Deception, disarray

Deception, disarray

Wests failure in Afghanistan

In order to capitalise on the gains made in Istanbul and London conferences on Afghanistan, Pakistan has gone on a diplomatic overdrive to not only allay any distrust, fear and suspicion in the West of Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan, but also acquire a lead role in determining the future course of events in that country.

In a rare briefing to Islamabad-based foreign correspondents, Pakistan army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, has sought to beguile international public opinion by projecting a rather benign and benevolent approach towards Afghanistan — “our objective is to have peaceful, stable and friendly Afghanistan. We cannot wish for Afghanistan anything that we don’t wish for Pakistan (Talibanisation) ... We want a strategic depth in Afghanistan but do not want to control it.”

Having run out of answers, and perhaps even options, on Afghanistan, the West has all but shut its eyes to the Pakistan army’s deception. But it is not only the Pakistan army that is indulging in deception; all the players in Afghanistan are engaged in deceiving their partners, their public and most of all, themselves.

How much of this deception is witting, and how much unwitting, is debatable. What is clear, however, is that there is utter disarray in the political and military strategy of the international coalition. This is exemplified by the self-defeating plan to reintegrate and reconcile with the Taliban. The subsequent clarifications issued by the architects of this plan, however, effectively nullify whatever little they had hoped to achieve through the policy of trying to salvage some grace and dignity while throwing in the towel.

Clearly, the Americans have all but given up on trying to defeat the Taliban. Their aim now is to create conditions that make the Taliban amenable to some sort of a political solution. But given that the Taliban are on the ascendant, there is little incentive for them to enter into any sort of power-sharing deal with their adversaries and opponents. What is more, any assurance that they give on severing their links with Jihad International, aka al-Qaeda, will be nothing more than a ploy to hasten their return to power.

For any dialogue to have any chance of working, it must be held with the relevant people. But when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that there will be no talks with the ‘really bad guys’ (Mullah Omar and groups like Haqqani network) because they are “not ever going to renounce al-Qaeda and renounce violence and agree to re-enter society,” then the entire logic of the reintegration and reconciliation plan stops making any sense. After all, what purpose will be served talking to people who are bit players in the Islamist insurgency and don’t really call the shots.

Under scrutiny

People like the former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, have been living under a close watch of the Allied forces for years now. Surely, by now these characters would have already been milked for whatever they are worth. What can they deliver at this late stage when the imminent withdrawal of the western forces is staring everyone in the face when they could not deliver when the situation was not so dismal?

Even more perplexing is the complete dependence on Pakistan for bringing peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s usefulness hinges on its ability to influence not so much the ‘reconciliables’ as the ‘bad guys.’ It is these ‘bad guys’ who receive support, sustenance and sanctuary inside Pakistan and who Pakistan considers its ‘strategic assets.’

But, having preserved and even used (as in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul) these assets in the face of great odds, what are the chances that the Pakistanis will discard them now when they are on the verge of winning the war?

The big question that the Americans seem to be ducking is that if indeed the Pakistanis continue to exercise influence on the ‘bad guys,’ then aren’t the Americans fighting in the wrong country and also allying and relying on the wrong country? On the other hand, if the Pakistanis don’t actually pull the strings of the ‘bad guys,’ or if they aren’t in a position to influence the ‘bad guys,’ then what is it that the Pakistanis are bringing with them that they are being given a seat on the high table?

The bottom line is that the Pakistan state and society will have a big problem on its hands if the Taliban resurgence is due to the support they have received from Pakistan because as and when the Taliban take control of Afghanistan, Pakistan will almost certainly be sucked into the Taliban’s vortex of fanaticism.

Alternatively, Pakistan will have an even bigger problem on its hands if they have not assisted the Taliban victory because then it will have to contend with a force that after having defeated the greatest military machine ever in the history of mankind will look upon Pakistan as ripe for the picking. For anyone to imagine that this won’t happen is nothing but self-deception and self-delusion.

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