US reviving military ties with Pakistan for Afghan peace amounts to chasing a chimera

The US under Biden is all set to revive military ties with Islamabad hoping that Pakistan will help bring peace in Afghanistan. America has obviously not learned any lessons over the decades, writes Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (retd) for South Asia Monitor

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One wonders if briefs on global issues are given to presidential candidates in the US by respective political parties. During a debate between presidential candidates of Democrats prior to the recent presidential elections, Joe Biden stated, “We can prevent the United States from being the victim of terror coming out from Afghanistan by providing for bases – insist the Pakistanis provide bases for us to airlift from against what we know”. 

Under what circumstances will Pakistan provide America bases? When the US could not do this prior to the initiation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and stationing of People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in Pakistan, is it possible now? 

The US under Biden is all set to revive military ties with Islamabad hoping that Pakistan will help bring peace in Afghanistan. America has obviously not learned any lessons over the decades.

Washington should recall the massive anti-US protests in Pakistan that led to a stoppage of the US using Pakistan’s Shamsi airbase for surveillance flights and drones in 2011. The Pakistani military would welcome US assistance particularly financial aid under any head, but the anti-US sentiment has only increased with radicalization and terror generation despite the hype of jailing few terrorist leaders to influence the Financial Action Task Force. Going by Pakistani media, the Imprisonment of terrorist leaders means red carpet treatment with the freedom to move and meet anyone.  

Reduced US troop in Afghanistan

Before Biden took over as POTUS, former US President Donald Trump reduced US troop strength in Afghanistan to 2,500. The Biden administration wants to review the US-Taliban peace deal with depleted military muscle but would the Taliban give up their aim to rule Afghanistan through gunpower? Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the media on January 21, 2021, “One of the basic needs for peace in Afghanistan is that the Taliban should cut their ties with Pakistan,” adding that he will transfer power to the Taliban if they are elected by the people in the elections. Would the Taliban and Pakistan break links with each other?

Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai while relinquishing office had said that peace can only come to Afghanistan if the US and Pakistan want it. Backed by China, will Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban and Haqqani Network and stop other Pakistan-based terrorist groups from attacking Afghanistan, not to talk of Pakistani regulars and Mujahids operating in Afghanistan covertly in sync with the Taliban? The answer is a big no! Right from the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan when the US permitted division-level strength of the Pakistani army and Taliban to be air evacuated from Kunduz and Khost, Pakistan has played a double game with the US all along.  

Many US and NATO generals and scholars have been cautioning against Pakistan’s treachery. Jeff Smith wrote in Washington Times on April 23, 2011, “Pakistan is playing a double game… The ISI supports Islamist militants…Pakistan believes it needs a pliant, anti-Indian regime in Afghanistan and - as it has for decades - Pakistan is using Islamist militants as an extension of its foreign policy.”

Another article in ‘War On the Rocks’ on December 10, 2014, reads, “When Lt-Gen Asad Durrani, a former head of Pakistan’s ISI agency, delivered a speech on Afghanistan in London last month, it was hard to miss the note of triumph. Afghanistan, he said, had already seen off two major world powers - the British Empire in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th. Now a third; the United States, was heading for the exit. For anyone who believes Pakistan’s aim in Afghanistan all along has been to turn the clock back to Sept 10, 2001 - when it exercised its influence over the country through its Taliban allies - it could almost have been a victory speech.”

US inability to see Pakistan’s intention

Now General Lloyd James Austin, US Secretary of Defence, has stated, “Pakistan is an essential partner in any peace process in Afghanistan. If confirmed, I will encourage a regional approach that garners support from neighbors like Pakistan … I will focus on our shared interests, which include training future Pakistan military leaders through the use of International Military Education and Training funds. Pakistan will play an important role in any political settlement in Afghanistan. We also need to work with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Khorasan Province.”

The irony is Austin’s inability to see through Pakistan’s real intentions despite having commanded US CENTCOM (United States Central Command). He disregards al Qaeda links with Pakistan’s ISI as well as the fact that a brigade-level strength of ISKP (Islamic State-Khorasan Province) was first configured by Pakistan consisting of Afghan and Pakistan Taliban and ISI cadres in Peshawar and pushed west into Afghanistan. Director US Intelligence admitted in 2016 that ISKP was an amalgamation of primarily disaffected and rebranded former Afghan and Pakistan Taliban but was mum on the role of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence).

Austin has also stated that Pakistan has taken action against "anti-India" terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) though "incomplete".  He probably doesn’t even know that the UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) report way back in 2016 explicitly mentioned both LeT and JeM operating in Afghanistan. Would he know that LeT is an accepted part of Pakistan’s so-called security set up and that LeT follows the Ahle Hadith sect, which is extolled in Pakistan? Does he know who Al Badr, Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen (TuM), and the Ghaznavi force are and why Pakistan is arming them for terror attacks in India? 

China’s influence

The new US defence secretary is for military training assistance for Pakistan despite recurring evidence that any financial assistance given to Pakistan is never used for the intended purpose. The irony is that the Biden administration, Austin included, fail to understand China’s influence over Pakistan and the Taliban.  China was training the Taliban on Chinese soil even before the 2001 US invasion in Afghanistan and was training them on Chinese soil. Besides, it was the British media that highlighted China trained Taliban in using IR SAMs against NATO-led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and also provided them advisors to fight the war.

Beijing views Afghanistan as part of the China vs US game to influence Eurasia and ensure that Chinese interests are not threatened in Afghanistan. China is known to plan its strategies more than half a century in advance. 

Compare this to President Barack Obama’s speech in January 2013 pertaining to Afghanistan, wherein he talked of “a decade of war having ended and time having come for reviving the economy.”

The Biden administration must examine when another Democratic president said that the war had ended in 2013, what went wrong since then, and what has been Pakistan’s role in it.  

(The author is an Indian Army veteran. The views are personal)

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