There are serious divergences between the Zardari Government and the Obama administration on the endgame planned for Afghanistan post-2014 when most international forces leave the country.
Pakistan-US relations have been seriously strained because of the logjam on the Afghanistan issue. Lack of vision and straight thinking in both American and Pakistan’s leadership circles is mainly responsible for the sharp deterioration in these relations. Continuing American drone strikes inside Waziristan in Pakistan is causing a swell of anti-American feelings in the country.
Meanwhile, the level of mutual distrust has created a crisis situation. The Zardari government in Pakistan is simply incompetent and preoccupied with the domestic political mess to take any bold decisions on the Afghanistan issue. Unfortunately, the military establishment is still calling the shots on matters of national security and foreign policy. The Zardari Government has failed to give any reasonable direction on foreign policy or national security.
The US troops will pull out in 2014 and the future power arrangements in Kabul are the main bone of contention between Pakistan and the US. Meanwhile, the negotiations between the US and Taliban in Qatar have stalled. The US is losing patience with Pakistan as it is still backing the Afghan Taliban who is fighting the ISAF-NATO military forces in Afghanistan from safe havens established inside the country.
Why is Pakistan hedging its bets on the Afghan Taliban? This is happening because of Pakistan’s legacy in Afghanistan, especially during the Soviet occupation in 1979 and eventual ouster in1989. Pakistan and the US had a convergence of interests then and both supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation force. It helped create the Taliban back in the mid-1990s and these connections supposedly matter, given the presence of a large Pakhtun population in the KPK province on the Pakistan-Afghan border area inside Pakistan. Plus, the Pakistan military believed in the infamous doctrine of ‘strategic depth’ inside Afghanistan as a national interest priority. Supposedly this was part of a larger strategic plan in its combat posture with arch enemy India.
However, things have changed and the old doctrine is no longer valid. India-Pakistan relations have improved somewhat and Pakistan is less threatened then before. Pakistan is a nuclear power and has formidable military muscle to deter India from any adventure against it. Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s military might is awesome and India would never attack Pakistan for the fear of unleashing a nuclear Armageddon in South Asia.
In other words, Pakistan has attained the status where it is reasonably protected against India and other enemies as well. Therefore, Pakistan has the luxury of shifting focus to human security and development areas. The economy of Pakistan faces a formidable challenge and requires immediate attention of its rulers. Pakistan has achieved a lot in the military area and now must focus on the welfare of its people.
Massive corruption, endemic governance issues, mismanagement and misperceived priorities have wrecked havoc in the country. The issue of human security, as opposed to military security, must now be the strategic priority of the government of Pakistan. This requires a paradigm shift as the military establishment is still obsessed with military security issues.
Will the military establishment of Pakistan realize that Pakistan has weakened from within because of the governance crises engulfing it today? Is the military establishment ready to cut its share of the budget pie and divest scarce resources to solve the very serious energy crisis in the country? More importantly, will the Pakistan military establishment give up its policy of backing the Taliban in Afghanistan?
Unfortunately, the answer to all three questions remains in the negative. The problem with the Pakistan military establishment is that it fails to see the people’s aspirations as legitimate. Given its great power in still calling the shots in Pakistan, the military has lost vision of the true national interest of the country. The people of Pakistan just want stability, peace and economic opportunities and do not desire anything else. They want peace in the region which includes both Afghanistan and India. The Government of Pakistan must facilitate the US pullout in 2014 by immediately reopening the NATO supply routes closed since November last after the Salala incident. Insisting on an apology by the US isn’t required now. There is still a basis for repairing the US-Pakistan relationship.
There is a convergence of national interest between Pakistan and the US on the issue of peace and stability in Afghanistan after the pullout. The Government of Pakistan must stop from playing favorites inside Afghanistan. It must reach out to the Northern Alliance groups and other non-Pashtun groups in a bid for reconciliation. A quid pro quo can be worked out with some tense diplomacy and patience. It is in Pakistan’s supreme national interest to have peace and stability in Afghanistan by working out a power arrangement that includes the Taliban. Pakistan must have a proactive foreign policy and should take the imitative to arrange negotiations for a transfer of power after the pullout in 2014. Arrangements can be made to include the US, India, China and Iran in this diplomatic initiative.
All concerned stakeholders can and should meet to settle a power-sharing arrangement. In Lebanon different ethnic groups have devised a formula for sharing power and this formula can be applied in case of Afghanistan as well. General elections will have to wait for this formula arrangement. A sort of balance of power arrangement inside Afghanistan can be worked out and then general elections be held. The point is that the American model of democracy may not work in Afghanistan and a new democracy of ethnic groups power-sharing may be more applicable in tribal Afghanistan. There isn’t much time left as these negotiations will be prolonged and tedious at best, and unworkable at worst. In the interest of peaceful and stable Afghanistan it is certainly worth a try.
Only Pakistan can host this negotiations arrangement. No other country has more at state in the post-western Afghanistan than neighbor Pakistan. Unfortunately, the leadership of Pakistan is too inept and ineffective to take this needed diplomatic imitative. The region will surely lose if timely action isn’t taken now to secure Afghanistan after the US and NATO troops have left in 2014.
Eventually, a new peacekeeping force will have to replace the Western troops. It is best that an Organization of Islamic Conference (the Islamic regional organization) peacekeeping force is placed to secure Afghanistan for some years. Pakistan can be instrumental in setting up this Muslim peacekeeping force for eventual deployment in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Pakistan doesn’t have much time to change direction.
Dr. Sohail Mahmood is Chairman of the Department of Politics & International Relations International Islamic University in Islamabad.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Embassy Pakistan via Flickr.