Javid Husain The annual review of the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan made public on December 16th demonstrates once again the folly of basing a countrys policy on flawed premises. The review affirms that the core goal of the US strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theatre remains to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat Al-Qaeda in the region and to prevent its return to either country. It elaborates that the strategy is also focused on preventing its (Al-Qaedas) capacity to threaten America, our citizens and our allies. These are goals which the overwhelming majority of the international community supports. Islam as a religion of peace does not condone terrorism, that is, the use of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians. That Al-Qaeda has been pursuing a terrorist agenda is well known. There is accordingly ample justification for the fight against Al-Qaeda whether in Afghanistan, in Pakistan or elsewhere in the world. The annual review after reaffirming the US determination to fight Al-Qaeda goes on to justify the US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as if the two are one and the same thing. For instance, in the case of Afghanistan, the review gleefully notes that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible. What is not explained convincingly is the leap of logic or imagination through which the war against the Taliban becomes an inescapable necessity in the fight against Al-Qaeda. The 9/11 terrorist attacks may have been inspired and sponsored by Al-Qaeda from its base in Afghanistan, as alleged by the Americans, when Afghanistan was under the rule of the Taliban. By refusing to take action against the Al-Qaeda leadership or to expel it from Afghanistan, the Taliban invited the US retaliation which led to the overthrow of the Taliban government. It is also true that the Taliban represent an obscurantist interpretation of Islam, which is out of touch with the realities of the modern world and ill-suited to face the challenges that Islam and the Muslim world now face. It was for these reasons that I as an ambassador opposed Pakistans pro-Taliban policy of 1990s, which tarnished Pakistans image, isolated it internationally, and aggravated extremism and Klashnikov culture within the country. A better choice for Pakistan would have been to pursue a more moderate approach, which would have resulted in national reconciliation and the establishment of a broad-based government in Afghanistan.We are all now suffering from the after-effects of our deeply flawed pro-Taliban policy of 1990s. Be that as it may, the Afghan Taliban, despite their obscurantist character and despite being on the wrong side of history and politics, are not essentially a terrorist organisation. Despite their flaws, they constitute an important segment of the Afghan political spectrum and a durable peace in Afghanistan is inconceivable without a political settlement, which enjoys their support. That they have been fighting to such great effect against the US and other NATO forces for such a long time should alone establish their political credentials and military prowess. Two factors relevant to the Taliban need to be kept in mind in any analysis of the situation in Afghanistan. Firstly, since they are mostly Pashtuns, their support base is among the Pashtun tribes on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. If they are attacked in Afghanistan by the US and its allies, the Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and in our tribal areas feel obliged to go to their help because of tribal links and the Pashtun cultural traditions. Secondly, the US by overthrowing the Taliban government has unwittingly blundered into the internal armed conflict in Afghanistan, which has been going on between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns since the fall of the Najibullah regime in April 1992. By siding with the Northern Alliance in the attack on Afghanistan, the US succeeded not only in overthrowing the Taliban government, but also in alienating most of the Pashtuns in the country. The American war against the Taliban is, therefore, seen by most of the Pashtuns as a war to impose on them a government dominated by non-Pashtuns. The Pashtuns, who have ruled Afghanistan for most of its existence as a united country since the days of Ahmad Shah Abdali and who constitute almost half of its population, will never accept such a political dispensation. As a result, the US and its allies are now at war with not only the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, but also their brethren in our tribal areas, who feel obliged by tribal traditions to go to the help of their fellow tribesmen in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the US, instead of learning from the Afghan history, culture and tribal traditions, is bent upon compounding its difficulties in pursuit of its elusive goal of bringing the Afghan Taliban and indirectly the Pashtuns on their knees. In the process, it has also destabilised Pakistan by piling up pressure on its government to stop the Pashtun tribesmen in its tribal areas from crossing into Afghanistan to join the fighting there. Our governments willingness to oblige the Americans has resulted in turning part of the Taliban fury against our security agencies and the rest of the country. The US must bring about a radical course correction in its strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, if it wishes to defeat Al-Qaeda, restore peace and stability in Afghanistan, and withdraw its forces from the country with honour and dignity. In Afghanistan, it should combine its military campaign against Al-Qaeda and its remnants with political initiatives to bring the various Afghan political forces, including the Pashtun and non-Pashtun communities, to the negotiating table for national reconciliation and the establishment of a broad-based government in which they would have their due share in power. Such a political initiative should have the support of Afghanistans neighbours, particularly Pakistan and Iran, and should be predicated on a solemn commitment by the US to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan as soon as the broad-based government is established in the country. Needless to say that this broad-based government would be under the obligation not to provide haven or any assistance to Al-Qaeda. Afghanistans neighbours would be required to give a solemn commitment not to interfere in its internal affairs. The aforementioned political initiative by the US would also bring about a paradigm shift in Pakistan. It would obviate the need for our Pashtun tribesmen to join the fighting in Afghanistan, thereby helping restore peace and stability in our tribal areas and stop terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Further, our security forces, freed from the task of fighting our own tribesmen, would be much better placed to take on and eliminate Al-Qaeda structures in Pakistan. On the other hand, the US failure to take a political initiative on these lines will condemn it to fighting in Afghanistan for a long time to come and Pakistan to continued instability. The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com