Afghanistan – A view from Pakistan

By K. Hussan Zia

President Trump and his cohorts are accusing Pakistan of perfidy for taking $33 billion in aid from the U.S and not doing enough in return. First of all, nearly half of the amount mentioned was not aid but payments for goods and services that Pakistan provided to the U.S troops. Secondly, Pakistan sacrificed much more than she actually received from the U.S.

  1. Making available five air bases as well as services that included 0.4 million litres of aviation fuel per day and an air corridor that covered two-thirds of the country.
  2. Facilities at Pasni on the coast for landing 8,000 U.S marines and their equipment.
  3. Carrying out 99 raids to capture and hand over 420 foreign suspects to the U.S in the first year alone. The practice was continued afterwards. U.S intelligence agencies were given a virtually free run of the country according to the Institute of Strategic Studies, Pakistan.
  4. Established 665 military check posts along the Afghan border each comprising 40 men.
  5. In CENTCOM’s words, ‘In spite of ominous threat on Eastern Border, Pakistan is maintaining a sizeable portion of her strategic forces (75,000 troops) on Western Border.’ She has mounted major operations in the region that caused nearly 8,000 battlefield casualties, more than three times what the U.S has suffered.
  6. In addition, according to CENTCOM in 2002 alone, ‘Pakistan’s economy suffered a loss of over US$ 10 billion. Major losses were caused to the civil aviation, tourism, investment and shipping due to rise in the rates of insurance. Besides this, Pakistani exports also suffered adversely and foreign investments experienced a visible decline’ The haemorrhaging has continued since then. The war had cost Pakistan upwards of $250 billion dollars by 2016 according to Pakistan’s minister of finance.
  7. There was hardly any terrorism in Pakistan to speak of until she joined the U.S’ war. Since then she has been subjected to more than 500 suicide bombings alone killing or injuring more than 75,000 innocent people.

No other country has done more for the U.S than Pakistan. While she was doing all this to help the U.S, President Bush was telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he ‘wanted to go beyond Iraq in dealing with WMD proliferation, mentioning in particular Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan’ (see Douglas Jehl in The New York Times of 14th October 2005).

No matter what Pakistan did for the U.S she was always exhorted to do more regardless of how it impacted her own national interest, including present and future relations with other countries in the region. Failing this, she was threatened with cutting off aid which was an enigma. It is for consideration if a country whose economy could withstand a loss of more ten billion dollars in one year really needed a few hundred million dollars worth of aid to survive? President Trump also made India her strategic partner knowing that she has been using Afghanistan as a base for supporting terrorism inside Pakistan as confirmed by Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel.

For instance, what is the real U.S aim in Afghanistan? Is it really about fighting terrorism or something entirely different? Newt Gingrich had this to say: ‘The fact is, if you slow down the casualty rate and you’re not losing young Americans, the American people will support gradually growing allies for a long time’ that will make long-term troop presence in Afghanistan acceptable to the American people as happened in the case of Germany, Japan and Korea.

Why the U.S need these military bases in Afghanistan is open to conjecture. What interest can Pakistan possibly have in making it possible for the U.S knowing that these could be used against her and how can she be a party to this knowing that it will negatively impact her relations with neighbouring countries?

For twelve years the U.S tried to subdue Afghanistan using 130,000 NATO troops and many more mercenaries without success. To claim that it can now be done with one-tenth that number is simply not credible. In any case, according to Global Terrorism Index only seven per cent of all the situations involving terrorism worldwide have been resolved using the military alone. More than eighty percent have been settled through better policing and addressing the grievances of those that support terrorism.

Using the military leads to indiscriminate and excessive deaths. In his book, Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality Since 1950 (2007) Professor Gideon Polya at La Trobe University in Melbourne concludes that total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five. Killing is not a recipe for peace. Under the Afghan tribal culture (Pakhtoonwali) revenge killing (badla) becomes a family obligation. After what the U.S have done, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan that suffered drone attacks will not be safe places for any American male above the age of twelve for generations to come.

There are persistent reports of increasing numbers of ISIS fighters appearing in Afghanistan. We don’t know how they make their way through hostile countries that surround Afghanistan nor who arranges their upkeep and military support. All we know for certain is that they are hostile to Taliban. Russia has pointed the finger at the U.S for bringing them so has President Hamid Karzai. Whoever it might be, this lot will need substantial support inside Afghanistan to survive and it will not be coming from the people of Afghanistan. Other countries in the region also look at this development with considerable alarm which is not helpful to finding a solution in Afghanistan.

Taliban are the successors to Reagan era Mujahideen or ‘freedom fighters’ as he called them. They are composed of more than forty different groups mostly but not exclusively composed of Pashtoon tribesmen, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country with close ties to Pakistan. Haqqanis about whom there is so much hype these days are just one of these originally most favoured CIA-funded groups.

Taliban are not a unified regular force and come together only for specific operations. They enjoy wide popular support largely because they want to rid the country of foreign occupation and the corrupt and ineffective government in Kabul. Since they already control more than half of Afghanistan and contrary to the impression being created they don’t need any bases in Pakistan. It is an unrealistic expectation that they can be rendered ineffective through use of force. The Soviets tried and failed and for all intents and purposes so have the United States.

The groups coordinate their actions through a consultative body known as shura. It does not exercise any military or financial controls that are mostly decentralized as is much of the rest. Mainly because of ethnic affiliation and in the absence of any other choice, they have close links with Pakistan but in matters of policy they remain fiercely independent. They also have links with other countries in particular Iran, India, the U.S, Russia and China.

Pakistan still plays host to more than three million of the original five million Afghan refugees displaced by the wars waged first by the Soviet Union and then the United States. They are a considerable drain on her precious resources. With the U.S now tightening screws on Pakistan, it is an open question as to how long she can continue to bear this burden.

Pakistan has a vital interest in Afghanistan and the reverse is just as true. Karachi has the largest concentration of Pashtoons as compared with any other city, including Kabul. There are more Pashtoons living in Pakistan than there are in Afghanistan where they are the largest and dominant ethnic group. Whatever happens to them affects Pakistan directly.

Virtually, all of Afghanistan’s trade passes through Pakistan. Almost every Afghan, be it in the north or south understands if not speaks Urdu, Pakistan’s national language. There are extensive family connections between people in the north and west of Pakistan and across the border in Afghanistan. It was all one country before Britain and Russia made a buffer state out of Afghanistan in late nineteenth century.

The two countries are inseparably joined at the hip by their common history, ethnicity, religion, culture as well as economy booth history and the dynamic at work in Afghanistan favour the Pashtoons who live mostly in the south and southeast of the country. They have ruled Afghanistan since its inception. Their attitude will always remain pertinent and critical to any settlement. It was a mistake to choose war over negotiations in dealing with them. Chances are they will have greater share of power in any settlement. This does not necessarily mean they will support the so-called Jihadi elements. Given what Afghanistan has been through, it is most unlikely that any government, including Taliban, will allow terrorists to operate out of the country. Paradoxically Taliban, because of the way they work, are more likely to be able to control the situation. In addition, it will be in Pakistan’s interest to use her leverage and ensure that they do.

As for US-Pakistan relations President Trump’s choice of bluff, bluster and threats to coerce Pakistan into acting against her best national interest has been an unfortunate one. Chances are it will not work and may lead to needless alienation between the two countries. Not only will it make finding a solution in Afghanistan much more problematic but also put access to Central Asia in jeopardy for the U.S. It is not a choice that wise men should be making.

The writer is author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective’.

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