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Endgame in Afghanistan

Published Sep 29, 2011 07:54pm

THE current tensions in Pakistan-US ties have convinced many Pakistanis that the US will undertake an operation in North Waziristan thus breaching Pakistani sovereignty.

Such a conclusion became likely after Adm Mike Mullen’s uncharacteristic outburst recently at a US Senate hearing. He held the ISI responsible for the recent attacks in Kabul. His ire is more a product of expectations gone sour than a warning. It is likely that there were promises made by Pakistan for undertaking such an operation but that later the idea was dropped. The important statement issued after the extraordinary meeting of Pakistan’s military commanders last Sunday made it clear that Pakistan will not undertake an operation in Fata. But at the same time the commanders wished for good relations with the US.

In this connection, Pakistan has sought the good offices of the Saudis to interact on its behalf with the US.

Pakistani resistance to an operation against the Haqqanis is mandated by lessons that the country has learnt in previous engagements with militants in Fata and Swat since 2004.

The Kalusha operation by Pakistani and US Special Forces in April 2004 against Uzbek and Wazir militants in South Waziristan proved that while such operations could kill a number of non-state fighters they also posed long-term costs in manpower losses for the army through deaths and injuries and subsequent revenge terror attacks on civilians.

According to officials, the Pakistani army has so far lost two divisions of its operational capacity since 2004. Secondly, the military visualises that as this war is not ending any time soon it makes sense to co-opt some of the militants and use them against other groups.

If this strategy had been limited to actions within Pakistan it would have gone unnoticed. But groups such as the Haqqanis have a region-wide agenda and they leverage their links with the Pakistan military.

It is this aspect of the Haqqani relationship that irks the top US military brass and leads it to accuse Pakistan of complicity in the recent attacks on Kabul. It has led to calls by the US Congress to stop assistance to Pakistan and to treat it as hostile. This will be an unfortunate outcome washing away Pakistani sacrifices in one sweep.

The Pakistani public already perceives that the US holds a negative impression about the country and thus refuses to consider the war against terror as its own. Any punitive action by the US will confirm this thinking. The Pakistani prime minister spelled out the dilemma when he commented that neither Pakistan nor the US could live with or without each other.In the long term, the Pakistan military may gain some space by relying on proxies, yet it loses out when the same proxies carve out territories for themselves and thus eliminate the writ of the state. It is also clear that the difficulties of the US with Pakistan on this issue did not arise suddenly.

The US was aware of such matters and addressed them in its 2006 Quadrennial Defence Review, when it proposed that the defence department should shift its focus from, “conducting war against nations — to conducting war in countries we are not at war with (safe havens)”.After the election of President Obama, the US deployed a 3,000-strong pursuit team inside Pakistani territory for gathering active intelligence for its drone war as well as undertaking coercive action against safe havens inside Pakistan. The activities of Raymond Davis and others led its security agencies to clamp down on the movements of US personnel and the withdrawal of trainers attached to the military.

In a way there are two types of wars going on in Pakistan today — one is against the militants in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the other is the Pakistani attempt to deny free movement to US nationals.

Doubtless, after the Abbottabad raid in May, Pakistan has begun to prioritise its own national interest instead of playing a secondary role to the US in Afghanistan’s endgame. Pakistan has realised that the final steps of the war in Afghanistan cannot to be concluded without its support. That is both Pakistan’s strength and weakness.

Its strength lies in the fact that the country’s efforts will be needed to conclude the Afghan endgame satisfactorily; the weakness is that given Pakistan’s abilities in the region, it may be forced to play a role that is not in consonance with its strategic objectives. A new agreement will thus need to be crafted if Pakistan’s support is required.

For many years, Pakistan has relied on the US for its security and economic growth. However, the lack of US support in the 1971 war with India and its abrupt exit after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 created a negative image of the US that persists even today. This image is now confirmed in the minds of the majority of Pakistanis after the US engagement with India under the strategic relationship umbrella.

However, Pakistan must not overlook that its interests coincide with the establishment of peace in Afghanistan. To achieve such an outcome a lot will depend on future relations between the two countries. There is also a clear realisation in the US and Pakistani security establishments that tensions between them are a threat to regional peace.

Though the current tension will pass, the situation would still call for a reformulation of rules for regional security. Previous commitments and agreements are no longer valid.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.

azizkhalid@gmail.com