Blinken’s remarks

Published September 18, 2021

PERHAPS it was his country’s chaotic, humiliating recent withdrawal from Afghanistan — and the attendant war weariness that comes with occupying a country for two decades — that made US Secretary of State Antony Blinken blame Pakistan for America’s failures in the Afghan theatre.

While speaking at a public hearing in Congress, America’s top diplomat made highly uncharitable remarks about Pakistan, accusing this country of “harbouring members of the Taliban” and “hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan”. In the same breath, Mr Blinken admitted that this country has cooperated “with us on counterterrorism” at “different points”. He added that Washington would be reassessing its ties with Islamabad.

It was a confused tirade on Mr Blinken’s part. As the Foreign Office has noted, the comments are “surprising” and “not in line with the close cooperation” between the two states.

It is indeed unfortunate that such a high-ranking US official has publicly berated Pakistan over what is, basically, a massive foreign policy failure of his own government. The fact is that even voices within America are criticising the US government for the debacle in Afghanistan. As Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen pointed out recently, it was the Trump administration that had asked Pakistan to release top leaders of the Afghan Taliban.

Read: What happens now that US troops have left Afghanistan?

The fact is that the US establishment cannot scapegoat Pakistan for two decades of bad policy in Afghanistan. Whether or not it made the right policy move, this country has cooperated with America from the days of the Afghan ‘jihad’, through the ‘war on terror’. It has also helped foreigners safely exit Afghanistan after the Taliban’s recent takeover. But the refrain from Washington remains a familiar one: do more.

America must look within and see what went wrong in Afghanistan, why its nation-building experiment crashed, and why the army it had built and the administration it had nurtured with billions of dollars fell like a house of cards the moment the Taliban neared Kabul. Moreover, looking back into history and examining other foreign policy blunders — Iraq, Vietnam etc — may also help give America a clearer understanding of the situation.

It is easy to blame Pakistan or other states for one’s own failures. But to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated requires Washington to examine its own policies. After all, it was not Pakistan, but former president Trump, who decided to pull out of Afghanistan. Trump may not have been known for his statesmanship and foreign policy vision, but it should be acknowledged that he realised the Afghanistan war was unwinnable.

It would be better for the US to move forward in its ties with Pakistan and to try and build a positive, mutually respectful and beneficial relationship. Blaming Pakistan for America’s failures is unlikely to help improve relations. A fresh approach is needed from Washington, not veiled threats to ‘reassess’ relations.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021

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