National Security

Strategic Setting & South Asia

By Rana Athar Javed

After years of trying to reach a victory in Afghanistan, we came to the conclusion that only a negotiated settlement with the help of regional partners, especially Pakistan can save the reputation of top class military alliance of the world. Ironically, the US which has been playing solitaire of peace cannot sustain its so-called status without partnering with Taliban in Afghanistan. The growing interest in al-Qaeda & company of North Africa and neutralizing Iranian nuclear ambitions is mirrored in the withdrawing planning of the US.

Nothing better exemplified for the signing off from Afghanistan than dispatching advance Special Operation Forces and technical support teams to Africa and Central Asia. In the past, disagreements and coercive diplomacy have become causes of missed opportunity of historical proportions; no superpower could carry out strategic calculation without looking two steps forward, but the US/NATO did not even prefer to be strategically creative. As one of the driving force behind Afghanistan’s miseries, the President Karzai’s government never fully engaged in resolving the basic issues of Afghan population, especially the rampant corruption of state officials.

Indeed, a year before the withdrawal of US/NATO combat troops from Afghanistan, motivation to rebuild Afghan society remains a matter of conjecture to this day. Consequently, all previous strategic thinking, which held the Taliban responsible for social fragmentation and destruction ceded only in exchange of “another” historic future uncertainty of a peaceful South Asia. Wrongly, the first step to implement “new” US strategic calculation, has begun with coercing Pakistan on the matter of Pak-Iran gas pipeline project, its negative impact on Pak-US relations and, again threatening for sanctions – without looking two steps forward that only an economically stable and prosperous Pakistan can sustain the share burden of establishing peace in Afghanistan.

Designing strategic setting in South Asia should not be programed without a peaceful Middle East; else this policy will be a step toward generating further hatred against the US and its Western allies, the civilian casualties, loss of control over energy and oil resources by natives, and thereby economic sufferings for billions of Asian population. With all the evidence of human and economic sufferings from Iraq and Libyan war projects, the new US diplomatic/defence and security team should devise a plan for the establishment of peace without opening up other war fronts.

The idea of withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014 therefore should also become a pedestal to unilaterally withdraw from the strategic zone of South Asia, because the declared US objective of peace requires a comprehensive role of regional powers. The roadmap for peace in wider South Asia needs ultimate reforms in the current mandate of Afghan government, and through addressing the out of control private contractor industry in the Afghan society.

It may also be at the expense of lesser physical presence of US forces on whom much of the NATO forces pinned its hopes, but toward the end of this year security situation in Afghanistan could become dismal – if the US or Israel engages Iran militarily OR international standing on the use of mercenaries and civil war as goals worth sponsoring “change of regimes” gets wider acclaim in the Western world. By going as far as the French and British troops went in Mali, and in a unilateral process opposition to a separate Palestine state by the major powers bloc would indicate unwillingness to sacrifice for a next peaceful decade.

The whole diplomatic process appears to be frozen on the matter of conflicts in almost every part of the world and hence the regular criticism of the US and West is that the major economic powers are just trying to offload from their responsibilities. Recognition of the limits of military action in mostly Muslim countries is now merged with the necessity to overcome domestic economic crises, and an apparent partial replacement of the US by China. Whereas, the mighty military force of the US and NATO is viewed as a source of vital strategic depth, the continuous violence, death and destruction brought by the major Western powers in different parts of the world is becoming more of a liability.

Previously, the US support to Pakistan and Afghanistan did not come cheaply; the current US approach should consider bearing responsibility of rebuilding economies of both countries that would have to be resolved within the framework of partnership. By withdrawing comprehensively from South/Central Asia will also directly impact the way US and NATO’s presence is perceived in the region, and hence the importance of diplomacy could be reinvigorated.

To be concluded, each day raises new and complex security issues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. To illustrate the ramifications of increased violence in the region, primarily diplomatic issues are being transformed as military problems. Similarly, the need to provide funds for electricity, gas, education and healthcare services to millions of inhabitants has become irrelevant for international organizations. For a peaceful strategic setting, demographic considerations by the US should become a procedure to engage the popular opinion on the regional peace.

Whereas, a negotiated settlement of Afghanistan would inevitably lead to promoting further peace in the region, with critical ramification for the international security, the importance of resolving the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan will help surmounting the political obstacles of the twentieth-century. If the original decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 would represent an historic step for peace, it is possible to synchronize the regional relations out of economic concerns for the future generations of South Asia.

The US and NATO cannot be confident of the way conflict zones are expanding because military presence of major powers, especially the US have impacted the lives of millions in the Middle East and South Asia. Hence, it is important to understand that growing gap between the US and its allies cannot be managed by threats and offensive diplomacy. Importantly, the future vulnerabilities require a balanced approach where all must work together in addressing the rapidly emerging economic, and energy needs of next generations.