Pakistan must be grateful to US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta for articulating a clear, unambiguous US line of action in regard to Pakistan’s perceived inability to proceed against groups that the US sees as dangerous to its forces operating inside Afghanistan and which are supposedly based in the tribal areas.
Now is the time for Pakistan to place its cards on the table and challenge the wholly unsubstantiated assertions of a frustrated man. If the Pakistani establishment rushes to do damage control or launches another “determined” campaign of appeasement, the US bullying is only expected to grow in intensity and ferocity. That is the lesson of history.
The fact that the defence secretary chose to deliver his warning to Pakistan from Delhi and Kabul is significant. That was intended to reinforce his tough message to the rulers of Pakistan. Panetta said the US is running out of patience with Pakistan. In the ongoing war on terror, has the US ever displayed patience, shown any deference to Pakistan’s interests or respect for its sovereignty?
Whether it is the incessant drone campaign that has killed hundreds of innocent people, including women and children, limited ground incursions inside Pakistani territory, a raid deep inside Pakistani territory to eliminate Osama bin Laden and making a mockery of the notion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the US has never vacillated in its resolve to do whatever it considers best for its own interests. So where has it exercised patience? Let us examine the claim that some militants who are inflicting pain and misery on the coalition forces in Kabul are operating from “sanctuaries” located in the tribal area on Pakistani-Afghan border.
One may ask: on how many occasions in the past ten years have the US forces or their Afghan counterparts been able to intercept, confront, capture or kill those who intrude into Afghanistan, travel more than a hundred miles inside Afghan territory, carry out operations and then safely return to their hideouts in the tribal areas, again traversing a distance of more than a hundred miles?
This failure seems more enigmatic, considering that the coalition forces number 130,000 and are assisted by the more than 160,000-strong Afghan army in addition to more than 50,000 of “contractors” serving as security forces. The Afghan police force is also operating in the area and its strength has gone up to more than 140,000.
Also consider that these forces are equipped with the most sophisticated weapons and they function with the help of a vast surveillance network, radars and a comprehensive human intelligence apparatus.
And there is another dimension to this bizarre theory of sanctuaries. If the sanctuaries do exist, as the defence secretary claims, how and why have the hundreds of US drone strikes missed such targets for a whole decade? When mosques, houses, markets, vehicles, schools, weddings and funeral processions could be targeted and hit with such accuracy, how could the terrorists’ hideouts and sanctuaries be spared? Hitting sanctuaries should have been a top priority for the CIA drone campaign managers. This exposes the absurd rationale of the whole fragile theory that is woven around wholly baseless assumptions.
But this is repeated ad nauseam because Islamabad has never been able to confront its American interlocutors with facts and ground realities. If one were to assume, even for the sake of an argument, that some resistance in the few Afghan provinces that border Pakistan would have some connectivity with militants operating from the tribal area of Pakistan, then how would one explain the growing resistance in areas that have no border with the tribal area or with Pakistan?
On June 9, there was a deadly attack on French soldiers in Kapisa province, which neither has a border with Pakistan nor has any substantial Pakhtun population. And who are targeting the coalition forces on a daily basis in such regions as Qundus (bordering with Tajikistan), Herat (bordering with Iran), Jozjan (bordering with Turkmenistan) and such areas as Sare Pul, Ghazni, Lugar and Wardak which have no border with Pakistan.
Panetta, who is now calling the shots as far as the war theatres of Afghanistan and Iraq are concerned, must be under considerable pressure to deliver an emphatic victory at least in some sector of Afghanistan. He has some results to show, however. The night raids initiated by Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus have caused tremendous losses to the resistance, although many of the casualties were innocent Afghans. The local militias formed in some regions have also inflicted heavy losses on the resistance.
But the fighting, despite such losses, has not diminished. The most worrying thing for the Pentagon bosses is the rate of desertion in the Afghan National Army which is going up. Secondly, the many supporters and sympathisers of the resistance within the government establishment are causing a headache to the coalition forces which see their scheme for Afghanistan unravelling in the face of more defections and more “conversions.” These are formidable challenges which cannot be managed by throwing money at people.
Pakistan must be able to see the emerging mayhem in Afghanistan which a residual force of 25,000 US troops after 2014 will not be able to contain or handle. The Doha peace process is as good as dead. In any case, Mullah Umar has now decided to discontinue any future parleys with the US, having realised according to some reports that these are gimmicks aimed at creating a rift in the ranks of the resistance. To an extent the team that is based in Doha has lost its relevance for the leadership of the resistance.
These are grim and painful developments. As well as confronting the US position with the help of solid evidence and facts Pakistan must also take a more robust part in initiating a serious dialogue between the US and the resistance, exploring the solid basis that exists for working togather: no Al-Qaeda in future Afghanistan and no use of Afghan soil against any other country. As Pakistan undertakes this stupendous task it would learn very soon that common ground has existed between the position of the US and the resistance that has not been tapped into for many years.
But the success of such an effort would depend on whether the US is willing and prepared to withdraw all its soldiers, trainers, advisers within a stipulated period of time. Insurgency with all its attendant consequences will not end unless the US agrees to a complete pull-out of its forces of all types. Would the US listen?
The writer is a former interior secretary and ambassador. Email: rustammohmand @hotmail.com