by Rifaat Hamid Ghani
It is more than a decade since the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.
America now intends to withdraw from there, leaving only a token presence. If the elimination of the prospect of Taliban rule and extirpation of ‘Talibanism’ was the objective of that invasion it has not been achieved. It is also unlikely that America will subsequently be indifferent to Taliban resurgence becoming truly effective, or complaisant about its consolidating. So whose boots will stay on the ground to keep Taliban foothold from gaining space? There is a certain rationale to the speculation that America may find proxy warfare serves its unattained ends. Mercenaries cost, and international peace-keeping too has a running upkeep. Also, factor in that the world’s great powers past and present, collectively and separately, in competition as well as alliance, have more than a century’s working experience of strategic use of the porous borders between Afghanistan India and what in 1947 became Pakistan. Pakistan is in the middle whatever the perspective.
It has consistently and unabashedly been a facilitator of America’s Afghan activities and objectives. Before 9/11 it complemented CIA’s furtherance of the ethos of jihad to contain the ‘godless’ Soviet Union. Post 9/11 it too re-orientated itself and deprecated ‘jihadism’ as potentially terroristic. In 2001 it endorsed toppling the Taliban regime it had earlier furthered and rushed to recognize.
Going back home after the war of the moment is concluded places great powers at a comfortable remove. Not so Pakistan. In Afghanistan today, Pakistan’s former friends are its bitterest foes, and its former foes have no compulsion to seek its friendship.
Afghanistan and India periodically attribute internal political restiveness to subversion from Pakistan. Their accusations are more sympathetically aired by the global media than similar complaints from Pakistan. Admittedly, Pakistan itself has watched a Raymond Davis come and go without being able to make much of a strong case. No Pakistani exculpates the incendiary rhetoric and murderously criminal elements in the country’s domestic politicking. But more and more dramatic terrorist strikes are being promptly and loudly owned by Taliban-type bodies.
Pakistan’s current crop of secular democrats triumphantly crows that the chickens of General Zia’s and General Musharraf’s foreign policies have come home to roost. They prioritize demonizing their own intelligence agencies rather than cross-border ones for the Taliban imprimatur seen on the terrorism we are all experiencing.
Public engagement with the phenomenon is evolved into a heated media-led debate as to whether the answer lies in direct military action against what America has often called the breeding-ground and nurseries of al-Qaeda and Islamist jihadist terrorism.
This would incur operations in FATA along AfPak borders; the targeting of suspect madressas and personalities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwas and Punjab as well as in Balochistan (where army action could also become the last straw to break the federation’s back); and unavoidably entail at some stage the location and elimination of safe houses where terrorists may have become embedded in the protective anonymity of dense and fluid urban populations. In effect Pakistan could be precipitating a state conducive to civil war. Would it be able to ensure the kind of outcome it had in mind when embarking on military operation against Taliban terrorists? Would it be able to prevent diverting the Taliban effort at survival away from Afghanistan so as to replenish their challenged cross border sympathizers? Afghanistan’s civil war might find relief as a side effect, but the impact on Pakistan’s bouts with terror may be less positive.
It is tangential that a war of attrition could find Pakistan’s superb army conveniently debilitated from an Indian perspective. As well as conveniently underpinning the American side in Afghanistan’s lingering civil conflicts. The question that preoccupies Pakistanis is: Has the political ineptitude and pusillanimity displayed by civil and military regimes in equal measure taken our country past the tipping point in keeping its identity intact? Is it already too late to try to contain burgeoning terrorism – whatever its genesis – by diplomacy with only an occasional drone attack for gunboat incursions?
My take is that diplomacy is the only way, it does not guarantee success but a plunge into conventional war guarantees eventual failure.
There are many justified reservations as to the protracted nature of negotiations and the certain setbacks breakdowns and impasses along the route, and the urgency of ground realities. These need to be balanced against the fact that America’s troops are still fighting Taliban terrorists. They are looking for other ways to meet the challenge.
Armed might does not eliminate the terrorist. Terrorism is the weapon of the weak it needs only a single terrorist to keep the battle waging.