G Parthasarathy

Pak in a spot over Afghanistan

G. Parthasarathy | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on June 06, 2012

The US has pledged support against terrorism even after its withdrawal in 2014.

Meeting officials and academics in Washington just prior to the Chicago NATO Summit gave me an interesting insight into the mood in the city, just as the “end game” in Afghanistan begins. Amid much fanfare, the US President, Mr Barack Obama, administered two direct snubs to the Head of State of a “major non-NATO ally,” Pakistan.

After making it clear that he had no intention of meeting his counterpart, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, unless the supply routes to Afghanistan from Pakistan were reopened. President Obama also chose to conclude the Chicago Summit paying handsome tribute to Russia and Central Asian countries, which had facilitated transit of American supplies to Afghanistan, while pointedly excluding any mention of Pakistan.

Even American journalists and academics, who have for years been apologists for Pakistan's military, now fret and fume at the very mention of the country's name. It is a pity that it was the affable President Zardari, and not the crusty and jihad-oriented General Ashfaq Kayani, who was the Pakistani recipient of this American dressing-down.

‘to a successful end'

Nothing surprising emerged from the Chicago Summit, with the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) falling in line for an extended commitment of assistance to Afghanistan, well beyond the day they would end combat operations. The NATO Secretary-General, Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen, averred: “We will stay committed and see it to a successful end.” Standing beside President Obama, the Afghanistan President, Mr Hamid Karzai, made it clear that his country intends to do its best to ensure that it “is no longer a burden on the shoulders of our friends in the international community.”

There is little doubt that if allowed to determine its own destiny, free from Pakistani malevolence, Afghanistan, which has huge natural resources of coal, copper, iron ore, cobalt, gold and lithium, estimated to be worth $1 trillion, can become an economically vibrant country.

It could serve as a conduit for Central Asia's natural gas to India. And it has substantial potential for export of agricultural products. But will the Generals in Rawalpindi, obsessed with “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and jihad against India, have the good sense to allow this?

The road map for future American policies was set out in the Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Obama signed with his Afghan counterpart on May 2, the first anniversary of the day American Special Force eliminated Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad. This Agreement is valid till 2024.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement confirms that American combat operations in Afghanistan will end in December 2014. The US has, however, pledged to provide military assistance to Afghanistan, “so that Afghanistan can independently secure and defend itself against internal and external threats, and help ensure that terrorists never again encroach on Afghan soil and threaten Afghanistan, the region and the world.”

While the lead role for counter-insurgency operations will be handed over to the Afghans next May, after substantial reduction in force levels, the US and Afghanistan will have to negotiate a Bilateral Status of Forces Security Agreement in the next year, to provide the framework for a continued presence of US forces in a counter-terrorism role, beyond December 2014.

Clearly recognising Russian and Iranian anxieties, the Agreement stipulates that Afghan soil will not be used against any third country, and includes an American assurance that it does not seek permanent bases in Afghanistan. Alluding to efforts for dialogue with the Taliban, the Afghan Government has pledged that any agreement reached with the Taliban “shall uphold the values of the Afghan Constitution.”

Engagement with Pakistan

While these affirmations may appear reassuring to some, one has to carefully see how the situation plays out in Afghanistan.

While American officials proclaim that the US will not leave Afghanistan till their task is completed, there is a body of Americans who feel that what happened following American military interventions in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia, could well be repeated.

There is however, realisation that an ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan will only embolden radical Islamists to target American interests across the world.

While the Americans and their NATO partners have been able to hold firm in rejecting Pakistani conditions and extortionist demands for reopening of supply lines to Afghanistan, it is evident that American and NATO engagement with Pakistan will continue.

In the meantime, Pakistan's economic woes are mounting, as its internal debt reaches 65 per cent of GDP and its external debt exceeds $60 billion. Pakistan has already defaulted on payments to foreign power producers. But it does appear a face-saving way will be found in course for reopening of NATO supply routes in Pakistan, where airspace is still available for such supplies.

The focus in the coming years is thus going to be on whether the Afghan forces will be able to hold major towns in southern Afghanistan such as Kandahar and Jalalabad in the face of Taliban attacks. It appears unlikely that the Afghan National Army (ANA) will be able to hold rural and mountainous areas near the Durand Line, particularly in South-Eastern Afghanistan.

This will necessitate a continuing “counter-terrorism” role for the Americans. There are, however, doubts if the war-weary American public will relish this. So, an important question which remains is whether the Americans will stay the course to ensure that “terrorists never again encroach on Afghan soil.”

Choices for pakistan

Pakistan has two alternatives. The first is to join the international community and regional powers in building a stable and self-reliant Afghanistan, through regional trade, oil and gas pipelines, and development of Afghanistan's vast resources of gold, copper, lithium, coal and iron ore.

India and China are already investing in resources such as iron ore, coal and copper and in oil exploration and steel. Or else, General Kayani can continue on the present path of jihad and “strategic depth,” unleashing more destruction and misery on the hapless Afghans and Pakistanis.

Published on June 06, 2012
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