Reading between the lines, it is quite clear that the real purpose of the visit of Susan Rice, US National Security Adviser, to Islamabad over the preceding week-end was to convey to the Pakistan government the serious US concern over the alleged activities of the Haqqani network, which had resulted in a steep rise in terrorist activities in Afghanistan last month. It would be recalled that those terrorist incidents had resulted in a public outburst by Afghan President who had charged that war had been declared on Afghanistan from the Pakistani territory. He had also warned that Afghanistan could no longer “tolerate to see our people bleeding in a war exported and imposed on us from outside.”

According to the briefing given by a senior US official in Islamabad, “Ms. Rice expressed concern over the deadly attacks in Kabul, which were perpetrated by the Haqqani network. This is absolutely unacceptable…..We look forward to Pakistan reducing this threat.” Pakistan was also told to take “specific measures” for stopping the attacks. The unnamed senior US official, who could be Susan Rice herself, went on to stress that the issue of Pakistan acting against the Haqqani network had “developed into a key point of regional friction” and “addressing this challenge will be imperative for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and with Washington, especially given the recent upsurge in violence in Kabul and the Taliban’s bloody campaign this fighting season in Afghanistan”.

The US message laid the blame exclusively on Pakistan and the Taliban for the mess in which Afghanistan is, ignoring the after effects of its own invasion of Afghanistan and the serious blunders that it committed in handling the Afghanistan situation during its 14-year long occupation of the country. To begin with, it imposed a government of its own choice on Afghanistan in total disregard of the Afghan ground realities. Sherard Cowper-Coles, a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, notes in his book, “Cables from Kabul”, that “the Bonn settlement that had followed (the US invasion) had been a victors’ peace, from which the vanquished (the Taliban) had been excluded; and that the constitution resulting from that settlement could last only as long as the West was prepared to stay in Afghanistan to prop up the present disposition”.

Secondly, the US committed the strategic blunder of relying exclusively on military means to achieve its strategic goal of imposing on Afghanistan not only a government of its own choice but also its liberal cultural values in disregard of the Afghan tribal society’s extremely conservative make-up and its historical record of opposing successfully foreign powers’ attempts to subjugate it. The Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was the last such attempt. Again to quote Sherard Cowper-Coles from his book mentioned above, “the only sensible strategic approach had to be a political one, drawing in all the internal and regional parties to a conflict with roots far deeper than the Western intervention of October, 2001.” In case, these lines have not attracted the attention of “the senior US official” and her colleagues, they may wish to read Vali Nasr’s book “The Dispensable Nation” in which he laments the US administration’s reliance on military means to achieve its ends in Afghanistan in disregard of the advice rendered by late Holbrooke to place emphasis on a political strategy for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The third US blunder in Afghanistan was to treat the Taliban as a terrorist group. It is true that the Taliban group adheres to an obscurantist and retrogressive ideology but it still is a legitimate part of the Afghan political spectrum. The initial US effort after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was to try to stabilize the situation in the country while ignoring the Taliban who mostly represented the Pakhtuns, constituting half of the population of Afghanistan. It was incredible that the US hoped to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan while alienating half of its population!

Faced with the failure of its Afghanistan policy, the US, especially its military establishment, found it convenient to lay all the blame at Pakistan’s door-steps. It forced Pakistan to take action against the remnants of the Taliban who had taken refuge on its soil because of the traditions of the Pakhtun tribes on both sides of the Durand Line. The US pressure on Pakistan ignored the fact that the root cause of the armed conflict and political instability in Afghanistan lay within that country in the form of a political disposition which had alienated a large part of its population. Islamabad’s compliance was likely to inflame and destabilize the internal situation in Pakistan. This is precisely what happened once Islamabad started implementing Washington’s diktat concerning the Taliban on Pakistani soil. The result was the formation of TTP and the spate of terrorist activities across Pakistan. Despite Islamabad’s military action against the Taliban remnants in its tribal areas, the situation in Afghanistan did not stabilize because the root cause of the Afghan armed conflict remained unattended.

Ultimately, Washington woke up to the necessity of national reconciliation and a political settlement in Afghanistan when it concluded just before its military withdrawal was to begin that its policy of reliance exclusively on the military means had failed. Now Pakistan was expected by Washington and Kabul to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table while simultaneously intensifying military action against the group! The message delivered by Susan Rice is on the same lines.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan has had its own share of mistakes in handling the Afghanistan situation. Our policy of total support to the Afghan Taliban in 1990’s after they had captured Kabul and our rejection of the proposals made by Iran, where I had the privilege of serving as the Pakistan ambassador, as late as the beginning of 2001 for a compromise solution in Afghanistan were strategic blunders. Pakistan continues to suffer from the adverse consequences of those mistakes.

The US decision to pile up pressure on Pakistan has been taken apparently in close coordination with Kabul and, may be, even New Delhi. It was significant that Washington refused to take sides on the current tension between Pakistan and India because of the spike in shelling incidents along the Line of Control and the Working Boundary. The US senior official merely stated in the briefing that Washington was “interested in hearing from Pakistan about their thoughts and views about addressing the situation”.

Pakistan is faced with tough choices in the face of the warning delivered by Susan Rice. It is in Pakistan’s own interest to work for durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. So the efforts to facilitate the resumption of the dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban must be intensified in close consultations with Kabul. Further, now that the US has only a token military force in Afghanistan, we should tell the remnants of the Haqqani network or any other Afghan dissidents, who may still be in our tribal areas, to move to their own country. This will not be easy because of the porous nature of the Pak-Afghan border but we must still make a serious effort in that direction. As a matter of principle, we must make it abundantly clear that nobody would be permitted to carry out terrorist activities in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil. Thirdly, we must simultaneously ask Kabul to stop Pakistani dissidents and Indian agents from carrying out terrorist activities in Pakistan from sanctuaries in Afghanistan.