There has obviously been a greater focus in Pakistan on the endorsement given to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security’s revised recommendations by the joint sitting of Parliament than on the recent attack in Kabul, but the truth is that both have to be seen within the context of the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It must be kept in mind that the USA does not so much want to withdraw from Afghanistan, as given the impression of withdrawing. It wants the withdrawal to be replaced by a Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA), which would allow the administration concluding it to tell domestic audiences that it has ‘brought the boys back home’, while letting it keep troops in Afghanistan, just as it keeps them in South Korea, where too it entered under UN auspices, the first time it used the international organisation to give itself cover for its actions. It is also interesting that if Afghanistan is the last battlefield of the cold war, then Korea was the first, and there is a certain correctness to the American desire to have troops in both, though the motivation it would give would be different.
What with Australia joining France in announcing an early withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the USA badly needs the SoFA before the Summit, which it is hosting, to persuade other Nato allies to remain in that country beyond 2014. The USA itself plans to withdraw 22,000 out of its 90,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, which is an election year. The French withdrawal was announced in January after French troops were killed. To complete the picture, not only Presidents Obama of the USA and Sarkozy of France face re-election in the coming year, but so does Pakistani President Asif Zardari, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai is thinking of resigning and precipitating an election in the same year, as a way of getting another four years in office, and thus bypassing the term limit that would prevent him from contesting in 2014, when the next election is due.
With so many Presidents seeking re-election, it is essential that the Nato Summit due for May 20-21 in Chicago be a success, something which would require advance happenings. It would be very good if Presidents Obama and Karzai could present the Summit with a SoFA, perhaps signing it then, and if President Zardari could help with a restoration of the Nato supply route. This restoration is important enough to the USA because it kept its forces supplied, but it is of interest also to the other Nato members, because the USA has insisted that this route is crucial to the withdrawal of troops.
However, the USA has shown it has not changed, and there will be a repetition of Salala-type incidents. This has been shown by its reaction to the Taliban’s launch of their spring offensive by a series of attacks, including attacks on Nato’s local headquarters, and a number of its members’ Embassies in Kabul, as well as in a number of other cities. One US reaction has been to praise the Afghan security forces. The other has been to blame the Haqqani network, which is in Pakistan. If this is how the USA is behaving when the supply route has not been restored, is there any reason to assume that it will behave differently once the USA has got the routes restored, especially when the restoration comes in the face of virulent opposition from the citizenry.
The USA should be aware that the citizenry faces many issues, such as increasing poverty, inflation and increasing lawlessness. Foreign policy only provides another source of humiliation, especially when it refuses to conduct relations as between two equal states, and tries to claim the extraterritorial privileges of an imperial power.
The USA should realise that it had a large number of supporters against the USSR, but none now. This reflects the vastness of the difference between US and Pakistani goals now, as compared to then. However, the most important element is, probably, that of trust. The alliances the USA has now are purely tactical, with the Pakistani partners only interested in some benefit that the USA can give. For example, President Zardari was elected because he promised to do more than Pervez Musharraf, who was a spent force when he left office. Zardari’s re-election depends not on the Parliament in place, but the one that will come into being after the next election, and he believes that he needs US support for that. However, as the USA is pressing Pakistan to do such things as engage the Haqqani network as well as restore Nato supply, it would be best for Pakistan’s leadership to remember that the USA is doing all this under Indian influence, as the Obama Administration owes it heavily, and will keep on doing so, and will fall in with India’s plans to destroy Pakistan.
n The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.