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Project Afghanistan

Maybe we don’t know what we’re doing. Maybe we’re hostage to history and the past. Maybe the outside world is wrong.Or maybe we know exactly what we’re doing and why. Mansour is dead because Pakistan couldn’t deliver him to the negotiating table. And Pakistan couldn’t deliver Mansour to the negotiating table because Pakistan has influence, not control.You don’t have to be a strategic expert to figure out how leverage works. We want X to do Y. We ask politely. X refuses. So, we lean on X. And Pakistan has only influence, not control, over the Taliban because — well, here’s where the official story starts to break down. Publicly, the line is this — sanctuary does not equal control because even without sanctuary, the Taliban would still be fighting the Afghan state inside Afghanistan.

The fault, then, is with the Afghan state — if they were better at governing and fighting, the Taliban wouldn’t be around. We — Pakistan — can’t be held responsible for the screw-ups of the Afghan state. Privately, the line is this — sanctuary does not equal control because the Taliban know we can’t force them to dialogue. Because if we tried to force them, they’d bring the war here. And Pakistan cannot afford another war inside Pakistan, with the Afghan Taliban of all things. That would be insanity and disaster. So, influence — and limited influence at best. We want there to be dialogue, we really do, but there’s only so much we can do. See above.

Except — what part of Mansour catching a taxi from Taftan and merrily wandering across the Balochistan expanse suggests that we were serious about making the Taliban dialogue? You don’t have to be a strategic expert to figure out how leverage works. We want X to do Y. We ask politely. X refuses. So, we lean on X. We curb his freedoms. We ask for his passport back. We disrupt his side businesses. We stall his communications. We make him feel isolated. Gradual but determined escalation. Whatever the specifics, by the time the end comes, X shouldn’t casually be passing through immigration and wandering around on his own. And that business about bringing war to Pakistan? It sounds awfully like what we were once told about the TTP. We can’t go into North Waziristan because they’ll bring the war to the cities. It will be carnage on a scale that we couldn’t imagine. Pakistan would be brought to its knees.

Except, it wasn’t. Peshawar happened, as did Lahore and some other stuff. But that epic blowback that had been so feared was pretty much neutralised by the very thing we were told would trigger it: A military operation combined with counterterrorism stuff — y’know, the kind of stuff that a state is supposed to do when confronted by an internal military threat. And about the Afghan Taliban’s bluff. The basic difference between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP, we’ve always been told, is that the Afghan lot are nationalists, not trans-nationalists.

They have no ambitions beyond Afghanistan. They won’t fight abroad and won’t sponsor violence abroad. They’re not the TTP. So, call their bluff — we tell them to dialogue, they say they won’t, then squeeze them until they do or see if they’ll really threaten to bring the war here. And if they do threaten — it’s not like we don’t know where each and everyone of their leaders is. They threaten war, we bring the hammer down on them.

Fantasy? You bet. Because we’ve done this before. Back when the Geneva accords were being negotiated and we were publicly pledging non-interference and non-intervention while preparing for the opposite.

Now, it’s all talk of peace and dialogue and Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. While Mansour is getting his passport stamped and taking a taxi across Balochistan Maybe we don’t know what we’re doing. Maybe we’ve trapped ourselves. Or maybe we do know exactly what we’re doing and why — Afghanistan is ours, the Taliban are ours and there ain’t anything the world can do about it. Because the post-Bonn Afghan state is not sustainable. Because the US will eventually tire. Because time is on our side. And while destiny and the inevitable will be ours, if in the meantime there’s a drone strike or four, so be it. The US is a superpower. You have to let the angry giant tire himself out. Omar, Mansour, Haibatullah, Jack, John or Jill, who cares — Project Afghanistan, our plan for our neighbour to the west, remains untouched.

A simple agenda — Afghanistan will be ours and the Taliban will get it for us. But a complicated tactic — shout dialogue from the rooftops, while keeping the Taliban in the basement. Because the time isn’t right and until then we have to play along. Influence, not control is the other incompetence or complicity — a canard that buys us time and shields our agenda. Final thought: the N-League has for months claimed that Nawaz has some trouble with his heart and that a check-up was on the cards. And when Nawaz flew off to London after Panama, the N-League did protest that there was a genuine health issue too.

But it didn’t break through the news cycle. Panama was a sexier story and none of our anchor-warriors and free-media champions thought to ask, is this real and how serious is it? Now we know. Never mind a constitutional vacuum and a media that doesn’t bring you the news, though — we’ve still got Panama.

Cyril Almeida, "Project Afghanistan," Dawn. 2016-05-29.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Politicians , Politics , Taliban , Terrorism , Terrorists , Nawaz Sarif , Mansour , Haibatullah , Pakistan , Afghanistan , Balochistan , North Waziristan , TTP