U.S. and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan converge but only up to a point. From 2002 to 2008, the U.S. poured in over $10 billion to the Musharraf government for its support in the “war on terror” in Afghanistan.
The money was largely utilized to replenish the Pakistani military’s capabilities. Not much was devoted to human development in the most needy and impoverished tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Today, the United States and Pakistan are no doubt allies battling violent extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas. It was inevitable that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, after being routed by the United States in 2001, would cross the porous border to seek sanctuary among fellow Pashtuns in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt.
The media tends to conflate the Pakistani Taliban, who are battling the Pakistani government, and the Afghan Taliban, whose main motive is to drive away foreign forces from Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army, in its counterinsurgency campaign, has achieved some success against the Pakistani Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan. This group had directly challenged the writ of the state.
But despite the U.S. prodding Pakistan to go after the Afghan Taliban — whose leadership is reportedly hiding in Pakistan’s border areas — the Pakistani government is reluctant to do so.
The reason is simple: the Afghan Taliban do not launch attacks against the Pakistani people. Secondly, the Pakistanis do not want to antagonize a group which could play a dominant role in a future Afghan government.
It would be much wiser if the U.S. and Pakistan undertook a more realistic appraisal of the limits of their alliance. For the Pakistanis, the U.S. has often been an unreliable ally, which has abandoned them in the past. Bitter memories of these episodes remain.
President Obama has announced that the US will start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in July 2011. Nobody can predict how long the US will remain in Afghanistan after that date.
Meanwhile, the Taliban will remain a major force in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s influence there will grow if the Afghan Taliban become a partner in a new government in Kabul, which could be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
The U.S. should not feel offended if the Pakistanis cannot meet its demands regarding the Afghan Taliban. On the contrary, since a military defeat of the Afghan insurgency is practically impossible to attain, the U.S. should open serious negotiations with Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban.
Omar has publicly stated that his fight is against the Karzai government. He is not against the United States.
If Omar is promised a share in power, a new coalition government can come into being in Afghanistan. This scenario will further marginalize the dwindling fortunes of al-Qaeda.
Nobody knows the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, or whether he is dead or alive. He has not been sighted for the past 8 years. His allure as an Islamic leader has been considerably dented. It is unwise to give him an importance or stature that he does not have any longer.
The U.S. should use its considerable soft power in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By helping in building schools, roads and hospitals in the region, the U.S. will achieve much more success in winning hearts and minds.
Hard power has been tried for the past 8 years. It was not successful. The drone attacks targeting Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan have killed some al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Regrettably, they have also killed many more innocent people. Much ill will against the US was created in both countries by this “collateral damage.”
Ultimately, drone attacks are not likely to make an appreciable difference to the insurgencies raging in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A negotiated political approach has a better chance of success.
Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.