The great Amer­i­can be­trayal

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Manoj Joshi

HOW­EVER else it is dressed up, the re­al­ity is that the world is about to wit­ness a U.S. re­treat from Afghanistan, one that can have dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the re­gion It is well known that of all mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, re­treat is the most dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated. A victorious march that takes a wrong turn can end in a stale­mate, but a re­treat gone wrong will most likely turn into a dis­as­ter. Th­ese are the grim fore­bod­ings that come to mind when we think of the forth­com­ing with­drawal of the Amer­i­can-led mil­i­tary forces from Afghanistan. The Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion is putting it out as though the with­drawal is a great achieve­ment, since it will pull it out of the quag­mire that it has been stuck in ever since Ge­orge Bush de­clared a "global war on ter­ror." But the re­al­ity is shod­dier - we are wit­ness­ing yet an­other west­ern re­treat from Afghanistan, one that can have bale­ful con­se­quences for oth­ers. No mat­ter what the Amer­i­cans say or do of­fi­cially, they are, es­sen­tially, whistling in the dark.

The de­par­ture of the Amer­i­cans and their al­lies - even though re­ports sug­gest that a small force will re­main - is a fraught moment for the Afghans, the United States and neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. Last month, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of In­dia, Rus­sia and China met in Moscow. Ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial in the know, the dis­cus­sion was busi­nesslike and de­void of the dou­ble-speak that of­ten marks the oc­ca­sion. The sub­ject was Afghanistan. Faced with the with­drawal of the Amer­i­can-led al­liance from the coun­try, the three re­gional pow­ers are scram­bling to see how they can sta­bilise the sit­u­a­tion. Each of them has in­ter­ests there, and none of th­ese really clash.

But all three have an in­ter­est in en­sur­ing that Afghanistan is sta­ble and se­cure, wit­nesses eco­nomic growth and re­con­struc­tion, and is in­te­grated into the re­gional econ­omy. In­dia and China are in­ter­ested in en­sur­ing that a war-rav­aged Afghanistan does not once again be­come a place where mil­i­tants are able to es­tab­lish train­ing camps freely. Both have im­por­tant in­vest­ments - In­dia's $ 2 bil­lion are spread in devel­op­ment projects to pro­mote Afghan sta­bil­ity, while China's $ 3 bil­lion could aid in its pros­per­ity. As for Rus­sia, it is the pri­mary se­cu­rity provider to the Cen­tral Asian states and has an in­ter­est in prevent­ing the re­turn of a sit­u­a­tion of civil war.

It is im­por­tant that the post-U.S. sit­u­a­tion does not de­gen­er­ate into an In­dia-Pak­istan bat­tle­field. The re­spon­si­bil­ity here lies heav­ier with New Delhi, since Pak­istan can be trusted to fol­low its baser in­stincts. In­deed, New Delhi's strat­egy must be to pre­vent Is­lam­abad from try­ing to turn the Afghan clock back to the pre-Amer­i­can days. In this, it can fruit­fully use the di­a­logue pro­cesses it has es­tab­lished with Rus­sia and China and, sep­a­rately, the U.S. In­ter­est­ingly, in the re­cent In­dia-Chi­naRus­sia talks, the Chi­nese point­edly avoided pro­ject­ing Is­lam­abad's case and spoke for their own in­ter­ests, just as the other in­ter­locu­tors did.

But for things to work, there is need for both Washington and Is­lam­abad to con­front the hard re­al­i­ties. As for the U.S., writ­ing in For­eign Pol­icy, Vali Nasr wrote "Amer­ica has not won this war on the bat­tle­field, nor has the coun­try ended it at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Amer­ica is just wash­ing its hands of this war." Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Nasr, who worked in Richard Hol­brooke's AfPak team in the U.S. State De­part­ment, Pres­i­dent Obama's at­ti­tude to the Amer­i­can com­mit­ment in Afghanistan has been dic­tated by domestic pol­i­tics - when it was pop­u­lar back home he backed it, and when it be­came un­pop­u­lar, he pushed for ter­mi­nat­ing the U.S. com­mit­ment. The Amer­i­can with­drawal, Mr. Nasr ar­gues, is with­out any con­cern for the fate of Afghanistan it­self, or for the pos­si­ble chaos that may fol­low in the re­gion.

As for Pak­istan, the be­lief among some key play­ers, notably in the Army, that there can once again be "Fateh" (Vic­tory) in Kabul is delu­sional. Noth­ing in the ground sit­u­a­tion sug­gests that the writ of the Tal­iban will run across Afghanistan again, at least not the Tal­iban that Pak­istan so ef­fec­tively aided and con­trolled in the 1990s. In­deed, the most un­sta­ble part of the coun­try will be the east­ern re­gion bor­der­ing Pak­istan, whose own bor­der with Afghanistan is the site of an in­sur­gency led by the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban, Pak­istan (TTP). If any­thing, the TTP could be the prin­ci­pal ben­e­fi­ciary of the with­drawal, since it will find it eas­ier to get sanc­tu­ary and arms from the Tal­iban. As of now, in the in­ter­na­tional process, we have the west­ern coun­tries try­ing to work out a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment that will bring el­e­ments of the Tal­iban into the gov­er­nance of the coun­try, based on the con­sti­tu­tion of the Loya Jirga of 2003.

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