The Afpak region is in a state of flux, yet it presents tremendous opportunities for diplomacy to operate and establish peace in the region. The real change has occurred in Afghanistan, after the invasion by the Soviets, and the follow up events which disturbed peace of the world and now has reached a boiling point where the bubble must burst, giving way to new realities and a new paradigm of peace in the region, and beyond. President Obamas Afpak strategy has failed and therefore there ought to be an exit strategy for Afghanistan. How? That is the dilemma The American and the NATO allies have lost their nerves and want to exit from Afghanistan at the earliest. The only country, which can provide a safe exit, is Pakistan and the only people, who can guarantee such exit, are the Talibanthe winners. The Indians who were brought into the foray as part of the strategic alliance - to contain and curb the rising power of China and Islamic extremism have proved a disappointment for the Americans. The Indians, therefore have been warned to restrain themselves. Yet, they may try their best to retain their influence in Afghanistan, once the exit begins. The Taliban of today were the Mujahideen of the 80s, fighting against the Soviets, who were defeated and forced to withdraw. Thus, the American objectives having been served, the Mujahideen became irrelevant and were denied their share in the power they had won. They were degraded by being called 'extremists and fundamentalists and were made to fight amongst themselves. After 9/11, Afghanistan was occupied and the 'war on terror was launched against the Afghans fighting for their freedom, calling them Taliban. The hardcore of Taliban is the young generation which was born thirty/twenty five years back and has grown under the shadows of war. Their only objective in life is to win their freedom. They have never involved themselves, outside Afghanistan. They have no truck with Al-Qaeda except the 005 Al-Qaeda Brigade, numbering about 3000, which has recently joined the shadow army under Mullah Umar. The Taliban, have never fired a bullet against the Pakistani security forces. In fact, when tension mounted between Pakistani security forces and Baitullah Masud, Taliban sent a powerful, nine-member delegation, advising Baitullah Masud to talk and negotiate peace but he did not listen to them. It is therefore evident, that the so-called Pakistani Taliban are a different entity altogether, whereas the Afghan Taliban are the arbiters of the destiny of the people of Afghanistan. And rightly the Americans have already developed contact with them, who are demanding a time-frame for withdrawal as the pre-condition. Both, the USA and Pakistan, therefore need to support the Taliban, and not to let them be cheated of their right to form the government, as it happened in 1990. They are the winners and so deserve their due place in power sharing. Pakistans support for the Taliban, therefore, is important - the diplomatic, political and military support - as much as for the Americans, for their safe exit. The Europeans and the Americans have burdened Obama, with the Nobel Peace Prize, which he did not deserve but the award puts moral and psychological pressure on him to perform and find peace in Afghanistan - something Pakistan should wholeheartedly welcome. One of the declared objectives of President Obama, therefore, is to bolster Pakistan, militarily and economically, so that Pakistan could play the desired role to provide Americans the safe exit as well as protect their interests in the region. In protecting American interests, we have to be very discreet and mindful as not to provide a 'safe haven to them in Pakistan. The increasing number of secret agencies such as Black water, DynCorp and others, which have found space in Pakistan, are dangerous indications. Kerry Lugar bill, and the explanatory notes of individuals, like Kerry and Berman that there is no intention to micro-manage internal Pakistani affairs, holds no bar on the bill, which has become the law under President Obamas signature. American law cannot be overruled by individual undertakings, except by another law. Pakistan has a pivotal role to play in exercise of this option. Any other option would mess-up the whole situation. Therefore, looking dispassionately at the responsibility placed on Pakistan, the following steps could be taken to play this role: Improve relations with the Taliban and reestablish the past goodwill. Mainly diplomatic and political initiatives are to be undertaken and 'no cloak and dagger activities of the intelligence agencies. The Indian negative influences in Afghanistan must be challenged to avoid the two-front war situation, we are facing now. The Taliban will not allow to be cheated this time of their right to form the government, being in the majority. Some neighbours of Afghanistan in particular must be kept at a distance because, in the past, they played very negative role in the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Pakhtunistan has emerged as a reality. There are over three million of them in Karachi - the economic support base - and their power extends from Balochistan, NWFP to the Hindukush mountains. Their fight for freedom, since 1980, has galvanized them into a formidable force, combining the forces of Pakhtun nationalism, Islamic idealism (Jehad) and universalism of the Islamic resistance against oppression, with its hard core, resting along the Durand Line. Pakhtuns are our strength, as much as they are the strength of Afghanistan, as well as a very important element of our foreign policy. During the last military regime, our relations with the Pakhtuns were tarnished, which must be repaired now to provide the foundation for the formation of the Union of three countries - Pakistan - Afghanistan and Iran, to give the much needed 'strategic depth to the region. Our relations with China are the bed-rock of our foreign policy. China must be taken as a friend, hand-in-hand to undertake diplomatic initiatives, as the fleeting moments of opportunity appear, which we must seize to make the best of them. India would act like a wounded python after meeting setbacks in Afghanistan and would flex its military muscles to frighten Pakistan and intimidate, by acts of terror and actions such as stopping the fresh water of the rivers flowing into Pakistan. We have to take these provocations coolly; ready to challenge India, in our own time. Diplomatic and political maneuvers are essential whereas the military strategy must be based on principles of 'asymmetric war of the present day times where 'men and missiles have emerged victorious on the battlefields of Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, against the most powerful countries, equipped with the best of technologies. Thus, there is a big role, for the Pakhtun power in our future conflict with India to decide once for all the issue of Kashmir. We have to play a very aggressive diplomatic and political role, to help Afghanistan find peace. Essentially the steps that need to be taken, to achieve the objectives are: Occupation forces to give a time frame for withdrawal and declare a cease-fire. Start dialogue with the Taliban and Northern Alliance, to form the Loya Jirga, to decide the main issues, such as formation of the interim government for a period of three years; holding of the census; framing of a constitution; rebuilding of Institutions; massive reconstruction of the infrastructure and recreation of ethnic balance which has been disturbed since the Bonn Conference of 2001. Last of all, hold elections in the year 2013. Such are the opportunities and the challenges demanding correct and timely responses to establish the foundation for peace in the Afpak region and extend it beyond to other regions. This can be achieved only with the cooperation of all our neighbours and friends, working on the golden principles of peace, cooperation and engagement as propounded and practiced by China. As Roger Cohen said Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response, to global challenges. Martin Luther King very rightly said: He, who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it. And Mother of all Evil, is the occupation of Afghanistan. -GENERAL (Rtd) MIRZA ASLAM BEG, former COAS Pakistan, Islamabad, October 20.