Scapegoating Pakistan to mask failure in Afghanistan
Taliban’s dashing takeover of Afghanistan without any resistance has baffled the Americans and their allies. On Capitol Hill, congressmen have been debating the Biden administration’s haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bipartisan consensual demand is to investigate ‘what went wrong in Afghanistan.’ Simultaneously, lawmakers across party lines reprimand Pakistan’s role as an ally and demand a Biden administration’s harder line on Pakistan.
Ironically, the Biden administration and Congressmen are involved in a divisive blame game rather than constructively scrutinizing the situation and chalking out a prudent America’s post-Afghanistan withdrawal strategy. Many American congressmen and analysts get carried away with misleading information that the Taliban succeeded in Afghanistan with the military support of Pakistan. They claim that the Pakistani military provided money, training, and logistical support to the Taliban. Secretary Antony Blinken said Pakistan “is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan, it’s one that’s involved harboring members of the Taliban.” Congressman Michael G. Waltz recommended sanctions were levied against Pakistan. Similarly, many others ask the Biden administration to block efforts to remove Pakistan from the Financial Action Task Force grey list.
Conversely, a few do dare to admit the reality instead of merely scapegoating Pakistan. On September 14, US Senator Chris Van Hollen said the Trump administration ‘had enabled the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.’ Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed similar views that the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban was “wholly inadequate.”
The disturbing variable is that American analysts and policymakers are afraid of admitting the failure of their two decades’ of Afghanistan policy.
Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
Pakistan complied with the demands of the Trump administration in facilitating negotiations between Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, which resulted in the signing of the peace agreement between the US and Taliban in February 2020. Senator Hollen said Pakistan “had released three top Taliban commanders on the then US government’s request to push forward the Afghan peace process.” But such realistic voices are far and few between among US policymakers.
The disturbing variable is that American analysts and policymakers are afraid of admitting the failure of their two decades’ of Afghanistan policy. Instead of contemplating objectively and chalking out a practical approach for the region’s enduring political and economic stability, including Afghanistan, they are entrapped in scapegoating Pakistan. Indeed, this trend is neither in the interests of Pakistan nor fitting for US South Asian policy.
America’s strategic competition with China is turning out to be an organizing principle of Washington’s geopolitical and geoeconomic policies in South Asia. Therefore, American policymakers have been calibrating their Pakistan policy with their perspective of strategic competition with China and the increasing role of India in the region.
China’s growing power, military buildup, and Belt and Road Initiative’s CPEC alarms both American intelligentsia and policymakers. Its bold regional and global ambitions have been gradually inching China and the US toward strategic rivalry. As a result, the American strategic enclave is betting on India’s economic and military power to check China’s steady ingress in Asia.
Realistically, the Indo-US cementing strategic partnership is shrinking Pakistan’s space in Americas’ geostrategic calculations. Besides, the unceremonious exit of the US and its NATO allies’ exit from Afghanistan during the last month have furthered the distrust between Islamabad and Washington. Therefore, despite Pakistan’s positive overtures, assurances, and facilitating tactics during the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Americans are stuck with their apathetic approach toward Pakistan.
The instability in Afghanistan profoundly and directly influences the South Asian strategic environment in general and threatens Pakistan’s national security. However, it is equally dangerous for Chinese, Eurasians, Europeans, and Americans. The politico-economic instability in Afghanistan provides motivation and sanctuary to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Similarly, anarchy in the country provides shelter and maneuvering space for the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda, and Daesh.
Indeed, it is not in the international community’s interest that Afghanistan once again becomes a sanctuary for international militant organizations. However, Americans’ focus on their global geostrategic agenda and increasing rivalry with China is pushing Afghanistan’s stability to the back burner.
Instead of practically working with Pakistan to steward Afghanistan out of the crisis, American policymakers are incriminating Pakistan. For example, the Biden administration announced that it judged the new Taliban regime in Afghanistan by its actions, and that the same standard applied to Pakistan. The linking of the Pakistan-US relationship with the Taliban’s government policy is frustrating for the Pakistani leadership.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said the Islamabad-Washington relationship was terrible during the last two decades and that he desired to constitute normal relations. However, instituting such a relationship in the prevailing global strategic environment seems impossible.
In the end, it remains true that neither Pakistan nor the US wants to see a resurgence of Al-Qaeda or Daesh offshoots in Afghanistan. Therefore, both sides need to chalk out a sustainable long-term multidimensional cooperative rather than a transactional policy-focused firmly on their mutual interests and unrestrained from their geostrategic pursuits in South Asia.
*Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal