A 40-second video showing US marines joyfully urinating on dead Afghan fighters in southern Afghanistan is the latest episode of disregard for basic human values. Earlier, there have been numerous incidents in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, where human rights were grossly violated. Contrary to American claims to be a guardian and upholder of human dignity, most of its utterances on this subject have been nothing more than politically-motivated rhetoric. If the Americans are serious about the cause of human rights and dignity, they would have - long ago - plugged this horrible gap in their military training curricula. The insults to which the American captors subjected their prisoners in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, have not yet faded from the collective memory of mankind. However, the latest incident has crossed all previous benchmarks of indecency.

There is an internationally recognised military custom that belligerents exchange dead bodies and while doing so, they salute the dead adversaries as a mark of respect. Hopefully, America has regular professional standing armed forces in Afghanistan and it is not sending raw mercenaries for battlefield tasking without any formal military training. It was, indeed, a command failure; it warrants intervention by the UNHRC and the ICRC.

Needless to say, the incident has caused stir and deep fretfulness among all individuals and entities, which have the slightest respect for human life and dignity. While the ordering of an investigation by the field commander is a welcome step, but of vital importance is the prevention of recurrences. This is neither the first time, nor it may be the last time that the American soldiers consider themselves above any moral or legal accountability. More so, the fact that the event was a group activity is quite worrisome.

As a matter of routine, the American troops indulge in defiling the dead bodies of Afghan freedom fighters. This indicates that the inquiry of previous incidents have failed to deter the men in the field. Hence, one tends to reach an unfortunate conclusion that the investigations had been an eyewash and did not translate into any serious disciplinary action against the defaulters.

Undoubtedly, this culture is well patronised; the high offices of the American administration are involved in sanctioning inhuman interrogation aids, like waterboarding, freeing dogs upon shackled prisoners and forcing inmates to stay naked for extended periods. This attitude has, indeed, travelled from top to bottom. Many of such victimised prisoners were later set free, as they were not found guilty; in addition, there is no procedure or practice of compensation or apology.

It is interesting to observe that the pseudo flag bearers of human rights, who do not pass a day without demonising national institutions and agencies on trivial issues, have treated this incident of gross violation as a non-event. Neither anchor persons have screamed on this matter, nor were there any biting editorials; this brings forth the linkages such people have.

The frustration arising out of America’s failures in Afghanistan is phenomenal and certainly a denial is unable to mitigate the fallouts. The Istanbul and Bonn II conferences were a collapse at the strategic level. It is expected that the Nato, too, could ditch America during the forthcoming summit in May, as many of its soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. French President Sarkozy is on the edge, and the rest are not far behind. The American soldiers also suspect that they have been abandoned by their country; and it is this psych that makes urination on corpses a joyful fun.

Under these gloomy circumstances, America is attempting to kick-start the negotiations with the Taliban. After the Doha disaster, resulting into diplomatic rupture between Qatar and Afghanistan, there is rising scepticism on the entire process. Though the effort to deliver a breakthrough, against the backdrop of the US presidential re-election campaign, cannot be wished away, the two main players - Pakistan and Iran - are sitting on the fence: One is pushed against the wall and other made a persona non grata.

Due to a gross error of judgment, the sanctions on Iran have started to backfire. Owing to the latest sanctions, Iran’s major trading partners find it increasingly difficult to pay for their oil imports. This includes the EU, China, Russia, India, Japan and others. The EU promptly agreed to tow American line; and Japan, though agreed, yet suggested to get China and India on board. “Without cooperation within the world community, there’s no way to carry out effective sanctions,” Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba opined. The Indian Foreign Secretary said: “We have accepted sanctions, which are made by the United Nations. Other sanctions do not apply to individual countries. We continue to buy oil from Iran.”

Iran and Pakistan know that there is no viable solution to the Afghan quagmire without their participation; the Americans also know it too well. In all probability, however, the ongoing anti-Iran campaign is not likely to slow down before the US elections. Thus, Washington has lost the chance of availing Iran’s prudence that came to its rescue in Iraq; at least for the time being. Thanks to USA’s unilateralism, despite these odds, the necessity of a hurried negotiated settlement with the Taliban has become its obsession. America is eager to demonstrate, or make the world believe of a breakthrough with the Taliban before the Nato and G8 summits scheduled for coming May.

This urgency has attracted criticism from several Northern Alliance members, which was duly articulated during a recent meeting with US delegates in Germany. Ahmad Rashid Dostum said that the talks could give the Taliban time to regroup and strengthen, and that they could be more beneficial if they included the anti-Taliban Afghans as well. The Northern Alliance cannot be wished away in the final settlement of Afghanistan.

Likewise, the Afghan government cannot be excluded from the process. President Hamid Karzai’s reaction on such likelihood is not out of place. India understands that its vast presence in Afghanistan would be minimised, if an agreement was reached between the occupation forces and the resistance. Perhaps, in this context, Indian Ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao told a gathering that “the US should not let the dark forces emerge victorious.”

Going by the traditional stance, Pakistan has once again indicated its willingness to be a part of the Afghan negotiation process. Its offer to engage the Taliban in dialogue has also received a positive nod from the Afghan High Peace Council. This change in outlook between the two nations comes at a time when they are being increasingly side-lined by the US to engage in negotiations directly with the Taliban. Against this backdrop, Pakistan needs to rise from the slumber and take a proactive approach. Above all, America needs to face the defeat with grace and take a fresh look at Afghanistan.

    The writer is a retired Air Commodore and former assistant chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force. At present, he is a member of the visiting faculty at the PAF Air War College, Naval War College and Quaid-i-Azam University.