Sir Winston Churchill once said “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities”. Judging by recent developments in Afghanistan, that quote is likely still true. The American are likely to stumble to the right thing to do, which, is this case would be to create and fund an Economic Treaty Organization between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that will create all the elements of mutual blackmail by tying together long term economic interests of all the parties involved, thus in time elevating it to the higher level of friendship.
After a long and expensive war with many options being tried out along the way, three choices that were reportedly offered to Gen Kayani by the White House were A) kill the Haqqani leadership, or B) help us kill them, or C) persuade them to join a peaceful, democratic Afghan government.
On initial glance, it does seem more flexible than the stark “Either you are with us or against us” non-choice choice offered to Gen Musharraf by President Bush, but it is not most assuredly. Considering that A and B are really the same, no matter who does the killing, the choice is really between being destroyed or playing ball, i.e. “Either you are dead, or you participate in the process”, and implicit in both choices is the message to give up on terrorism as a policy from the US point of view.
After making the US realize that that Pakistan was not likely carry out any military operation against the Haqqani group nor could U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan succeed without the Haqqani group being neutralized, much to its credit, Pakistan was successful in bringing the Haqqanis to the negotiating table, with Sirajuddin Haqqani acknowledging the US offer to participate in the Afghan government, perhaps even with his father Jalaludin Haqqani as the prime minister. The problems with this setup can be gauged from the words attributed to the senior Haqqani: “After so much killing of Afghans through Daisy Cutter bombs and like, shall I sit in the government under U.S. command?”, given that he is a patriarchal figure in an staunchly tribal society where the concept of reconciliation is as alien as the concept of revenge across generations is ancient.
These recent developments represent an important success for Pakistani policy to date. However, it is a limited success only in that it has the potential of creating an acceptable way forward for all parties, and is most definitely not a victory in the traditional sense of the word. It also represents a new round in a geopolitical process where the risks for Pakistan are increasing as well, and thus future Pakistani actions need, now more than ever, to be cognizant of ground realities and the longer term picture.
The reality is that Al-Qaida has been effectively demolished by the US attacks, and that was the prime goal that has been achieved. US policy will be now geared towards ensuring that it is denied the opportunity to regrow by preventing the return of the previous chaos of Taliban rule. This runs counter to the Pakistani hopes to retain their strategic depth concept by ensuring a pro-Pakistan Afghan setup post US departure, i.e. having the “good” Taliban back in power, and is further complicated by the fact that India clearly realizes this as a golden opportunity to create the foundations of pinching Pakistan from two sides should the opportunity to do so present itself, or indeed is created.
So what to do next? Much has already been said about the Indo-Pak rivalry and history, and how it affects the present conflict as well, but it is high time for a bold idea that takes it into account, and lays the basis for achieving US goals as well, based on the idea that “friendship is merely mutual blackmail elevated to a higher level”. The US should create and fund an Economic Treaty Organization between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India that will create all the elements of mutual blackmail by tying together long term economic interests of all the parties involved, thus in time elevating it to the higher level of friendship, as already stated above. The return on investment of such a plan is going to be far higher than cleaning up the mess afterwards, and anything less would fail to the detriment of all. After having exhausted all other possibilities, it is high time the Americans did the right thing. Countless millions are counting on it.