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Escaping the chaos

“Stay outside and don’t interrupt our serious discussion,” remarked grim-faced Richard Holbrooke when the then US ambassador to Pakistan knocked at the door and tried to be part of an unending discussion on Afghanistan in the UAE.

Since Holbrooke’s tragic death and Olson’s resignation, policymakers in Washington are mulling an exit strategy. The US claims that it is viewing this strategy not just as a solution to Afghanistan, but also as a broader concern that incorporates India and Pakistan. One can only wish the US well as the level of gruesome violence across Afghanistan has reached new heights.

As the Trump administration tosses one idea over the other to end the 16-year-old war, the region must prepare itself for the further collapse of Afghanistan. While it’s true that no foreign power has subjugated the Afghans for long, almost a century has passed and no leader like late Amir Amanullah Khan has emerged who can liberate the country from the first colonial power of recent history.

Since war-torn Syria is unofficially divided into regions that are under the influence of Bashar al-Assad’s government, the so-called opposition forces, the Kurds and Isis, the people of Pakistan must prepare themselves for an unceremonial nightmare in our backyard. A few Afghan provinces share a 2,430-kilometre-long border with Pakistan. This poses a huge challenge, especially at a time when some of these areas are witnessing attacks by Daesh. Over the decades, the Britain, the Soviet Union and the US occupied this land for their own designs and believing that they will come to help us in our time of need is a case of putting the cat to watch milk.

Veteran warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was once known as the      ‘Butcher of Kabul’ and ‘Rocketyar’ for raining down hundreds of rockets on Kabul in the 1990s,  thinks the Taliban and Isis are two sides of the same coin. But to those who believe that the Taliban have accepted the influence of Pakistan, Iran and Russia, the latest version of brutality has been launched for some other sinister designs.

At this stage, Isis is active in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar which border Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata while Laghman and Kabul – which were recently affected by militancy – are adjacent to them. Isis is also active in northern Jowzjan and Sar-e-Pol, which are situated along Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan. They have also claimed responsibility for slaughtering 30 worshipers in Herat, the province that borders Iran. If Isis gains a foothold in both provinces and proceeds unchecked from Jowzjan to Faryab and from Herat to Badghis, they may grab territory stretching from Uzbekistan to Iran.

Other provinces bordering Pakistan, including Logar, Paktya, Khost, Paktika, Zabul, Kandahar and Helmand, are under the influence of the Taliban. Surprisingly, most of central Afghanistan that doesn’t share a border with any neighbour is calm. As the US is keeping a check on Daesh in this area and has claimed responsibility for killing veteran fighter Abu Saeed, the amir of the Islamic State Khorasan Province, it’s time for Afghanistan to redouble efforts to go against this organisation.

Keeping a close watch, Pakistan has launched Khyber-IV, which is part of the ongoing counterterrorism operation Raddul Fasaad, to prevent this tumour that is gaining currency in its side of the Durand Line. Clearing Rajgal in Khyber Agency is an especially significant achievement as this valley borders Achin and Nazian districts on the Afghan side – regions that have, over the years, remained constant hideouts for various militant groups.

Even the Pentagon has admitted that Pakistan’s efforts have reduced the ability of some militant groups to use Fata as a safe haven. But it alleges that Pakistan is selective in its approach and the Taliban and the Haqqani Network continue to operate in other locations.

How Pakistan will be dealt with by the Trump administration is obvious as the White House has held the carrot of US aid and threatened that if Pakistan doesn’t change its behaviour, the US will change its behaviour towards Pakistan. Islamabad has repeatedly denied allegations of being soft on some militants. Over the years, Pakistan has blamed Afghanistan for not collaborating in operations as the terrorists sneak into other parts of KP and Fata once they successfully escape to Afghanistan.

Despite facing common threats, Afghanistan has hardly shared significant information with Pakistan. Hamid Karzai, who once warned Benazir Bhutto of threats on her life and offered her Afghan security, took the battle against the Taliban into Pakistan when he failed to exert his presidential powers beyond Kabul. Amid Pakistan’s denial, Ghani now claims that Afghanistan was not taken into confidence on Khyber-IV.

The Af-Pak trust deficit is starkly alarming at a time when a new wave of violence in Afghanistan has shown a tit-for-tat style of reprisal attacks in Pakistan. On July 24, a few hours after a car blast that left 35 people, including nine policemen dead in Kabul, 26 people were killed in a similar bombing in Lahore.

In the past, Islamabad had closed the Pak-Afghan border crossing points at Torkham and Chaman. But, over the years, such border closures have led Afghanistan towards further strengthening economic and security ties with India, Iran and Central Asian countries. The trade volumes between Islamabad and Kabul have been reduced from $3 billion a decade ago to $500 million in 2017, resulting in the drop of 80 percent in commerce between the two countries.

At the same time, the Afghan-Iran trade volume has increased by 25 percent from $1.5 billion to $2 billion. Until the end of last year, Afghanistan’s exports to India amounted to $80 million, with imports amounting to $152 million. These figures are likely to rise significantly if the Chabahar Port becomes operational next year. India’s exports to CAR are already nine times more than Pakistan’s exports.

The battle for obtaining better access to resources is being lost as the region is waging a war on geography. As the US is exiting the chaos without considering the reservations of neighbouring countries, the prospects of peace in Afghanistan remain elusive.

The writer is a senior journalist associated with Geo News.

Email: nasim.haider@geo.tv

Nasim Haider, "Escaping the chaos," The News. 2017-08-21.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , National issues , Haqqani network , Militant groups , National security , Taliban , Violence , Economy , Gulbuddin Hekmatyar , Richard Holbrooke , Afghanistan , Iran , CAR