By Yasmeen Aftab Ali;
USA’s disastrous report card in Afghanistan and Washington running out of all options for a face saving exit strategy, President Trump recently reached out to PM Imran Khan via a letter. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan stated that Trump had expressed the desire to achieve a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan seeking Pakistan’s help in achieving the goal.
The US Special Envoy for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan soon after, only to be assured by the PM Khan of Pakistan’s interest in abiding peace in Afghanistan. Khalilzad is openly known to be anti-Pakistan. In his book “The Envoy”, he blames Pakistan for providing space to Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders. He also, at one point, stated his advice to Bush that was ignored to place more pressure on Pakistan to ‘do more’.
Following these developments, the US also added Pakistan to the religious freedom watch list. However, the American list mostly included countries that currently have tense ties with Washington in different arenas. It has conveniently overlooked nations it sees as ‘allies’, India being one. Hence, adding Pakistan to this list seemed more of a pressure tactic b the Trump administration. Moreover, ignoring India and not adding it in the list also highlighted the US bias towards the list.
According to the “World Report” by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that they sold, bought, or killed cows for beef. Instead of taking prompt legal action against the attackers, police frequently filed complaints against the victims under laws banning cow slaughter. As of November, there had been 38 such attacks, and 10 people killed during the year.” A series of killings and heinous crimes against religious minorities are duly reported in this comprehensive HRW report.
On the other hand, the US failure in Afghanistan has also become a glaring reality. Casualties both civilians and military crossed 20,000 in 2018 as per report by Danny Sjursen for The American Conservative, “The death rates are staggering, numbering 5,500 fatalities in 2015, 6,700 in 2016, and an estimate (the number is newly classified) of “about 10,000” in 2017. Well, some might ask, what about American airpower—can’t that help stem the Taliban tide? Hardly. In 2018, as security deteriorated and the Taliban made substantial gains, the U.S. actually dropped more bombs than in any other year of the war. It appears that nothing stands in the way of impending military defeat.” (Nov 30. 2018)
Irrespective of the letter-writing exercise conducted by the US President and his communication with the Pakistan PM, the fact remains that there are different stakeholders involved with different approaches towards Afghan peace. Succinctly summed up by Zafar Hilaly, diplomat and political analyst, “Gen Dunford, the US CJSC, says if the US withdraws from Afghanistan then he fears another 9/11 could happen; whereas our own Maj. Gen ISPR fears that if the US does so we may face another 1989. Both, therefore, think a US withdrawal is disastrous for their respective countries. Whereas most others, including the Taliban, believe that unless the US does so there can be no peace. Incidentally, even if an agreement is reached between the Taliban and the US for a conditions based US withdrawal, who would enforce the agreement, if breached. Actually, unless someone does a huge U-turn, no agreement to the satisfaction of the two, or is it three, sides is possible. For peace, Afghanistan must revert to Afghan control and if that means the Taliban, so be it.”
The US has been known for lashing out at Pakistan and then offering sugar coated pills. The policy of USA towards Pakistan has been clear, even before Trump became President. Making too much out of a letter full of verbosity is no more than making a mountain out of a mole hill. Before his letter, both Trump and PM Khan exchanged heated tweets after the former told Fox News that his decision to cut off Pakistan’s aid was simply because Islamabad used to “take our (USA’s) money and do nothing for us.”
What the American President simply fails to understand is without giving other stakeholders concerns a serious ear and trying to take steps to address the issues involved, trying to “push” its way for peace in Afghanistan will not help. Pakistanis have been insulted on different levels by the US, so much that the US pressures have lost their effectiveness. The only thing these pressures and demands of “do more” has achieved is making Pakistan more determined not to compromise any more on her own interests. There is a famous Urdu proverb that, when translated, says, “The fear of an event happening is greater than the happening of the event.” The proverb seems to be written keeping in mind the Pakistani psyche. Whoever advised the US on pressuring Pakistan is truly divorced from how a Pakistani mind works.
Genuine respect, treating Pakistan as an equal, restoring trust by refraining from the carrot and stick policy, and addressing Pakistan’s concerns is the only way it will work. Otherwise, even a hundred letters will deliver nothing! (The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst, her email is firstname.lastname@example.org).