Speaking at the Asia Society in New York on regional peace and development, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told a select gathering some home truths before addressing the current issues related to the war in Afghanistan. “Don’t blame us,” he said, “for the Haqqanis and don’t blame us for the Hafiz Saeeds. These were the people who were your darlings just 20 to 30 years back. They were being dined and wined in the White House and now you say ‘go to hell, Pakistanis, because you are nurturing these people’.” Voicing another common concern in this country, he averred, scapegoating Pakistan for all Afghan ills is “neither fair nor accurate. This will only help forces that we are trying to fight collectively.” As regards the fairness bit, though, the world is not fair. Big powers can and do unchallenged whatever they want, without taking responsibility for the nasty consequences of their actions, like the ones the minister mentioned. But inaccurate claims do not make it any easier to resolve difficult situations, such as the one prevailing in Afghanistan.
Reports show that after nearly 16 years of US-led Nato forces fighting in Afghanistan, the Taliban are in control of at least 40 percent of the country, and one-third of its population. Meanwhile, the unity government in Kabul is in disarray amidst an economic crisis, pervasive corruption, warlords defying its authority, and an escalation in Taliban attacks. President Trump appears to be oblivious to these ground realities as he has still been talking of victory, even change in the county’s original mission, which was to eliminate Al Qaeda and its ilk. In his recent meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, he said “we are there [in Afghanistan] for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons is to stop these terrorist organisations, which, for whatever reason, seem to accumulate in Afghanistan more than in any other place.” That thinking has led him to choose an ill-conceived path. His new strategy to increase troop presence – a small surge compared to the past – and assigning India a dominant role in Afghanistan, to Pakistan chagrin, holds serious repercussions for peace and stability in the region. A greater role for US’ strategic partner there can only fuel hostilities between the two regional rivals, aggravating rather than resolving the conflict; which is in no one’s interest.
It should be clear by now that this war is unwinnable for the US. In fact, there is a consensus among regional countries as well as US’ Nato allies that a negotiated settlement with the Taliban is necessary. As far as Pakistan is concerned, Khawaja Asif rightly asserted there are limits to what Pakistan can do, and that it cannot take overall responsibility for Afghanistan’s peace and security. “Effective border management, frankly, is the key,” he said. On that score Pakistan has taken several steps: clearing the tribal badlands of militants in an ongoing military operation, building fences and military posts all along the border to stop terrorists’ infiltration from either side. Trump needs to review his ‘number of reasons’ for staying in Afghanistan before things take a turn for the worst. All sides ought to make a cooperative effort to achieve the original goal of the war, ie, denying sanctuaries to violent extremists, and an Afghanistan at peace with itself.