The operational and decisive stage of the Afghan endgame has arrived. The US seeks a unique balance in its exit strategy. It wants to egress the South-Central Asian Region (SCAR) and AfPak Region (APR), but without losing any of its hegemonic dominance and control in any or all of its dimensions - geo-political/strategic/economic.

It has now set about to create its desired strategic environment in the APR up to and beyond 2014. To this end, it is using a combination of willing Nato/Isaf and Afghan allies like the Northern Alliance, forthcoming (extra) regional allies like India and bludgeoning some reluctant ones like Pakistan into playing their assigned roles to this end.

What will the then obtaining strategic environment portend for Pakistan and the rest of the world? There are many dimensions to this emerging strategic scenario, but of utmost import is the ‘Militants Factor’, which needs to be addressed and resolved pre-2014 - on the negotiating table, on the battlefield or through a combination of both! The zenith of statecraft and diplomacy, however, would be achieving the strategic objectives without resorting to war.

The US will be repeating its mistakes of 1989, if it abandons the AfPak region (APR) without responsibly managing the projected aftermath of its gross (mis)adventure there and without enforcing a sustainable long-term solution to the militancy imbroglio.

Post-1989, the world witnessed that the mujahideen, who actually defeated the Soviets, were left in the lurch to rue their choice of allies! No efforts were made by the free world to settle them and the region down once the Soviets had withdrawn. Where were they to go? What were they to do? How were they to be rehabilitated? How were they to be neutralised, disarmed and peacefully re-employed? How was the overall aftermath of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in all its gargantuan dimensions to be managed? Did the APR need to be revived economically, then?

The criminal abandonment of Pakistan and the mujahideen was total, brutal, ruthless and downright arrogant. The US-led West had failed (deliberately - ?) to close the loop to bring that expedition to its logical closure!

Then to add insult to injury, they clamped economic and military sanctions or embargoes on Pakistan for its nuclear programme - effectively taking away from it the capacity to deal with the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from the APR and the USA’s abandonment of its peoples.

Brutus, by comparison, might have been far kinder to Caesar, since he might have at least felt some remorse as he stabbed his friend in the back!

And this environment prevailed till Al-Qaeda and the Taliban surfaced on the global scene and the remnants of these mujahideen joined cause with them!

Is this going to be a historical deja vu?

If the US-led West (and Pakistan) does not pacify or neutralise the militants, here and now, they will confront them, again, elsewhere in the region or world!

What options do the militants have? Will they just give up their militancy only because the US/Nato/Isaf combine plans to leave, partially? They will have no option, but to continue with their militancy. The US/Nato/Isaf’s paradigm shift from a strategy of counterinsurgency to counterterrorism means that even if the militants forswear terror and go back to their villages, what do they have to look forward to? Nothing! There is no future there!

These militant groups will feel compelled to expand their sphere of influence. They will certainly move against the US-led West’s Afghan bases. They will also turn inwards to activate the inner Pakistani and Afghan fronts even attempting to snatch power. They will become an easy prey to hostile foreign intelligence agencies, which will exploit them for their own ulterior motives in the APR and beyond.

Further, they might reignite the currently dormant, but very sensitive Muslim issues of Kashmir and Palestine. They will also venture into the simmering hotspots in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Mediterranean Region or infiltrate into Europe and even continental USA. They have a global reach and plenty of incentives and resources. So the options are numerous for them, and each and every one of them needs to be considered and forestalled. Better to circumscribe their reach now and pacify or neutralise them, while we still have time.

Pakistan and the US/Nato/Isaf combine need to reassess the strategic environment that beckons in the SCAR-APR. Both sides will have to negotiate as allies, who need to win the GWOT - together. Serious issues like drone attacks, operations against the Haqqani Network and militants in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, IEDs etc must, of necessity, constitute the essential parts of a joint approach to defeat or pacify the militants either on the negotiating table or the battlefield or both.

Have Pakistan and the US/Nato/Isaf combine missed the opportunity to pacify or neutralise the militants one way or the other? Are they already late in time and space?

The US yet must revise its strategy for the APR and allow Pakistan the major role in the region. Pakistan is the key to every solution in this region. In the remaining two and a half years to the end of 2014, it must build up Pakistan’s political, military and economic clout in the region. It must not allow an anti-Pakistan political dispensation in Afghanistan or undue Indian influence there.

Further, the US and Pakistan must take the lead and involve the SCO and Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours into finding a workable practical regional solution to the militancy and terrorism. Furthermore, the US-led West will have to bring in a “real” Marshall Plan, (as opposed to the Tokyo Conference) in “real-time” for the APR to create the environment for the militants to move back to a more peaceful life, country, region and world!

If the US-led West does not close the loop, again, then for sure they will face these militants, again, elsewhere in the world!

 The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Email: