Endgame in Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama is finally going to deliver on his promise of pulling out US troops from Afghanistan. Apart from announcing that 10,000 troops will be removed by the end of this year and some 23,000 next year, Mr Obama said that by 2014, “this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security”. The US’s NATO allies welcomed this decision and will also proceed with a gradual drawdown of their troops. Even though many in Afghanistan are wary of this decision, it has all but established that this war cannot continue endlessly. It is for this reason that the western forces are now negotiating with the Afghan Taliban to reach a political settlement before they leave. When the US invaded Afghanistan back in 2001, the more perceptive analysts had warned that the US would not succeed. By now this has been proved despite the US’s insistence that it has been successful. While the US was able to overthrow the Taliban government and bring a democratic government in place, things generally were far from hunky-dory. With the resurgence of the Taliban, the situation got even worse because of incremental war weariness at home and the global recession on the one hand and the safe havens provided to the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan on the other, which made it impossible to win this war.

It is perhaps because of this reason that Mr Obama made some rather significant points about Pakistan in his speech regarding a phased troop withdrawal. Mr Obama hailed the Abbottabad raid and pressed that “our efforts must also address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan”. He warned that so long as he is the president, “The United States will never tolerate a safe haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.” This means there can be more raids like the May 2 one if Pakistan continues to harbour terrorists and there will certainly be more drone attacks. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also stressed that it was time for Pakistan to deliver. Ms Clinton said, “When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we were providing it unless and until we see some steps taken.” It is significant that she mentioned only military aid. Despite receiving billions of dollars in aid to the Pakistan Army, our military top brass continues the policy of exporting jihad. We have consistently cautioned that the shelf life of the policy of pursuing ‘strategic depth’ is over but the military has so far not paid any heed to such warnings. The US is now talking tough when it comes to our military. Whereas Senator John Kerry observed that the US has to continue working with Pakistan, Robert Gates has gone so far as to say that success in Afghanistan is possible even if Pakistan fails to cooperate. What all these statements mean is one thing: the world is no longer ready to support Pakistan’s duality when it comes to terrorist networks.

Statecraft involves that in grave situations and at seminal moments, a country’s leadership has to take hard decisions in the national interest. Having been wedded to the policy of exporting jihad for the last 40 years has only brought about diminishing returns for Pakistan. We have seen the damage that it has already done to our country. If we continue to stubbornly follow it, the consequences can be too dangerous to fathom. It is better to cut our losses now and save Pakistan.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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