Pakistan can assist Afghanistan

For Pakistan there is no choice but to take the lead in securing Afghanistan for the sake of its own security.
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By Farhan Bokhari.

The US battle to secure Afghanistan and turn it into a state that fits the parameters laid down by Washington is a losing one.

Washington’s publicly stated objectives are to wipe out Al Qaida and weaken the Taliban to the point where they are simply unable to challenge the authority of the Afghan state. However, the severe setbacks suffered by US and Nato forces in Afghanistan clearly demonstrate that a consolidation of the kind sought by the US-led western alliance may be impossible.

Harsh truth

In sharp contrast to the bold claims of western leaders in relation to consolidating their hold over Afghanistan, a realistic assessment is that the western alliance may at best be able to secure a reasonably face-saving exit from the country.

The body bags of western soldiers that have piled up in the past decade are making the Afghan war deeply unpopular in key western countries. Once the withdrawal from Afghanistan takes place, the only option will be a Pakistan-led security framework.

This will be the natural way forward for a region where the indigenous realities will have to be taken into account. Solutions cannot be dreamed up in one or more distant western capitals.

For the moment, Pakistan is busy with its own fight, targeting militants linked to the Taliban who have challenged the country’s authority. But Pakistan has the potential to help secure Afghanistan — and not just because of its long border with the country.

Pakistan’s suitability for the role stems from the fact that it shares with its neighbour a large Pashtun population, who straddle the border of the two countries. Many members of the Pashtun community fill key positions in Pakistan, including in the armed forces, the government and the private sector. Past military chiefs and presidents of the country have included members of this community too.

For Pashtuns, Pakistan has traditionally been a country where they have been given the opportunity to shine. In the 1970s, the idea of a separate state — ‘Pashtunistan’ — was propagated by hardcore nationalists. However, today the idea has very few supporters.

Fully assimilating the Pashtun into the mainstream has obvious benefits for Pakistan’s national unity and integrity. This could also provide the basis for a Pakistan-led Afghan security initiative.

Pakistan’s other strengths include a large national army that has combat experience on the Afghan border, leaving it well placed to accept wider responsibilities for similar engagements in the future.

Simply put, US and/or Nato troops are unwilling or unable to remain deployed in large numbers in Afghanistan for the long haul, while Pakistan simply cannot ignore the fate of its neighbour.

For Pakistan, there is no choice but to take the lead in securing Afghanistan for the sake of its own security. In the absence of such a determined effort by Islamabad — backed by the western alliance — the Taliban will be able to continue to challenge the authority of Pakistan.

Economically stretched

So far, there are few signs of a robust global commitment to support Pakistan’s needs — and especially its economic needs. For now, Pakistan is battling an increasingly challenging domestic economic environment while its military takes on militants along the Afghan border.

There is no immediately obvious solution to Pakistan’s problems. However, a start would be for the members of the so-called Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) to finally deliver on their promises of a year ago to provide more than $5 billion (Dh18.4 billion) in aid.

The failure of the FoDP countries to keep their promises has now naturally become the butt of many jokes on Pakistan’s streets, where anti-western sentiment is already at a record high.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.

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