“Both India and Pakistan gained from the US military intervention in Afghanistan, albeit in different ways. Both will face problems, though in diverse forms, after the US military exits Afghanistan”, says the author.
In the midst of widespread terrorist violence, the Nawaz Sharif Government in Pakistan has been trying to reconcile with the perpetrators of such violence through dialogue. Ever since his victory in the Pakistani national election, Prime Minister Sharif has not hidden his attempt to make peace with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – a coalition of diverse groups of militants in the country.
The TTP, also known as Pakistani Taliban, is a distinct entity from the Afghan Taliban, which are the creation of the Pakistani ruling establishment; but the Pakistani Taliban are the declared enemy of the Pakistani Government. The Afghan Taliban ruled Afghanistan with the full support of Islamabad for about five years and sought to establish an extreme form of Islamic rule over that country. Taking cue from its Afghan counterpart, the Pakistani Taliban have vowed to establish a similar form of Islamic rule in Pakistan and naturally the call has given migraine to the Pakistani establishment.
Although, the Pakistan Army, the ISI, various Islamic groups and Pakistani political parties have never been averse to the creation of an Islamic State with a Constitution and a judicial system based on Sharia Law in Afghanistan, but the same is not acceptable at home. Paradoxically, the TTP demands the implementation of Sharia Law and regards the current Pakistani Constitution as un- Islamic, but the Government has sought to negotiate peace with the TTP only under the terms and conditions of the country’s Constitution.
The irony is successive Pakistani Governments have been rewarded as well as coerced by the United States to cooperate in the war against the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but the Pakistan Army and the ISI have half-heartedly sided with the US and have kept their lines of communication and assistance open with sections of Taliban fighters, particularly the Haqqani Group. Pakistan’s clandestine support to selected groups of the Afghan Taliban and open war against the TTP is a double-edged sword that threatens Pakistan’s continued existence as a unified political entity.
Other groups of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP seem to have combined their efforts to uphold their ideology giving nightmares to Islamabad. The sanctuaries TTP allegedly enjoys on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border are obviously under the protection of the Afghan Taliban and not the Karzai Government. As the United States prepares for the exit of its military from Afghanistan, Islamabad has no option but to fight a lone battle against elements of the Afghan Taliban and the TTP.
The danger that Pakistan military perhaps perceives comes from the well demonstrated capability of the Afghan Taliban to withstand the might of the American and NATO forces. American departure from Afghanistan will surely inspire the TTP as well to pursue its own goals of Italianization of the entire Pakistani society. While the Afghan Taliban is fighting the occupant Americans on their soil, the TTP has waged a war against both the Pakistani Government and the Americans.
Three USrelated demands of the TTP as conditions to sign peace deal with the Pakistani Government happen to be: putting a full stop to US drone attacks, Pakistan’s withdrawal from US-led war on terrorism, and breaking of “all relations” with the United States. For all practical purposes, it appears to be an ultimatum to the Nawaz Sharif Government to choose sides between TTP and the United States. However, the first two demands are not difficult to achieve. Americans may terminate drone attacks after their military depart from Afghanistan.
After 2014, there will be no US war on terrorism, at least in this part of Asia, and therefore Washington will not need Pakistani cooperation. But by demanding to end all relations with the US, the TTP is asking for the moon! Yet another duplicity that has landed Islamabad in trouble is clandestine permission to the CIA to launch drone attacks against selected targets and then publicly complain against the US “highhandedness”. Pakistan’s helplessness in tackling the TTP-inspired violence in the country is clearly discernible. The TTP is clearly more fearful of the US drone attacks then the Pakistani security forces.
Can Pakistan stem the spread of the TTP influence and its control to large parts of Pakistan after the US ceases its drone operations? This is a Herculean task. Yet another puzzle in coming years will be Pakistan’s ability to draw foreign assistance after the US withdraws from Afghanistan. Billions of dollars of US money that flowed into the country is simply going to dry up. Rampant instability in the country and the lack of resources may immerse Pakistan in a whirlpool that could further embolden the TTP. All these possibilities have made it imperative for the Nawaz Sahrif Government to reach out to militant groups in general and the TTP in particular for reconciliation.
The United States started the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and subsequently extended it to Pakistan under the Obama Administration. But the Obama Administration first ended its military intervention in Iraq, and is now planning to exit from Afghanistan. With the Af-Pak strategy gone, America’s tactical alliance with Islamabad will most likely finish off. The world has witnessed the fate of Iraq after the termination of US military operations. The situation will most likely replicate in the Af-Pak region. The fallout of instability in this region will be enormous on India. Rubbing salt into its wounds, India can do little to promote peace within Pakistan. Moreover, India’s soft power will be endangered in Afghanistan post 2014. If the militancy prevails, Pakistani State may just implode.
However, even if the Nawaz Sharif Government manages a peace accord, the danger to India will be no less. Islamabad may just try to divert the ire of these militant groups towards India. The time has actually come for Islamabad and New Delhi to cooperate in tackling terrorism together, especially because the US will most likely wash its hands off regional terrorist activities. Pakistan’s peace and prosperity partly hinges on its peaceful ties and constructive cooperation with India.
But the psychological baggage and negative historical legacy needs to be cleaned before one can think of such a scenario. Both India and Pakistan gained from the US military intervention in Afghanistan, albeit in different ways. Both will face problems, though in diverse forms, after the US military’s exit. Self-help in the region and abiding faith in bilateralism perhaps holds the answer.