An easiest scapegoat to cover American blunders

The high probability is if American forces withdraw from Afghanistan and if no alternative international arrangement is made then the historic contests between the regions and the sects will reappear, the Taliban will re-emerge, and a very complicated and maybe chaotic situation will develop — Henry Kissinger

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And yet again, the sane advice of one of the architects of the US diplomacy fell on deaf ears. US haste eventually resulted in a faux pas and the easiest scapegoat to cover its blunders is none other than Pakistan. It seems that history of the 90s is repeating itself, but this time, US mantra of ‘do more’ or a perceived ‘call’ from the American president cannot work because the ground realities dictate otherwise. One major difference is, Pakistan does not enjoy enough ‘leverage’ with the Taliban especially during and after the US troops withdrawal – and whatever ‘leverage’ it had, was expended in bringing the Taliban to talks with the US. However, the ‘blame game’ continues unabatedly and unabashedly compounded with a deliberate diplomatic cum media campaign – at the external front as well as domestically – to make Pakistan the ‘fall guy’.

The narrative against Pakistan is multifaceted and multi-pronged with some pinching nodes; 1), Pakistan has not done enough, 2), Pakistan still siding with the Taliban especially after US withdrawal and pursues policy of ‘good and bad Taliban’ underscored by Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) respectively, 3), TTA is a Pakistani proxy controlled by Pakistan Army and the intelligence agencies, 4) Pakistan does not deliberately exercise its full influence or pressure on TTA to reach a political settlement, 5) Pakistan provides safe havens and sanctuaries to TTA, and 6) some fighters armed by Pakistan cross over into Afghanistan to fight alongside TTA with Pakistan’s support. The propagated themes can be answered sequentially through the logical prism.

1) Since 2001, Pakistan has suffered over 80,000 casualties with economic losses to the tune of $150 billion. Despite its limited resources, it still continues to host over four million Afghan refugees and also extended over one billion dollars in development assistance to Afghanistan for projects in health, education and infrastructure. It may be new to many that over 50,000 Afghans educated from Pakistan are serving in Afghanistan’s public and private sector. Nonetheless, bringing TTA to the table for talks with US and incumbent Afghan government was icing on the top.

2) The notion of ‘good and bad’ Taliban is nothing but detraction from the ongoing global efforts for peace and does not hold good since Pakistan fought all militant organisations which challenged the writ of the state, including TTA elements. The day Pakistan commenced operations in the erstwhile North Waziristan (stronghold of the ‘infamous’ Haqqani network), the ‘conception of good and bad Taliban’ was killed for good.

3) The old TTA guard has phased out over the last 20 years and the new leaders have a different approach. TTA is a political reality; and all international stakeholders and the Afghan government are directly engaged with them in the ongoing peace process. The irony is not lost that US has negotiated the so-called peace deal with an entity (TTA) which is a non-state actor and not recognized by the US. Pakistan’s stated as well as practiced policy is not to side with any group in Afghanistan, which amply projects that TTA is not its proxy. Had TTA been its proxy, the military campaigns in the South and North Waziristan and resultant combat casualties would have told a different story.

4) Whatever influence Pakistan had over TTA, was used constructively to bring them to the negotiating table and played pivotal role in achieving the three key milestones in the Afghan peace process; US-Taliban peace agreement, initiation of intra-Afghan negotiations and the adoption of rules and procedures. Any idea of ‘not exerting enough influence’ is misplaced and concocted.

5) The blame for providing ‘safe havens’ sounds quite charming to the ears but frankly it seems like an escapist attitude of US and Afghan governments for failure to implement their policies. Pakistan is home to over four million Afghan immigrants – just a reminder that it is one of the largest drift of immigrants in the world – necessitating the need of frequent movements of the divided families. Compounded by Pakistan’s fencing efforts along the border – despite US and Afghan objections – the popular notion of providing ‘safe havens’ and ‘sanctuaries’ is way off the mark and a mere propaganda, with profuse proliferation by India. Even before the US withdrawal, TTA had areas of influence in the north eastern and southern provinces of Afghanistan which is also evident from commencement of TTA’s rapid offensive from Northern provinces and its occupation of border crossing points with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

6) Pakistan repeatedly emphasized for the need of effective border management to prevent any crossings may it be TTA or TTP elements. There was complete disregard of established mechanisms such as Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) which has focused working groups on intelligence and security cooperation. Fencing on Pakistan’s western border nullifies the theme that armed fighters from Pakistan cross over into Afghanistan. Moreover, it was repeatedly conveyed to the US and Afghan governments regarding training camps of TTP and Baloch insurgents, accompanied by concrete evidence including locations, under RAW, NDS and other hostile intelligence agencies tutelage but there was no twitching of ears and customary disregard.

For highlighting its standpoint, Pakistan needs to come with an ‘out of the box’ solution, since the current modus operandi does not seem to work out. The talk of change of medium may not matter but a change in audience will certainly have its effects. Despite 20 years of war in Afghanistan, US failed to comprehend cost-benefit ratio and when finally it did, the ‘house of cards’ has fallen down. It was a fallacy of ‘immaculate conception’ in Afghanistan albeit ‘AfPak’ – having an alignment with India and ‘cold war’ with China – which eventually achieved nothing and is bound to end in embers and a highly volatile region.

Asif Iqbal is currently attached with the School of Strategic Studies in Lahore. He is a freelance researcher and geopolitical analyst with focus on South Asia. He tweets @asifash

Asif Iqbal is currently attached with the School of Strategic Studies in Lahore. He is a freelance researcher and geopolitical analyst with a focus on South Asia. He tweets @asifash.