Discernible shift in US policy
India’s worst fears with regard to the situation in Afghanistan are in all likelihood coming true. The United States was India’s closest partner in Afghanistan venture and both had jointly worked up regional objectives for mutual benefits. This mutually beneficial partnership remained strong till as late as 2012 during which Indo-US, Indo-Afghan and Afghan-US strategic partnership agreements were inked. Although Pakistan was declared as an ally with common objective of defeating terrorism, but in reality it was misused to serve the objectives of the trio. In this game of duplicity, Pakistan was the biggest loser since its alliance had been accepted by Washington on the condition that it would act as a frontline state and help US military in its fight against a Muslim neighbor. Furthermore, it was required to fight the sympathizers and collaborators of al-Qaeda and Taliban inside Pakistan. Pakistan was profusely bled through ‘do more’ policy of USA. Pak-US relations hit its nadir in 2011-2012 starting January 2011 after Davis Raymond incident and culminating in ruthless attack by US Apaches on Salala on 26 November killing 24 soldiers, forcing Pakistan to close Shamsi airbase and NATO supply lines for next seven months. The US had to perforce use northern routes for supplies.
On the eastern front, India kept blowing hot and cold and kept the atmosphere highly tense. It took full advantage of its closeness with USA to browbeat and harm Pakistan and to push Kashmir issue to the backburner. Instead of helping Pakistan to fight a very difficult war, it chose to add to its woes by carrying out massive troop deployment in end 2001 and again in December 2008 on engineered pretexts and at the same time launching covert war using Afghanistan soil to destabilize FATA and Balochistan. It subjected Pakistan to intense vilification campaign and blamed Pakistan for all the terrorist attacks in India. It didn’t regret when its own agencies revealed that Hindu terrorist groups were the actual culprits. India convinced Kabul regime and Washington that ISI and Pak Army are chiefly responsible for the instability of Afghanistan. It blamed Pakistan that it was supporting terrorism and kept egging on USA and Afghanistan that unless ISI was cut to size and alleged safe havens of terrorists in FATA were eliminated terrorism would not end. It purposely fuelled Pak-Afghan antagonism so as to carve out a permanent place for itself in Afghanistan at the cost of Pakistan.
In addition to covert war and cultural invasion, India is also resorting to water terrorism by building series of dams on Pakistan’s rivers inside Indian occupied Kashmir to turn its agricultural lands arid. It played its part in preventing construction of Kalabagh dam and is now creating impediments in the way of Bhasha dam and Neelum hydro project. After showing soft face for sometimes with a view to extracting favors from Pakistan like Most Favored Nation status and land access to Afghanistan via Wagah, when it found that it was not receiving as much as it had expected it upped the ante on a cooked up incident of beheading of an Indian soldier along the LoC in Kashmir.
India has been coercing India-friendly Bangladesh government to keep away from Pakistan. War crime trials related to 1971 war have been re-opened at the behest of India to rekindle the old embers of antagonism. News of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh getting injured in Kot Lakhpat jail on April 26, 2013 at the hands of his fellow inmates, who had been awarded death sentence on charges of spying and terrorism, and his death in hospital on May 01, was received with usual anger by India. It promptly reacted by giving a similar treatment to one of the Pakistani prisoner Sanaul Haq held in Jammu jail in occupied Kashmir on May 2. He is in coma and may soon succumb to injuries. While Sarabjit case was an impromptu act, this is a pre-meditated attempt to murder. Old Indo-Pakistan antagonism has begun to rebuild and will heighten in case Pak-US relations improve because the two tracks have a co-relation.
Lot of water has flown through River Indus into the sea and lot of blood has spilled both in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last 13 years. The Taliban that had been ousted and declared as a spent force are now in the driving seat in Afghanistan. After the death of Osama bin laden in May 2011, while Al-Qaeda has shriveled in size and strength, it is still not down and out and is operative both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. War on terror gave birth to Pakistani Taliban in 2004 which grew into Tehrik-e-Pakistan Taliban (TTP) in December 2007. Although it was given a severe beating by Pak security forces in 2009 through series of operations, but the force under Hakeemullah Mehsud has regrouped and is currently striking soft targets all over the country to disrupt elections due on May 11.
While the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar and Hizb-e-Islami under Hikmatyar have managed to gain an upper hand over ISAF at their own, TTP is still operative because of its affiliation with several banned terrorist groups and its linkage with foreign agencies that provide arms, ammunition and funds regularly. The monster created by outside powers is linked with Afghan Taliban and has at times hit back its creator. Currently, only Karzai regime and India are feeding this monster to keep Pakistan destabilized. Notwithstanding the role of foreign powers, Pak security forces have decisively wrested the initiative and recovered almost all the spaces captured by the militants. Tirah valley will soon be cleared where TTP and Lashkar-e-Islam under Mangal Bagh have joined hands. The genie has so far not been bottled because of lack of consensus at national level.
Conversely, the situation in Afghanistan is quite different. US-NATO forces have been unable to defeat the resistance forces despite pumping in seven trillion dollars and using massive force. 2011 and 2012 saw intensification of Taliban attacks in and around Kabul which unnerved US Command and demoralized the occupiers. The Taliban rejected the US conditions and their secret negotiations with the US came to an abrupt halt in March 2012. Efforts by western powers and Muslim countries to open Taliban office in Doha for negotiations have also not borne fruit. Kabul regime and ANSF on which the US has spent billions of dollars have not lived up to the expectations of USA. Finding Afghanistan slipping out of its hands, Obama wisely decided to quit by end December 2014. The US chalked out its exit strategy with the assistance of its allies in which it was planned to hand over security to ANSF by end 2013, let India fill the power vacuum and induce Taliban to share power in future set up with reins of power remaining in the hands of Northern Alliance. So far nothing is going in its favor.
Increasing inside-attacks by ANSF against foreign troops coupled with rising cases of suicides of US soldiers deployed in Afghanistan have come as a rude shock and has put US post 2014 plan to leave behind a force till 2024 in jeopardy. Karzai is getting edgy, suspicious and aggressive and has become a burden. India having no influence over Taliban has become a liability. Melting economy and heavy defence cuts forbids US military to choose expensive northern routes for transportation of ISAF’s heavy baggage and equipment. Having lost the war, it cannot afford to leave behind an unstable and unfriendly Afghanistan. Amidst the dark clouds, Pakistan is the only silver lining. This reality has dawned upon US policy makers at a very late stage when it has ruined its economy and lost its reputation and pride as an invincible super power. Had it listened to sincere advises rendered by Pakistan from the beginning, the US could have returned home with honor.
Of late there has been a perceptible shift in the US approach towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. This shift occurred after the abortive US-India-Afghanistan meeting in New York in September 2012 because of serious differences. It dawned upon US leaders that Gen McChrystal and some others were right in their assessment that India was primarily responsible for disturbing peace in Afghanistan because of its enmity with Pakistan and selfish interests. Waking up of from its slumber, Washington began to make overtures to Pakistan and suggested putting together a new regional condominium. The US is showing willingness to subcontract to Pakistan the reconciliation process with the Taliban. It wants Pakistan to help the US in opening the tangled knot of Afghanistan and to fix the problem. Ignoring Indian concerns, the US has ceded a significant degree of control over the reconciliation process to Islamabad. Inviting Gen Kayani to Brussels and John Kerry pushing tetchy Karzai to sit and listen to Kayani was link of the same chain. Pakistan has shown willingness to play its role since its only wish is to have a peaceful and friendly Afghanistan.
To woo Pakistan, Washington has released pressure on Islamabad to bring the alleged Pakistani perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack to justice. Washington is disregarding India’s requests for the extradition of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana, two key protagonists who are in the US jails. It gave a rude shock to the Indian security establishment by retorting that Pakistan’s ISI being a state organ enjoys immunity from prosecution by a foreign country. Evidently, ISI is the single most important influence on the Taliban and Washington cannot do without its help and cooperation.
This palpable shift in US policy wherein India has become subsidiary to the Afghan settlement and Pakistan the US’s central partner has created a new dimension in the Afghan endgame. Although many a times bitten Pakistan is watching the changing scenario with mixed feelings, a change for the good has taken place and distrust and estrangement is fast giving way to better understanding and cooperation. It will however be premature to conclude that the old allies have regained the old gleam since the US will have to prove its good intentions by deeds and not by words. The onus of building mutually beneficial Pak-US relations based on trust and respect will be on the new government.
The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst, a columnist and a historian. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org