Afghan Endgame – The Dilemma

By Imran Malik

In a blatant display of overwhelming power and clout, the US forced Pakistan’s hand in the nerve wrecking and vital battle of wits for the Nato supply routes and by implication the future of its Afghan campaign. The US pressure tactics included a double pincer movement of sorts, comprising a strategic and an economic prong targeting Pakistan’s obvious vulnerabilities. The

ISAAF Troops Deployment in Afghanistan

strategic prong mainly threatened to declare the Haqqani Network (HN) a terrorist organisation and by implication Pakistan a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’.

The USS Enterprise led aircraft carrier group was moved off Gwadar to add weight to the argument. The other prong mainly threatened military and economic sanctions, while withholding about $1.2 billion owed to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). Under pressure the weak and bankrupt Pakistan government capitulated rather spinelessly.The Nato supply routes were reopened – and the first step in the endgame for Afghanistan had been taken!

US design for the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region (APR):- The Geopolitical Dimension:

The US would like to see a self-serving conducive environment prevail over the South Central Asian Region (SCAR) and APR. It would like to see a stable Afghanistan and a compliant Pakistan at peace with themselves and with their neighbours. It would also like to ensure that Russia and China remain contained and blocked out of the region with no direct access to a marginalised Iran or the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. It would also like to see India emerge as a major player in Afghanistan at least, if not in the SCAR. However, in the final analysis the US would like to see itself directly ascendant, dominant and in exclusive control of the geopolitical/strategic/economic destinies of the SCAR and the APR in particular.

The Geostrategic Dimension:

The US has already set about crafting the geostrategic environment for the endgame in Afghanistan. In the next step hereon, it will require Pakistan to play a proactive and decisive role in eliminating the terrorist’s threat (Al-Qaeda, HN, TTP-?) across the APR. It could mean undertaking unilateral/combined military operations against them or bringing/coercing them around to the negotiating table. Either way, the US will expect Pakistan to play a vital role in neutralising/eliminating this cross border threat – under the pain of being declared a state sponsoring terrorism and its attendant ramifications! Further, the US will retain its foothold in the APR and SCAR through the establishment of US/Nato bases all around Afghanistan ostensibly to train and support the emerging Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

The Geo-economic Dimension:

The US would like to be the sole determinant of the economic destiny of the region, controlling the mining, flow, transportation, refining and marketing of the minerals/fossil fuels of the region. Further, it would like to have absolute control over the emerging (north-south and east-west) trade routes going across the region like the New Silk Road Project (NSRP). Ideally, it would like to link Europe to India, including all the regions in between in a seamless trade corridor under its sole oversight and to its sole advantage. The US would also want to encourage the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline while blocking the Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline, which potentially could have been extended to India and China as well. It would require Pakistan to mould its policies and fall in line. The economic development of the region will thus remain subject to the vagaries of US national interests.

The Afghan Political Dimension:

The US would further want a Northern Alliance (NA) government to be firmly in power in a peaceful and secure Afghanistan with its writ extending far beyond the municipal limits of Kabul to the extremities of Afghanistan’s vast badlands – albeit an unsustainable and patently unfair and undemocratic political dispensation with a minority ruling roughshod over the majority Pashtuns. Furthermore, the US would like to see the elimination of terrorists, warlords and drug czars and their fiefdoms/businesses. The regional players, including Pakistan, will be expected to remain non-interfering. The US would also expect the international community to help sustain Afghanistan beyond 2014 – Tokyo Conference.

The Dilemma/Pakistan Factor:

The main US demand from Pakistan would be for it to unconditionally support all US initiatives in the region, even to the peril of its own national interests. Not only would the US want Pakistan to help the US/Nato/Isaf combine egress from the region safely and securely, but also to ensure that the scourge of international terrorism is eliminated once and for all. Furthermore, it would want Pakistan to support it and its proxies’ continued residual presence in the region.The national interests of the US and Pakistan in the APR-SCAR remain generally divergent. It may have been relatively easy for Pakistan to concede on the reopening of the Nato supply routes. It will not be so in the case of further US imperatives in the APR/SCAR. The answer to this dilemma lies in the USA’s acceptance of Pakistan’s genuine national interests.

Pakistan desires a friendly government in Kabul with no Indian influence at all and would like to see the majority Pashtuns get their rightful democratic place in any political dispensation in Afghanistan. Pakistan too would like to see the terrorist threat neutralised, but in toto and not selectively. Pakistan would want the mineral riches of the region to be exploited to the benefit of the people of the region and a continuing mutually beneficial relationship with the US and all countries in the region.Now will the US want a willing or an unwilling Pakistan for the endgame?

Does the US want to succeed hereon? Will the US still use arrogant, coercive diplomacy, the sickening carrot and stick routine, or will it take a genuine reality check of the emerging geostrategic environment of the APR and modify its policy/strategy accordingly?It may be time for the US to blink now!

The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand.Email:



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