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October 30, 2017

Tillerson’s foreplay


October 30, 2017

American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit was more of foreplay for future relationship between David and Goliath -- whether to culminate into a passionate orgasm or date-rape. Although until now one does not know what transpired behind the close doors of the Prime Minister House, however, one thing is clear: President Donald Trump’s desperation, the obvious gung-ho, anger and forth—made it clear that Washington has limited options in Afghanistan—much more restricted than 16 years ago when it invaded land locked country. It is also clear to them that the horse it is betting on—President Ashraf Ghani- has a limp which makes the entire gamble a non-starter for the US.

I am sure a formal assessment by the American think tanks must have brought Pentagon to the conclusion that notwithstanding any amount of American pressure, Pakistan is not in a position to bring about the result that Washington desires of Islamabad. I also believe that the CIA must be in a better position to know that Taliban and Haqqanis have by and large shifted their bases inside Afghanistan as they knew in advance what was coining up. However, I am glad there is discernible change in the attitude of the Pakistani government and establishment towards Taliban as a phenomenon.

This change has come gradually after the Army Public School killing in Peshawar three years ago. That TTP are taking shelter inside Afghanistan with the knowledge and, at times, connivance of Afghan Taliban which came as a shock to our security agencies. One glaring example is the refuge given in Kabul to the renegade Mullah Fazlullah of TTP after he ran away from Swat when PPP government decided to rid the region of terrorists and General Kayani moved in swiftly and cleared the area of TTP’s presence and writ. Our agencies took time to realise, much to their horror that ideologically both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban were kissing cousins. They may be sleeping in different beds, their dreams are same. Will this change of heart bring about a change for the benefit of Pakistan and Afghanistan is yet to be seen with optimistic skepticism.

Imperatives are imperatives. I am sure despite their trigger-happy history of dealings with nations, it must have bulldozed in the hard nuts to crack in DC’s corridors of Pakistan—that they may continue to orchestrate their "do more" mantra publicly, it has to be different sort of game behind the curtains. One is not a butler to be privy to see what happened and what did not happen in closed doors, one will have to believe the statement of Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on the floor of the Senate, that Pakistan told the American delegation that there are no terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and that if the latter provides actionable intelligence, Pakistan will act on it.

Although Khawaja Asif did not say so, but his statement inferred at what the Americans wanted-- "however, if they want that we act as their proxies to fight their was made clear to them that it was unacceptable." We will not compromise on our sovereignty…our relations with America have to be based on self-respect and dignity." Pakistan advised Americans that they should allow their policymakers, and not their military leaders, to devise a policy for Afghanistan as the military solution has failed and a political solution is needed. Indeed, Khawaja Asif rightly said the American failures over the past 16 years are writ large on the face of Afghanistan and there can only be room for improvement if Washington accepts its defeat, its failures in Afghanistan. Nothing can move forward unless Americans accept defeat.

Tillerson’s visit was typical of American carrot and stick policy. After having whimpered in Islamabad, he did his barking stuff in Delhi where he said that the United States was concerned that extremist groups ‘left unchecked in Pakistan’ posed a ‘threat to the stability and security’ of the government in Islamabad. “This could lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability. It is not in anyone’s interests that the government of Pakistan be destabilised.” Has anyone seen crocodile tears-if not-get hold of media clip from Delhi. Indian media did say Tillerson got a frosty reception in Pakistan, thank God, it did not say that he had do a Lady Godiva act—driving from airport to American Embassy in Islamabad through a curfew-like deserted route with no peeping toms around.

How things will shape up in the near future, how much “do more” Pakistan will have to do to please the man who has outdone in shortest possible time President George Bush Jr in creating more uncertainties around the world as never ever before. Last but not the least, I am surprised that never one has come across any mention or concern about the lethal role narco-money has been playing to keep Afghanistan on the boil. Americans know well that they have been nurturing a narco state during the past 17 years in Afghanistan which ultimately has become unmanageable for everyone.

As a narco-state Afghanistan has emerged stronger on the world map as a country where the narco bosses are much more powerful than all the warlords strength put together. Ask any official of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF), of course in confidence, and you would know how powerful these drug lords are. They have latest weapons, top of the line communication system and latest vehicles, including armored vehicles for their overseas operations. All important Afghan officials are on their payrolls while officials in Pakistan and Iran are also beneficiaries.

During his lecturing to Pakistani delegation to do more somebody should have told him “enough is enough”, does he know that it is the American connivance which is keeping the narco-business in Afghanistan running and Taliban are the direct beneficiaries of the narco-money worth billions. Please let me know if anyone has heard an American official talking about curbing narco-trafficking which is the major source of Taliban funding apart from toll tax on vehicles passing through Taliban controlled territories and kidnapping for ransom.

Author is former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.

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