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A political way out


By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, Nov 14, 2014


Pakistan went up in arms with the release of Pentagon’s six-monthly report which restated the not-so-new US narrative on Pakistan, underscoring the “proxies” being used across the western and eastern borders of the country. The ministry of foreign affairs went to the extent of handing over a protest note to the US ambassador in Islamabad.

Much of the national reaction and international media projection of the Pentagon report in fact sounded clearly out of synch with some telling trends in the multinational focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the US and foreign troops thin down to about 12,500 by December, convergences among US, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan become increasingly visible. These convergences also belittle some of the conclusions drawn in the Pentagon report.

Since the US remains the elephant in the room, let us look at how the Af-Pak envoy Danial Feldmann and Gen Joseph Anderson, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan, look at the situation.

In a talk at the Atlantic Council in Washington (Washington, DC, October 14, 2014) Feldmann made some statements which marked a significant departure from Washington’s view on Pakistan. Some excerpts from his speech:

“But Pakistan has also suffered dramatically, over 50,000 Pakistani lives have been lost as a result of terrorism… Pakistan’s economy has suffered dramatically. Growth prospects have fallen. In recent times, inward investment and exports have declined, as security concerns have compounded the energy deficit… It is no secret that for the last decade, the American approach to the region has been filtered through the lens of our mission in Afghanistan. Perhaps no relationship has been more affected than Pakistan… It is a misconception that we will not be there. We will be there in significant numbers. The combat operations will stop. International community’s assistance and commitment will continue for a long term in Afghanistan” he said.

“There is no relationship more critical to Pakistan’s future than its relationship with its neighbor. And I am convinced that India’s rise in prosperity and global leadership cannot be fully realized until it has a better relationship with Pakistan. Afghanistan-Pakistan: President Ghani and Dr Abdullah agree that a renewed effort at reconciliation is important, and each also envision a role for Pakistan in that effort… In both Islamabad and here in Washington, there is much focus on preparing the way ahead. So this is a time of great opportunity for Pakistan, and for US-Pakistan relations. An opportunity for Pakistan to improve relations with its neighbors – particularly given the new leadership that has emerged in Delhi and Kabul. And it is a time when Pakistan can take its place as a leader in the community of nations…The operations (Zarb-e-Azb) clearly disrupted militant activities – but the job is not done. Militant groups, including the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani Taliban, continue to pose a threat to Pakistan, Pakistan’s neighbors, and the US.”

Feldman then underscored: “But our strategic interest extends beyond the Haqqani Network or any other particular group. The ungoverned vacuum allowed for a multitude of threats, both militant and criminal, that threaten first Pakistan, then the region, including Afghanistan, India and China, and then the broader world including the United States and Europe. Eliminating these safe havens is not just about eliminating one group, or one leader. It is a job that requires continued vigilance.”

And on November 5, Anderson, too, made an acknowledgment in a Pentagon-hosted video briefing from Afghanistan. “They are fractured like the Taliban is. That’s based pretty much on the Pakistan ops and North Waziristan this entire summer-fall. That has very much disrupted their efforts here and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack here in Kabul.”

When pressed for examples to support his claims, Anderson said: “So they’ve been able to secure the major road networks. They’ve worked the border crossings and they’ve kind of worked a layered ebb and flow based on all the different events that have transpired since the summertime… But they’ve worked a layered approach to protect Kabul. But I think – I think the successes, the finds they’ve made in the – in the – how they prevented the large vehicles explosives from getting in here and also hitting many of the caches and things like that where they’ve disrupted their efforts before they’ve been able to put an attack together.”

Assessments both by Feldmann and Gen Anderson carried a cautious warning to Pakistan as well an acknowledgment of its role in the political and economic future of Pakistan.

As far Islamabad, advisor on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, too has stated: “Our policy now is that the Afghan Taliban coming to power by force in Afghanistan is not in our security interests, that is the definition of our policy of non-interference in Afghanistan and no favorites.”

Beside the US-Pakistan synergy of thought and action and their keenness to get China on board for regional coordinated efforts to restore peace to Afghanistan, the Chinese leadership, too, is positioning itself for the post-2014 challenges in Afghanistan.

In this context, the first 10 days of November witnessed unusual activity in Beijing with President Ashraf Ghani’s first visit to China, the APEC summit and several tri- and multi-lateral meetings where China peddled the idea of a regional a “peace and reconciliation forum” that Afghan officials said would gather representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the Taliban command.

The Forum idea was also discussed at a recent meeting of nations taking part in the “Istanbul Process” on Afghanistan’s future.

Prime Minister Sharif’s talks in Beijing (where he reiterated Pakistan’s crackdown against all terrorists), President Ghani’s upcoming Islamabad visit, Pakistan Army chief Raheel Sharif’s Kabul visit followed by his forthcoming high-profile interaction with US officials in Washington, are all indicative of a renewed international effort to set things right in Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani is likely to discuss the Chinese plan during his talks in Islamabad, although Chinese leaders at various multi-lateral meetings have clearly stated that China does not seek to fill a void left by the US withdrawal.

All we want is a regionally-coordinated mechanism to steer Afghanistan on the way to reconciliation and economic revival. This goal is achievable only if Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan and China can close ranks for comprehensive security cooperation, Chinese officials argued at a recent Shanghai conference. The experience of the past decade speaks against a military solution and that is why all countries must focus on a political way out, they said.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk