Prof. Ijaz Khan is an academic and active commentator at various discussion forums, mailing groups and social networks. He is associated with Peshawar University and is Chairman, Department of International Relations. He annotates on US Af-Pak policy, Pakistan Afghan policy and its implications on the region and the people living in it. Here’s first part of his take on the current row of overheated bargaining between US and Pakistan and Pakistan wishlist in post US withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan.(ali arqam)
The conflict in the Af-Pak region has entered a new phase, which may be termed the pre-2014 phase. This phase is currently witnessing a serious row between the US and Pakistan, supposedly allies in the ‘war against terrorism’. All parties want to influence the outcome in 2014 so that the post-2014 situation best meets its perceived interests. To influence that outcome Pakistan and the US are pursuing policies that appear to be at odds. Both also consider the behaviour of the other to be vital for achievement of its goal. So they are using various means to influence each other’s behaviour. The current row between the two allies can be explained as an overheated diplomatic bargaining.
President Obama announced disengagement from active combat in Afghanistan by 2014, thus the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. This was announced along with a plan to enable the US to do so after succeeding in Afghanistan and not losing the war there. The plan was based on the US’s increased action at different levels: one was an increased military action through increased military presence, the so-called ‘surge policy’, and two, raising of the Afghan Army and a viable governance system. The strategy also includes peeling away as much of the Taliban as possible through negotiations. The purpose is to strengthen the Afghan government in relation to the Taliban resistance. The US does not intend to abandon Afghanistan, as it does not want a repeat of the 1990s when Afghanistan became a safe haven for terrorists from all over the world, especially Al-Qaeda.
Given adjustments for language, style and rhetoric, Pakistan’s Afghan policy has continuously been guided by two considerations: security threat perceptions from India and the question of the Durand Line. It was hosting most of the mujahideen leaders of the 1980s since the early 1970s or becoming a front-line state in the 1980s against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan or the half-cooked ideas of ‘strategic depth’ in the 1990s leading to the rise of the Taliban. Pakistan appeared to have taken a U-turn after 9/11. However, that perception soon proved wrong by what Ahmad Rashid called a ‘double U-turn’. Pakistan has been playing the role of a broker between the US and the Taliban even before 9/11. After 9/11, Pakistan — while announcing support for the US — tried its best to salvage whatever was left of its Afghan policy that banked on a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Pakistan tried to bridge the gap between the Taliban and the US, with the aim of saving the Taliban from any military action against them. It continued its diplomatic relations with their government in Kabul to the very end. However, when the US attacked and dislodged the Taliban government, Pakistan adjusted its policy accordingly. Since then its policy has aimed to get a government in Kabul in which it will have a strong say and Indian influence will be minimum. For that end, Pakistan has been acting against the Taliban with a policy that will limit them but not eliminate them. Pakistan also wishes to see a complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, however only after meeting Pakistan’s concerns. Pakistan now wants to limit Afghanistan’s military capability as well, so a recent Pakistan foreign policy elite study proposed limiting of the Afghan Army.
Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have been quite complex. It is like you construct a canal to direct the flow of water over whose flow you do not have much control. You stop the Taliban from acting where you do not want them to and shut your eyes when they act where you want them to. Whether Pakistan controls some of them and to what extent is debatable, however, it finds their defeat unless Pakistan’s concerns are met as not desirable. Its actions or inaction against them must be understood in this background. It is this policy that angers and frustrates the US.
The US is also facing a dilemma. It is aware of Pakistan’s position and its role. It also knows how vital that role is for the current phase of the Afghan imbroglio. Admiral (retd) Mullen’s as well as other statements, including those from the White House itself, clearly establish that the US has not been able to make Pakistan act the way it wants to with a policy that can largely be described as that of carrots and the threat of use of sticks.
With 2014 approaching fast, the US’s choices are getting limited. The American leadership seems to be getting convinced that carrots are not convincing enough and neither are the threats. Pakistani policy makers know that the US will bend over backwards as much as possible to avoid materialising of the threats — to avoid the use of sticks. They bank on US calculations that it must not entangle itself in a country bigger than both Afghanistan and Iraq put together. This does not mean that Pakistan is a match for the US militarily. Even the Pakistani establishment knows that. This means the US would need much more troops afterwards and still much more resources. Pakistan cannot be just hit, destroyed and left for the extremists to take over. If the US ever decides to hit decisively against Pakistan then it has to commit for a much longer, bigger and direct commitment than it can be worth in terms of interests — security or economic, both immediate or strategic. This is what emboldens Pakistan and pushes it to bargain hard.