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October 17, 2017

One ‘last’ time: Part - II


October 17, 2017

Pakistan’s strategic imperatives are: it must find peace in Afghanistan; it must save CPEC and make it into a far more profitable venture; and eliminate Daesh as a prospective threat. Unsure how far the US is committed to finding peace in Afghanistan, or in eliminating Daesh from the region, as indeed permit CPEC to complete unhindered, it shall call for deft diplomacy when engaging with the Americans. This is akin to tightrope balancing but is perhaps the most exacting diplomatic test that Pakistan would have faced in a life-time. Failing it only poses an ominous future.

Try the following: Pakistan must divest itself from any odious linkages with the Taliban, especially with the Haqqanis, politely suggesting to them that they move lock, stock and barrel to the forty percent ungoverned spaces purportedly under their control in Afghanistan. Since three million Afghans are refugees in Pakistan, including the families of most Afghan Taliban leadership – to whom they return periodically – the government of Pakistan may make it transparent to agencies such as the UNHCR that all such ‘family visits’ be recorded under the presence of the agency’s representatives.

For other refugees, an international and bilateral effort must continue to divest Pakistan of this four-decades plus long service to humanity. It has already tested our social and economic capacity. However means employed be humane and considerate of the needs of the affected Afghans. But the process must be taken on in earnest with the help of the Afghan government and international agencies. Let this be the quid pro quo for Pakistan’s efforts to wean the Taliban to the negotiating table.

The fencing of the border along Afghanistan and Iran must continue unabated. Movement of people and goods from selected points only should be regulated and recorded within agreed parameters acceptable to each side after due deliberations. Trade and people must flow freely across under agreed regulation on both sides.

Pakistan must provide all support to any effort, especially the QCG, to enable meaningful negotiations with the Taliban, pushing, nudging and leveraging them into talks wherever possible. If we have lost such leverage because of recent operations against their stations in Pakistan we may be honest enough to so admit and declare to our negotiating partners. The Afghan leadership has overstayed its welcome; it is time for Pakistan to now tend to its own problems.

A full, sincere and no-holds barred engagement with US/Afghanistan on Afghanistan will help remove the stigma of safe havens which so easily attaches to Pakistan in popular discourse. So, rather than offer joint operations against any assumed havens, which is more rhetorical, taking concrete steps which manifest in accruing similar objectives will sustain and last, and be recognised. The time for any strategic ambition beyond our pale is long past. It is now time to save our possessions. Those who read the environment well and make a correct assessment of their relative power potential will ultimately carry the day for their country.

CPEC is what irks the US manifold; far more than anything on Afghanistan. It is in our interest to find peace in Afghanistan, it may be US’ to fake peace or only sound peace in Afghanistan. But Afghan peace holds salubrious benefits to CPEC; more work is thus needed on the Pakistani end. The golden rule that US/Afghanistan’s war will ‘not’ be fought on Pakistan’s soil shall remain our Grundnorm. Come what may this war shall not be fought on Pakistani soil except the one which the Pakistani forces are engaged in inside the borders to eliminate remnants of terror and an extremist philosophy.

To make CPEC more palatable, its larger benefits will need to be shared. Its profits to Pakistan too will need to be far more beyond the simple road/rail development and power projects alone. This is only possible when we let the region plug into it for shared benefits and stakes. This means offering the plug-in to India and Iran and extending the purely North-South corridor into an East-West corridor as well. This way Afghanistan, Iran and India all become stakeholders of this enterprise. It will also multiply the economic benefits for Pakistan beyond the cursory numbers that we live with now. China will then begin to appear far less threatening to all in the region. The US will really have to be an overt spoiler to deny this opportunity to the very poor and hapless of this part of the world. The greater the movement of trade, the greater can be the accumulation of wealth. Then only will CPEC truly blossom to our advantage.

This will be a major strategic adjustment to Pakistan’s way of envisioning the future but changed circumstances call for changed strategies. Pre-empting what may be brewing, and securing what is vital, is good strategy. Let this be Pakistan’s landmark initiative to not only weave India into a strategic stake-sharing, but also meet a long-time Afghan need to renew a transit trade agreement which might include India. The more the dependencies, the more shall be commonalities which will keep strife and war away. CPEC will be saved; its harvest will begin blossoming earlier; and we will have checkmated a possibly heinous design of cornering Pakistan into an undesirable submission. Without adding value to it, CPEC may only remain a rail/road corridor, embellished with some energy projects, and a mountain of debt.

Daesh however remains the biggest and quietest elephant which will need to be nipped on inception. Being the biggest lever for anyone intending harm to Pakistan, it needs immediate attention. Pakistan must engage on this with priority, offering the US and Afghanistan its fullest potential to neutralise the menace before it gathers vigour. It will be interesting if the US will join the effort in the interest of long-term peace. That might also probe if US’ real interest is long-term peace. If not it shall remain with the regional players such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran – directly threatened – and Turkey, China and Russia – regionally affected – to make a cooperative effort to that end.

The US plays its hegemonic role based around its unmatched power. Yet it must be subordinate to the cause and effect rubric like any other rational player. It is thus important to pre-empt the means and intervene appropriately at the right time to prevent unsavoury ends later. Just defiance and denial is a losing strategy. What may seem an innocuous diplomatic foray today can turn into unfavourable kinetic consequences, not by formal players but the irregulars in the hands of those who wish to bend Pakistan into conformance. The way out has to be an equally well considered diplomatic response with strategic options which cannot be denied. Initiatives with strategic foresight can forestall what in the medium term may become heinous.

Let’s write our own script for the play to seek peace and development in the region. A win-win for all also saves and secures Pakistan’s vital interests. Didn’t Sun Tzu say ‘greater victories are won without firing a round’. And John Boyd’s decision loop, of retaining initiative and not merely react, still rules all engagements.


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