New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 August 2017
By Garga Chatterjee
India Is Fast Becoming a Mirror Image of
By Javaid Bhat
The Sobering Element
By Asha’ar Rehman
Will Gitmo Exist Forever?
By Nisar Ali Shah
Our ‘Civil Society’
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Why The Twain Never Met
By Shahzad Chaudhry
A Reluctant Trump’s Flawed Offensive
By Imtiaz Alam
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
On 22nd August, the Supreme Court of
India’s five-member bench ruled that instant Triple Talaq was illegal and
unconstitutional. This is but a small change in the Muslim Personal Law in the
Indian Union which needs much more comprehensive reform. In the 1950s, several
laws passed by the Parliament of India were to codify and reform Hindu personal
law in India. Muslim personal law was left untouched. The run up to this
verdict and its aftermath has been clinched upon by media agencies as a public
discussion point. In this case the religious group in question was the
minority. These were the Hanafi law following Sunni Muslims of the Indian Union
whose practices were in question.
A large swathe of British acquired lands of
South Asia was partitioned in 1947. This resulted in two religious communally
majoritarian states and as of 2017 three communal states. In each of these
entities, what is common among the constitutions is that everybody has the
freedom to practice their religion. What is not common is whether a particular
religion in an official sense has some special status in the state though
unofficially all the three states are religious majoritarian states. This was
‘Hinduism’ in the Indian Union and ‘Islam’ in Pakistan and later in the
People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In each of these cases there exists in
practice a hierarchy in a religious sense about who is a first-class citizen
and who is not.
This has important implications if you are
a first class citizen, that is, the state has been formed tacitly in your name
to secure your benefits in preference to everybody else’s. Then the state
speaks in the voice of that first class. That voice is not neutral. It can
never be neutral but it is dangerous and sociopathic when it actively
marginalises minorities who have no power to defend or to lean on. This
marginalisation can take many forms. The most common form of this is not active
destruction but the withdrawal of resources and attention. Minorities usually
face harshness on most matters except those about their internal religious
matters. This lack of harshness is a lack of considering the minority as one’s
own. This non-interference leads to neglect and it is the opposite of freedom.
The religious majority is like the only
child. Its concerns are everybody’s concerns and they can be reformed on a
priority basis. However for the religious minority in any such entity who are
left to stew in their own soup, such privileges are not available. They have to
shout much shriller than others to make their voices heard or hope to become a
pawn in a political game like the triple Talaq issue became one in the hands of
the BJP. When that happens, a sordid display of opportunism and cunning is
The religious minority is considered the
adopted child in this post partition sub continental religions national
imaginary. Thus, Muslims of the Indian Union are children of Pakistan by
definition. In certain areas of the Indian Union, Muslims also tend to be
children of Bangladesh. Some significant sections of the political class within
the Indian Union consider the continued presence of these other’s children as
the unfinished project of Partition. This is true for Hindus in Pakistan and
particularly true to this day for Hindus of Bangladesh. Pakistan became almost
minority free in all practical purposes quite soon after its formation. The
anti-Hindu narrative, though used to inculcate religious hate ideology within the
Muslim population, has relatively less practical implications when compared to
the Bangladesh situation where Bangladeshi Hindus are still form a major
proportion of the population. Hindus of Bangladesh and Pakistan belong to India
by the same logic and this is a charge they often hear — of dual loyalty.
The lack of attention demonstrates the
state’s indifference to the plight of the victims of Muslims in India.
Therefore, family and inheritance laws that are more regressive then the ones
prevalent in Pakistan and Bangladesh are implemented. Similarly, Hindus of
Bangladesh are governed by much more regressive laws compared to those that the
Hindus of the Indian Union live by. Often, this even means without any law.
Until recently, marriages of Hindus in Bangladesh were not registered and
divorce has no place in the Hindu personal law of Bangladesh. This is a legacy
of Partition. We often think of Partition as an effect of ‘religion’. However,
religion both led to Partition and has also shaped religion in South Asia.
India Is Fast Becoming A Mirror Image Of
For as far back as one could remember, we
have been informed that Pakistanis have a difficult relationship with the basic
idea of their country. We are told that the country is divided over the purpose
of why their country even came into existence. For one set of people, Pakistan
was established to implement the idea of a state governed by Islamic laws. For
many scholars of Islam, Pakistan is the only example in world history where
Islam and Sharia were to form the constitutional foundations of the polity. But
many disagree with this kind of purpose assigned to the ‘Land of the Pure.’
They believe that most countries must grow out of the original idea and evolve
to meet the demands of modernity.
They often quote the famous speech by
Jinnah in which he gave a ‘secular turn’ to the newly created state. In this
speech, Jinnah asked followers of different religions to freely partake in
their ideologies of worship, promising them the safe custody of the Pakistani
state. The tussle between those two ideas has still not ended: the clash
between the two ideologies still haunts the nation. Compared to this, India
appeared to be free of this problem... Until yesterday.
Changing Paradigm In India
In India, the basic idea of nationhood
seemed to have been settled the day Pandit Nehru gave his famous ‘tryst with
destiny’ speech. While voices disagreed with the Nehruvian vision, on the
fundamental drive of sovereign nationhood, there was no major controversy. The
talking point of the secular-left-liberal constituency in India was the fragile
foundation of the idea of Pakistan, and the stable democracy which was taking
India forward irrespective of its ‘violent edges.’ Any communal clash, whether
it was the Sikh pogroms in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, or the
Gujarat riots -no matter how horrible in nature — was ‘accepted as an
aberration’ in a country as big as India.
The innate spirit of Indians was still
tolerant of all points of view. The essence of Hinduism was inclusive; over
centuries it accommodated the cultures that arrived in India. Problems of
exclusivity, confusion over national direction, and the issue of confusion over
the “original idea”, always belonged to the “other” country. India, as a modern
secular democracy, was free of that national confusion. India was a palimpsest,
and secularism was a given norm. That was the dominant path; until, of course,
the ironical ache din arrived on the political horizon of the largest democracy
Mirror Image of the Other
How the ache din phrase is gradually
turning on its head, is indeed proverbial. With a meaning inverse of its
literal, it won’t be a surprise if ache din Syndrome comes into shape. The new
government in Delhi promised good days for the nation. However, these promised
“good days” have compelled the nation to into a state of mind where the
country’s collective existence has become a large question mark.
The debate is no more about whether good
days have — or will — come for the country or not. Today, India is asking
whether it was made for secularism, or for a theocratic state; whether India is
going to manifest cultural nationalism, or constitutional nationalism. As Nehru
pales into the shadows and Patel rises from relative oblivion; as Gandhi’s
statues are clouded with a new doubt and Godse is rising from the dead; India
is fast becoming a mirror image of Pakistan.
Countries that get caught up in internal
battles waste precious time that can otherwise be used to alleviate suffering
of the masses. Countries where innocent children die due to lack of oxygen must
have better responsibilities than quarrelling over grandiose philosophical
ideas of nationhood
The new Moditva nationalism is challenging
every public intellectual and institution to its litmus test of nationalism and
the very idea of India. This Moditva nationalism has a different set of heroes
and villains. Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts is perhaps more important than what
has been put in the constitution. The sanctity of the national flag is now in
question. The current wave of nationalism- which bears the visible threat of
violence- has exposed the underbelly of India where even the judiciary appears
tainted. The old concept of India is being lynched in favour of a new one which
has created sharp boundaries of different hues. Worse, many of those in the
secular camp are meekly crossing the border into the saffron camp, claiming
that they were actually the “pseudo-secular’s” which Moditva followers accusing
their opponents of being.
There will be no way forward for India if
it becomes the mirror image of the ‘other’. Countries which get caught up in
internal battles waste precious time which could be used to alleviate the
suffering of the masses. Countries where innocent children die due to lack of
oxygen must have better responsibilities than quarrelling over grandiose
philosophical ideas of nationhood. Winning ideological battles is pyrrhic if
not accompanied by seriousness in poverty alleviation, healthcare improvement,
access to education, and much more. As India descends into a battle of
definitions, the future seems anything but heart-warming; and it is going to
get worse with the fanged cultural nationalism clawing its way with money and
muscle across India.
August 25, 2017
IT is quite unpleasant to a see a personal
favourite suffering a setback on health grounds when she had been all poised to
lead yet another attempt at ensuring her family’s existence and their continued
participation in power politics. This could well turn out to be a significant
development, a twist which could define the tone of exchange on the NA-120
battlefront. A Kulsoom Nawaz under treatment for throat cancer could bring
greater sobriety to the vote scheduled for Sept 17.
There were initially fears of matters
turning into a classic mudslinging match given the timing immediately after the
disqualification of Mian Nawaz Sharif. The disqualification saw frayed tempers
on both sides of the political divide; even the fielding of women from the two
main contesting parties, the PML-N and PTI, got a mixed reception.
There were those who quickly recalled how
women candidates in the field had drawn the worst of election campaigners in
the past. But mercifully, the dominating view was that the presence in the
contest of a senior national-level PTI leader, who had a long professional
career as a doctor behind her, and a person as prominent as the wife of a
three-time prime minister on the other end would ensure adherence to a code of
conduct based on decency even amid the intense lobbying for votes. The news
that Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz is not well and under treatment away from home will
encourage calls for restraint.
One immediate reaction to the news of Mrs
Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness was that it provided Mian Sahib with a reason to
suspend political activities in Pakistan.
The Sharifs have had problems with their
health in recent years, London acting as a frequent destination for medical
reasons. Each time a Sharif family member has been away for medical
consultation there has been great mystery attached to it. Routinely, there have
been predictions of how the doctor is soon going to declare someone unfit for
further participation in politics and (there never being a dearth of wishful
well-wishers of this country) how the forced termination of a political career
is going to be the remedy that Pakistan had been long waiting for.
The Sharifs have defied these desired
results prepared in labs away from their little world where they hid their
private sufferings from the public. They have surprised those who had written
them off on medical grounds. They have, quite remarkably, been able to protect
their privacy with silence. So much so that many were slightly taken aback by
the latest instance in which the Sharif family members appeared to share the
news about Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz’s ailment with the people promptly.
How could they let the people know so
abruptly when this could have an adverse effect on the former first lady’s
chances in the polls, some asked. Others quickly put the ‘leak’ down to the
‘confusion’ in the Sharif camp which, post-disqualification, is said to be no
more very sure about which news to allow out and which stories to try and sit
A saner explanation was that this was not
something which could be kept concealed considering the campaign expectations
of Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz. A delayed display of it could prove costly for the PML-N,
especially post-disqualification when people ‘expect’ the party to be upfront
and transparent in its decisions. Discovering her ailment later on could give
the impression that the party was (still) keeping its supporters in the dark
about certain matters.
The public side of it apart, in the context
of the family’s own battles, fate could not have chosen a more dramatic moment
to come up with this revelation — that is, presuming that there was no prior
suspicion about the ailment even within the family, this was the first time
everyone was hearing about it afflicting Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz.
These could be the most trying times for
the Sharifs in history. According to one popular account, the sole Sharif
family concern right now is survival. There are rumours about an impending
implosion which could separate the Sharifs marked as ‘used’ and ‘useless’ from
the Sharifs who could still be employed in serving politics and the political
interests of Pakistan. The latest turn, on account of the doctor’s chit from
London, could have an impact on shaping attitudes in the family, within the
party which is pretty much a family affair, and beyond.
This was bound to be seen as an omen of
some kind. What did this sign mean? When family is party and party is family
not even the most superstitious could take it as a divine signal asking the
Sharifs to employ people from outside the family in crucial resistance battles.
Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz, was of course, the best choice to retain NA-120 for the
household unless Shahbaz Sharif or Maryam Nawaz could realistically be fielded
in the constituency. Then what other message could the timing of this ailment
be associated with?
One immediate reaction to the news of Mrs
Kulsoom Nawaz’s illness was that it provided Mian Sahib with a reason to
suspend political activities in Pakistan and leave for England for a longish
period to be with his ailing wife. The route provided him an escape from his
current state of ‘inactivity’ — one perception being that Mian Muhammad Nawaz
Sharif was struggling desperately for direction post-disqualification.
The possibility continues to be discussed
in Lahore; the intensity of the debate varies. There has since been movement
within the Nawaz camp. An effort is said to be in preparation to amend laws
that had justified Mr Nawaz Sharif’s dismissal from power for a third time. But
not too many are hopeful that the idea has a future in a country where
political groups are increasingly collecting against the PML-N, indicating
through their statements that this was the most patriotic thing to do in
Pakistan right now.
The amendment — even if it were to be
granted that the PML-N really meant to earnestly go for the change — seems so
out of reach in the circumstances. The scenarios which discuss various Nawaz
Sharif exit options seem more relevant. It’s tough. Between a wife who promises
to win it for him and one who appears to be saying that she has had too much of
One is often reminded that the US president
is the most powerful man on the planet. Yet, former US president Barack Obama
dismally failed to close down the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention centre. He
repeatedly promised and desperately wanted to shut it down and take the credit
for being an inspired human rights champion.
Had he succeeded in fulfilling his promise,
his name would have gone down in the history of his country as a great leader.
However, he was not powerful enough to persuade Congress to follow through with
This shows the powerlessness of a president
– in this case Obama – who needed to fulfil his election pledge, but could not.
So, the conflict in the power base in the US seems to suggest that a president
is not quite omnipotent at home or abroad after all.
George W Bush had opened this detention
facility on January 11, 2002 and, so far, there has been no sign of its closure
in the foreseeable future. Instead, Donald Trump, the current US president, has
promised the opposite and stated that he will “load it with more bad dudes”.
Will Guantanamo exist forever? The
long-suffering inmates are getting old and infirm after 16 years of
courageously enduring physical abuse and psychological mistreatment at various
The scandal of Guantanamo – a blot on the
US, which has frequently lectured the entire world about rights violation –
Amid torture and the ins and outs of the
darkest CIA secret prisons around the world, the inmates rely on the
international community to do something to secure their release.
For instance, sustained political campaigns
have been mounted in Britain and have succeeded in securing the release of
British detainees in Guantanamo, including Shaker Aamer. Since then, there has
hardly been any mention of the detention facility.
Both the broadcast and print media are
preoccupied with Brexit or a difficult divorce from the EU, which is a highly
emotional political issue. Therefore,
stories concerning the plight of victims of torture in Guantanamo do not
qualify for any space in the mainstream media.
So far, nine detainees have died in custody
at Guantanamo. Although gradually in reduced number, there are still 41 others languishing at the
During the Bush administration, the number
of prisoners released was 532 and Obama released another 198. Many were
tortured in secret prisons overseas before being transferred to Guantánamo
number. Only five percent were ‘captured’ by US troops as terror suspects and
others were sold to the US for a bounty.
The inmates have not been charged with an
offence. They were caught at the wrong time and at the wrong place.
The US argues that if these inmates are
released, they would endanger the security of the US as an act of revenge. But
59 countries have accepted the detainees who, surprisingly, have not posed even
the slightest risk to the security of any country.
Trump wants to “make America great again”.
This sounds like a good idea – a very good idea indeed – but he will have to do
some noble acts on his way to achieving that goal. The starting point could
ideally be to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention centre by overriding
objections from Congress.
The second good deed that Trump could
perform is to hand over the illegally-occupied Cuban territory on which the
prison is based back to Cuba. By doing
this, he will be able to kill two birds with one stone and simultaneously make
America great again.
Half a billion dollars are paid every year
by taxpayers to operate Guantanamo. If Trump is ready, willing and serious
about making America great again, he could do himself and his country a favour
and save this huge amount and spend it on the needy and on improving health
ABOUT 20 years ago, ‘civil society’ was
touted as the final frontier of democratisation. Even before it came to
Pakistan, ‘civil society’ had birthed a purportedly independent workers
movement in Poland called Solidarity which triggered the end of the Cold War.
The defining feature of ‘civil society’ was that it was not the state — more
specifically, it was in the realm of ‘civil society’ that individual liberties
could best be defended from bureaucratic state apparatuses.
It wasn’t necessarily discussed openly at
the time, but the alter ego of civil society was the ‘free market’. If civil
society was the realm of political freedom, then the ‘free market’ was its
economic counterpart. It is no surprise, therefore, that with the decline in
fortunes of the ‘free market’ globalisation brigade, the ‘civil society’ star
has also faded.
Just as it has become clear that the ‘free
market’ does not guarantee all human beings economic progress, it is plainly
evident that a conflict-free ‘civil society’ does not exist. In fact, the very
binary of civil society versus the state has proven to be greatly misleading.
Approaching the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the state is as
powerful as ever before, hand-in-glove with the most influential segments in
‘civil society’, both doing their best to ensure that the ‘free market’
flourishes without impediment.
A conflict-free ‘civil society’ does not
Notwithstanding the simplistic notion of
‘civil society’ propagated throughout the 1990s, Western social theorists from
Hegel to Marx to Gramsci had developed complex philosophical treatises on the
subject over the previous century and a half. Despite their differences, all of
these critical theorists noted the great internal differentiation in ‘civil
society’, with Marx and his followers consistently asserting how class and
other divisions expressed in state institutions actually had their roots in
Many of these classical social theories
have been reformulated to explain contemporary realities, particularly by
scholars seeking to explain non-Western contexts that Marx, Hegel and other
Western philosophers largely neglected (or misunderstood). Unfortunately, the
vibrancy of debates in intellectual circles stands in complete contrast to our
static popular discourses.
In Pakistan, ‘civil society’ reached its
zenith during the so-called lawyers movement. Originally an anti-dictatorship
mobilisation in which the legal fraternity assumed the vanguard role, the
movement took on a much more parochial, right-wing face following Gen
Musharraf’s deposal in August 2008.
During its initial phase, the movement
featured progressive students, political workers and ordinary citizens from all
walks of life. Even then, however, the blanket term ‘civil society’, which was
widely used by the emergent TV media to describe the protesters, was
conveniently vague. As noted, ‘civil society’ is a realm of competing
interests, and to actively deny these competing interests and instead depict
‘civil society’ as an apolitical mishmash of well-meaning people is anything
but an innocent oversight.
Following Iftikhar Chaudhry’s final
restoration to office in 2009, the legal fraternity has reverted to type,
bitterly divided along a host of lines. The most recent images of lawyers
taking on the Lahore police on Mall Road precipitated widely divergent
responses, both from within the legal fraternity, and within the rest of ‘civil
society’ at large. Either way, the evidence confirms that the fraternity comes
together only in fits and starts, and, more often than not, lawyers wear their
competing political affiliations on their proverbial sleeves.
What is important to recognise is that the
‘lawyers movement’ greatly popularised the ‘civil society’ concept. Until the
early 2000s, the (largely apolitical) terminology of ‘civil society’ was
monopolised by those of an urbane, secular persuasion associated with the
donor-funded NGO. They too tended to see ‘civil society’ in opposition to the
‘state’, and were either unwilling or unable to connect the dots between the
politics of aid and the manner in which their ‘developmental’ interventions
were paving the way for hegemonic neoliberal ideologies.
Of course, this liberal segment’s political
leanings came to the fore following the onset of the so-called war on terror;
it was all of a sudden ready to empower the state, cheering on military
operations against ‘terrorists’ in faraway places, and even expressed gratitude
that Washington had invaded Afghanistan and promised to do away with the
Taliban. Sixteen years later, we all know how successful that particular method
of ‘civilising’ society has proved.
Indeed, if there is any evidence of just
how divided ‘civil society’ is, then we look no further than the recent call
made by Sami-ul-Haq — who by all means represents another set of political,
economic and ideological interests in ‘civil society’ — for the state to
reassert its commitment to jihad across the board. And what if we actually
started debating how America, China, Saudi Arabia and other external powers
cultivate their own interests in ‘civil society’?
Why the Twain Never Met
US Secretary for Defence General (r) James
Mattis said this recently to Trump on Afghanistan: “We haven’t fought a 16-year
war so much as we have fought a one-year war, 16 times”. There isn’t a more apt
description of the war and there isn’t a more telling admission of a failed
military strategy than what Mattis was brave enough to acknowledge.
The US’ war in Afghanistan began on an
impulse – ‘smoke ‘em – but then got sidetracked with Iraq. Sixteen years later,
their challenge remains to extricate from the mess which has become America’s
longest war. A trillion dollars down and 2000 American lives after, the Taliban
still prevail. In the US they already call it the unnecessary war with
President Trump recalling his instinct of pulling out at first opportunity.
Still others seek a final push, a la Vietnam, only for another ‘Linebacker’ to
enact space for a negotiated end. The lasting memory of eviction from Saigon
wasn’t pretty but so frustrated stand the Americans that as sordid a memory as
that could do to save them uncalled for trouble. So much for the American
To the war then, and I have said this
repeatedly over the years: there hasn’t been a war fought worse than the one in
Afghanistan. And this isn’t any kneejerk spite to a presumed slight in Trump’s
address, rather a bare-bone analysis of the operations conducted in the name of
war. The US/Nato forces lacked clear direction and objectives. Mission creep
and shifting goalposts marked the absence of any end-state. Novel formulations
of COIN and CTR were hawked among Washington backers to establish positional
and financial eminence by individuals tasked to prosecute war. Fed on
disciplined environs of Europe, what they found in Afghanistan was befuddling.
A fourth generation war, fought in entirely alien cultures, with twenty-first
century tools, against medieval opponents, following SOPs outlined from COIN
compendiums produced in the cools of Washingtonian Seminars, was not how you
won wars. It will always be a dirty, one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat in which
your whole being is soiled.
The US at one time had a 100,000 plus
soldiers in Afghanistan; with Nato, the number went over 150,000. Over 16 years
they lost 2000 men with little to show for success except holding aloft the
skeletal structure of a government, only nominally Afghan. Remove the crutches
and see this house of cards falling. That may also have to do with inherent
vulnerabilities of the Afghan polity and its society, but with such
vulnerability only pretensions remains. Little has been done in the last
sixteen years to alleviate this weakness. In comparison, Pakistan got into the
act only in 2008, lost more than 6000 of its officers and men in operations but
delivered a politically, militarily, socially and economically more stable
Pakistan than was in 2007/8. Not all is done, and there is still more to
achieve in what Pakistan assumes will be a generational effort, but Pakistan
isn’t looking to extricate. More importantly, it is winning. And, this may be
difficult to digest by a superpower.
Again, the definition of a victory too is
fleeting in this kind of war. There are no definable end-states; there are only
relative states of comfort for a nation to exercise its common will. Usually
when societies lose their anchor, it may mean incremental weaning away to what
should be a citizenry based on standard principles of law and social norms. And
this will need a host of things from ideational to educational to attitudinal
which a people will need to be re-imbued with. The US hardly spared any effort
in this direction, instead meandering between eliminating – nay smoking out –
the Taliban, and nation-building, to COIN to CTR to now killing the Taliban
But Trump wasn’t only trumpeting a speech;
he rightly stated what may in time become a true reflection of a possible
end-state which can help US extricate from this quagmire. He hopes to achieve a
suitable political environment in Afghanistan aided by a recovered economy –
for which he elicited India who are making billions off the US – and a weakened
Taliban ready to negotiate (this task befalls to Pakistan for having been paid
billions in the past) so that a survivable, sustainable Afghanistan can be
America’s legacy. And importantly for it to not be shamed for another
cut-and-run job as in Iraq and Vietnam where the images still haunt the
collective American memory. With Daesh a reality in Khorasan, for the moment
this is a very reasonable goal to aim for. However to get there is what will
The current Afghan war will always be
looked upon as two separate wars fought in parallel on the two sides of the
Durand Line by two allies against a similar enemy. The two could however never
come around to coordinating their military manouvre with complementary tactical
actions or operational objectives. The objectives on both sides hardly ever converged
despite tactical pronouncements such as the hammer and anvil, joint
intelligence, and coordinated operations.
In a classic fratricide, later deliberately
kept up with, the US forces had no qualms taking on Pakistani posts in Salala
in November of 2011 while killing dozens of soldiers even after they had
learned that they were attacking Pakistani military’s positions. The price paid
by the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan has been ever more disastrous in.
This shall remain the most enduring tragedy for a people who have been
subjected to live the nightmare in the name of fighting a global war.
Superpower interests may wane and wander
but the reality of a destroyed society and fractured people will continue to
haunt those whose life may never normalise. Three million Afghans have been
forced into Pakistan to seek refuge, which brings along attendant social,
economic and security complexities. Will Afghanistan survive this exercise in
demolishment? Sadly only a chimera of a state remains with little substance as
Pakistan too gets buffeted by its consequent malice.
It is in this backdrop that Trump spoke of
his new policy. And while he may disapprove of one or the other thing by
Pakistan, our task is cut as Pakistan plods on fighting the menace meant to
take it down. Of that there are no two opinions – it will not happen. The
nation and its forces are sworn to overcome the challenge. Our timelines may
not match and the US may seek different priorities but to Pakistan what will
sustain will be what comes first in its own interests. That is unlikely to
change. In the meanwhile, the US may look to stabilise Afghanistan from the
inside in all dimensions of Afghan nationhood so that eventual peace may
sustain. Mutual accommodation and congruence of objectives can only be
What can you expect from an unhinged and
unpredictable American president? Anything: from extremely divisive remarks
equating white supremacist fascists’ violence with defenders of civil liberties
in Charlottesville to terming the Afghan war a “complete waste” and then
repeating a failed strategy for an “honourable and enduring outcome”. So,
should we take him seriously now?
Indeed, we must since it has not come from
what The New York Times has editorially termed as “The failing Trump
Presidency”, but from the mightiest militarist empire. Trump “follows his
instinct”, as he said, but the decision has been taken by the compulsions of
the Oval Office that is now entirely being dominated by a battery of the
military commanders after the exit of his original team. Defense Secretary Gen
Mattis is the architect of the new strategy with input by US National Security
Advisor Gen McMaster; the entire top brass of US military establishment was on
board when it was finalised at Camp David. Faced with the dilemma of “the
consequences of rapid exit (that) are predictable and unacceptable”, in Trump’s
words, which would have created a vacuum terrorists would have instantly
filled, the US imperial military establishment has been trapped in the
enigmatic quagmire of warfare that is a means of living for
After all, what is so new about the rephrased
Afghanistan and South Asia strategy that my friend Jyoti Malhotra is so
enamoured with the metamorphosis of the Af-Pak theatre into “AfPakIndia”?
Almost all the elements are similar to what was pursued by the two previous US
administrations – though at much lower military engagement. Discarding
nation-building, which has cost over $100 billion (more than the Marshal Plan),
and taking off the façade of promoting freedom and democracy, now emphasis is
being laid on some kind of fire and fury to extract an “honourable” exit out of
a still elusive shameful compromise with the Taliban. The onus is being shifted
onto the non-Nato ally for the failure of the US military strategy. Trump
accused Pakistan of “housing the very terrorists that we are fighting” despite
getting billions of dollars.
Repeating almost what was jointly stated
during Prime Minister Modi’s last US visit – to also remind Pakistan of the
potential double-jeopardy – Trump has tried to lure India to increase its
engagement on its own cost, ironically out of its $45 billion trade surplus
with the US. There is no more a ‘blank cheque’ available for the
corruption-ridden Kabul government that has survived with the backing of
foreign troops and at the annual cost of $35 billion. It has rather been asked
to pay for some of its military and administrative expenditures by bartering
trillion dollar worth mineral resources for an imperialist militaristic reward.
The mission is ‘killing the terrorists’
with no restraints on the soldiers to coerce the Taliban into a negotiated
political settlement, regardless of the nature of the political outcome. The
elusive ‘win’ – which remains undefined – could not be achieved by the Obama
administration with 100,000 Isaf troops and equal numbers of private
contractors. Trump’s commanders are being tipped to achieve it with 12,400
American troops and 13,000 Nato troops. It may partially help turn around what
Commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan Gen Nicholson termed as a “stalemate”
with extremely excessive use of fire power and greater bloodshed of the valiant
Afghans. The Taliban have survived the surge and now control approximately 40
percent of territory across Afghanistan. In response to President Trump’s
challenge, the Taliban have vowed to “make Afghanistan a graveyard for
By vociferously amplifying Pakistan’s soft
policy towards the Afghan Taliban and certain other terrorist outfits, the US
president has put Rawalpindi on a precarious notice to eradicate whatever
sanctuaries may have been left. The previous US administrations had been
raising this issue quite repeatedly, but the partnership had not altogether
floundered. While US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Dunford recognised the
strategic importance of Pakistan for peace in Afghanistan, the US is inclined
to use various means to twist Islamabad’s arm. This must be worrying for
Pakistan and it will have to take some pre-emptive and remedial measures, besides
recalibrating its erstwhile Afghan Taliban policy.
High-level consultations between top
military commanders of the US and Pakistan have taken place. DGPR Gen Ghafoor
told Afghan journalists that “we have told (American military officials) that
we have taken action against the Haqqani Network and all other terrorist
groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan”. He was probably referring to
US Centcom commander’s visit to Pakistan last week. In his meeting with the US
Ambassador to Pakistan, COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has reiterated that “peace
in Afghanistan is as important for Pakistan as for any other country”. He
emphasised: “collaboration and synergy of effort(s) between all stakeholders is
the key to success to bring this long drawn war in Afghanistan to its logical
The COAS gave a sensible response by
rightly emphasising the acknowledgement of Pakistan’s contribution and
sacrifices in the war on terror, rather than any temptations regarding US
financial assistance. The COAS knows the US cannot ignore the strategic
importance of Pakistan nor can it afford to extend the Afghan war to Pakistan.
And Pakistan cannot afford to annoy the US – to the benefit of India.
As the stated national policy so warrants,
Pakistan has to firmly decide in its own national interest that its soil will
not be used by terrorists against any country. Let the US find no footprints of
terrorism emanating from Pakistan. Let the Afghan Taliban not become our
liability. If requested, Pakistan can try to use whatever influence it has left
with the resurgent Afghan Taliban, who have diversified their international
connections, to come to negotiation table. A specific strategic approach by
some has been to see the Afghan Taliban as a kind of countervailing force to keep
our northern backyard secure and counter India’s moves of using the TTP outlaws
in its proxy war against Pakistan. But the Afghan Taliban have never extended a
helping hand to check the TTP.
While Islamabad must demand reciprocity
from the US-Afghan side in nabbing TTP outlaws, it should also make it clear
that it doesn’t want the exclusive return of the Afghan Taliban in Kabul. That
would just end up reinforcing violent extremist forces in Pakistan, which still
pose a formidable threat to our internal security.
The fact is that, from the Soviet Union to
the US-led Nato, everyone has failed in Afghanistan. Even if Pakistan fully
sides with the US, there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict.
Neither a takeover of Kabul by the Taliban nor a coalition of warlords and
hodgepodge elements in the Unity Government can make peace endurable. Instead
of making Afghanistan a theatre of various international powers or a tug of war
between regional countries, all must join hands to defuse this perpetual volcano
of destabilisation. India should learn from Pakistan’s mistakes and think of
turning this unnecessary adversity into an opportunity for peace and
cooperation in the region.
Ultimately, Pakistan’s only interest with
Afghanistan is that the Pak-Afghan border is secured and duly recognised by the
two sides while allowing free movement of people and goods across the Durand
Line. Peace in Afghanistan is inseparable from peace in Pakistan; so should it
be between India and Pakistan as well.