Wednesday, February 04, 2009
The writer is an Islamabad-based security analyst
Speaking in Washington to a conference sponsored by the Reserve Officers Association on Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said, “I never talk about Afghanistan without mentioning Pakistan.”
Mullen emphasized two key issues:
One, that “establishing good governance is the lead issue for Afghanistan.” Two, that policy discussions on Afghanistan policy discussions must include ample consideration of extremist forces being able to set up shop in neighbouring Pakistan. Mullen’s general focus was on the possible resources crunch that may hit US military operations in these times of recession.
For Pakistan Mullen’s views on Afghanistan are significant.
Mullen, like many others in the Obama administration, are emphasising both the significance and the need to defeat the insurgency. The expectation from Pakistan is that it will help in ensuring the defeat of the Taliban. How realistic this expectation is and what kind of policy is likely to at least initiate a viable political and security-enforcement process in Afghanistan are key questions for
Pakistan–which has suffered greatly because of its own policies and the policies of other countries in this country.
In addition to the deployment of 30,000 additional US troops in Afghanistan the appointment of General Eikenberry as ambassador to Afghanistan is also on the cards. Eikenberry, completed his 18-month command in Afghanistan in 2007, is familiar with that country’s complex problems and knows the players in Afghanistan.
Significantly, if Eikenberry’s appointment goes through, the Obama administration will have four influential voices on Afghanistan, men with military orientation. The others are General David Petraeus, head of the Central Command, General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, and General James Jones, a retired Marine Corps officer who is Obama’s national security adviser.
To signal the importance that Afghanistan holds for the Obama administration Ambassador Holbrooke will shortly be arriving in Pakistan. As Holbrooke arrives what is it that Pakistan is planning to tell him? How does Pakistan view the situation, what is Pakistan’s advice to Washington? Perhaps Pakistan must present its comprehensive position to Holbrooke. As Pakistan works on improving its relations with Kabul and also communicates its concerns to Washington perhaps the bulk of its views on Afghanistan have already been shared with Kabul and Washington. But the Holbrooke visit warrants a comprehensive recall. Such a policy-based recall must include the following eight points.
One, the key trigger for Pakistan’s own expanding and complex FATA problem lies in the continued war in Afghanistan. The problem is Afghanistan, not FATA. A near, not absolute, historical analogy could be FATA being for the Afghans today what Cambodia was for the Vietnamese. The Americans must not misread the situation today. Another Vietnam neither can the Americans afford nor can our already volatile region.
Two, unless a genuine political reconciliation effort is initiated in Afghanistan there will never be peace in Afghanistan. Taliban have to be the key interlocutors for whoever governs from Kabul. Many senior officials, including generals from NATO countries, have repeatedly maintained that there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems. It is for this reason alone that Washington’s NATO allies have been reluctant to send additional forces to Afghanistan and to provide transport helicopters, military trainers and other support personnel. Only recently has the US defence secretary Robert Gates openly criticised the NATO allies for not delivering on their promises.
Three, making Karzai the fall guy for a failed policy will not help, but removing the flaws in Washington’s Afghan policy will. The key flaw has been Washington’s objective to seek the political death of the Taliban either by military defeat or by surrender. Eight years of this policy has brought death and destruction to the Afghan people. No less has this brought about the expanding military control and political influence of the Taliban.
Four, US drone attacks on Pakistani territory causing the death of innocent Pakistanis must stop. These attacks have continued to compromise Pakistan’s own effort to deal with the source of an acute internal security crisis. For example, Pakistan’s own effort to deal with terrorism is weakened as US drone attacks strengthen the ranks of the lethally angry and armed militias and criminals.
Five, to aid Pakistan in tracking and fighting militants operating within Pakistani territory and from keeping its Pakistan-Afghan border secure against movement of foreign militants, Washington should provide Pakistan the military means that Pakistani forces have repeatedly requested to ensure effective intelligence gathering, night-time vision and aerial mobility. It is evidently Washington’s lack of trust in its key non-ISAF military partner that has prevented the Americans from providing this equipment to Pakistani. In some respects the distrust is reminiscent of the mid-eighties when Pakistan, as a key partner in the CIA- funded war, wanted to purchase AWACS from the US. While the US military recommended the sales the State Department opposed it on the plea that Pakistan would use them against India. Maybe an accurate assessment. However, what is absolutely true today is that greater trust among these non-NATO allies is an absolute must if the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to improve.
Six, the mini-jirga process must be viewed as an integral part of resolving the Afghan crisis. The jirga process, to be led by Kabul and Islamabad, should get the full backing of all the foreign players in Afghanistan.
Seven, to deal with the continuing crisis of governance there must be a multiple increase in US expenditure on development activities in Afghanistan. According to recent reports for every 100 million dollars being spent on military activities in Afghanistan only seven million dollars is being spent on development.
Eight, Afghan refugees must return to Afghanistan. The unbearable pressure of almost three million refugees on Pakistan, a country already reeling under resource constraints and new challenges of security, must end. The international community has to be more supportive and appreciative of Pakistan’s Afghan refugee problem.
Pakistan must present its position clearly and cogently. Unless Washington recasts its Afghan policy in a politico-military cast there will be no end to war in Afghanistan. Endless war in Afghanistan also means continued warring and destabilisation in the bordering regions within Pakistan. In the decade of the eighties the primary roots of Afghanistan lay in its neighbourhood, including Pakistan, and in distant capitals including Washington, London and Riyadh, where policies for defeating the “evil Soviets” were being prepared and bankrolled. The Soviet invasion was rolled back and the Soviet Union was broke up, but the huge costs involved included a warring Afghanistan, a security nightmare in many parts of Pakistan, including the NWFP, the rise of trans-national, militarised and violent militias using religion, the emergence of suicide bombers, the rise of political extremism, and so on.
Pakistan fully partnered, and indeed authored, the anti-Soviet war of the eighties. Its fallout on Pakistan leaves no doubt in the minds of Pakistanis that that policy was a very costly blunder committed by military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Agha Shahi, Pakistan’s illustrious foreign minister at that time, had warned the general against an “embrace” with the Americans over Afghanistan. Shahi’s famous words were, “Only a handshake with the American not an embrace.” But Pakistan’s ruling generals were then evidently confident that they could manage an “embrace” on their own terms. From Pakistan’s blunder of the eighties onwards our policymakers should have learnt the virtue of wisdom and of realism in policymaking. Now is the time for them to invoke that virtue.
Ambassador Holbrooke should be told that unless a holistic politico-military and development approach to resolving the Afghan problem is adopted, his efforts to initiate a regional peace process in Afghanistan will not succeed. More importantly for Pakistan, it cannot afford a scenario of continued war in Afghanistan. The positive outcome of Pakistan’s participation in the US and ISAF effort in Afghanistan will depend largely on the extent to which the US will incorporate the above eight points in its Afghan strategy. (The News)