The Soviet war, the Taliban regime, 9/11, and now the 2014 pull out. Yes, we are talking about Afghanistan, a country that has provided justification to the US geopolitics for interventions outside the US, and fed the world media for over three decades. Ironically though, Pakistan has played the facilitator all through─ hosted and trained Afghan mujahideen, and also sheltered over 3.5 million Afghan refugees for over two decades.
One major question that boggles many minds is why, despite the material and political sacrifice and socio-political suffering, Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan continues to draw negative publicity. Why do our relations with Kabul fail to normalise? This perhaps, makes a peep back into history imperative.
The untold story:
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979. They were invited by the then prime minister of Afghanistan, Hafizullah Amin, for the purpose of helping their common-ideology friends who were witnessing a civil war at that time. Although Amin was shot dead and replaced by Soviet-supported Babrak Karmal, the then Afghan ambassador to Moscow, the reality of this war is still obscured by distorted facts on the evolution of this conflict.
What still remains hidden (in the words of K K Aziz – Murder of History), is the fact that the ’79 war was surprisingly initiated by the US government through an initial secret aid fund signed by Jimmy Carter on July 3, 1979. This fact was accepted by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the then US National Security Advisor, in an interview saying,
“We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would (by funding the anti-Soviet forces). The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War… “
Not realising the importance of the eastern bloc, Pakistan sided against the USSR and, thus, the seeds for a never ending spiral of violence were sown that are still haunting the Af-Pak region. Furthermore, the anti-Pakistan sentiment started to develop on the other side of the border. This is where the relationship started to wither.
A failed campaign:
The initial toppling of Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime in 2001 proved to be a cake walk for the coalition forces, but what was in store for many is still making headlines. Recently, the NATO forces after a long struggle of 24 hours ended the Taliban siege on a famous hotel in Kabul resulting in 20 deaths. Incidents like these are becoming the ‘new normal’ for the country.
Afghanistan has now become, without a doubt, a failed campaign. It is not me, or someone from the region saying this. Rather one of the West’s own, Sherard Cowper-Coles, the ex-British ambassador to Afghanistan, labelled the War on Terror as a ‘fiasco’ during his term of service. In his account of four years in Kabul, titled ‘Cables from Kabul’, he confessed that there were billions of pounds spent, thousands of lives lost, and all that the coalition forces were doing was making the same mistakes as all others who believed they could take this fractious nation.
Conquering Afghanistan has been a failure in, more or less, every division; be it geo-strategic, geo-political, geo-economic, diplomatic, intelligence or the military-cum-security failures. Neutralising the threat of militants ─ Taliban being the major ones ─ still remains an unsolved mystery. The result of this failure has called for greater pressures, both from Karzai and the US, on Pakistan to act against the Haqqani faction of Taliban in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. This failure and blame is resulting in further withering of Af-Pak relations as the US-influenced Karzai government has to synchronise with Washington’s call in blaming Pakistan for militant activities taking place in the country, obviously to hide the failures within. This certainly isn’t helping the cause.
With the Afghan endgame visible within striking distance, the situation is resting upon a proper roadmap from all the stakeholders. It seems like the coalition forces want to leave with their heads high, but the greater interest of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) bloc in the region would make it hard to allow such an exit.
With this interest, Pakistan and Afghanistan need to realise the fact that further reliance on the US would prove nothing but detrimental for both the neighbours. With development work coming to a halt soon after the Nato exit it will all be left upon Afghanistan and its neighbouring friends, most importantly Pakistan, to play their part in this process. Further, succumbing to US pressure will not only worsen the Af-Pak relationship, it will also prevent the resolving of impeding issues haunting both sides of the border.
The future and the need for harmony:
It is yet again ironic, that recently both Islamabad and Kabul levied strict restrictions on visa procedures with the applicants, only allowed a single-entry one month visa and, that too happens solely after having used influential references. These bars have jeopardised not only the legitimate business seekers but has also created problems for journalists and dignitaries of both the sides.
What’s amazing is that on a daily basis, hundreds of thousands of people cross the border – many of them without visa or a passport. With such a huge number of people moving about freely, though illegally, restricting the legitimate cases makes little sense.
Afghanistan needs to realise that allies and friends can change, neighbours cannot. Whatever happens, Pakistan will remain a neighbour; one that hosts more than three million of your nationals and deserves special consideration in the policies being made. Such a neighbour should not be defamed in the world media on wishes of the allies to hide explicit failures. Kabul also has to make sure that its neighbour’s territorial integrity is not violated through uncalled for attacks from its side by the Nato forces. Such surgical strikes have never helped in the past.