Walk­ing a Tightrope

The Miracle - - Pakistan - By: Ir­fan Hu­sain Email: ir­fan­hu­sain@gmail.com

WALK­ING a tightrope is not for the faint­hearted: sooner or later, a gust of wind can threaten your bal­ance. Ever since the Amer­i­cans at­tacked and oc­cu­pied Afghanistan in 2001, Pak­istan has teetered on the edge of Wash­ing­ton’s tol­er­ance for what it sees as our dou­ble-faced pol­icy of run­ning with the hares and hunt­ing with the hounds. Time and again, pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Islamabad and GHQ have been ex­horted pub­licly and pri­vately to stop sup­port­ing and shel­ter­ing the Afghan Tal­iban and the Haqqani net­work. So much so that the mantra ‘Pak­istan must do more’ has be­come back­ground noise in our re­la­tion­ship with the US, and goes into one ear, and out the other. But now Trump has turned up the heat with his ‘new’ pol­icy on Afghanistan. How­ever, apart from his threats to Pak­istan, Trump is tread­ing the same path taken by his pre­de­ces­sors: more troops who, ac­cord­ing to the US pres­i­dent, will now ‘fight to win’. As op­posed to ear­lier Amer­i­can ef­forts de­signed to lose?

The re­al­ity is that as long as we can­not seal off our bor­der with Afghanistan com­pletely, in­sur­gents there of every stripe will con­tinue to cross over to re­cu­per­ate and rearm. Any­body who has trav­elled in some of the bor­der ar­eas will know how tough the terrain is, and how dif­fi­cult it is to close it com­pletely. By the same to­ken, Afghan and US forces can­not pre­vent cross-bor­der move­ment from the other side ei­ther. His­tory tells us that when one side has a neigh­bour­ing land where it can shel­ter, the fight can go on for a very long time. Thus, North Viet­nam pro­vided sanc­tu­ary and arms to the Vi­et­cong. China did the same for North Korean forces dur­ing the Korean War in the early 1950s. Rus­sia is to­day pro­vid­ing Ukra­nian sep­a­ratists with bases and arms. By con­trast, the Tamil Tigers were cor­nered with their backs to the sea by the Sri Lankan army in 2009 and crushed. Al­though the cost in civil­ian lives was ap­pallingly high, the 25-year civil war was over. And when it came to the crunch, no­body could help the Tamil Tigers, and they had nowhere to run

to.So what do th­ese dif­fer­ent con­flicts teach us? Ba­si­cally, it be­comes next to im­pos­si­ble to de­feat even a much weaker foe if there’s a neigh­bour will­ing to pro­vide sanc­tu­ary. For years, we were ac­cused of do­ing just that, for in­stance, pro­vid­ing hous­ing and se­cu­rity to the ‘Quetta Shura’ in the Balochis­tan cap­i­tal, de­spite of­fi­cial de­nials. Ear­lier, as we de­vel­oped nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity in the 1970s and 1980s, we es­caped US sanc­tions partly be­cause of the war against the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan, but also be­cause we par­ried every ques­tion re­gard­ing our nu­clear am­bi­tions by claim­ing we were en­gaged in peace­ful re­search. Also, Wash­ing­ton does not see In­dia as a threat to Pak­istan: on the con­trary, it sees Pak­istan as the ag­gres­sor in the re­gion, send­ing ji­hadis into In­dia-held Kash­mir and In­dia to com­mit acts of ter­ror­ism, and shield­ing peo­ple like Ma­sood Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. The truth is that Pak­istan stands iso­lated, with only China and Rus­sia bail­ing us out diplo­mat­i­cally. In Wash­ing­ton, politi­cians and pun­dits lam­bast us reg­u­larly for the dou­ble game we are per­ceived as play­ing. In the eyes of the pub­lic there, once we ac­cepted bil­lions of dol­lars from Wash­ing­ton, we agreed to help their coun­try, and not their en­e­mies. This might be a sim­plis­tic ex­pla­na­tion for the pres­sure from Wash­ing­ton, but then Amer­i­cans are not very good at nu­anced mes­sag­ing. We now have to some­how bal­ance our se­cu­rity needs with Amer­ica’s. Al­though Trump’s in­vi­ta­tion to In­dia to help in Afghanistan will be a red flag to our gen­er­als, they now need to wake up and smell the cof­fee. The se­cu­rity par­a­digm in our neigh­bour­hood is shift­ing, and we must take a cold, hard look at our re­gional pol­icy. We can­not af­ford to an­tag­o­nise Amer­ica as it is too big, too pow­er­ful, and un­der Trump, too un­pre­dictable, to turn our back on what has been a pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship. De­spite brave words about sovereignty, we still have a beg­ging bowl in our hands.

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