The great game continues

Contrary to the US intelligence assessment of the Afghan war, Washington’s assessment of the situation is rather optimistic. While the intelligence report has labelled the Afghan war as unwinnable, the president has declared “progress” in disrupting the al Qaeda threat. It is the intelligence report that has described Pakistan as being the reason behind what is perceived as the US military’s inevitable doom in the region because of the safe havens provided to the militants in the country’s border areas. Therefore, when Obama says in his assessment that progress is not coming “fast enough” from Pakistan, one begs to ask: was there really any progress to begin with?

It is common knowledge that the Pakistani military and security forces have been nurturing their jihadi strategic assets for perceived strategic depth in Afghanistan once US and NATO forces leave. In the worst possible scenario, our establishment may very well refuse to dismantle the terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan because of the influence they think their militant proxies will exert in Afghanistan. This is enough to eventually earn extreme American ire. If the intelligence report is correct, there are really only two possibilities: If the Obama administration is painting a rosy picture, it is because face-saving (in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election) will enable troop withdrawals to begin, as planned, by July 2011. However, that will leave Afghanistan with an army and police lacking quality and quantity to fight the resurgent Taliban threat. The implication here is that the Taliban may very well go for that final push after the US/Nato withdrawal, whether they are part of a negotiated settlement or not. The second possibility is that the Taliban and al Qaeda resurgence in Afghanistan could become so intense that US and NATO forces are unable to withdraw even by the new 2014 deadline. If things get that bad for the US, they may not be averse to taking out the militants’ Pakistani sanctuaries themselves and less politely than they have been doing till now. In either situation there is danger of a fresh round of civil war in ravaged Afghanistan with a dangerous spillover on the cards for Pakistan or a forceful clash with the US in the case of a threatened Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Either way, it is a no-win situation for Pakistan.

The US never did heed warnings in the run-up to the Afghan war about it never being able to understand Afghanistan and the nature of the warfare employed in that war-ravaged country. Sane voices warned the US of the quagmire that exists in Afghanistan for any occupying force. A US exit was always predicted as being difficult and whenever that is bound to occur, the spillover for Pakistan will be deadly. What is the Pakistani state to do in such precarious conditions?

Pakistan needs to turn a new chapter in its crisis-riddled history. It needs to stop relying on the military and security forces to determine every aspect of policy in this war, where military-nurtured militants have even turned against the state. It needs to wrest decision-making from the military and give it to civilian political forces that understand that political objectives are the determinants of all wars and that, in the end, it is politics that will end this stalemate. Our political class needs to stop appeasing the establishment to remain in office. In essence, Pakistan’s fate needs to be taken back from the generals who have mucked up our state of affairs enough times, and given to a civilian democratic polity that works towards settlements and not delusions of strategic depth. It is time the civilian political institutions stop sleepwalking through this war, one that is being manipulated by the establishment. – Dailytimes