There is chatter amongst political circles in USA that the Special Office of the US Envoy to Af-Pak region may soon be closed. Reportedly this and many other special diplomatic offices may be closed due to the budgetary cuts being imposed by the Trump Administration. This key position was created in 2009 for restoring peace in Afghanistan. In diplomatic parlance, the name represented a single theatre of military operations.  In reality, the name suggested the neologism of Obama Administration perceiving Pakistan as the problem to stability in Afghanistan. It meant that taming and destabilising Pakistan was the key to stability in Afghanistan. Late Richard Holbrooke, who coined it, said that the real problem confronting stability in Afghanistan lay in the East. However many interactions with Pakistan convinced him that the problems lay elsewhere. Under protests from Pakistan, the term was dropped in 2010. But as events indicate till 2016, the substance and perceptions did not change. In the WOT, Pakistan remained more a foe than an ally. Pakistani adventurist politicians in awe of a nonexistent military intervention chose to tow these perceptions and prolong their reign of loot and plunder.

Afghanistan has historically remained an unstable and primordial region wherein the writ of the Kabul government (read modernity) has always been restricted to few urban centers. All one has to do is watch the Hollywood Blockbuster Caravan or its author James A Michener. Warlords and armed groups dominate the interspersed expanses. Pakistan being bracketed with Afghanistan rather than its sub continental neighbour India is an old stratagem. Pakistan falls in the domain of CENTCOM while India in Pacific Command. This persistent bracketing ignores the reality of the seventy years conflict between India and Pakistan as the major source of instability. This instability has spread to Afghanistan and this is where the problem belatedly identified by Holbrooke begins.

It must be realised that all routes to stability in Afghanistan lead through unresolved issues between India and Pakistan. Emboldened by Obama policies, the Indian Government and its national security advisor have declared in clear terms what they wish to do to Pakistan. Most Indian forays to destabilise Pakistan are launched through Afghanistan with the support of the Kabul government. It would be naïve to assume that India resorts to such acts without the knowledge of USA that has a big presence in Afghanistan. Using diplomacy and Indian card will fail to subdue Pakistan. In the past ten years the country has waded through most crises and is battle hardened.

Back in 2010 I had written, “We as Pakistanis should be in awe of the fact that US defence contracts have already floated a bid for increased jet fuel in Afghanistan till 2013, with the condition that it must not come through Pakistan. Does this imply that Pakistan may be under US attack from Bagram in 2012-13?” (The Nation: The new Af-Pak strategy, July 4, 2010). In 2009-10, despite Pakistan’s spectacular intelligence gains, relations with USA plummeted to the lowest. In utter frustration, what followed were the Abbottabad Raid and Salala. As expected, US operations inside Pakistan were actually launched from Afghanistan. Pakistan retaliated by closing logistic lines.

The predicted happened earlier than expected. Though Pakistan had to swallow its pride, it succeeded in exposing and containing the long train of CIA operatives with shady visas, lost containers and hideouts within Pakistan. Post Zarb-e-Azb and now Radd ul Fassad, Pakistan has endured the difficult time of Obama’s COIN strategy and anti-Pakistan policies. For USA, it is time to make amends and turn the corner on relations with Pakistan.

President Trump faces the biggest challenge in the deep-rooted US establishment known for decades to impose policies on Capitol Hill. Within the establishment it remains a seesaw between the Pentagon and CIA to vie for influence. Accordingly, research organisations, think tanks, media groups and commentators take position as feeders to such policies. In terms of Pakistan there is a long list of such aspirants like Hussain Haqqani, Bruce Riedel, Zalmay Khalilzad, Lisa Curtis, Christine Fair and many others chirping to get noticed. Haqqani was Pakistan’s envoy to USA and acted more in Obama’s interests than the country he represented. They regularly fed the State Department with Anti-Pakistan venom that resulted in Obama’s skewed policies.

President Trump must know that the failed Obama surges in Afghanistan reflected the divergence between the field commanders and State Department. In an article ‘Wilting Obama Surge’ published in the Nation on 14 May 2010, I had commented, “Nothing had worked as per the plan; neither the carrot, nor the stick nor stacks of cash for the breakaway Taliban. The contradictory statements of Gates, Holbrooke and the local military command spelled it all. The foreign press corps in Kabul, obscure from reality was making big news. Media was bubbling with optimism while efforts were at hand to find a scapegoat if the good news turned sour. This scapegoat is now General Stanley McChrystal.” As events proved, the divergence was much more than apparent. USA was downplaying the edge of military operations in Afghanistan and preparing covert actions that marked violations of Pakistan’s territory, influx of agents and monetarily saddled COIN strategy. It failed.

It is time President Trump listens to contrarian advice. He can get the best from retired US generals and admirals with hands on experience in military operations and diplomacy in Afghanistan. Relations with Pakistan must shift from deep antagonism and suspicion to mutual benefit.

The only country with declared intentions to create a Black Swan in the region is India. It is spewing persistent venom and hate against Pakistan. Illusionary surgical strikes, replication of COIN in Held Kashmir, threats of using nukes against Pakistan, support of anti Pakistan militant groups and separatist, threats to block rivers, abrogating Indus basin Water Treaty and enacting false flags are within the capability of this hate mongering regime. Allowing India to tease Pakistan through Afghanistan will result in more destabilisation. The emboldened India must be checked or Pakistan will be left with no option but to retaliate in kind. Then it will be a very ugly situation.

Mutual suspicions and antagonism in the past two decades have been counterproductive. Pakistan has neither collapsed nor its economy melted. The people are too resilient to buckle. So it is time to say bye to instability trajectories and making Pakistan more self reliant and friendly.

USA has to consider purposefully engaging Pakistan. The effects will immediately be visible with an impact on Afghanistan. Peace dialogue within Afghanistan must be pursued relentlessly. Pakistan will be willing to play its role.  It is time that USA also puts its stakes in CPEC. US companies must get involved in building infrastructure and industries in the zone. US energy sector with its vast experience in lignite must get involved in Thar coal projects. USA must take a step ahead in Pakistan’s railway infrastructure and modernise it.

I hope President Trump’s team is thinking on these lines.