C Kiran -
US President Donald Trump has written a letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s assistance and facilitation in achieving a negotiated settlement of the Afghan war. This is a far cry from the denigrating observations of Trump in his new South Asia policy, stopping Pakistan’s Coalition Support Fund due for its support in the war on terror, shutting down aid, warning IMF not to extend loans to Pakistan and his debasing tweets besmirching Pakistan.
Pakistan’s relations with the US have been likened to a roller coaster with numerous highs and lows. Currently, a low persists with Donald trump, bluntly muddying the waters although other government functionaries were trying to step in to stem the rot.
Afghanistan has been a quagmire, which swallowed many invading armies and when the US got sucked in following the deadly 9/11 attacks, there has been no let up. Following the peak surge by President Obama, when US forces in Afghanistan swelled to 150,000, which failed to bring about the desired results, a drawdown of forces was commenced in 2015. Nearly 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were trained and equipped with sophisticated weapons to take charge of the law and order situation in Afghanistan. US and other NATO forces are limited to a couple of thousand only and that too in supervisory role.
The system failed to work, not because of the flaws in training of the ANSF but the failure of US defence planners to make a critical appreciation of the threat. Some of the most brilliant US military minds have served in Afghanistan but success eluded them since they failed to grasp the complexities of the Afghan mindset.
The Afghan Taliban were defeated but not decimated. They regrouped, rearmed and came back with a vengeance. Set piece battles, employment of massive airpower and even anti-guerilla warfare tactics failed to work. Pakistan, which was a close ally and proved useful in the initial stages of the war in Afghanistan, started to be perceived with suspicion by the US. The porous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the treacherous terrain in the adjoining territory and local help because of common Pashtun ancestry, enabled the Taliban to evade capture and defeat. The US had the support of technology, intelligence and state-of-the-art weaponry but its inability to halt the Taliban’s hit and run attacks constrained Washington DC to look for a scapegoat in Pakistan and blame it for its failures.
Serious writers like al-Biruni, researchers like Sir Olaf Caroe, who is considered a strategist of the Great Game and the Cold War on the southern periphery of the Soviet Union, William Dalrymple, Nancy Hatch Dupree, Thomas Barfield, Louis Dupree, George Crile, Christina Lamb and Ahmed Rashid provide insight into the mind of the Afghans, but the real convolutions remain veiled.
Classified by the Occident as terrorists, the Taliban consider themselves as freedom fighters, striving to rid their country of foreign invaders. Pakistan has been crying hoarse that the solution to the Afghan imbroglio is no longer a military one and even paved the way for peace talks but its solitary voice got drowned in the crescendo of the blame game. The elimination of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan did not help matters and only crystallized US claims of “I told you so!”
Now that the Taliban are in control of more than sixty percent of Afghanistan, the various governments installed in Kabul have proved to be inept and ineffective, the ANSF and the National Directorate of Security (NDS) have been infiltrated by the Taliban sympathizers and various international intelligence agencies, furthering their vested interests, belatedly President Trump has decided to reach out to Pakistan. Although Pakistan responded positively, it is yet to be determined whether another round of “good cop, bad cop” is being played. Directly after Trump’s overture, his outgoing Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in an interview to The Atlantic, declared that “aid to Pakistan must be shut down.” Nikki Haley’s outburst can be dismissed on account of her Indian origin and ingrained biases against Pakistan, yet Pakistan needs to be wary.
Donald Trump’s special envoy to the region Zalmay Khalilzad paid a visit to follow up on the Trump request. The move may help ease tension in the Pak-US ties but if Trump is serious in ensuring Pakistan’s support, he will have to ask his administration to come down a few notches in firing broadsides at Pakistan. Sometimes US State Department choses to castigate Pakistan for its alleged ill treatment of its minorities while at others, climate control experts breathe down Pakistan’s neck accusing it of severe violations. Support provided by Pakistan will be in good faith, but it takes two to tango. There should be mutual respect and hurling insults must cease.