From Daily Times, January 26, 2017.
War is defined as an occurrence in which organized military forces engage in violence on both sides of the conflict. Only US’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq meet the definition of war. After that, US ‘war on terror’ transmuted into military interventions in countries much smaller and weaker than the US. The interventions were either in collaboration with the government of the nation state, such as in Pakistan or Yemen, or in collaboration with the rebel groups against the government of a nation state, such as Syria and Libya.
A spiral of violence has now been created. The presence of militant groups is the reason America gives for military intervention and bombing of civilians in the region. The civilian deaths create more militant groups who carry out terror attacks to destabilize their own government on account of latter’s alliance with the US. Terror attacks also kill civilians. The military in the state where terror groups strike tries to take them out by bombing its own areas. Civilians either die in such strikes, or are dislocated. Because of the stigma of hailing from a terrorist area, the internally displaced people lead a life devoid of social support. Poverty levels within a country do not allow its government to fully address the needs of the IDPs. Urban ghettoization and increase in poverty thus ensues, adding region wide pockets of misery. Such pockets become fertile grounds for crimes including terrorism. Civilians suffer as their streets and neighborhoods become less secure. The “War on Terror” is, in many ways, a war by organized military forces against civilians. Terrorism has been the stated target, but not the casualty of this war.
In the eighties, during the Soviet Afghan war, terrorism struck Pakistan but remained confined to the North West Frontier Province (now KPK). During Pakistan’s second involvement in the Afghan conflict, wherein it again aided and abetted the US, (now the occupying force in Afghanistan), terrorism spread to every nook and corner of Pakistan. No province, no city remains out of reach of terrorists.
Why is that?
For one, in the eighties Pakistan was helping the resistance, which is the side most likely to use terrorism in furtherance of its policy. Secondly, the KGB did not have the levels of intelligence in Pakistan that the CIA does. Had the KGB been present in Pakistan in large numbers, it would have masterminded terror attacks all over Pakistan to dissuade the central government from helping the Americans in their proxy war against the USSR in Afghanistan.
Similarly, the US has an interest in clearing Afghanistan of nationalist elements because it has a commercial plan involving Afghanistan. America finds Pakistan’s military as the most useful resource in furtherance of the objective of eliminating nationalist forces in Afghanistan and their helpers in Pakistan.
Of course, in order to be able to engage Pakistan thus, compulsions have to be created. If Pakistan itself suffers terror attacks, its government and its military have a reason to go after the most obvious suspects, members of the resistance in Afghanistan and their allies in Pakistan.
That means terrorism in Pakistan will not end till the US has succeeded in eliminating the nationalist forces within Afghanistan. Helping the US achieve such an end goal is detrimental to Pakistan’s survival because of the ‘India factor.’ New Delhi covets Pakistani territory due to its enhanced economic value. When Pakistan engages against its own people for a prolonged period, India finds its window of opportunity to delegitimize and dismember Pakistan. Furthermore, it is not in Pakistan’s interest to eliminate its martial races in the areas adjacent to Afghanistan, where a hostile India has lodged itself with the help of the US.
After every major terror attack, Pakistan engages on its own land against militants who are helping the Afghan resistance. The latest of such engagements, carried out by Raheel Sharif, saw the most intense bombardment and the most wide spread dislocation of people from the area bordering Afghanistan. During this time, terror attacks greatly decreased but were unprecedented in intensity and scale. After each occurrence, the Pakistani military took its invasion of border areas to a higher scale.
Even if all support structures for the Afghan war are destroyed in Pakistan’s border areas, the US’s end goal of eliminating nationalist forces in Afghanistan will still remain to be fulfilled. Hence, the US will continue to demand more from Pakistan. India will continue to use the predicament Pakistan is thus placed in to its advantage. Pakistan’s best option at countering such a pressure is to gather regional and international support to emphasize the futility of the path US is walking in Afghanistan, and to help steer it in a fresh direction that brings benefits to Washington and to the Afghans without further use of force.
Trump’s eagerness to work with Russia is a window of opportunity for Pakistan in this direction. Pakistan, Russia and China want to engage the Taliban to counter ISIS threat. Trump also views ISIS as a greater threat. This convergence of US, Russia and China’s interest can be used as the catalyst for a multilateral agreement to promote peace between the resistance and the collaborators of the west in Afghanistan and to steer the US towards troop withdrawal in the wake of a multilateral agreement for a trade regime that accords the US a share. US withdrawal from Afghanistan can also be made possible if Russia and Pakistan help bring the US and China on the negotiating table where disputes are resolved through diplomatic engagement. Such a scenario will calm India’s saber rattling against Pakistan and force it on to a negotiating table with Islamabad. If Pakistan, in collaboration with Russia, succeeds in bringing the US and China into a cooperative mode, India runs the danger of being left out of the commercial structures that are being built in the region because, unlike Pakistan, India lies on the fringe of such arrangements.
Pakistan needs rigorous and creative diplomacy towards this end. For starter, it needs a foreign minister with the caliber of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who dexterously operated on the cutting edge of international affairs, and knew how to create space for Pakistan within a forbidding scenario. Pakistan is building a CPEC with China. In collaboration with the US and Russia, Pakistan can build a trade corridor from Eurasia to South Asia traversing Afghanistan, and ending at the ports and cities of South Asia and Iran. Such a trade corridor can only be sustained with the help of the local population of the region. Peace will have to be established with the Afghan resistance to work towards that goal. Hitherto, the Americans have kept troops in Afghanistan because they wanted to build a trading regime in central Asia to the exclusion of Russia and China. However, George Bush’s America was comfortable in its super power status when it chose to deal with matters expeditiously rather than diplomatically. Trump’s America is struggling to recreate and reimagine itself. Trump’s slogan “America First” shows willingness to shed old ties and eagerness to build new ones to be “strong again.”
Trump’s lack of shyness in adopting an innovative foreign policy (unlike his predecessor Obama) should be an encouraging sign for policy planners in Pakistan. Trump wants dividends in Afghanistan but is willing to adopt a new course of action towards the goal. Pakistan can be and should be the catalyst for realignment of forces in a win-win scenario for all players in the region.