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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Pakistan did not get its way in Afghanistan, it got right!

With the Taliban back in power in Afghanistan, Pakistan may have come closer to achieving its long-sought “strategic depth” with respect to its western neighbor, with a Pakistan-friendly government in Kabul. But the Taliban’s victory is also seriously testing Pakistan’s long fraught bilateral relationship with America. For the last 20 years, U.S.-Pakistan relations have been defined by the needs of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Instead of looking within their own countries, Western media sources have sought to blame someone for the U.S and NATO’s failures in Afghanistan. Publication, after publication, after publication,  after publication, has found ways to overlook the failings of the U.S and the subsequent collapse of the Military it trained for 20 years, on to Pakistan. After all, if this were to be true, it would be no greater accolade for a country that has only existed for 74 years with a shoe-string budget for an economy.

This view is nothing short of a Hollywood thriller where Pakistan with its economic crisis keeps India at bay in the day and slays Communist and Western Superpowers in the night; posthumously living to tell the tale. Pakistan is not gloating by any measure, but it is staying grounded with what it has accomplished again (the first being against the Soviet Union). This is not because it got its way in Afghanistan, but because it got it right. It understood the terrain, the culture, the asymmetric and (often) unorthodox relationship which ethnicities share with one another, as well as understanding the mindset of a conservative tribal society. The U.S and its Allies’ performance in Afghanistan as a whole could be summarised as the following: seeing barely past the barrel of an M-4 Rifle and absolutely nothing beyond the walls of Kabul.

Read more: Why Turkey was so keen to protect Kabul Airport?

America’s incompetence

Douglas Lute, who served as a three-star General and Afghan War Czar under Bush and Obama, stated, “we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan-we didn’t know what we were doing”. He further expanded on this by stating: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking”. The United States had committed $133 billion to rebuild Afghanistan as a Western-styled bastion of Democracy, this too within the heartlands of Asia’s Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan. The amount allocated for reconstruction was more in terms of constant dollars when compared to the Marshall Plan that helped to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

Now retired, Army Colonel Bob Crowley was a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S military commanders, categorically stating “every data point was altered to present the best possible picture” in terms of on-the-ground progress by coalition forces. Crowley also stated in his interview “truth was rarely welcome(d)…Everyone at ISAF just wanted to hear good news, so bad news was often stifled…it was clear it wasn’t welcome and the boss wouldn’t like it”.

This was not some Hollywood script that the U.S establishment could propagate the outcome of but a real-life misadventure, which could’ve been dealt with in a more civilized manner. President Musharraf as early as October 26, 2001, expressed grave concern in which “anarchy and atrocity” would occur if the Taliban were removed from Government unless a “political strategy” was implemented to curb the conflict. Pakistan knowing all too well of Afghanistan’s history as a “graveyard of Empires” sought to quell tensions with a political settlement, rather than pursue a military solution as devised by the United States.

Read more: Hackers in Pakistan targeted Afghan users amid Kabul takeover: Facebook

Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts 

For seven decades now, Pakistan has been involved in six wars and is acutely aware of the power of diplomacy, and how it should be used as the first resort rather than the last. This was placed into action with the release of now Deputy PM Mullah Baradar in 2012 from Pakistani custody. Despite spoilers to the peace process from rogue elements enacted by India, Pakistan pursued the diplomatic route as opposed to creating an enemy out of the Taliban as the U.S had endeavored it too. In another testimony by Richard Boucher he stated “districts saw a government in Kabul that was distant, it was ineffective, and it was corrupt, and the Taliban stepped into that gap”.

This was due to a structural failure of intelligence gathering methods, which distorted the reality of real progress in Afghanistan. Because of this, Pakistan had to hedge its bets due to the sheer recklessness displayed by the U.S in its ground operations, and lacking any clear strategy. Pakistan has always been loyal to the American cause even during the Cold War when it went above and beyond and overcommitted; paying a costly sum in the form of sanctions.

The Pressler Amendment isolated and made Pakistan into a pariah state right after the fall of the Soviets, despite handing the U.S a victory it could never have achieved on its own and liberated half of Europe in the process; a debt which has yet to be paid to the country. Many Pakistani officers who had served side-by-side with the U.S in varying capacities from 1951 onwards, felt humiliated by Washington’s indifference despite its loyal overtures. The young men who saw the country abandoned by the U.S and placed under duress during the 1990s were now at the helm of its central command.

Pakistan’s hope for Afghanistan

Then ISI Chief Ashfaq Kayani, disclosed to then US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker (2004-2007) “…I know you think we’re hedging our bets, you’re right, we are because one day you’ll be gone again…you’ll be done with us, but we’re still going to be here because we can’t actually move the country. And the last thing we want….Is to have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we’re hedging our bets.” And just like a symphony orchestra building up to a crescendo, the history foretold by Kayani blew up in the face of the Americans, when Afghanistan fell in 10 days with nothing to show for a 20-year presence.

A peaceful and stable Afghanistan has always been a prime objective for Pakistan as the results transcend the physical boundaries of the landlocked country; which can reverberate throughout the region. Pakistan’s peaceful diplomatic initiatives should be seen as a gold standard in diplomacy, as the transfer of power to the Taliban occurred without a bullet being fired or blood being spilled on the streets of Kabul; as was anticipated by the American’s in their Intelligence assessments.  Americans are not commonly associated with knowing very little about anything beyond their own borders and it showed.

Read more: 4 US intelligence agencies failed to assess Kabul takeover: report

If only they had flipped through the pages of history about the Soviets and that of the British, they could’ve reinvested that energy and money into their crumbling and destitute infrastructure. Pakistan did not get its way in Afghanistan, it hedged its bets and got it right through the art of diplomacy. Pakistan displayed to the world that a pen and a handshake are mightier than a Star-bangled Cowboy with an M4 Rifle.


The writer is a Defence and Political Analyst with a Masters in International Relations from Deakin University, Australia. He specializes in Asia-Pacific Regional Dynamics and Conflict & Security studies. Sameed Basha can be contacted at basha@deakin.edu.au. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.