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What does the US want?

Published Jun 20, 2012 12:15am

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IN my last article I had concluded that Pakistan and the United States have more areas of convergence than divergence on what they want to see in Afghanistan.

In this column I will attempt to validate this assertion in the hope that this will contribute to a rational debate on the subject. This convergence, or absence thereof, is far more important in determining the US-Pakistan relationship than what I see as the temporary if highly inflammatory issues of a Salala apology or the reopening of the ground lines of communication (GLOC).

According to President Obama, who laid out his administration’s policy during the visit he paid to Kabul to sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement with President Karzai, “America has no designs beyond an end to Al Qaeda safe havens, and respect for Afghan sovereignty”. He went on to say “our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban”.

He made clear the nature of the commitment to Afghanistan saying, “we’re building an enduring partnership. The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: As you stand up, you will not stand alone.”

As regards the continued military presence after 2014, Obama said, “we’ll work with the Afghans to determine what support they need to accomplish two narrow security missions beyond 2014 — counterterrorism and continued training. But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains. That will be the job of the Afghan people.”

To Pakistan his message was, “I have made it clear to its neighbour — Pakistan — that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, interests and democratic institutions.”Obama also claimed that in coordination with the Afghan government the US was in direct discussions with the Taliban and had made it clear to them that “they can be a part of this future if they break with Al Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by Afghan laws.” It was perhaps significant that he did not refer to the Afghan constitution. In so saying he is not I think backing away from the earlier position that these were not preconditions but the desired outcome from the talks.

He recognised that there was no support in America for continued military involvement in Afghanistan but argued that such a presence would be necessary to give Afghanistan a chance to stabilise itself. “Otherwise,” he said, “Our gains could be lost and Al Qaeda could establish itself once again.” He pledged “I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security.”

Many people in Pakistan do not believe that this is the whole story and assert that the Americans will want to maintain a military presence and bases in Afghanistan for much longer. Evidence to this effect can be adduced by referring to the testimony of then Centcom chief Adm Fallon who in asking for funding for Bagram airbase described it as “the centrepiece for the Centcom Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia”.

A further examination of the sums that have been expended on Bagram including $62m for an ammunition storage facility at Bagram and $100m for upgrading and modernising airports in the north to handle aircraft of a size that Afghanistan will not have in the foreseeable future lends credence to the suspicion.

The same people also suspect that the Americans do not want genuine negotiations with the Taliban and are only interested in using them to get some ‘moderate’ Taliban to join the government and then to eliminate the hardliners through military means.

Perhaps there is truth to these assertions, though frankly my own view is that in the face of the $517bn that the US has already expended treating the money spent on base facilities as wasted will not be difficult for a defence department that has this year a $711bn budget. Attempting to beat the hardline Taliban into submission has been tried and has failed. In the present anti-war mood in America, persisting with such notions would be a fool’s game.

Today, Obama’s advisers have apparently coined the phrase ‘Afghan-good enough’ to describe what America will settle for and that can be defined as the destruction of Al Qaeda and the creation of conditions in which it cannot be resurrected. For the rest to put it callously it is every Afghan for himself.

Will Karzai or his successor reach an agreement under which the Americans can be stationed at Afghan bases to provide air support for counterinsurgency operations carried out by Afghan boots on the ground or attacks probably by drones on Al Qaeda adherents on both sides of eastern Afghanistan’s borders?

Despite Karzai’s distrust of Nato allies generally and of the Americans in particular he may find that he has no choice because in that case there will be not just a contraction of the Afghan economy but a complete collapse. Will the Americans stay for the envisaged decade? The rapid increase in ‘green on blue’ incidents will not in my view subside after 2014. At Afghan bases despite heavy security there will be greater vulnerability and the inherent Afghan hostility towards foreigners will be high.

To my mind it is more than likely that if some sort of reconciliation is worked out and some reasonable power-sharing arrangement is accepted by all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, the Americans will be content to pull out their military and maintain only a political presence.

Is any of this against Pakistan’s interest? I think not as I will try and explain in another next article.

I have not touched on another issue that is of fundamental importance to Pakistan’s security-centric establishment and that is the Indian influence in Afghanistan and our fear of being encircled or facing a two-front war. That too needs to be looked at separately.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (14) Closed



Khurram Jun 20, 2012 07:22pm
You have quoted Obama and have taken him for his word. Are you sure politicians in general let alone Pakistani or Americans are to be trusted for their word? Try to back up your arguments with the facts in your next article to support why Obama will keep those promises, based on the proportions of promises he has kept in the last 3 years or so when he campaigned for the presidency. I have little doubts that you'll struggle, but ofcourse, you have the floor :-)
Nano Thermite Jun 20, 2012 04:56pm
Najm, the ONUS is upon you to explain the 9-11 false-flag, and the video testimonial by American War College professor, Dr Alan Sabrosky on youtube. The yanks (as one M B Naqvi of India calls them) have created much mischief in the world of Islam, and adversely dented islamic world's fair negotiating position on issues with all opponents. Why are the world's newspapers silent on the yank deceit and the central role of khazars in this mischief ?
David Jun 20, 2012 09:59am
Aren't concepts like "encirclement" rather obsolete now in the context of nuclear weapons (that both Pakistan and India possess) ? Or is the author (and other neurotic minded Pakistanis like him) suggesting that India is likely to make Afghanistan (under a Karzai-like regime) a nuclear weapons country as well? Really Pakistan and a lot of its citizens seem to behave and think like juveniles, make no mistake.
Faizullah Khalil Jun 20, 2012 08:43pm
Very good narrative of the realities present in Afghanistan and its side effects on the region and especially on Pakistan being so intertwined with Afghans in so many ways and in so many forms,can almost be called the " in-seperable twins". We would not have seen this ficticious withdrawl Date of 2014 of the foreign troops from Afghanistan , Had it not been for the sudden economical disasters in the west. West is stuck in its domestic politics of how to fix their economies and create jobs for its people on one hand and on the other how to dominate the world especially this very important region. The best way for them is to lessen their cost both monetary and human while having a strong presence in the region to further their goals.which is why they are propogating the 2014 fake withdrawl.
Yama Siawash Jun 20, 2012 05:57pm
Karzai distrusts Pakistan more than NATO and the United States.
USA Jun 20, 2012 06:44pm
For some reason I expected such statement.
Deepen Jun 20, 2012 12:29pm
Just how much more long Pakistan will live under India fear?
An American Jun 20, 2012 03:13pm
as long as Pakistani military is there - i.e. forever!
BRR Jun 20, 2012 04:19am
An optimistic view of what Obama's administration is trying to achieve. Perhaps not what Pakistanis want to hear, as they believe in various conspiracies.
zubair Jun 20, 2012 05:34am
Sir, the issue of indian influence in Afghanistan and its implications on Pakistan is part of the Afghan process as Americans are backing India's ever increaseing foot print in the area. Pakistan will never sacrifice its security interests for any country. looking at this problem, the future of Afghanistan doesn't look stable at all.
Suhail Ahmad Jun 20, 2012 01:42pm
Continued from previous comment: 2. Why is that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has only hurt Pakistan's interest and has not made a single attack on American interest even though they claim Pakistan is being attacked because they are supporting Americans. continued....
Cyrus Howell Jun 21, 2012 12:00am
People who cannot understand what is happening to them make up conspiracies against them in the dark of night.
Cyrus Howell Jun 21, 2012 12:05am
Governments rule by making people afraid of their neighbors.
shaukat ali chughtai Jun 21, 2012 03:16am
Excellent article by the author. Since we have to live in this globe, policy of co-existence and tolerance will have to accepted and mind set has to be changed. The world is changing rapidly and with advanced technological innovations we will be left far behind if we play blame games. Let us reach an conclusion and get rid of the insecurities that we gave birth to the people of Pakistan.