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To get a fix on Afghanistan, US needs to act tough on Pakistan

Reading Pakistan correctly has not always been easy for American officials

Husain Haqqani | NYT 

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in Afghanistan should involve adopting a tougher approach to Although the Taliban are said to control or contest 40 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, Taliban leaders operate from the safety of incentives since the Sept. 11 attacks have failed to dissuade from supporting the Taliban, and Mr Trump must now consider alternatives.

Reading correctly has not always been easy for American officials. was a key American ally during the Cold War, the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan and the post-Sept. 11 operations against But for Pakistan, the alliance has been more about securing weapons, economic aid and diplomatic support in its confrontation with India. The and have both disappointed each other because of divergence in their interests in South Asia.

The George W. Bush administration erred in ignoring the regrouping of the Taliban in after their defeat in Afghanistan in the aftermath of Sept. 11, considering Pakistan’s cooperation in capturing some Qaeda figures as sufficient evidence of its alliance with the

President Barack Obama’s administration tried to deal with a resurgent Taliban with a surge in troop numbers for a specific period. Mr Obama deployed armed drones to strike at Taliban targets inside Pakistan, but that proved insufficient in dealing with the leadership living in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s former military dictator, had secretly authorised the drone strikes, and some of the drones operated from bases inside — a policy that continued under his civilian successors. Under his rule, audaciously denied having anything to do with the Afghan Taliban or its most sinister component, the Haqqani network.

But the presented evidence of Pakistan’s links to Afghan militants just as transitioned from military to civilian rule in 2008. As Pakistan’s ambassador to the for the new civilian government, I urged Pakistan’s civil and military leaders to engage with Americans honestly instead of sticking to blanket denials.

Islamabad’s response was to argue that does, indeed, support insurgents in Afghanistan, but it does so because of security concerns about India, which is seen by generals and many civilian leaders as an existential threat to

But that excuse is based on exaggerations and falsehoods. India has no offensive military presence in Afghanistan and there has never been any evidence that the Afghans are willing to be part of India’s alleged plan for a two-front war with

Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, recently asked India to train Afghan military officers and repair military aircraft after frustration with Pakistan, which failed to fulfil promises of restraining the Taliban and forcing them to the negotiating table.

Pakistan’s leaders question Afghanistan’s acceptance of economic assistance from India even though does not have the capacity to provide such aid itself.

It seems that wants to keep alive imaginary fears, possibly to maintain military ascendancy in a country that has been ruled by generals for almost half of its existence. For years Pakistani officials falsely asserted that India had set up 24 consulates in Afghanistan, some close to the Pakistani border. In fact, India has only four consulates, the same number has, in Afghanistan.

Lying about easily verifiable facts is usually the tactic of governments fabricating a threat rather than ones genuinely facing one. As ambassador, I attended trilateral meetings where my colleagues rejected serious suggestions from Afghans and Americans to mitigate apprehensions about Indian influence in Afghanistan.

While evidence of an Indian threat to through Afghanistan remains scant, proof of the presence of Afghan Taliban leaders in continues to mount. Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s leader, reportedly died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013 and his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in an American drone strike in Baluchistan Province in last year.

The should not let link its longstanding support for hard-line Pashtun Islamists in Afghanistan to its disputes with India.

Both India and have a lot of blood on their hands in Kashmir and seem in no hurry to resolve their disagreement, which is rooted in the psychosis resulting from the subcontinent’s bitter partition. The two countries have gone through 45 rounds of summit-level talks since 1947 and have failed to reach a permanent settlement.

Linking the outcome in Afghanistan to the resolution of India-issues would keep the embroiled there for a very long time. The recent rise in Islamophobia in India and a more aggressive stance against by Prime Minister Narendra Modi should not detract from recognising the paranoiac nature of Pakistan’s fears.

The Bush administration gave $12.4 billion in aid, and the Obama administration forked over $21 billion. These incentives did not make more amenable to cutting off support for the Afghan Taliban.

The Trump administration should now consider taking away Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally, which would limit its priority access to American military technology. Aid to should be linked to a sequence and timeline for specific actions against Taliban leaders.

Sanctions against individuals and institutions involved in facilitating Pakistan-based Taliban leaders and pursuing Taliban reconciliation talks without depending on could be other measures signalling a firmer stance.

Moving away from an incentive-based approach would not be punishing The would be acting as a friend, helping realise through tough measures that the gravest threat to its future comes from religious extremism it is fostering in its effort to compete with India.

Negotiating a peaceful settlement with the Taliban also remains desirable, but it is important to remember the difficulties 21st-century negotiators face while seeking compromise with seventh-century mind-sets.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington, was Pakistan’s ambassador to the from 2008 to 2011.

First Published: Fri, July 07 2017. 17:46 IST