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January 11, 2018

Some sane advice


January 11, 2018

Former US ambassador to Pakistan Richardson G Olson in a recent article has presented a very realistic review of the ground realities concerning conflict in Afghanistan, fluctuations in Pak-US relations, the Indian factor and what would have been the best possible way to arrest the nose-dive in relations between the two countries.

At the outset, he has rejected the Trump approach of publicly chiding and embarrassing a sovereign and self-respecting ally like Pakistan instead of sending a strong message through normal diplomatic channels and high-level contacts; Olson, though, has gone with the accusation of Pakistan having played a double role and supporting the Taliban against US interests.

The reaction that the Trump tweet has invoked in Pakistan testifies to what Olson has maintained about the new US approach. Pakistan’s people are angry over the American indiscretion and in a defiant mode. The reaction by the military and civilian leadership though has been very measured but the overall national sentiment is to say: enough is enough.

In light of his experiences and dealings with the military and civilian leadership in Pakistan, the ambassador concludes that US needs Pakistan more than the latter needs the former if a solution has to be found to the conflict in Afghanistan. He is right in the sense that nobody can change the geographical realities and the centuries-old connection between the two neighbours. Acknowledging the US’ role and share in creating the obtaining conditions in Afghanistan, he feels that American leverage against Pakistan has not been as effective as desired because the US has not shown appreciation for Pakistan’s security concerns viz-a-viz India.

The permeating perception in Pakistan of India being an enemy is not without reason. Since Partition, India has been trying to harm Pakistan, a fact most recently highlighted by the arrest of Kulbhushan Jadhav. Under the circumstances, how can Pakistan accept Indian role in Afghanistan?

The Pakistani military and civilian leadership are wary of US support for India and attempts to prop the latter as a regional superpower by giving it an enhanced role in Afghanistan – which is perceived by Pakistan to be inimical to its strategic interest. Partnerships and alliances work effectively through mutual accommodation and not by only one partner expecting the other to do its bidding. The US has never shown any respect for what Pakistan has done in the war against terror. Instead, the Americans have taken to drone attacks, and incidents like the Salala attack and the OBL raid.

The military leadership, which is very involved with the Afghan policy because of the security dimensions to it, surely has a better understanding of the stakes involved and the approaches needed to neutralise the negative fallout from the conflict in Afghanistan.

The ambassador also rightly feels that the cut in US aid to Pakistan and military assistance is not going to create the desired effect because the Chinese investment of $62 billion in Pakistan through CPEC would more than blunt the biting edge of this move. The ambassador concludes by advising the Trump administration to convey whatever message it has to convey through engagement at the highest level, adding that the US could address Afghanistan through a political initiative since the ultimate answer to the Pakistan conundrum is in starting a diplomatic initiative by opening talks with the Taliban. That is where Pakistan certainly has a role – though it may not have the same leverage with them like in the past. The saner advice given by Olson needs serious consideration.

A two-pronged strategy is needed to untangle the situation. One would be plain talk between the US and Pakistan about the existing ground realities to remove the haze, and finding a way to re-engage the Taliban in negotiations. The second strategy would be to avoid exchanging barbs, and cooperate with each other earnestly to prevent cross-border movement by terrorists through a complete fencing of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Trump administration would also have to re-appraise its assessment about Pakistan’s credentials as a partner in the war against terror because the stance taken by Trump’s and previous US administrations is not based on reality but stems from a tendency to find a fall guy for American failures in Afghanistan. Logic belies claims of Pakistan playing a double game. Pakistan is a country which has suffered the most in the war against terror, which Pakistan has fought as its own – and not for American money, as has rightly been pointed out by our military leadership.

Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan; how can the latter work against its own interests by supporting terrorist groups which the US thinks carry out terrorist activities in Afghanistan? The US needs to revisit the new doctrine propounded by the Trump administration in light of the existing ground realities rather than trying to foist its own misperceived solutions.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]

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