Prime Minister Gilani’s address at the 6th convocation ceremony of the National Defence University was important not only for its contents but for the choice of the venue where it was delivered. The PM spelled out three important factors of the renewed Afghan policy in his speech which were: “solution to Afghanistan will come from within Afghanistan; Kabul is the most important capital for us in the world; and a peaceful, stable and sovereign Afghanistan is an absolute necessity for Pakistan”. The core element of our erstwhile Afghan policy had been to avoid ‘war on two fronts’ or ‘encirclement by the Indians’. Did we achieve this? And most importantly, are we likely to achieve this in future? We always sought a quiet and peaceful Afghan frontier; not a 1500-mile-long border that needed more troops, resources, effort and attention than our eastern border. Did we have a friendly border that allowed us to concentrate all our resources and efforts against the border with India? No. Instead, we have a border which is eating into our strategic reserves of the eastern front.
The Americans are planning an orderly and respectable exit from Afghanistan. The Afghanistan that they will leave behind will have 250000 trained Afghan soldiers, 20000 US troops (battle enablers) and 2000 Nato trainers. Besides, the US will provide the Afghan Army close air support, logistical back-up and air surveillance. The world will not abandon Afghanistan and will provide annually $3.6 billion for supporting the Afghan National Security Force. Afghanistan may not have an active or operational air force but it will surely have a trained army. Today, our military is split, trying hard to meet threats that exist on both fronts. On the Afghan border the threat is not only from within but also from without. Will this threat diminish after the Americans leave in 2014? Most likely not. Will the world then witness a November-1995 like Taliban blitzkrieg when the Taliban advanced towards Kabul? Not now, when the US drones regularly patrol the Af-Pak skies.
Unlike olden days, satellite and drones have technically tilted the balance of power in favour of those who rule the skies. The US is spending more money training ‘drone controllers’ than training conventional aircraft pilots. This is bad news for the Taliban. But, at the same time, this will not stop the madressahs from producing Taliban in hundreds. So there will never be a dearth of ‘paradise-seekers’ drawing attention of US drones. Pakistan will have to help Afghanistan achieve peace and stability and for that the Pakistan Army should seek increased military engagement and involvement on the western front. Prime Minister Gilani has done well to spell out the core foundations of Pakistan’s Afghan policy. Will his government and the subsequent governments be able to execute this policy through the most important instruments: the army and the intelligence agencies? Only time will tell.
Muhammad Ali Ehsan