By Khaled Ahmed
January 26, 2019
Khaled Ahmed was born in 1943 in Jalandhar
during the siege of Stalingrad. He has been an opinion writer based in Pakistan
for the past 40 years. Over his decades of experience, he has worked for
<em>The Pakistan Times, The Nation, The Frontier Post, The Friday Times
and The Daily Times, three of which have been closed down either permanently or
temporarily. He is now consulting editor at Newsweek Pakistan, based in
Lahore.</em> Ahmed graduated from Government College Lahore during the
1965 war with India with an MA (Honours) on the roll of honour, along with a
diploma in German from Punjab University. In 1970, he received a diploma in
Russian (Interpretation) from Moscow State University. In 2006, he wrote the
book, Sectarian War: Sunni-Shia Conflict in Pakistan at the Woodrow Wilson
Centre in Washington DC.
America is thinking of quitting Afghanistan
because its soldiers are too expensive to send abroad. It stands to save $43
billion annually if it leaves. Pakistan is scared of what will happen if
America really quits and Afghanistan returns to its heroin-sustained
warlordism. The Afghan Taliban are winning on a daily basis and control half of
the country, eying the 250,000-strong Afghan army as future Taliban. India has
presence in Afghanistan after the construction of the game-changing Chabahar
Port in Iran and the highway that links it to Kabul.
Three South Asian Association of Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) members — Afghanistan, Pakistan, India — could have
cooperated but are poised to fight instead. And it is difficult to say who will
fight who. The Taliban have warriors in their hordes who have come from the
Middle East and Central Asia; and there are ISIS-Daesh and Al Qaeda still
operational in the country, threatening all the three SAARC members. China is
the next economic presence in Afghanistan after India, and Turkey is eying an
opportunity to play its role to safeguard the interests of Afghanistan’s
Turkmen-Turkic community whose leader Rashid Dostum has been vice-president of
Afghanistan and chief of the Afghan army.
Rebellious Pakistani Taliban, safely
located in north-western Afghanistan, has hurt Pakistan as no one else in
Afghanistan. On December 16, 2014, six of its gunmen attacked the Army Public
School in Peshawar, killing 132 children. The killers included one Chechen,
three Arabs and two Afghans. This was the final trauma that changed the
thinking of the Pakistan army and forced it to question why the Afghan Taliban
were allowing the Pakistani killers to live on their territory. Embarrassed by
the fact that “enemy” America was killing them instead with drones, Pakistan no
longer viewed Afghanistan as its “strategic depth” against India, which had
snuck into this “depth” and thrown a front-and-back challenge to Pakistan.
Chief of Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah
Mehsud, who engineered the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007,
was killed by an American drone in August 2009. (In 2017, Pakistan actually
acquitted the men he had sent down for the assassination!) The most wanted
terrorist chief of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud became the next
victim of the American drones, despite Pakistan’s protests (sic!), in November
2013, after he had captured and personally executed two ex-ISI officers.
No one could communicate with the Taliban.
America couldn’t rely on them even after they had done the job of defeating the
Soviet Union. It turned on them finally after 9/11. Pakistan thought they could
get anything done in Afghanistan through the Haqqani clan but found that the
Haqqanis instead had an ideological plan of their own.
When the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan,
Pakistan’s own jihadi underground in the madrasa-dominated regions was vulnerable
to their seduction. It is true that most Afghans will accept the return of the
Taliban and the destruction of the liberal order now being held up by an
America-overseen constitution and American money, but they would like to leave
the country — if they could — before a Taliban takeover. Returning to Islam is
going to be suicidal for Afghanistan. This “small landlocked country recovering
from decades of war” is among the water-stressed nations in the world and “a
country whose people lack sufficient dietary diversity”. Afghanistan is on the
brink of a food and water crisis.
A dead SAARC must be revived to decide what
its three members are going to do after the Americans leave Afghanistan. The
Ashraf Ghani government will not survive after the American-funded Afghan army
disintegrates and joins up with the Taliban. That’s why the Taliban are
refusing to even recognise the Kabul government: The Afghan army is the
low-hanging fruit that will enlarge their capacity to challenge both Pakistan
It is difficult to diagnose the state of
the mind of decision-makers in Pakistan. But their decision to turn to India
and offer “talks” and “trade” points to the possibility of the kind of
“normalisation” needed for handling the next crisis in Afghanistan.