Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan |
Pakistan is eagerly awaiting the announcement of the Trump administration’s new Afghan policy – likely to be made public shortly. It is being feared that it may not be Pakistan friendly.
Will the announcement of this policy and its implications for Pakistan take us by surprise? Unlike Uthe United States where National Security Council constitutes the forum which formally undertakes the ownership of any policy making, Pakistan is devoid of any such formal policy making forum where the civil-military leadership can debate and develop a comprehensive response strategy. Even before the policy is revealed, some noticeable Pakistan specific characteristics of this policy are already becoming apparent.
The policy should encourage interdependence and seek to economically integrate the countries in the region so that all countries have too much to lose and have high stakes in keeping their relations normal.
Some of them are; President Trump is reportedly frustrated with the alleged role of Pakistan in preventing the US in winning the 16-year-old war and to turn things around, Pakistan may be forced to change its behavior; Pakistan’s alleged ‘paradoxical policies‘ of fighting the militants inside its own borders but allowing them to operate across the border may no longer be tolerated; bases in Pakistan where militants allegedly recuperate and reorganize before returning to fight in Afghanistan may no longer be safe from external(United States) military action. In essence, the policy presumably may have one clear Pakistan specific objective– “Stop alleged cross border terrorism in Afghanistan or face the consequences”.
Read more: The Afghan quagmire
Is Pakistan prepared to counter US policy shifts?
Our political leadership, in a very unprofessional approach, is hardly giving any indication that it anticipates any such US course shift. Even if it is, there are no signs on the ground that demonstrate the seriousness and urgency of the civilian and security establishments to hold joint meetings to discuss the likely vulnerabilities to which Pakistan may be exposed if such a policy is implemented.
Even if US security team lead by US national security advisor General McMaster sidesteps from recommending a conventional option against Pakistan(that may take into account our interests and our preferences as well) and instead recommends choosing a controversial option and insists on ‘full and complete compliance’ by Pakistan then what is our preparation to combat it?
Unfortunately for Pakistan, even if the current civilian government takes any position on the review of Afghan policy and its implications on Pakistan.
As we all know, politically things are not working out well in Pakistan and as the politicians have surrounded themselves in a heap of domestic issues, the ‘response policy making’ on this vital issue and risk to our national security suffers from an almost absolute political neglect.
Read more: Pulling the plug on Afghanistan
The three important ministries which are related to national security have been handed over to politicians who do not showcase any experience in the fields that they have been chosen to lead.
The new defense minister (Mr. Khurrum Dastagir) has previously been commerce minister who has never been associated in any capacity with the armed forces of the country. The interior minister (Mr. Ahsan Iqbal) previously heading the ministry of planning and development although has a brilliant academic record but has nothing to show when it comes to managing national security. The foreign minister (Mr. Kh Asif) has no diplomatic experience and if repeated failed negotiation efforts have put the Afghan policy in a very awkward state.
The foreign minister (Mr. Kh Asif) has no diplomatic experience and if repeated failed negotiation efforts have put the Afghan policy in a very awkward state.
One wonders, how a person like him who finds it very hard to even use diplomatic language can make any substantial difference to change its course. In any case, the civilian government and its ministers are busy firefighting the loss of government’s credibility post-Panama judgment.
Taking joint positions together with the military to counterbalance against this developing threat doesn’t seem to be a government priority – not at this stage. Unfortunately for Pakistan, even if the current civilian government takes any position on the review of Afghan policy and its implications on Pakistan, nobody will take it seriously as it will come from a government that is stuck knee deep in a political quagmire and being seen doing everything to lower the risk of its continuity rather than lowering any risks to national security.
Military at our rescue; once again!
Seen in this context, would it be a surprise to know that devoid of political patronage the military in Pakistan alone is spearheading the development and designing of Pakistan’s response strategy to the new Afghan policy. Ideally, the new Afghan policy should bring a balanced US commitment to the region.
In essence, the policy presumably may have one clear Pakistan specific objective– “Stop alleged cross border terrorism in Afghanistan or face the consequences”.
Regional coordination required to ensure lasting peace
All three countries; India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan continuously and consistently point fingers at each other for fanning terrorism inside their borders. All have evidence to prove each other’s participation in the ongoing cross border destabilizing proxy wars but none is ready to act as a responsible stake holder and end the proliferation of this insecurity through negotiations and table talk.
In a regional environment that is marred by a lack of mutual trust, many threats are exaggerated, many blame ill-founded and many vulnerabilities self-created. Countries in this region have now for long avoided direct war and invested too much and for too long in fighting proxy wars to destabilize and weaken each other.
The USA has to act rationally
Any US action that demonstrates selective treatment of benefiting one country at the cost of other will result in the introduction of more radicalization and contribute to further destabilization in the region. If the US seeks ‘Pakistan’s change in behavior’, then it must remain cautious that it does not end up doing something so damaging to the national prestige and national pride that it encourages the even worst behavior.
Pakistan is devoid of any such formal policy making forum where the civil-military leadership can debate and develop a comprehensive response strategy.
Countering terrorism collectively should ideally continue to be the hallmark of the new US Afghan policy. More importantly, the policy should encourage interdependence and seek to economically integrate the countries in the region so that all countries have too much to lose and have high stakes in keeping their relations normal.
Pakistan on its part must do everything it can to continue to remain a US ally in the war on terror and address all the US apprehensions on our alleged ‘paradoxical policies’ and build a strong case of a nation that is a victim of terrorism itself and thus does everything to combat terrorism and not contribute to it.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.