Flawed Approach to Pakistan - Regional Dynamics are Once Again
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Regional dynamics are once again converging against Pakistan and its interests. And once again, terrorism and Afghanistan are the sources of growing regional differences. Testifying before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson resorted to what has long been a cornerstone, and a flawed one at that, of US policy towards Pakistan: seeing this country through the prism of Afghanistan. With the centrality of US demands of Pakistan concerning in some way or the other the need for stabilising Afghanistan, is it really surprising that so much suspicion still remains here about America’s true goals and intentions?
It is not so much that America’s demands are wrong — a terror-free neighbourhood is in the fundamental interest of all — than the seemingly lopsided focus of demands. For a decade and a half now, the US has directly and indirectly tried to defeat the Afghan Taliban insurgency without quite acknowledging that much of that victory depends on Kabul providing a viable and reliable governance alternative. First, the Hamid Karzai era was propped up regardless of the obviously and massively damaging choices that dispensation made for political stability and governance. Now, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is also being insulated from domestic pressures by a virtual American guarantee that the National Unity Government will complete its term no matter if it delivers on constitutional and governance reforms. Freed from having to bear the weight of querulous domestic politics alone thanks to US support, Mr Ghani is turning to external issues, which, in this case, means essentially blaming Pakistan for all of Afghanistan’s internal problems and seeking closer ties with India as a counterweight to Pakistan.
Therein lies a major flaw of all three countries when it comes to the Pak-Afghan equation: if Pakistan is seen as the key to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan and helping realise political reconciliation in that country, how is the ganging up of a superpower, an inveterate rival and an always prickly neighbour supposed to encourage Pakistan to align its interests with their demands? While there were many factors at work, it remains the case that the Murree dialogue was scuttled by foreign revelations of Mullah Omar’s death and the QCG’s efforts were devastated by the US decision to drone Akhtar Mansour. It is impossible to suggest that Pakistan has clean hands when it comes to regional militancy and Afghanistan’s struggles. But the current approach of the US, Afghanistan and India portends more danger for the region, not less.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2016