There is a very simple question that every Pakistani government official needs to ask the Americans: If you fail to pacify the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan, is it Pakistan’s responsibility to sever historical ties and wage war against them?
This is the mother of all questions because it deals with the issue of some, not all, of the Afghan Taliban using Pakistani territory to attack occupation armies in their country. Apparently this is the excuse the United States is using to expand its failed Afghan war into Pakistan. US officials say Pakistanis are unable to exercise sovereignty over their own territory. Then some here inside Pakistan – in politics and the media – use this argument to ask another question: isn’t Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban violating Pakistani sovereignty by using our border-pockets as hideouts away from action inside Afghanistan? This argument is used to justify US violations of the Pak-Afghan international border. If the Afghan Taliban can do it, why not the US military? So the justification goes.
Pakistan still has time to come out strongly with two arguments at policy level. One, there is no way of completely stopping Pakistani Pakhtuns, who are an integral part of the Pakistani nation, from sympathising with the Pakhtuns in Afghanistan. And two, the US must solve the ‘Pakhtun problem’ inside Afghanistan. The solution is not by starting a war between the Pakistani military – manned in substantial part by the Pakhtuns – and Pakistani Pakhtun tribes or some of the Afghan Taliban, like the so-called Haqqani network. This will not fix the toy the Americans broke in Afghanistan.
In other words: what is it the US is doing wrong in Afghanistan to spur Pashtun and Taliban resistance, including pushing some of them inside Pakistan? And should Pakistan respond by killing these Pakhtuns because the US says so?
There are two more strong arguments that can strengthen a Pakistani policy review, which is overdue nine years into a failed war.
One is the fact that the Pakhtun and Taliban resistance against occupation in Afghanistan is not a function of the Pakistani tribal areas. The US military dare not claim that Pakistan’s devastated tribal belt is alone responsible for the rout facing US, NATO and ISAF forces across Afghanistan. But this is what the Americans imply when they shift the world focus to Pakistan without anyone from the Pakistani side disputing this twisted American logic.
And the second argument has to do with Al-Qaeda. Pakistan needs to dispute American claims about the quality and strength of Al-Qaeda presence in the Pakistani tribal belt. London’s International Institute of Strategic Studies is not exactly a den of antiwar activism. In a report last month, the think-tank questioned the US-policy line that Al-Qaeda can muster attacks anywhere outside Afghanistan or Pakistan.
If anything, we are seeing a US-occupied Afghanistan becoming a magnet for unknown terrorists from multiple backgrounds and questionable loyalties using Afghan soil to enter our tribal belt, as in the case of the Germans involved in the alleged Mumbai-style Europe-terror plot. Washington is conveniently using these conspiracy theories to expand its war onto Pakistani territory without any credible evidence.
Pakistan does not have a quarrel with the Afghan Pakhtuns or the Afghan Taliban. The latest US reports and assertions that Pakistan’s spy agencies maintain contacts with either are ridiculous. Islamabad must maintain those contacts. In fact, we must expand contacts with the Afghan Taliban in view of the double game the United States played with us in Afghanistan over the last eight years, where it turned Kabul into an Anti-Pakistan Central and deliberately expanded and continues to encourage Indian presence on our western borders.
The American duplicity extends to peace talks. Washington wants us to enter into a war with Afghanistan’s Pakhtuns while it secretly establishes contacts and tries to win them over behind Pakistan’s back. The same argument extends to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Kashmiri groups. Islamabad can’t shower bombs upon Kashmiris who decide to become part of LeT or support their kin resisting Indian atrocities in Kashmir. The solution there too is for India to resolve its own problems. Its festering occupation in Kashmir, like the festering American occupation in Afghanistan, is breeding a two-way violence that first and foremost de-stabilises Pakistan. Our answer can’t be to send troops to crack down on Pakhtuns and Kashmiris. others need to answer for their actions that are destabilising Pakistan and the region.