The recent Afghan policy of Trump’s administration manifests the centuries-old imperialist disposition. In Rudyard Kipling’s words in ‘The White Man’s Burden’: Take up the White Man’s burden/ Send forth the best ye breed –/ Go blind your sons to exile –/ To serve your captive’s need;/To wait in heavy harness,/ On fluttered folk and wild-/Your new caught, sullen peoples,/Half-devil and half child.
Historically, the white imperialists craved the conquest of other nations – at least in theory – with the objective to provide them medicine and education. Clearly, facts narrate the opposite of the myth. The Great Bengal Famine of 1769 that occurred soon after the British conquest proves to be the antithesis of Kipling’s theory.
The strong ties between Pakistan and the US date back to 1949 when a report was presented for the joints chiefs of staff on South Asia. This report noted that Pakistan “might be required as [a] base for air operations against [the] central USSR and as a staging area for forces engaged in the defence or recapture of [the] Middle East oil area”. The swathe of countries – from Turkey in the West to Iraq, Iran and Pakistan in the East – were knotted in an omnibus agreement known as the Baghdad Pact. The US couldn’t afford to have Pakistan fall within the communist bloc.
The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation, signed between India and the Soviet Union in August 1971, had further complicated the situation for the capitalist world in the cold war. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979 marked an era of strategic cooperation between Pakistan and the US.
Contrary to the common dilemma in the US administration, Pakistan offers countless shared values with the free world. It is a capitalist economy with strong property rights. While the educational level is low, there are visible signs of improvement. Democracy is not as promising as what it is in the free folk’s world. But it is headed in the right direction. The discourse against corruption is gaining momentum, the media is largely gag-free and women are in the mainstream. Moreover, Pakistanis are peace-loving and hard-working and, despite numerous socioeconomic problems, are committed to the hope of a promising future.
The Trump administration’s Afghan policy is an escape from the harsh realities of the region. The hostile plains of Afghanistan are not prone to an easy invasion. Around 65 percent of Afghanistan is still out of allies’ control. US taxpayers have spent more than $61 billion on the Afghan war. But the desired outcome is still quite remote. The economic pivot is nowhere in sight. Reconstruction and war perhaps don’t go hand-in-hand. Afghanistan lacks the financial, managerial, technical and legal capacity to support or maintain what has been built thus far. All modern concepts, such as health, education, gender equality and social justice, are too modern for Afghan society.
A quick look at the Afghan policy that has spanned over various US administrations speaks volumes of its incoherence. George W Bush’s threat to bomb Pakistan in the event of non-cooperation, the Obama administration’s plan to pull out from Afghanistan, the formation of a quadrilateral group and, in the end, the US nudging India to adopt a mainstream role in Afghanistan presents an incoherent, divergent and a grotesque scheme.
The civilisation took a long time to evolve from tribal societies to ordered states. Afghanistan is still a patrimonial and stratified society and the basic characteristics of state-level formation remain largely absent. The evolutionary process from a feudal society to a coherent state is a long journey. The world cannot expect an evolution in Afghanistan in just a few decades, particularly in the backdrop of a political vacuum created after the end of the Soviet occupation.
From Pakistan’s perspective, the global view of the Afghan situation isn’t conducive either. Trump’s policy, followed by the Brics declaration, doesn’t sit well it with the country. Ostensibly, there is an emerging need to change the overall Afghanistan policy and the entire discourse on the war on terror. Pakistan needs to take decisive action against those responsible for the Mumbai attacks. We can’t continue to pursue the policy of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. The Foreign Office saying one thing, the establishment saying another and the cabinet enunciating entirely a different narrative confounds the whole situation. Absolute civilian oversight is the cornerstone of the success in any civilised nation.
Soon after being voted into public office, the incumbent government tried to iron out the differences with the TTP through diplomatic means. However, Major General Sanaullah Khan Niazi’s martyrdom at the hands of the TTP after peaceful overtures by the government halted the peace process. It always takes two to tango and the state cannot singlehandedly resort to non-lethal means for the diplomatic resolution of differences. With the malaise in the economy and other problems at hand, Pakistan cannot ignore the global view of its role in the war on terror.
Of course, Pakistan has been one of the largest victims of terrorism itself. But something is wrong somewhere and the state has yet to determine what that is. Real peace is not being in a state of war. Sustainable peace is the implausibility of war. How can the implausibility of war be ensured by all the stakeholders?
Both Pakistan and India have to find peaceful means to work with each other. Would machinating to cancel or postpone the Saarc summit in Pakistan ensure peace? Would strong arming smaller states to not to play cricket in Pakistan bring peace? Or would shrugging off Pakistan’s genuine concerns with respect to fomenting terrorism in Pakistan by the likes of Kulbhushan Jadhav bring peace in the region? Similarly, dithering on taking decisive action against those who are responsible for any terrorist attack against any state and are seeking refuge in Pakistan cannot be the implausibility of war. Over the course of time, humans have learnt that war is not the destiny of our race. After the two world wars, the warring Europeans have learnt to live conterminously.
The sitting government under the command of Shahid Khaqaan Abbasi is contemplating means to assuage the smouldering crisis. The prime minister, who himself is a graduate of a US institute, realises the significance of a global political outlay. The annual plenary session of the UN presents a good opportunity to find political and peaceful means to resolve all outstanding issues.
While the US should not risk losing an ally that has historically enjoyed shared values with it, leaders in Pakistan and India are to stand the test of their vision in the General Assembly. At best, both the nuclear-armed nations will find common grounds for an objective resolution of their differences. I would like to respond to Rudyard Kipling in my own words, ‘The Brown Man’s Resolve’: We art the children of destiny-/ Sublime and Blissful,/ You hath not conquered us/We are your peers,/My women transcend in equality/Much as yours across [the] Atlantic,/There shouldn’t be blood in [the] streets-/Not mine, not thine.
The writer is a freelance contributor.