Afghanistan’s future

Pakistan’s position in the international arena has seen better days. Now our country is viewed as a pariah state responsible for sponsoring terrorism across the border. Despite the military establishment’s denials about not having any decisive influence over the Taliban and therefore a critical impact on Afghanistan’s future, Pakistan’s overt and covert support to the Afghan Taliban is no secret. In an interview, Major-General Athar Abbas, Director General (DG) of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), said that Pakistan has “not been informed and not been taken into confidence on a possible roadmap or a practicable shape of the [Afghan] reconciliation process so far”. He was also critical of the BBC documentary about Pakistan’s double game in the war on terror. “We consider that report highly biased, it is one-sided, it does not have the version of the side which is badly hit or affected by this report. Therefore…it is factually incorrect,” Major-General Abbas said. Nobody expects that our military establishment would admit to playing this double game but to think that the world would buy their ‘denials’ is also naïve to say the least. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced tough questions from the US House Foreign Affairs Committee over the State Department’s willingness to negotiate with the Taliban. “So which is it, Madam Secretary, crackdown or negotiate with the Haqqani network or a little bit of both?” asked the Republican committee chair. “It is both. We want to fight, talk and build all at the same time,” answered Ms Clinton. It seems that even in the US, there are reservations about the Afghan reconciliation process.

While the Obama administration wants to reconcile with the Afghan Taliban, in Pakistan it has increased the frequency of drone strikes. This might be their way of pressurising the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table while also trying to end Pakistan’s support for them. But drone strikes have not worked to the US’s advantage. It has increased anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and the militants and the right wing forces have taken advantage of this sentiment. Negotiating with the same Taliban the US helped dislodge would result in dire consequences for not just Afghanistan and Pakistan but the entire region. We should not forget that the Taliban are a barbaric force. If they are back in power in Afghanistan, there is no guarantee they would not host al Qaeda again. They have already provided sanctuaries to the Pakistani Taliban and once back in power would not hesitate to do so again. Pakistan cannot afford a Taliban rule once again despite the distinction given to them by our military establishment.

What is now needed is a new approach. The obvious way to bring back peace in the region is to adopt a three-pronged strategy. One, withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Two, eliminating safe havens on both sides of the Durand Line and sending the militants back to their countries of origin. This will end proxy jihad and bring stability back to the region. Three, end interference of all regional and world powers in Afghanistan and let the Afghan people settle their own affairs. It would eventually lead to Afghanistan returning to its 19th century status of a buffer state, with the significant and beneficial new factor that it can now act as a trade and energy corridor for the region.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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