Time to speak openly on Afghanistan

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

If any political settlement is to be reached reference Afghanistan, it’s time to speak openly especially about issues that are either voiced in hushed tones or ignored altogether. Those advising Trump on this issue need to discuss it with intellectual honesty laying threadbare related and intertwined issues. Without this, a greater mess will be the only outcome.

Lisa Curtis, a senior Think Tank expert (Heritage Foundation) was selected by Trump administration to advice not only on South West Asia Region but also specifically on Pakistan’s relations with the United States and her dealing with Afghanistan and India.

In an article by both Lisa Curtis and Hussain Haqqani; Pakistan’s former Ambassador to US carried by Hudson Institute (February 6th, 2017) they state: “The new Trump Administration must review its policies toward Pakistan in order to more effectively contain, and eventually eliminate, the terrorist threats that continue to emanate from the country….. Unfortunately, Pakistan never changed its policy of supporting certain militant groups that fight Afghan and coalition forces, thus making it impossible for the United States to achieve its objective of keeping Afghanistan from reverting to a safe haven for international terrorism. ….”

John McCain has earlier been quoted in the following words in a leading national English daily newspaper, “If Pakistan does not stop supporting the Haqqani network, the United States should change its ‘behaviour’ towards the Pakistani nation,” visiting to Islamabad from Kabul.

The policy of drone strikes in Pakistan, as being promoted by certain quarters too will back-fire. According to Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “…….Mr Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent” (published NYT May 29, 2012). To jog memories; damning evidence against the intelligence gathering, targeting the militants in Pakistan via drone was brought to light in March 2011 when 40 people were killed in a drone attack attending a tribal meeting in North Waziristan, mostly civilians. The intelligence gathering on potential targets is obviously faulty.

A consensus has been built up in carefully and craftily in Washington that Pakistan is part of the problem not the solution. The unsavoury truth is, it is Washington’s misguided policies that have been the problem. Unless and until this is acknowledged and then sensible policies developed, the situation in Afghanistan will just become worse.

First who is supporting TTP/Daesh/Jamaatul Ahrar and similar outfits to destabilise Pakistan? A video confessional statement released by Liaqat Ali alias Ehsanullah Ehsan, a former spokesperson of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed that “TTP and JuA have been coordinating with Indian and Afghan security agencies to move freely in Afghanistan and have been guided by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s apex spy agency, in infiltrating into Pakistan.”

Garikai Chengu, a research scholar in Harvard writes, “Much like Al Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS) is made-in-the-USA, an instrument of terror designed to divide and conquer the oil-rich Middle East and to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region. Robin Cook told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of “the database” in Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.” (Global Research, September 19, 2014)

Hillary Clinton alone from among the top American leadership had the guts to admit on record that Al-Qaeda is an organization US funded. That US has a history of going in and out of Pakistan. Then leaving Pakistan with a host of related problems upon their exit.

Second there is no denying that there is a proxy war between Pakistan and India. When US decided to give greater space to India in Afghanistan- it upped the ante of the powerful Pakistan military. The core issue here is Kashmir. ‘The Pakistan government finds it difficult to take a firm action against these militant groups when India-Pakistan relations are marked by high-level hostility and India is publicly demanding action against these groups. Improved India-Pakistan relations and resolution of major disputes, including Kashmir, will make these militant groups irrelevant and increase the Pakistani government’s ability to curb them.’ (Council on Foreign Relations July 13, 2009) Yet US has steered clear of trying to bring any kind of understanding between the arch rivals on this issue. Instead it has chosen to threaten Pakistan at different levels. Cutting off military reimbursements is one step; threat to take away the title of a “major non-NATO ally” status is another.

Third, with China looming big in Pakistan’s economy and Russia flexing her muscles and ready to befriend Pakistan, these steps by US will not work. There is no incentive for Pakistan to come to heel at the crack of the American whip. Especially in light of consistently ignoring Pakistan’s valid concerns of India’s involvement in Afghanistan. The repeated attitude of treating Pakistan as a ‘lesser ally’ is rankling.

Fourth, Pakistan’s setting up barbed wire on the 2,400 miles of Pak-Afghan border along with mining and manning combination is an effort to curb easy ingress into her borders by sponsored terrorists. Pakistan needs space to enforce its writ. Pakistan needs economic and political stability. For this reason Pakistan has reached out to Russia and China. It is reaching out also to Iran.

USA needs to take into account all these factors when thinking of an Afghan strategy if it wants to stabilise Afghanistan. Peace without Iran and Pakistan is not possible. India will never replace Pakistan in creating a stable Afghanistan.

*The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: yasmeenali62@gmail.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9

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