Is it news that Pakistan and the US have once again been unable to arrive at a consensual policy towards solving the Afghan crisis? For the last 16 years, since the war against terrorism first began, both Pakistan and the US have been pursuing different strategies to deal with Afghanistan. Not that both have led one another astray, in following their line of action. In fact, both have worked according to their national interests. But the US-Afghanistan-Pakistan troika is so interdependent that any policy independent of each other’s interest creates fissure and doubts in the relation. Pakistan has been blamed for playing double-game with the US: The accusation goes that Pakistan in spite of having received military aid to assist the US to combat terrorism in Afghanistan, provided safe havens to the favored faction among the Taliban. Pakistan has also accused the US of never being serious in leaving Afghanistan because of which no conscious effort has been made to find a political solution and all US effort have been directed at enhancing its military presence. In this atmosphere of belligerence can Pakistan and the US find any solution to the Afghan issue? Any prognosis to Afghanistan’s pervasive and long-standing war must come from the US. It is, therefore, that hundreds of moots, conferences, and seminars held in the last 16 years have failed to generate a result. One usual story that never ceases to emerge is: The Afghan Taliban is ready to talk to the US. The US is not interested in going solo. The Afghan Taliban is not interested in sitting with the Afghan Unity Government for negotiation. When no real effort is being made to solve this rather simple equation one is bound to believe that the problem lies with the US.
The US President has been given a blank check by the Congress to deploy the US troops anywhere he wants. The forever war the US has waged in many countries today is the result of a single man’s discretionary power. After September 11, 2001, attacks the Congress passed an authorisation for the Use of Military Force to cover American-led operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2002 it passed another authorisation, to cover the war in Iraq. For over almost 16 years, both the authorisations have been used to justify attacks on Islamic States and groups that did not exist in 2001 and to legitimise military operations in Yemen, the Philippines, Kenya, Eritrea, and Niger. The US is currently fighting terrorism in at least 14 countries. The sane elements in the US are skeptical if the war against terrorism has not become a cover to fight enemies.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, has been demanding to make the law that gives the Congress more responsibility for deciding when to use force to fight terrorism. Now Bob Crocker, the Tennessee Republican and the head of Senate Foreign Relation Committee has also joined Kaine to give more power to the Congress in matters of troops deployments. There is apprehension though that with Congress on board the US President will become even more powerful, because, after the approval of the Kaine-Crocker proposal, it would be a matter of adding more countries and more terrorists to the existing list to legitimise interventions.
A check on the US military designs, may not have been as extensive or explicit internally, but with Russia putting its weight behind the targeted countries, as we have seen in Syria and Afghanistan, the US is under pressure externally to alter its interventionist policies. The teeth the US has given to the war against terrorism has gnawed so deep into the world order that, it would instead be difficult for China and Russia to tame this ferocious policy any time sooner. So we may not expect the US military deployment in Afghanistan to diminish. Rather it might augment. In corollary, the strategic paralysis that we see in Afghanistan is because of the US leadership, and not because of the Taliban or Pakistan, as has been made to show.
Over the last 16 years, the US has neither changed its aim nor its strategies in Afghanistan. Even today the US is in Afghanistan to disrupt and degrade terrorist groups to prevent them from rebuilding and regrouping. Even today the method is direct military action against the extremist groups. The result has also been the same: military stalemate. As of late February this year, this stalemate had claimed the lives of almost 2,3000 American service members and cost between $ 1 trillion and $ 2 trillion. While the Taliban have also re-emerged. So, rather than putting Pakistan through an audit vis-à-vis Afghanistan, it is the US that needs to pass through this blunt knife.
What should the US need to do differently? Negotiate an end to the war. Something that has never been done before. The US needs to sit down with the Taliban, the regional players such as India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia, and the now the international extremist groups the IS. Any diplomatic settlement would need to operate on all these levels together. So far the US is trying to fix the handpicked Afghan leadership, which has worsened the situation. Any solution that the US seeks for Afghanistan that minuses the interests of the regional players would not be acceptable. No solution can similarly be achieved without getting square with the IS, a new stakeholder in the Afghan power equation.
The region and the Afghan government is ready to talk with the Taliban; only the US is not showing any commitment. The problem lies with the US, and it is in the US reside the solution to untangle the Afghan war knot.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore.