Pakistan was given the first taste of Trump’s Afghan policy with a cut of $255 million from the promised military aid of $1.1 billion. According to the State Department notification to the US Congress, $255 million would be put into an escrow account that Pakistan could only access once results begin to show that terrorism in Afghanistan no more carries Pakistan’s footprints. In equal measures a meeting was held, last week, between the US ambassador to Pakistan, David Hale and Pakistan’s National Security Advisor, Lt. General (r) Nasir Janjua. Hale told Janjua that Trump’s policy regarding Afghanistan had been misinterpreted and that it had both the military and political solution to the Afghan crisis. Hale further informed that the US was considering reviving the Quadretieral Coordination Group (QCG) that comprises Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and the US. According to the NSA official statement, the US was also considering restoring the `six-plus-one process` on Afghanistan. This process involved the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran and the seventh one being Afghanistan. The revival of these groups according to Hale will give Pakistan a lead role in the resolution of Afghan crisis.
At the heart of the US-Pakistan troubled relations is the issue of trust deficit that has never been overcome. Pakistan felt “deeply hurt” when the Trump administration insisted that the Afghan war is getting messier because of Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban. In the context of Pakistan’s effort to eliminate terrorists in different military operation, the blame seems out of context. Pakistan is desirous that the US appreciates its seriousness about fighting terrorism. The allegation that Pakistan is still in control of the good terrorists leaves a bad taste in the mouth of Pakistani generals who had seen their soldiers, almost 6,000, fallen to terror related activities. The Pakistan Army Public School incident did not happen because the terrorists were hungry of Pakistanis blood. It happened in revenge of the Pakistan army’s initiative to cleanse its house of the rogue elements. The Taliban that the Pakistanis are accused of harbouring, over the years, have grown strong because of their ties with the outer world especially the Arabs, leaving little leverage with Pakistan to influence them. In fact, the Taliban are in contact with China and Russia alike. Their contact with Iran is also not hidden. Therefore in the regional context, Pakistan is not the only country holding sway over the Taliban, there are, as many entities pulling at the group’s reign. In this paradigm where the entire region is engaged in the Afghan theatre, accusing only Pakistan of the US failure is not a right approach.
Notwithstanding the suspension of a part of military assistance to Pakistan, the decision to revive peace process sounds hopeful. However, for the peace process to succeed it should have a clear mandate with a full political backing.
The problem is that ever since the formation of the QCG, in January 2016, the group has been dormant most of the time. The objective of the group was to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. Unfortunately, the group members had no synchronisation of purpose among themselves. Pakistan had been expected to play a larger than life role, with a perception held both by the Afghan government and the US that the Taliban would act docile on Pakistan’s instruction. Pakistan may not have that kind of influence on the Taliban. In the case of China, the Taliban wanted it to serve as a mediator between them and the US and the Afghan government, but the presence of the US raises barriers for China to assert forcefully. China has backed out since. Another streak of division within the group was about suspicion over Pakistan’s dubious role in dealing with the Taliban.
Before the QCG is made operative to kick start a new peace process in Afghanistan, it is important that vision about Afghanistan’s future is crafted with all the regional stakeholders taken in the loop. The Trump policy has not discussed what role Russia, China, and Iran should play to help end the war. Giving India the leeway to contribute in the infrastructure development has only added to Pakistan’s anxiety because India’s presence at both the eastern and the western border would stretch Pakistan’s military resources. This could potentially result in the formation of alternative measures to keep safe.
Afghanistan is a hard country surrounded by ambitious neighbours and internally weakened by the warlords that the foreign missions had failed to sort out. Places, where the Taliban are in power, are the one where the warlords are resented. The elimination of warlords, who are wolves to the country require an inward looking decision-making process that includes the traditional apparatus of governance. So far the rented democracy run by handpicked Afghan leader enjoy no public support. Trump’s policy makers may have issued a warning to the Afghan government to deliver; it would not necessarily translate into action unless a set-up rooted in the Afghan political culture is designed.
In this complicated political and geostrategic situation it becomes easier for the militants to exploit the vacuum left by the unproductive authority in Kabul and the US that for the last 16 years is still groping to find the right solution to the Afghan crisis.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.