The Price For A Passage To Afghanistan

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Context

Most of the debate on evaluating the resolution of NATO Afghan supply lines in Pakistan has been confined to matters related to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the status of reconciliation with Taliban. While some debaters have extended the parameters of their assessment by including the improving Pakistan-India relations, majority have the skipped the fast changing situation of Middle East and the imploding European Union, and how that impacts the global affairs. Whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, clearly, the world stands at the precipice of a major political and economic upheaval.

The media has not helped either; it has framed the argument in to a simplistic framework that by opening the supply routes, and thus securing an invitation to the Chicago summit, somehow Pakistan will be in a position to influence the outcome in Afghanistan. While if the country fails to open the critical passage it faces castration from the world, and speaking metaphorically, the state will be secluded as a modern day ‘Kala Pani’.

Analysis

The argument is not merely to open or close the supply lines, but to debate a right set of questions that provide the appropriate context first. The critical strategic question to answer is how did the country arrive at the present predicament.

Policy Of Engagement

Engagement is by far is the key principle for the conduct of diplomacy, especially in these times. It is easier to make enemies, but it takes persistent efforts to develop and maintain friends. Pakistan’s policy since 9/11 was premised on this pragmatism. Any rational player would have arrived at the same turnaround in the aftermath of the attacks on US. Nonetheless, Pakistan sought to retain its leverage in Afghanistan, knowing that NATO will ultimately burn itself out, as every power has in history. On the other hand, the US was applying every lesson in the book, and the best minds the world has to offer, to prevent such an outcome.

The disclosed American goal in Afghanistan was to get rid of the Al-Qaeda sanctuaries there. However, over the years a number of other objectives have also been mentioned in the media and think tank communities. These include containing Pakistan and Iran and their nuclear programs while encircling China.

Safe Havens And Kinetic Tactics

The Americans realized soon after arriving in Afghanistan that progress there was dependent on disturbing the safe havens in Pakistan. US continued to pressure the country to act aggressively against these sanctuaries, especially in North Waziristan. While the slow pace of nation’s campaign against extremism was criticized, nonetheless, Pakistan paid dearly in blood and economically for its involvement in the war against terror.

Facing Pakistan’s passivity, US took matters in its own hands to go after the safe havens, exploiting technology and every other venue available. While the hypothesis and suspicions US had about the country were proving true one by one, the conspiracy theories hatched in Pakistan regarding NATO’s role in Afghanistan, were equally being validated.

For example, after a decade of warfare, the goal of eradicating extremism is nowhere in sight. On the other hand, extremist sanctuaries have now expanded to many fronts in the Middle East and North Africa. There is a growing threat that extremist militants are exploiting the vacuum created by the Arab revolts. The more one attempts to eradicate radicals using purely kinetics tactics, the more it appears to spread, creating civil war situations in many countries.

Pakistan’s Character And Choices

The Salala incident and subsequent closing of the NATO supply lines point to the continued mistrust between the two players regarding their strategic intent. There is a reason the strategic dialogue between the two countries collapsed while the US-India tract has made considerable progress. One of those reasons is that US does not want to the balance of power in Afghanistan to revert to its pre 9/11 position. Pakistan has repeatedly proven that it has a dual personality, one is liberally oriented, but the other has a pan Islamic tilt.

Soon after trouble started to brew in Yemen and Bahrain in April 2011, increased level of activity was seen between officials from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. As a broad bloc of Sunni Muslim nations lined up against a growing Shiite uprising in the Middle East, nuclear-armed and Sunni-majority Pakistan appeared to be positioning itself to play a key role. According to unconfirmed media reports that appeared at the time, Pakistan had reserved two of its army divisions for deployment in Saudi Arabia in case of crisis there. Secretary General of Saudi Arabia’s National Security Council, Prince Bandar also visited Pakistan during this timeframe. Previously, Pakistani Fauji Foundation, had arranged the recruitment of more than1000 ex-military personnel to join the Bahrain National Guard.

PoliTact had noted at the time that this activity must have alarmed the US as it had wanted Pakistan to focus on FATA and the extremists in its own backyard, than on the troubles of the Middle East. The Osama operation in May 2011, and what has followed ever since, has entirely shifted the focus of the country on its internal matters. Meanwhile, two types of alliance have emerged in the Middle East; GCC, NATO and Turkey against Syria and GCC, Israel and NATO directed towards Iran.

It is this streak of Pakistan’s personality that is most worrisome and it comes out at the rarest of times. It inflicted liberals like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who involved the Arabs in to an oil embargo of 1973 and in developing the Islamic bomb. It is this tendency that often causes Pakistan to emotionally reach beyond its means. And, it is the same duality that then causes it to retreat. The US wants Pakistan to make a decisive passage from this personality disorder and it appears it will not rest until it does so.

The dilemma for Pakistan, on the other hand, is that despite a policy of engagement with US, it has not turned in to influence. US has wanted to use Pakistan on its own terms. Pakistan’s involvement in the war against terror has come at a tremendous economic cost. One of the choices the country now faces now is to side with the sentiments of its own people, and thus face potential western sanctions. Or, side with NATO, and confront the wrath of its own people. Pakistan is hoping that a harder stand may bring about a change in the position of US on drone strikes, on apology, and securing its interest in Afghanistan. Despite the rhetoric, one should not underestimate the electoral and economic pressures under which NATO and US are operating in Afghanistan. However, to think that US and NATO are thinking of Afghanistan in isolation from their strategy for Iran and Syria, will also be a grave omission.