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Sunday, June 20, 2021


The Apology Dilemma


Afghan peace efforts would be ineffective without Pakistan playing a major role
Tags : AFGHAN PEACE EFFORTS | af-pak |

If US President Barak Obama had visited Pakistan, apologised for the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers in the drone strikes and  restored a billion dollar aid to the country, it would have served the cause of a smooth US departure from Afghanistan. Instead a visit to Afghan President Hamid Karzai was paid on May 2, 2012, on the eve of Osama bin Laden’s death, where the US President gloated over the successful elimination of top al Qaeda leaders, conveniently glossing over the failures of the Afghan mission.

The question that begs the asking is, will the US leave Afghanistan? The rationale for staying would be saving face to the international community and maintaining a tighter grip over the region. Sources reveal, the US has been building up military infrastructure all over Afghanistan, including massive underground bases. It has also built a huge base south of Kandahar, capable of supporting 4000 and having two runways for aircraft.

However, if it did come to pitched battles, an army of this size would be pitiably outnumbered. Based on some estimates, the Taliban alone has about 35 thousand “professional” militants. That apart, the land abounds in several other groups like the Haqqani network, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and others. To top it all, the local tribes often join the ranks of the militants and carry out seasonal attacks on the foreign troops because they don’t perceive the US and coalition troops as saviours, especially against the backdrop of the night raids by American soldiers that lead to the loss of civilian lives. In fact, if ever the US does depart, it is uncertain whether the Afghan forces will be able to control these insurgent who kept the 1,30,000 strong forces rather occupied.

The Taliban too seem to be in two minds. On the one hand, they want to legitimise their operations by entering into negotiations with the US. However, sensing a weakness at the wake of outgoing NATO forces, they are hitting hard at various parts of the country. Moreover, despite the flow of money from NATO for secure transportation of goods within Afghanistan, the chief income of al Qaida come from drug production. Apart from strengthening the al Qaida, this also hurts the socio-cultural health of Afghanistan. According to the Deputy Minister of Afghanistan Ibrahim Azhar, an annual turnover of drugs in Afghanistan has reached 70 billion US dollars. He further added that the absence of modern measures against production and smuggling of drugs in Afghanistan may lead the country to social catastrophe. All these prove, despite the US bravado, that the Taliban remain quite powerful in the country still.

Furthermore, the repeated drone strikes in Pakistan, despite the Pakistani government’s repeated protests, have further queered the pitch for negotiations to reopen the vital supply routes into Afghanistan through the country that have been closed since late 2011. A visit of US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman to Islamabad in April 2012 as well as the Pakistani reluctance to talk are explicit signs of this fiasco. Although, the US understands the vitality of Pakistan in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan, it does not seem to realise the importance of appeasing Pakistan. If some concessions are not made, it will hurt the US military presence in Afghanistan quite badly.

Thus given the overall development of the situation in Afghanistan and the fact that the US is building its fortifications in the south of the country, where the foreign troops have taken the biggest losses, the future looks bleak indeed. No amount of fortification will be any good for a lasting peace as instead of reducing the violence against the foreign troops, it will only increase the mistrust and bellicosity of the locals. The breakdown of talks with the Taliban and more importantly with Pakistan will also put the US, ISAF and local forces into further jeopardy.

At this point, appeasing Pakistan should be topmost on America’s agenda instead of strategic alliances which have no more than a symbolic value. Pakistan is probably the only country which is in a position to help with negotiations with the Taliban, integrate them into the Afghan political landscape and help restore a relative stability in the country. In this complex situation, words seem to be stronger than guns and apology would definitely be better than military bases. This is the only productive option for the US – to regenerate the supply lines through Pakistan, come to a compromise with the Taliban and safely pull out its troops from this prolonged war.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017