Afghanistan: Fight, Talk, Build
US Secretary of State Ms Hillary Clinton announced a three track strategy for Af Pak on 27 October 2011. Summarised it means, Fight the Haqqani and other belligerent groups, Talk to all the stake holders wanting a stake in post pull out Afghanistan and Build the state to make it attractive for local residents. All at the same time to test whether these organisations have any willingness to negotiate in good faith. We have heard such strategies being churned out from Iraq to Afghanistan over the last two decades. However, US still seems to be embroiled in both these countries intricately.
There was nothing wrong theoretically with the earlier strategy of clear, hold and build either. The US announced clearly articulate strategies but erred on strategy execution because it failed to take stock of ground realities. The term Af Pak was coined after eight years of US floundering in Afghanistan. By the time it realised that Pakistan was the main cog in the wheel, a lot of water had flown down the Kabul river. This late realisation by US enabled Pakistan to dig its heels firmly in the present and future dispensation in Afghanistan. It gave Kayani and his ilk the temerity to blackmail US on supply routes, build credible alliances with the terror modules in Af Pak and double cross US by running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.
Kayani is shrewd. He does not want to relive the legacy of US dumping Pakistan post pull out the first Afghan War way. To that end he has maintained a tight grip on the insurgents as his best strategic bet. Whether he will succeed will largely depend which way the Taliban sits across the negotiation tables, if it does.
This latest strategy announcement seeks cooperation from Pakistan as the principal route to success of the strategy. The Washington Post quotes State Department narrative that, “elements of the strategy already underway include escalation of military pressure on the Haqqani network of insurgents in eastern Afghanistan — along with an open door for the network, and other Taliban groups, to hold direct talks with the United States. Pakistan, where the groups are based, has been offered a principal role in the negotiations in exchange for curtailing its support for them and helping bring them to the table, where the Afghan government will also have a seat”.
According to a story in New York Times, the Haqqani group and Pakistan military enjoy a symbiotic relationship. “The Haqqanis need a haven to train fighters and receive financial and material support, which they get from Pakistan, especially in North Waziristan, part of the tribal areas. Pakistan’s military, for its part, needs a proxy to extend its influence in Afghanistan after the Americans leave; that is what the Haqqanis give them”.
America is also trying its best to seek active participation of neighbouring countries in finding a political solution to Afghanistan. These include India, China, Central Asian Republics and Iran ( through EU countries). It also promises a new Silk Road signifying investments in Afghanistan’s prosperity as Asian crossroad.
The Pakistani rebuff to US with the Nuclear weapons statements of Kayani “think ten times” are a reminder as to who rules the roost in the government buildings of Kabul and the mountains astride Durand Line. Kayani’s shrewd manouvres have left US flustered, while he claims being a reliable ally of US in the war on terror. He can bid his time while Obama is clearly running out of it. That is where the Pakistani strategy of “waiting America out” is running ahead of US. After ten years of constant meddling in Afghanistan to gain the ill perceived strategic depth against India, Kayani is willing to weather US down some more by holding most of the aces close to his chest. According to James Farwell, the author of the recently released book “The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination, and Instability:-
“Pakistan’s duplicity further weakens the decaying US-Pakistan relationship. It also lessens chances for a successful outcome in Afghanistan and erodes the internal security of both the US and Pakistan.”
Among various scenarios that could unfold post 2014, the most probable seems to be a political dispensation in Afghanistan led by Taliban which in turn is propped up by Pakistan by proxy. THAT is the scenario Kayani is working towards. This, against fears of a strong central Afghan government which might lay claims to a Pashtunistan across the Durand Line. US frustration to meet the time deadline by announcing such strategies only gives him the added leverage to play his double game. That would be Pakistan’s second honeymoon in Afghanistan.
For the strategy to work US may have to “Fight” in Afghanistan (not Pakistan), “Talk” to Kayani above all others and “Build” Pakistan more than Afghanistan. Then probably the Istanbul and Bonn summits might have some meaning.
In all these calculations the Indian initiatives of “build” Afghanistan appear to be thinly supported. The Indo Afghan strategic alliance, the extraction of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, the Chabahar – Bamiyan rail link among other initiatives may all turn out to be paper projects unless India also finds a way to talk to the Taliban and help build Afghanistan their way. A tough ask which will be met with heavy resistance from Pakistan.
Fear of India also helps bind Pakistan to insurgent groups like the Haqqani network.
Kayani is currently focused on post US dispensation in Afghanistan and has hence kept the violence in Jammu and Kashmir(and India) below India’s tolerance threshold. Should India “interfere” in Af Pak, he would be too pleased to open the taps of terror to divert Indian attention.
- Army chief warns US over Pakistan – BBC News (news.google.com)
- Clinton urges Pakistan to get tougher on terrorists (csmonitor.com)
- Turkey wants Afghan-Pakistan summit to reduce mistrust – Reuters (news.google.com)
- US Hurries to Strengthen Ties with Pakistan amid Strategic Withdrawal Preparations (thewesternexperience.com)
- Pakistan likely to assume key role in Istanbul conference – Xinhua (news.google.com)
- Delegates in Istanbul seek peace for Afghanistan (seattletimes.nwsource.com)