In terms of US objectives and role in this region, we can postulate three probable modules about the future of Afghanistan. Each module, having its own peculiarities, is going to impact Pakistan in a different manner. The first module is US reconciliation with the Taliban that could save the US administration’s face in public. Such reconciliation would result in an Al-Qaeda-free Afghanistan and indeed that will protect valid interests of the US in the region. If this module is realised, the US would not hesitate to withdraw all its combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014. Though the US would insist on its military bases in Afghanistan, if the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries play their cards skilfully, the US could agree to surrender this condition.
The second module is about the failure of all efforts in reconciliation with Taliban. In this case by 2014 the US have to face greater difficulties. If US relations remained strained with the neighbour countries of Afghanistan, they will not hesitate to facilitate the Taliban, making it even more miserable for US. In this situation the US would toe the same Afghan policy by the upcoming presidential elections. In next elections if Obama wins, two major policy shifts are very obvious. Firstly, they will convert northern Afghanistan into a strong military base and will operate drones and use other means from there to suppress Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Secondly, the US will encourage and manage the civil war in central and eastern Afghanistan to overturn resistance against them. If this module operated, indeed the US would use Afghans to teach a good lesson to all those neighbouring countries that, according to US view, are responsible for their failures. A possible strategy could be dividing Afghanistan against ethnic fault lines of Pakhtun and non-Pakhtuns; making the Durand Line a burning issue between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
For Pakistan this policy shift could be translated as enlargement of existing geographic circle of drone attacks, imposing financial restraints, and giving beyond merit opportunities to India in Afghanistan. Instigating the internal conflicts of Pakistan would also be another tool in their hand. But one can ask what if Obama didn’t make it. To predict the minimum, if Republicans enter the White House, US policy about this region is going to be more aggressive and foolish!
The third module, having least possibility, and vigorously predicted and desperately desired by hawkish leaders, some ex general and rightwing analysts in Pakistan, is that the US leave Afghanistan and never care to look back as the USSR did in the past.
In terms of the impact of each module it is obvious that excluding the first, the remaining two modules are simply disastrous for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Impacts of the second module are already enumerated in its details above, while the third module could push back Afghanistan to a situation when the USSR left Afghanistan in the 90s. However, this time the magnitude as well as catastrophe of a civil war would be far greater. In the past only few Mujahedeen groups were at war for the single objective of power. But now the civil war would get its fuel from mutual disagreements over languages, regions, religions and sects. This civil war would be more disastrous as Afghanistan is now bursting with the latest arms and destruction technologies. Suicide bombing and killing opponent by entering in their strongholds are just new trends that could claim thousands of lives.
Besides internal dimension, the last two modules will also facilitate regional and international actors to invest for their interests. The US and its allies would initiate such conditions for revenge, but such dispute would be an ideal site for proxy wars to Pakistan and India, Iran and Saudi Arabia, China and the US, and other regional actors. Those who dream about Taliban rule in future Afghanistan are not realising the difference. In the 90s both superpowers left Afghanistan and in regional contest among Iran, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan indeed Pakistan had the upper hand. Today, the US having its bases in northern Afghanistan or even in Central Asia could not allow sustaining any such government through their Drones and B-52 raids. In guerrilla war, indeed the Taliban are victors, but by every rational analysis, it is not equal to the Taliban’s capacity to rule.
Thus, it is in the greater and supreme interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan that they effort to realise module one. Instead of wasting their energies in complete surrender of the US, they must work along with the US and other regional actors that result in a representative setup in Afghanistan. All valid concerns of the US and its allies, but not at the cost of the interests of China, Iran and Pakistan, must be addressed and protected. Reciprocally, the US has to cancel its wicked projects about the region.
It is fact that the US is neither focused nor sincere. It is extremely confused and extremely annoyed with Pakistan. The US has halted but not ended its wicked projects for Pakistan, Iran, China and Central Asia. And to this end Pakistani policymakers’ stance seems logical that no one can help or play comfortably with the US until they clearly set their objectives and priorities. However, the sad fact is if Pakistan waits for that ideal time while US policymakers resolve their confusion, irreversible damage is waiting for us. Realism demands that Pakistani policy makers fully analysed current situation and set its strategy accordingly. And to this end there is lot to do at Pakistani end.
First and foremost Pakistan requires its own focus, between civil and military leadership over Afghanistan. Secondly, Pakistan has to use its full potentials to materialise reconciliation among Taliban, Kabul and the leadership of northern Afghanistan. Once they are on the same page, it is an easy but equally important task to convince through diplomatic means the US and its allies, China, Russia, Iran, India, and Saudi Arabia to buy that policy. Instead of the futile exercise to surrendering the US in Afghanistan it is far better to convince the US that its efforts to surrender Pakistan and other in Afghanistan are equally counterproductive.
The regional and international competition through arms and proxy wars in Afghanistan and adjacent Pakistani areas needs transformation. If this competition is turned to economic field this win-win formula is a guarantee of prosperity for all participants. The war among the US, China and Russia, results in thousands of casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If they convert Pakistan and Afghanistan in their competition arena for trade the success and benefits of this are guaranteed. Presently as a result of proxy war between India and Pakistan, the Pakhtun belt in Afghanistan and Pakistan is an inferno.
If they chose to compete for Central Asian opportunities, the same belt only through transit income could be paradise. Iran and Saudi Arabia invest heavily in instigating hate between different groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but if this competition shifted to trade and investment, people of both countries will develop.
The writer works for Geo TV.