Pak-US relations -- the Afghanistan aspect

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 12.07.17

To fathom the policy contours of Pak-US relations, especially when the conditions of
relations are flowing from the US to Pakistan, the Kerry Lugar Berman Act of 2009 (passed
into law in October 2010) is a cogent guide. Though the Act has outlived its legal and
financial utility, the contents of the Act still allow a reader to apprehend the priorities of the
US towards Pakistan. For instance, in the Pak-India context, the Act demanded from
Pakistan to raze the camps of Lashkare Tayyeba perpetrating terrorist actions in India.
Further, in the Pak-Afghanistan context, the Act required from Pakistan to bulldoze the
hideouts of both the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura active in disrupting life in Kabul.

During the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US on 26 and 27 June, US
President Donald Trump appreciated the efforts of India to fight (Islamic) terrorism. A few
days later, in the beginning of this month, US Senator John McCain visited Islamabad and
Kabul and insisted that the threat of terrorism was still coming from Pakistan threatening the
existence of the Kabul regime.  

Last year, Pakistan claimed that it had had some influence on certain Taliban groups to
come to terms with the Kabul regime. Perhaps, Pakistan delivered on this account by
persuading Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to reconcile with the Kabul government of Afghan
President Ashraf Ghani in September 2016, though Hekmatyar had no declared association
with any type of Taliban. During his recent visit, when Senator McCain reiterated “do more”
mantra of the US, Pakistan felt annoyed. Pakistan has no other Afghan warlord bigger than
Hekmatyar’s stature to convince to come to terms with the Kabul regime. Interestingly, the
persistent emphasis of the US on Pakistan to “do more” for Afghanistan indicates that the
US overly relies on Pakistan. Most American writers toe the same line, thereby meaning that
both the US policy makers and writers are convinced of US’s being handicapped to Pakistan’
s will in Afghanistan.

To justify “do more”, Senator McCain said that the US was relying on Pakistan’s support to
stamp out the Haqqani network and consequently eliminate terrorism ravaging Kabul.
Expressed through “do more,” the inferred dependence of the US on Pakistan is both the
strength and weakness of Pakistan. Strength because the US values Pakistan’s worth
whereas weakness because US censures Pakistan for every wrong happening in
Afghanistan. The belief cherished by the US expressed through “do more” is that the key to
peace in Afghanistan lies with Pakistan. One school of thought says that this belief offers a
chance of face saving to the US, which can advertise in the world that its predicament in
Afghanistan is due to Pakistan’s vested interests, which are still been countenanced by the
US. However, the second school of thought says that the US does not need any face saving
in Afghanistan: Bigger than any face saving bid is the known crisis of governance in
Afghanistan recognized by the world. Hence, embedded in “do more” may not be the fears
of the US but an effort of the US to make Pakistan forgo all its inhibitions.

If one conjectures that Senator McCain’s stance carries weight, it may be because
Sirajuddin Haqqani (son of Jalauldin Haqqani) became the deputy head of the Afghan
Taliban in July 2015 and confessed to have orchestrated several lethal attacks on Kabul.
However, the accession is not only a recent phenomenon, but it also indicates that the
decisions taken by the Haqqanis are not under the influence of Pakistan. Otherwise, it
would have been imprudent on the part of Pakistan to let any Haqqani become a leader of
the Afghan Taliban who could invite the ire of both Afghanistan and the US.

Senator McCain also said that the US expected from Pakistan to persuade the Afghan
Taliban to renounce violence. It is asking too much from Pakistan which could not persuade
the Afghan warlords in the post-1991 phase to settle for peace in Afghanistan, despite the
fact that Pakistan mediated the Peshawar Accord (April 1992) and the Islamabad Accord
(March 1993, endorsed in Mecca). Both accords were violated to carry on an internecine
conflict, though Pakistan enjoyed more influence on the Afghan warlords than on the
Afghan Taliban now. Secondly, Pakistan could not persuade Afghan warlords to renounce
violence and Pakistan has not become successful in persuading the Pakistani Taliban to
renounce violence either. The US seems naïve to understand the proclivity of Afghans.

When Senator McCain landed in Kabul, he unveiled a threat to Pakistan by saying, “If they
[Pakistan] don’t change their behavior, maybe we should change our behavior towards
Pakistan as a nation.” The threat is more a diplomatic challenge than anything else is. It is
an uphill task to convince the US that not everything happening in Afghanistan is in the
hands of Pakistan. It is difficult to grasp for a Pakistani now that at the cost of its own men
(both civilian and military) Pakistan can support any militant network to upset the Kabul
regime. Senator McCain has actually said between the lines that the US is now ready to
settle the issue of Afghanistan at the expense of Pak-US relations.

The US is planning to send more troops to Afghanistan is no surprise just like the
resurgence of the Afghan Taliban whenever they find an opportunity offers no wonder. Any
surge in US troops may push the Afghan Taliban back but that may not be a permanent
solution. The US has been found faltered on two counts. First, despite all Doha dialogue
rounds (starting in 2013), the US failed to persuade the Afghan Taliban to participate in the
2014 elections. The major adversary to both the Doha talks and the participation of the
Afghan Taliban in any future political set-up in Afghanistan was the then Afghan President
Hamid Karzai. If the Afghan Taliban had participated in the elections and become a
stakeholder in Afghanistan’s affairs, the US would have left with no need for blaming
Pakistan for every ill in Afghanistan. Second, the Afghan Taliban are out of the power
corridor and they cannot sit idle. The US has failed to convince the incumbent Kabul regime
of Ghani to accommodate them as governors of certain provinces – to pacify them and
satisfy their urge for representation. Instead, the US thinks that the solution lies in sending
more troops to fight against the Afghan Taliban.

In short, neither could the US persuade Karzai to be tolerant to the Afghan Taliban in 2014
nor has the US influenced Ghani to accommodate the Afghan Taliban, but the US thinks
that pushing Pakistan to “do more” and threatening Pakistan of dire consequences can
deliver dividends in Afghanistan. Interesting!

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