Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal

After spending tremendous effort in terms of American munitions and Asian blood, America’s Afghanistan is militarily volatile, politically ungovernable and communally uncontrollable. It has the capacity of destabilizing its all six neighbours, and indeed the entire Asia.

While pondering whether this status has occurred by default or design, one tends to conclude in the favour of a mix. Historic perspective indicates that Afghanistan has never allowed a foreign power to consolidate its occupation. American trajectory indicates that a stable Afghanistan does not suit American interests, thus it has been persistently working for a perpetually capricious Afghanistan; and a simmering Pakistan.

When America attacked Afghanistan, President Musharraf thought it would all end in 3-4 weeks; however, academics had professed that the venture could last for about a decade. Famous quote by Alexander the Great that Afghanistan “is easy to march into but hard to march out of,” has held out ever since. Soon America would join the club of earlier failed adventurers; indeed each one of them was a titanic of its era.

President Karzai is an erratic leader, his rhetoric keeps oscillating between ultra-right nationalist to ‘his master’s voice’. He also keeps jockeying between India and Pakistan for strategic benefits. His latest trophy is an elusive strategic agreement with India. His credibility at home and abroad is equally poor. His messages in recent days have conveyed a deep suspicion of Pakistan’s intentions; particularly disquieting statement that Afghanistan needs to negotiate not with the Taliban but with Pakistan coincided with the anti-Pakistan diatribe of his Washington based overlords.

Declining of military action against the Haqqani network is Pakistan’s first and clear-cut refusal to accept the American dictation. Americans are not expected to take it lightly. Shaky process of Afghan reconciliation has accrued a serious setback with the assassination of ‘High Peace Council’ head Burhanuddin Rabbani. Ensuing ping-pong of accusations and denials between Afghanistan and Pakistan has dealt a mortal blow to peace process; at least for the time being. Even more serious are the broader repercussions for regional peace.

Admiral Mike Mullen’s advice for his successor, General Martin Dempsey is quite intriguing, “I urge Marty to remember the importance of Pakistan to all this. To try to do a better job than I did with that vexing and yet vital relationship…I continue to believe there is no solution without Pakistan and no stable future in the region without a partnership.” However, he did not have the courage to tell the American people that right under the nose of his boys, Haqqanis run a de-facto government in four provinces and can move about freely in seven provinces. With this ground reality, they do not need any fall-back shelters in Pakistan. ‘Wall Street Journal’ has recently revealed only a bit of the liaisons that Admiral Mullen’s boys have recently had with the Haqqanis.

Non Pushtun warlords, US military and CIA are natural allies. In unison, this trio is quietly working on a plan to retard Obama’s drawdown plan. They also agree on isolating the Pushtuns, and assigning India a role of America’s military proxy in Afghanistan. In all probability, Rabbani was not killed by Afghan Taliban but by Afghan warlords working in concert with the CIA. Rabbani was critical of the US mess in his country in the days prior to his murder. Rabbani had genuinely sought reconciliation among the Afghan groups; he openly opposed the use of force against the Taliban. He also believed that peace could not return to the country so long as foreign forces remained on Afghan soil. He was advocating a revamped Kabul government including the Afghan Taliban and was a strong opponent of American military bases in his country.

Rabbani’s demise has helped Afghan warlords end the prospects of peace with Afghan Taliban. The murder has also enabled Pentagon and CIA to put pressure on White House to prolong the process of drawdown. Pentagon and CIA are close to pushing the Afghan war into Pakistan to avoid scrutiny of their failures in Afghanistan. An expanded war would help Pentagon and CIA reclaim their slashed budgets.

American writer, Wayne Madsen, has recently claimed that “Pakistan is next on the target list of nations that will soon be feeling the military muscle of the United States…unlike other Muslim nations that have been subjected to the US military intervention, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya, Pakistan’s ultimate prize for the West is its nuclear weapons arsenal…The plans have been coordinated between the CIA, India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Israel’s Mossad.”

The USA has always wanted to get to Pakistan’s nukes. World renowned writer for the region, Eric Margolis wrote, “Charges by Washington that Pakistan’s intelligence agency was behind anti-US attacks in Afghanistan do not make sense … More likely, the accusations may herald US Special Forces attack inside Pakistan and attacks on Pakistan’s nuclear installations”.

President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, ‘Wars can be lost, but election must be won’. In a spree to win the elections he went so ballistic that Vietnam War spun out of American control and Johnson had to abdicate his right to contest the second term. In the footsteps of Johnson, Obama is following similar trajectories.

Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, Petraeus and Panetta who are in a habit of firing threatening salvos need to be realistic and understand that American public as well as the world cannot be fooled by such rhetoric again and again. America must take the initiative by publicly abandoning its aims to retain bases in Afghanistan, and indicate its firm commitment to exit out, at the earliest.

Pakistan’s vision about Afghanistan’s future pegs around a peaceful polity; whereas America is looking for a turbulent Afghanistan. Pakistan is seeking a self governed Afghanistan which could take care of its security; America wants an Afghanistan which is perpetually dependent on America for its security as well as economic survival. Hence, Pakistan and America are on a point of strategic divergence.

At least until Obama loses elections, Pakistan is up against an insidious psyche. American military threat is real and serious. Pakistan’s military leadership needs to upgrade the readiness structures and refine response procedures to thwart American misadventures through Special Operations. Likewise, political leadership needs to specify clear and precise rules of engagement—‘shoot to neutralize all intruders’.

Writer is an analyst of international security and current affairs. He is a former assistant chief of air staff of Pakistan Air Force.

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