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December 26, 2017
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What to do?

Opinion

December 26, 2017

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The terse exchanges between Washington and Islamabad do not portend well for Pakistan. It is becoming increasingly clear that the pressure being levied on Pakistan is not merely to launch another military offensive in Fata.

In the past, other Pakistan military operations in the agencies – even though praised by the Isaf command at the time – did not yield the long-term desired impact on the insurgency across the border. But for now, it is the consequences of non-cooperation in achieving counter-insurgency targets that we are being openly warned about, which is extremely offensive. There is talk of targeted US strikes and operations in settled areas. To assume it is mere rhetoric or pressure tactic would be a fallacy.

Trump’s Washington is a bellicose, seething mass of unbridled frustration and egoism. And it is capable of committing acts that in international politics would be regarded as improbable. In the world of real politik however, more dangerous than the actual actions are the calculations that states, big or small undertake to safeguard their interests. The US at this point is behaving unlike any ‘rational’ hegemon, taking steps that would be deemed high risk to its own interests in the long term. Let us not forget that the Trump regime is the one that declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in one swoop, regardless of the international furore, the impact it would have on the Mideast conflict or the danger it puts American interests at home and abroad in.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, a scapegoat is desperately needed for the US to salvage itself in crushing the insurgency, once and for all. And for failing to secure a stable and competent government in Kabul. So what better a choice than the favourite whipping horse, Pakistan. In the worst-case scenario, we could have the US leading the Afghan army in a coordinated air/ground offensive in Pakistani territory. Would Pakistan respond as it must or would it pretend it wasn’t aware of such a strike till it was all over and done with? Would any civilian deaths during the course of such a strike be as explicable as the drone sacrifices labelled as collateral damage?

That brings us to the quintessential dilemma of ‘to do or not to do’. Frankly, though, either way we are damned. The choices seem limited, the writing on the wall a stark warning. But we must not forget that beyond the fog of the delusions and the debris of broken trust and betrayals lies something we are yet to comprehend – our integrity. That is something we cannot compromise for the sake of our martyred soldiers and all those brave men women and children whose sacrifices have branded the green of our flag on our national conscience.

Let us also not forget that the Durand Line has been crossed in the past as well by the Isaf forces and the Afghan army, allegedly in pursuit of insurgents across the border. But these incidents have been far and few between. With the crescendo building up on taking all possible measures to destroy the insurgent network entrenched in Pakistan, the US is probably weighing the pros and cons of undertaking similar punitive measures. Do we have a strategy in place to combat such an eventuality? Unfortunately, our past policies have wrought far more damage to our sovereignty than external threats. The drone strikes are a case in point. What was doubly deplorable was the obvious coexistence of blatant acquiescence and sham denial in this regard.

Moreover, Washington must understand that peace by military means is a fallacy and a political solution involving negotiations with the Afghan insurgents is the only way out. Herein lies the root of the problem. Neither side is willing to compromise, especially Kabul. There is rampant confusion in deciding on what route to take.

At this juncture Pakistan’s sovereignty is under real threat and the damage this will bring would be far greater than the ire over a territorial incursion as in the past. It is heartening to note the strong and unified stance the civilian and military have taken to respond to the US allegations. But issuing a ‘befitting’ response is not enough. Diplomatic efforts to alleviate the growing mistrust and increase cooperation to devise a coordinated strategy to bring peace to Afghanistan is a must.

The writer was a former deputy opinion editor at Gulf News, Dubai.

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