Need for a Revision of Afghan Policy

During the last few weeks Pakistan has become the target of belligerent statements seemingly made with a view to implement a larger agenda. Such actions reflect a state of mind and give an indication of things to come.

          The offensive was begun by Mr. Khalilzad, who charged Pakistan for being responsible for the recent resurgence of resistance in Afghanistan; fulminating that the Taliban were receiving training in military camps run by the government; that they were also receiving weapons and funds. Had such accusations been made by a commentator, it would not have counted for much. These come from the US President’s inner circle; from a person who has remained with the National Security Council and was the former ambassador to Afghanistan. He has now been appointed as the new ambassador to the sorry country of Iraq.

If we examine Mr. Khalilzad’s back ground closely, we find that along with Ms. Rice, the current US Secretary of State, he too worked with an oil company. In his case Halliburton, which was managed by Mr. Cheney; now the Vice President.  Later during the Taliban times Mr. Khalilzad worked as an advisor/consultant to Unocal, the US owned oil and gas company, which was then interested in laying down a gas pipeline in Afghanistan. In short he qualifies as an influential member of Mr. Bush’s inner circle.

          Mr. Khalilzad has some sort of a visceral dislike for Pakistan. During his tenure as US ambassador to Kabul, he continuously slandered Pakistan; accusing her of all sorts of things. This led to the storming of our embassy in Kabul and forcing us into military action in the tribal areas, before the political process was allowed to mature. It is argued that this may have led to a greater loss of life than would have occurred if the due process was followed.

          In his attempt to force the course of events again he has now attempted to push the friendly dialogue between allies (US, Pakistan & Afghanistan), away from the realm of reason. He very cleverly fired the ultimate emotional weapon by charging that Mr. Bin Laden was hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan! In the present Orwellian world that we live, where peace is war, this is war mongering. How can any responsible person utter such gibberish; there are a hundred and one places that Mr. Bin Laden could be in. Why pin point Pakistan for blame?

          Had matters remained to the mere utterance of statements it was tolerable. We are told that there have been three important telephonic conversations involving President Musharaff recently. He talked with President Bush and twice he spoke to the Afghan President. Both times he assured the later of Pakistan’s good intentions and denied the support of any anti-state elements within Afghanistan.

          The purpose of such ill founded accusations is obvious; it is to put our security set up on the defensive. When that happens the scene is complete to force another operation upon us or obtain another advantage in terms of policy or strategic goods. Normally, the aftermath of such events in the past has been an escalation of violence. Apparently, the war on terror has to be renewed in people’s minds; isn’t this comparable to and a stark reminder of human sacrifice of ancient civilizations? It was believed then that the shedding of human blood prolonged a society’s existence, it made the gods happy. In this case it would make the American public happy by showing that in the operation and killings lie the strengthening of US security.

Furthermore, media and policy follow death. It provides a justification to the lobbies to obtain the budgeting of their choice. Without an economy based on war the US un-employment rate would be much higher. In war lies a higher standard of living and the acceptance of government policies as legitimate; any challenge to such a policy would naturally be unpatriotic.

          Let us put together some other military and political pieces of the Afghan-Pakistan relations into perspective. Nowadays, all are enamored by Track II diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Its epitome was Advani’s certification of Quaid-e-Azam as a great leader. Coming from him really meant a lot; but does it or will it change the nature of state behaviour in international relations. Experience so far has shown that relations between states is conducted on the basis of realpolitik; politics based on practical considerations rather than on moral principles of rights, equity or choice.

          Relations between states are reflective of the teachings of Hobbes, who found that lawlessness prevailed in the natural state; that the people created a sovereign so that peace could be secured. In international politics also the purpose is not to provide justice and equity but stability; this can only be brought when peace is secured. It has never been and never will be the purpose of an international system to provide justice or equity. Diplomatic conduct between states has always been and will be based on using the threat of force or direct force to make changes or to obtain advantages. No country has gained its objectives by preaching goodwill. The US is a staunch believer of this policy. The Republican party practices it; the armed forces are committed to it and the US policy reflects it in its unilateralism. This is how the world is; it is a waste of time to dwell on what it ought to be; that would be cuckoo-land.

          I am not passing a moral judgment whether such a philosophy is good or bad for conducting state policy. I am however saying that such a policy has been beautifully crafted to gain the maximum benefits for the United States. Had we been given such an opportunity wouldn’t we do the same?

          Witness how the attack on 9/11 changed the world in two months time; between the mayhem of Twin Towers and the aerial pulverization of Talibans. But what has happened since then? Iraq was invaded and Saddam deposed; in the bargain the Persian Gulf has become the Gulf of Florida. The US oil supply route from the Middle East is assured. Iran a doctrinaire state has been put on the defensive; almost a physical house arrest.  The Monroe Doctrine applicable to the American Continental shelf is with modifications now applicable globally. The US reach is extended throughout the world from its more then 700 bases. It exercises more power than the other great empires in history ever did; more than the Roman or the British empire. In the bargain it has also obtained energy security by negotiating very favourable energy deals in Central Asia. The threat from Osama has provided it justification to extend NATO and other security umbrellas over most of the economically important regions of the world.

          When Pakistan had the opportunity we practiced a 20 over version (new fly by night version of the game of cricket), of the Monroe Doctrine ourselves in Afghanistan, with one important difference. We did a poor job after the death and destruction that began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. We failed abjectly to create lasting peace in that unfortunate country, when Dr. Najeeb agreed to step aside during the Geneva talks.

          How can we be so blind not to understand what happens to weak states? Why do we put our head in the sand, after having remained players and witnesses to so much inter-state violence; to believe that the Hobbesian world of meanness will be replaced by a Lockesian world of rights and obligations?

          If the lessons of inter-state relationship are so obvious why are we not seeing the writing on the wall in the context of the intent of our immediate neighbours? India is a great civilization and a strong state. Its conduct will be guided by its long term national interest. It has a world vision more in line with the thinking of neo-cons rather then the Gandhian philosophy. Track II is a fad. Until a nation’s self interest undergoes change altruism by itself means very little. I would like to take a bet that Track II and US support for it will last as long as the existing threat from Al-Qaeda remains.

          If Track II was coming from the heart why would India open consulates in Kandhar, Jalalabad and Herat? She has nothing to fear from the numerically weaker Pakistan. India’s economic might and potential is far above our league. Five of the top companies listed in the Mumbai stock-exchange have incomes larger than our annual GDP. Pakistan is not a credible threat minus its nuclear weapons to India; the later on the other hand has over-powering potential of masticating us. Her moves in Afghanistan can thus be only viewed with great unease.

            India is aware of Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan. Geographical proximity, religion and history have inter twinned our destinies. It gives us a more plausible justification to police our back-yard; more than an Indian claim to do the same. But this is being challenged now by Indian activity in this region. It would not be long before we begin to hear complaints of Indian interference in our tribal areas. The rehabilitation of derelict temples as far away as Khost directly opposite North and S.Waziristan can only be viewed with misgiving and apprehension.

          Only a few weeks ago, Afghan Ahmadzai wazirs on the behest of Afghan authorities sent in teams to offer afghan citizenship to Pakistani tribesmen. They also announced Afghan government’s intention to set up a college for the Pakistani tribesmen, who would like to send their children there. They also promised to set up educational centers for the Pakistani tribals in the Afghan Birmal area. What is inexplicable from our point of view is the protection and cover provided to the afghan government functionaries by US troops. Without such a security cover they would not be able to operate.  Does it mean that some one dearly wants to keep the pot boiling?

          One frightful answer is that militaries are basically bureaucracies; fighting bureaucracies if you wish. My contention is that the Afghan freedom fighters are now organized. They have cross border affinities and are able to obtain assistance from people who live on either side of the border. They are ethnically the same. Their histories are inter-twined and they have sacrificed together. This is as much a fact of life as the support of US Irish descent citizens for the IRA, during its fight in N. Ireland. It is nothing unusual; if it could not be prevented by the US, how can it be expected of us; especially given the nature of the terrain and difficulties in controlling it.

          In Afghanistan we are witnessing the emergence of a stronger resistance to foreign occupation. I can imagine leaders in Washington asking its ground commanders, that if their counter insurgency policy is successful how were these attacks getting bigger and bolder? To save their careers their reply is likely to be that Afghanistan has been pacified, but it is Pakistan which is the real source of trouble. All armies say this. Even when the evacuation of Saigon was in the offing during the Vietnam war, the official spokesman spoke of victories and the commitment of the US to stay on the ground. Situations change over night. The shift in Afghanistan is just beginning. The nature of the people and the terrain will not permit pacification by the use of force. Co-option and effective power sharing is the only answer.

          History has shown that no imperial power has won against a population which mobilizes to fight a war of liberation. Such a war has begun in Iraq and it is bound to happen in Afghanistan before long. Any US failure of containment will be laid at our door-steps. It is not really Afghanistan which is under the hammer but it is actually us; Afghans don’t have real responsibility to manage their country; that is with the US and NATO commanders; the only real authority that remains with Mr. Karzai, as one observer pointed out, is to issue land titles for disputed property in Kabul.

          We on the other hand have a viable country, if it is allowed to stay so. We should be prepared to enhance its security by any and all means. It is after all a Hobbesian world in international politics. Pakistani leadership is likely to be brought under increasing pressure by irresponsible charges, accusations and drummed up confessions obtained from unfortunate persons caught in this vortex; all done to obtain concessions.

          Pakistan also has an obligation to the Muslim world. As the sole Muslim nuclear power it has not only to act with exemplary fortitude against sponsored provocations; but should know that in the world of realpolitik it is always safer to be a living Neo-con then a dead liberal.

          Another sign of how things will settle in Afghanistan is the international handling of the narcotic problem; Afghanistan with Colombia is the world’s biggest narco-state, which is de-stabilizing the region including Central Asia/Russia/Eastern Europe and spreading its tentacles into W. Europe; ironically under the very nose of the world’s strongest military force. How is this possible. What is happening?

           Is war-lordism being encouraged at the cost of building up an Afghan nation state or has the die been cast already and the decision made that Afghanistan will remain in its present law less state; because if a nation state comes into being, its first act will be to free it of foreign forces. Secondly, if the Afghan state is too weak to take decisions, then should not the US constrain Indian ambitions in that country to provide comfort to its biggest ally in this part of the world; or has a negative convergence against Pakistan already begun in the Hindu Kush?

          One thing is certain, before long the stew that is being cooked will spread its aroma to the neighborhood; it is likely to aggravate state relationships in the region. President Musharraff would be well advised to read the writing on the wall and begin to neutralize the unraveling of the so-called artificial peace imposed on the region; if such a peace was genuine then one could have shown greater forbearance. As the above comments indicate the signs are that we are witnessing a scene which is not exactly right; it is time to stop pleasing the accusers and instead put into operation plans to counter the security threats to Pakistan. The present border calm cannot last long. We must guard ourselves and our interests with vigilance.

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