Time for careful planning

SINCE May 1, when US Special Forces carried out the raid resulting in the death of Osama bin Laden, the nation has been up in arms against what is perceives as a violation of its sovereignty by the US as well as the Pakistan military’s failure to prevent the raid.

There were a number of reports that the confidence of junior officers in their seniors had been dented; others spoke of the removal from military service of firebrands who had ventured to speak out.

However, the net result of the threat of US forces operating inside Pakistan is that it forced the civil-military leadership in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to see the writing on the wall and to remain focused on protecting Pakistan’s strategic interests.

Such resolve is rare and commendable. Clearly, Pakistan’s position is that while assisting the US in disengaging in Afghanistan, it will not be pushed into doing anything that creates more risks inside its borders.

To force Pakistan to shift its position, the American establishment launched a fusillade of charges against it and accused the country of being complicit in attacks on the troops of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

It began with the damaging, albeit uncharacteristic, remarks made by then outgoing chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Adm Mike Mullen, before the US Senate. Afghanistan joined the chorus when it accused Pakistan of being complicit in the assassination in Kabul of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Afghan High Peace Council.

The pressure continued to mount with open threats in terms of the possibility of a direct American incursion into North Waziristan if Pakistan did not acquiesce in mounting an operation against the Haqqani network.

Immediately prior to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan recently, US forces began threatening operations in Khost, opposite Pakistan’s border. Simultaneously, India began a Cold Start exercise in Rajasthan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited New Delhi to sign a strategic agreement with India that, amongst other matters, provided for the training of Afghan army officers in India.

In short, no opportunity was left untried in tightening the screws on Pakistan.

In attempting to force Pakistan to shift its stance regarding operations in North Waziristan against the Haqqani network, it would seem that the US played its last card.

After the recent attacks in Kabul, it should have been obvious to US intelligence that the Haqqani network would have to be pretty foolish to keep its fighters inside Pakistan; it is well-known that the group has now located itself in the districts surrounding Kabul as well as in Wardak and Logar districts, where it did not have a presence before.

The pressure on the Haqqani network has forced it to spread deeper inside Afghanistan. It is unclear how Pakistan can exercise control over the group once it is no longer tied to Pakistani territory.

It appears as though there is a strong element of make-believe in the mindset of American policymakers, for the latter are resolutely sticking to an imagined narrative of absolute Pakistani control over the Haqqani and other Taliban groups.

It could be that this is a move to make Pakistan the scapegoat for future US failures if peace is not achieved in Afghanistan, or an agreement with the Taliban is not obtained for the establishment of some US bases in Afghanistan after the December 2014 withdrawal date.

Having realised that Pakistan will not oblige against the putative Haqqani enemy, despite its threats, the US changed its position during Ms Clinton’s final meetings with the military and civilian leadership in Islamabad. It is now clear that the US has decided to depend on Pakistan for the endgame in Afghanistan.

This may provide Pakistan with opportunities, yet it is fraught with risks. Afghan militants will not negotiate through a reliable institutional prism and that is where the seeds of future embarrassment may lie. Dealing with the Taliban movement is one thing, but Pakistan managing to convince other regional players to accept its leadership role is quite another altogether; all parties have their own geo-strategic interests to follow.

To remove these risks and gain momentum for peace-building, the first thing to create will be an official agenda for the peace talks as well as opening up consultations with regional players which may hold contrary views.

It will also be wise for Pakistan to realise that Afghanistan is no longer a Pakhtun backyard — the Afghan wars have empowered all the other Afghan ethnicities, and without their commitment to peace an end to violence is not possible.

Secondly, peace talks of such an involved and delicate nature are laborious and demanding. Thus, it would be beneficial to have the UN or other regional nations associated with the talks; somewhere down the line will arise a need for neutral observers and mediators. In this, the role of India must not be overlooked — this could open up the path to larger regional peace that includes both India and Pakistan.

In the presence of France’s foreign minister, India’s external affairs minister S.M. Krishna recently warned that the failure to heal the rift between the US and Pakistan would have “devastating consequences”. This should be seen as a positive message.

Clearly, the US military strategy of peacemaking through the use of force will need to be abandoned; such a condition is anathema for any self-respecting Pakhtun. Pakistan may wish to use its limited leverage to assist the Afghan peace process while remaining uninvolved in internal Afghan affairs. That is where its salvation lies.

Evidently, Pakistan has scored a masterful victory by correctly guessing America’s limitations. Yet the new responsibilities thrust upon it could end up creating more difficulties and may result in a pyrrhic victory if the next steps are not planned carefully.

Article was published on dawn newspaper

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