After the announcement of new US policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, which envisaged a military solution of the problems in that conflict-ridden country and also indicated tough measures against Pakistan in case it did not end the alleged support for terrorist outfits, it had become imperative for Pakistan to firm up appropriate responses to the emerging situation and to safeguard its strategic interests in the region. The huddle between the civilian and military leadership unanimously took exception to the US stance – rightly so – reiterating its commitment to finding Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the war in Afghanistan and rejecting the military strategy unfurled by the US. It also categorically rejected US allegations about harbouring of terrorists by Pakistan, recounting the sacrifices that the country had rendered in this regard and the indiscriminate action taken against the terrorist organizations. The COAS also took a resolute and pragmatic stand on the issue saying that now instead of Pakistan doing more it was the turn of the international community to do more. The leadership also felt the need for change in the foreign policy in conformity with the changed geo-political realities that dictated more focus on cooperation with the regional countries.

Pakistan has long held the view that war in Afghanistan could only be terminated through negotiations and the regional countries which had much bigger stake in stability in Afghanistan, were in a better position to play a decisive role in this regard. That view was dictated by the ground realities in Afghanistan and the failure of the US and NATO forces to subdue the Taliban insurgency even after sixteen years, which had forced the Obama administration to put in place a plan for drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan and eventual exit from that country after finding a negotiated solution. The reversal of that policy by Trump and opting for a military solution is surely fraught with great dangers for peace and stability in the region as the continuation of fighting in Afghanistan like in the past would also have a negative fall-out effect on the neighbouring countries, particularly Pakistan.

It was probably in the backdrop of the foregoing developments and the position firmed up by Pakistan that the foreign minister has embarked on visits to regional countries to win their support for its stance on the new situation. The results of this shuttle diplomacy so far have been very encouraging. China, which some suspected had changed its stance viv-a-viz Pakistan on the issue of terrorism as reflected in the BRICS declaration, came out with a firm commitment to stand by Pakistan quelling the fears expressed by those circles. Iran has also extended unqualified support to Pakistan in regards to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan. Turkey as usual has expressed solidarity with Pakistan on the issue and given the commitment to work with Pakistan in finding an amicable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. All the countries also rejected the new US approach in Afghanistan, duly acknowledging the contribution made by Pakistan in the war against terrorism. It may be recalled that soon after the announcement of the new policy by President Trump, China and Russia had immediately expressed their disapproval for the war strategy which they thought would not help in resolving the conflict. These developments also constitute adequate snub for those who have been talking loudly about Pakistan’s isolation in the region.

In the meanwhile Prime Minister Abbassi has said that the contemplated punitive measures and sanctions against Pakistan by the US would prove counter-productive. His confidence stems from the fact that Pakistan presently was in a much better position than during the previous stand-offs between the two countries. It enjoyed the best ever relations with China, much improved ties with Russia and had also become member of the SCO. The initiation of CPEC was yet another big factor in boosting the confidence of the Pakistan government. In case of any harsh measures by the USA it could have the luxury of falling back on its time-tested friend China, support of big powers in the region like Russia and the central Asian states which were also desirous of using Gawadar Port and being part of the CPEC. When the foreign minister now embarks on a visit to USA, which had been deferred, he would be in a much more comfortable position to neutralize the pressure tactics likely to be employed by the USA and impressing upon the US administration the desirability of revisiting its Afghan Policy. Pakistan now is surely in a much better position to re-calibrate its relations with the USA and strongly present its case to the world community on the issue of terrorism.

In my columns I have invariably maintained that the US policy in Afghanistan has been a complete failure and it was insanity on the part of the Trump administration to re-opt for a military solution. The only way to finding an amicable solution and an honourable exit from Afghanistan for the US is possible through negotiations supported and nudged by the regional countries in which Pakistan has a pivotal role to play. No matter how powerful a country is, it cannot change the geographical realities.

If the US is really sincere in ending conflict in Afghanistan it will have to show real and honest commitment to that cause by recognizing the geo-political realities that demand a greater role for the regional countries in untangling the Afghan conundrum. Perhaps there was a greater need now to revive the Quadrilateral Initiative coinciding with gradual withdrawal of US forces because the Taliban are not going to negotiate unless the US withdraws from Afghanistan; a position that they have taken right from the beginning. Another mistake made by USA in this regard is the role that it contemplates to assign to India. That perhaps would prove to be the biggest irritant for the Taliban as well as Pakistan. Taliban regard India as an enemy as it has been siding with the Northern Alliance in their fight against Taliban. For Pakistan, the Indian involvement in Afghanistan is unacceptable as it is perceived inimical to her strategic interests in the region.

 

n             The writer is a freelance columnist.