Washington, after a sustained campaign of Pakistan-bashing has started sweet-talking again. But this should surprise no one, not the Pakistanis, who have become accustomed to this very familiar pattern of US behavior in Pak-US relations, particularly in relation to Afghanistan. Sweet-talk, coerce and sweet-talk again. The end-game has put Washington in such a complex situation that it has to employ all possible tactics to salvage from this ill-conceived misadventure. A decade after Washington’s invasion, occupation, and needless war in Afghanistan, events signifying sweet-talk-coerce-and-sweet-talk-again pattern have started unfolding at an amazingly quicker pace.
There was an attack on Kabul’s most guarded enclave called the Ring of Steel, housing US embassy and other offices. Then there was an unfortunate murder of the born-again prophet of peace, Professor Rabbani. The US administration launched a sustained campaign of accusations against Pakistan for its alleged involvement in September 13 attack on American embassy in Kabul, and Karzai government pointed finger at Pakistan for its alleged role in Rabbani’s murder. Both the US and its puppet-regime in Kabul were acting in unison.
There was, therefore no surprise when US Secretary of State retracted and admitted in Islamabad that the US had no evidence to prove its allegations. Karzai did not lag behind and admitted that some sections of his administration were rather quick to blame Pakistan for Rabbani’s murder. He even went as far as to say that if fighting started between India and Pakistan and Pakistan and the US, his country would stand by Pakistan.
How could one explain this sudden change of heart?
The United States is well aware that is now trying to make the maximum out of a lost battle. It wants an honorable exit and its continued presence in the region. The Afghanistan endgame, for the US, is actually outright defeat as it has not been able to achieve a single objective of its needless campaign despite losing lives, face and a staggering sum of $ one trillion in direct war costs. At this point, the Obama Administration is anxious to convert the military stalemate into a form of permanent truce, if only the Taliban were willing to accept what amounts to a power sharing deal that would allow Washington to claim the semblance of success after a decade of war.
According to an article in Foreign Policy Journal, President Obama seeks to retain a large post-”withdrawal” military presence throughout the country mainly for these reasons:
- To protect its client regime in Kabul led by Karzai, as well as Washington’s other political and commercial interests in the country, and to maintain a menacing military presence on Iran’s eastern border, especially if U.S. troops cannot now remain in Iraq.
- To retain territory in Central Asia for U.S. and NATO military forces positioned close to what Washington perceives to be its two main (though never publicly identified) enemies — China and Russia — at a time when the American government is increasing its political pressure on both countries. Obama is intent upon transforming NATO from a regional into a global adjunct to Washington’s quest for retaining and extending world hegemony. NATO’s recent victory in Libya is a big advance for U.S. ambitions in Africa, even if the bulk of commercial spoils go to France and England. A permanent NATO presence in Central Asia is a logical next step. In essence, Washington’s geopolitical focus is expanding from the Middle East to Central Asia and Africa in the quest for resources, military expansion and unassailable hegemony, especially from the political and economic challenge of rising nations of the global south, led China.
- There is another incentive for the U.S. to continue fighting in Afghanistan — to eventually convey the impression of victory, an absolute domestic political necessity.
- The most compelling reason for the Afghan war is geopolitical— finally obtaining a secure military foothold for the U.S. and its NATO accessory in the Central Asian backyards of China and Russia. In addition, a presence in Afghanistan places the U.S. in close military proximity to two volatile nuclear powers backed by the U.S. but not completely under its control by any means (Pakistan, India). Also, this fortuitous geography is flanking the extraordinary oil and natural gas wealth of the Caspian Basin and energy-endowed former Soviet Muslim republics such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
This panic on the part of American strategists on the 10th anniversary of what can be mildly termed as a misadventure is due to the fact that the US even after a decade of its stay in Afghanistan has not a slightest clue to the country it had dreamed to conquer. It has not been able to sell this misadventure even to those it had sought to liberate from the Taliban. A new survey by the International Council on Security and Development showed that 92% of 1,000 Afghan men polled had never even heard of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon — the U.S. pretext for the invasion — and did not know why foreign troops were in the country. It had no idea that one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world — a society of 30 million people where the literacy rate is 28% and life expectancy is just 44 years — would fiercely fight to retain national sovereignty.
The Bush Administration, which launched the Afghan war a few weeks after 9/11, evidently ignored the fact that the people of Afghanistan ousted every occupying army from that of Alexander the Great and Genghis Kahn to the British Empire and the USSR. It has now dawned on Washington that its $1.4 trillion annual military and national security expenditures are a major factor behind its monumental national debt and the cutbacks in social services for the people, but aside from White House rhetoric about reducing redundant Pentagon expenditures, overall war/security budgets are expected to increase over the next several years.
The recent visit of Secretary Clinton to Islamabad and her sudden change of tone, and heart, was no surprise to anyone. It clearly suggests that, for its economic compulsions, the US wants to get out of the Afghanistan mess it has created itself, as soon as possible. It wants to do so without compromising on its broader objectives and its interests in the region. It seeks to broker a peace deal with the Taliban factions through Pakistan and is pressuring Pakistan to push Haqqanis, the most powerful of Taliban, to the negotiating table. It thought Pakistan could arm-twist Haqqanis into submission through a military operation in North Waziristan.
Pakistan maintained its firm stand and on its refusal, the US now wants Pakistan to facilitate reconciliation with Taliban to enable the US to leave Afghanistan with some grace, if not a loser. It was Pakistan which facilitated direct US-Taliban contact in one of the Gulf states earlier this year. That meeting apparently ended as a total fiasco forcing the US to use Pakistan again. But talking with militant groups has been a long-standing effort by the United States as it prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and Clinton herself said there had been U.S. overtures to the Haqqanis. Now she wants Pakistan's help.
The US thinks that Pakistan, for a variety of reasons, has the “capacity to encourage, to push, to squeeze ... terrorists, including the Haqqanis and the Afghan Taliban, to be willing to engage on the peace process”. This reflects the reality that the United States is desperate and is running out of options in Afghanistan.
This explains the clear pattern of sweet-talk, coerce and sweet-talk again. The barrage of allegations by senior US officials and Karzai administration were clearly a part of coercive tactics to force Pakistan to fall in line. The futility of these tactics has now made them pursue the alternative course of sweet-talking Pakistan into doing the US bidding. This sudden change of heart is, therefore, not so sudden. It is what is required for facilitating Obama administration to put up a face good enough to go for reelection. And it can put up a threatening face again if the circumstances so required.
The five per cent serpent (The Express Tribune)
The five per cent serpent (The Express Tribune)