrorism and there should be no blame game”. Pakistan has adopted a policy of intervention in Afghanistan for many decades now but instead of gaining something out of our ‘strategic depth’ policy, we have lost a lot more. It is time that Pakistan realises that intervention would not get us anywhere; rather it is pertinent to have friendly relations with Afghanistan. This would not only reduce Indian influence in our neighbourhood but would also curb terrorism to a greater extent. Since the endgame is looming near, we should strive to make the Afghans our friends instead of alienating them through our dual policy vis-à-vis the Afghan Taliban. Terrorism is our common enemy and we must not live under the delusion that the Taliban, be they ‘good’ or ‘bad’, can ever be our real friends.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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