Pakistan's perspective

TARIQ OSMAN HYDER Despite eight years of occupation, military intervention and developmental funding this year has been the worst in terms of the security situation for the Afghan people and the American, ISAF and NATO forces. General Stanley McChrystal has admitted this, as did President Barack Obama in his West Point address which provides America and its fatigued Western allies with an exit strategy provided that it can get the implementation right. It can provide an opportunity for the Afghans to mitigate their long suffering if they are empowered to resolve their own problems. The occupation of Afghanistan was suffered rather than supported in the region. It is however now clear to all that this occupation and that of Iraq have increased terrorism and extremism worldwide as Pakistan, the most affected country, has found to its cost. For Pakistan, the new policy provides a complex challenge, which requires a prompt consensus-backed policy response to transform it into an opportunity rather than an additional liability atop the internal pressures it already faces. The rest of the region is essentially on the sidelines, apprehensive of its inability to effect an outcome with serious implications. The most important task is clearly framing the issues involved, not in a reactive manner to the still evolving Obama policy but according to the ground realities, in a debate with America on its implications and how it should be implemented. Obama's latest policy vision is still predominated by the military surge though couched in terms of protecting Afghans. The Afghan people developmental and political reconciliation surges do not yet carry the same weight. There has to be a recognition that particularly with the additional 30,000 to 35,000 troops which will take the foreign forces near to the Soviet troop level, bringing stability to Afghanistan can only be done by Afghans through an efficient army composed of all ethnic groups, less corrupt governance and the use of the traditional Afghan decentralised tribal structure, backstopped by American/NATO forces who will for the foreseeable future keep an over the horizon capacity for targeted military intervention whether we like it or not. The pivotal role of Pakistan gives it an opportunity of forging a significant relationship with America provided there are no detrimental developments and Pakistan is no longer used as a scapegoat for the failure of the allies' eight year occupation. Otherwise, mounting public and other pressures may force the government to end cooperation on Afghanistan with America whatever the economic cost. Pakistan must spell out its red lines. The extra troops in the South and South East of Afghanistan should minimise collateral civilian damage or they will drive more Taliban elements into Pakistan. There is the threat of drone attacks being extended into Balochistan and of American troop excursions into Pakistan to deal with alleged Al-Qaeda safe havens straddling the border and the demand that Pakistan take on all Taliban factions simultaneously. Al-Qaeda with its probably under 200 operatives in the region is not a locational threat but an ideological movement feeding off American policies including support towards Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. It is worth emphasising that no actionable intelligence has ever been shared with Pakistan by America on any Al-Qaeda haven in Pakistan. We must also ensure that no drone attack, which the government has publicly opposed, is launched from any base in Pakistan. Pakistan has taken on the Taliban in FATA and terrorism countrywide and cannot open up other unnecessary fronts whilst in Afghanistan America is calling for dialogue and reconciliation with all parties including some of the Taliban. Pakistan which has 25 million Pashtuns, more than Afghanistan's total population, cannot afford to alienate them as well as their crucial support for internal reconciliation and a new dispensation in Afghanistan. America has to take this into account. Pakistan should also begin fencing its border with Afghanistan despite its difficult terrain and length. India has fenced both the LoC and the international border with Pakistan as Iran has commenced doing. This we should have begun long ago. The Afghans cannot insist that we completely stop border infiltration across an international border they neither recognise nor agree to be fenced even from our side. The US/NATO/ISAF must play their role in sealing the border from the Afghan side which will be even more necessary when the additional American troops are deployed for action near our border, or cease their constant complaints about infiltration from our side. We should also insist on returning the over 2.4 million Afghan refugees to their country which Afghanistan, supported by the Western countries, has been resisting to remove this security, economic and environmental burden on Pakistan. The West which totally curbed all refugee flows is not in a position to object. There has to be a common international and regional understanding on the basic framework of Afghanistan which shall evolve, and how this should be worked towards. First of all the physical occupation of Afghanistan must end though interventional capacity to counter terrorist threats is likely to be retained by America. Only then will the Afghans be forced to deal with their own problems in their traditional manner of decentralised structures, consultation mechanisms and occasional military confrontation. Secondly, this should lead to empowerment of all Afghan ethnic and other factions including the Pashtuns, who cannot expect to dominate as before but must be given the stake they deserve to bring them on board. Thirdly, the Afghans must choose their own form of government and those who will lead it. Fourthly, no country should use Afghanistan or its territory to try to destabilise any of its neighbours. American policy in Afghanistan should include inhibiting any such attempts even though this will not suit India which has always tried to use Afghanistan as a pressure point against Pakistan, and continues to actively do so. Pakistan to strengthen its position must prioritise political stability, robustly continue to combat terrorism, and strive to lift its economy from dependence on American and other assistance flows. Provided that Pakistan ensures a contented FATA and Balochistan even an unfriendly Afghanistan would pose no threat as was clear during the times of King Zahir Shah, President Dawood and the Soviet backed regimes. Obama's new policy on Afghanistan is unlikely to succeed unless it is modified and implemented to bring all Afghans and Pakistan on board. The writer is a retired Pakistani diplomat currently on the faculty of the National Defence University.

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