To stabilize Afghanistan, US needs to review its China-Pakistan policy
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to arrive in Pakistan on September 5 to meet newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan. He will then proceed to India for the first India-US 2+2 dialogue among Pompeo, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
With his military background and having held the post of director of the Central Intelligence Agency from January 2017 to April 2018, Pompeo is likely to be fully aware of how Imran Khan earned the title of “Taliban Khan.” Also, he is likely to have insights into any support for Khan from Pakistan’s military in the run-up to the July elections.
Pompeo’s visit to Pakistan comes in the wake of the Taliban attack on Ghazni, Afghanistan, a replay of the attack on Kunduz in 2015, which saw heavy fighting and the deaths of more than 200 Afghan security-forces personnel.
With some 1,000 Taliban attacking the city of Ghazni on four fronts, Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said the Taliban had been supported by foreign militants, including Pakistanis, Chechens and Arabs; 194 militants were killed and 167 injured, and the bodies of Pakistanis killed in the battle were moved to Pakistan.
In 2001, the US permitted an air evacuation of a weak Pakistani division-sized force and 9,000 Pakistani Taliban fighting along with those from Kunduz and Khost when the US invaded Afghanistan. During that evacuation, Pakistan allegedly brought along hundreds of Afghan Taliban whom it has used to wage proxy war in Afghanistan.
The argument that the Taliban attack on Ghazni again makes Pakistan a useful ally of the US is absurd. It is quite likely that the attack was supported by Pakistan. Afghan intelligence has repeatedly reported about Pakistani proxies and regulars involved in attacks. Enraged over alleged direct involvement by the Pakistan Army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Afghan clerics even called for jihad against Pakistan.
In 2016, James Clapper, then the director of the CIA, admitted that the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban had coalesced but that it was the Haqqanis, the veritable arm of Pakistan’s ISI, who facilitated this. After years of negotiating with the Taliban, including through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, believing that Pakistan will help the Taliban reconcile is wishful thinking. In 2014, a talk in London by General Assad Durrani, former deputy general of ISI, left little doubt that Pakistan’s aim in Afghanistan was to influence the country through the Taliban and its allies.
The increase in attacks in Kabul are a evidence of this – an effort fully supported by China. No Chinese ventures have faced terror attacks in Afghanistan despite the covert presence of the People’s Liberation Army. China and Pakistan both want the Americans and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization out of Afghanistan.
In last months elections, Pakistan’s military didn’t favor Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari because they have opposed them for years. As president, Zardari ordered that ISI be brought under the Ministry of Interior, but the military made him withdraw those orders. Similarly, Sharif came into military’s crosshairs when he began asserting himself and indicated that he wanted better relations with India.
Whereas Imran Khan as the prime minister negates opposition to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he can continue gaming economics while foreign and defense policies continue to be dictated by the military, as always.
But the military doesn’t need Khan or any other prime minister to continue proxy wars in Afghanistan and India. The Ghazni attack on the eve of Khan’s oath-taking indicated what the military wants.
The Taliban has fired rockets at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, and more violence should be expected. The US was close to Pakistan during the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization-Central Treaty Organization days and when the “global war on terror” was launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001. But for more than a decade, most US/NATO casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by the Pakistan-supported Taliban-Haqqanis, their proxies and regulars operating in Afghanistan.
Ironically, there is probably a section on Capitol Hill and in the CIA that still believes Pakistan will correct its ways. This comes at a time when Pakistan seems to be fast becoming a province of China.
Also, if President Donald Trump was trying to wean Russia away from China, then the US sanctions on Iran and Russia and the trade war have, in turn, combined China, Russia and Iran in supporting the Taliban, with Pakistan continuing its muscle support. This makes the US-NATO stay in Afghanistan much more difficult.
Concurrently, it is also likely that Pakistan is aware of China’s debt trap. As Pakistan looks for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund for the 13th time, Pompeo has warned that such a bailout will be viewed as aiding China. Yet this may not be enough. It is time the US seriously looked at China and Pakistan as impediments to peace in Afghanistan, rather than as allies.
Additionally, Balochistan instead of Pakistan would certainly be a better supply route to maintain US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, since the US has reservations on Chabahar due to the US-Iran estrangement. Unless China and Pakistan are made to look inward, this nexus bodes more danger for the region and for the global order.