Past, Present and Future

Spearhead Analysis – 02.07.2014

Facepalm StatueThe ancient Greeks believed that you walk into the future with your eyes fixed on the past. They obviously meant that lessons need to be learnt from the past so that the same mistakes are not made again and again. This is particularly true for states that not only end up with faulty policies but persist in following those policies even when it has been proved beyond doubt that those are disastrous policies. For more than two decades the US persisted with a failed policy in Vietnam till it had to beat a panicky retreat. Now from within the US and the UK credible voices are telling us that the invasion of Iraq was based on fabricated stories of WMD and Al Qaeda connections that were simply not there — the result has been the Arab Spring. In Afghanistan too nothing was learnt from the defeat of the former USSR and a policy of backing one ethnic group against another laid the seeds for prolonged conflict with serious consequences for the region.

Iraq was held together by an Iraqi who understood his people and the dangers of a sectarian conflict sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Iran. He kept Al Qaeda away and did not venture towards WMD as he did not want to provoke Israel and the US. He did have a powerful Army and he had oil. The US invasion of Iraq has unleashed a violent Shia-Sunni conflict as a sequel to the violent upheavals in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Syria. The ISIL-the Islamic Army in the Levant — has announced an Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq under its control. The Kurds are vying for independence and Israel supports their quest. The future looks bleak as the US steps in with support for the Iraqi military — and indirectly for Iran and Syria. The future looks bleak except for the fact that the young revolutionaries who brought in mind boggling changes through the Arab Spring will not accept relics of the past as their leaders.

In Afghanistan the US backing of the former USSR linked Northern Alliance against the Pashtun south and its strategic shift towards India in South Asia created the uncertainties that led to Pakistan’s policy that addressed its own concerns and fears. Now, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives later the US is again leaving Afghanistan, and Afghanistan not withstanding its newly minted army, stands on the brink of a north-south divide as the Taliban go on the offensive and the election result becomes controversial. Pakistan has launched a well-timed military operation to clear its western FATA areas to prevent a South Afghanistan-FATA nexus that leads to an ISIL type Islamic State with spillover into Pakistan. Pakistan’s quest for internal and external security must be fully supported in regional and extra regional interest.

Much will depend on how much has been learnt from the recent past and how the present evolving situation is assessed to forge policies for the future. The US should harness Iranian and Chinese concerns and fully support Pakistan’s land air offensive to destroy the Taliban — not just militarily but with economic and political resources. This will also involve restraining India and encouraging it to improve relations with Pakistan. The ongoing Pakistan-Afghanistan interaction is a step in the right direction and must also be supported as these two countries have seen three decades of violence because of the policies of external powers and they have the most to lose if they do not cooperate in their own interest. The same is true for India and Pakistan future relations. The future can be bright if the right policies emerge from the debris of the past.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)