FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Prospect of Peace in Afghanistan is Real…and Pakistan is the Key Player

The chasm between illusion and reality in politics remains perennial. Wars seldom ended according to the script of peace agreements. The fall of Saigon in April 1975 ending the Vietnam War, with defeated Americans hastily retreating in helicopters from the rooftop of their embassy, was not anticipated in the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973 that were painstakingly negotiated by Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese politburo member Le Duc Tho.

Therefore, the U.S.-Taliban peace agreement signed in Doha on February 29 must be put in proper perspective. Indeed, there can’t be two opinions that the curtain is coming down on what U.S. President Donald Trump called the “endless war” in which America squandered away over a trillion dollars and lost thousands of lives with no victory in sight. Equally, without a doubt, this is the finest hour of Pakistan’s statecraft since the country’s creation in 1947.

The odds may seem loaded against the dawn of peace in Afghanistan. After all, it is a hopelessly fragmented country, desperately poor with a subsistence economy where opium production is the principal source of income, a critically important geopolitical fulcrum for the Eurasian supercontinent (full of very valuable resources and also a pipeline route for oil and natural gas) and, most importantly, a playpen for al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

No doubt, each of these variables will surge in the coming weeks and months. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has already put a question mark on the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners from prison, which has been an important precondition that finds specific reference in the Doha pact.

However, in such pacts, what is more important is often what is not mentioned.

Clearly, Ghani fears that the formation of an interim government will become unavoidable to steer the inter-Afghan negotiation, and that he will be expected to walk into the sunset shortly. Ghani won’t like that prospect. But can he hold the peace process ahead to ransom?

Power flows through the barrel of the gun in conflict situations, but in Afghanistan, there’s the added reality that Ghani’s government will collapse the moment the U.S. ends its funding. This means that Washington calls the shots in calibrating the implementation of the Doha agreement. And Washington will not tolerate “spoilers”—Afghan or non-Afghan—on an enterprise where its core interests are at stake. Therefore, the Afghanistan peace process cannot be stopped even if it turns out to be tortuous and protracted.

On the other hand, the Doha pact is a step forward, because it rests on a “foundational agreement” in the nature of the matrix of mutual understanding between Washington and Islamabad, which provides its underpinning and also creates a road map for the period ahead.

This matrix surfaces in Trump’s startling disclosure on February 29 that he will be “meeting personally with Taliban leaders in the not too distant future,” as also in the cryptic remark by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Doha on the same day that “We want a responsible [American] withdrawal [from Afghanistan].”

The legitimacy that Trump has given to the Taliban even before the inter-Afghan dialogue has commenced, and Pakistan and the Taliban’s consent to a “responsible” U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan form two key templates for the peace process.

Trump, in essence, has already determined that the U.S. can do business with the Taliban even before the latter gets mainstreamed. Trump has also signaled the inevitability of the Taliban being in a leadership role in Kabul in the very near future. Put differently, Pakistan becomes a stakeholder in the continued U.S. presence in the region, as hinted by Qureshi.

We may, therefore, expect a smaller U.S. footprint in Afghanistan with beefed-up intelligence capabilities, but quite obviously, the Trump administration still doesn’t plan on a full withdrawal. Pakistan and the Taliban are apparently quite amenable to that idea.

Fundamentally, the Afghan war is mutating. No surprises here, since this has been at its core all along a Clausewitzian war—continuation of politics by other means. The U.S. intends to keep select military bases in Afghanistan, which it rebuilt and equipped at very considerable costs, anticipating a long-term military/intelligence deployment.

What we may expect is that Afghanistan and Pakistan will be a pivotal turf of America’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The frontal assault recently on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by Alice Wells, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and the unveiling of a new U.S. strategy toward Central Asia by the White House are significant pointers in this direction. (See my article “U.S. Rolls out New Central Asia Strategy.”)

Having said that, to be sure, a continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is in the Taliban’s interests too, which keenly sought all through the past quarter-century, with active Pakistani support, an engagement with Washington to mutual benefit. That is why deputy leader of the Taliban Sirajuddin Haqqani’s recent op-ed in the New York Times “What We, the Taliban, Want” becomes an important signpost.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the Haqqanis and the U.S. security establishment go back a long way. The well-known journalist and academic Steve Coll has given a graphic account in his masterly work The Bin Ladens (2008) of how in the 1980s, Jalaluddin Haqqani (Sirajuddin’s late father) was cultivated as a “unilateral” asset of the CIA.

Jalaluddin was the only Mujahideen leader among the resistance commanders of the Afghan jihad whom former president of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq permitted the CIA to mentor directly. The Americans were generous in funding Jalaluddin and, surely, when the time came, it was to him that the U.S. would turn for help to protect Osama bin Laden, who was relocated from Yemen for building his own militia to fight Soviet-backed Afghanistan.

Sirajuddin’s mainstreaming (with U.S. acquiescence) is a guarantee for Pakistan that India’s influence with the Afghan security agencies will be terminated and its capacity to inflict damage on Pakistan’s national security interests will be rolled back. The U.S., arguably, has no quarrel with the legitimacy of Pakistan’s security concerns in this regard.

Pakistan’s main objectives are threefold: a friendly government in Kabul so that peace and tranquility prevail on the Durand Line; strategic depth vis-a-vis India; and a regional security paradigm where the U.S. geo-strategy remains critically dependent on Pakistani cooperation for a foreseeable future.

Pakistan’s trump card is that it is the only credible guarantor on the horizon who can reasonably assure the Western world that Afghanistan will not again become the revolving door for international terrorism. Trust Pakistan to play this card optimally.

The peace dividends are already appearing for Pakistan to garner. On February 27, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced the agreement to allow Pakistan to access $450 million out of a $6 billion bailout package. So much for the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s gray lists and blacklists of “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories.”

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

More articles by:

M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail