US-Af-Pak tripartite interests: Time is running out!
Amidst reports of an anti-Taliban insurgency in the provinces of Ghazni, Paktia, Kunar, Nuristan and Laghman gaining strength, time for Pakistan’s clay-footed policymakers is running out fast. The restless provinces of Kunar and Nuristan are registering signs of a coordinated anti-Taliban militancy led by the former Mujahideen commanders.
While it looks increasingly possible that US-led Nato forces and IEDs could eventually pull off something resembling a military victory on which to build a negotiated settlement with the hostile forces, the Pakistani defence establishment seems to be frozen in the past. While Pakistan decided to run endless talk shows analysing the pros and cons of a North Waziristan operation, Washington is fed up with the waiting game and is in the process of preparing for and delivering a final blow to the insurgent Taliban factions.
During all these years, Pakistan had the luxury of choosing the way forward in its Afghan policy. It could have shunned the guerrillas choking their supply lines and moved fast in its own national interest which would have attracted immediate dividends. The anti-Taliban operation across the tribal areas would have made Pakistani cities and towns more secure. The prestige of the Pakistani armed forces would have increased to an image of a responsible regional power in the eyes of the international community and Islamabad could have been in a position to press for its own terms of engagement. The economic benefits and market access could also have come as a natural windfall. In the absence of bilateral trade and foreign investment, however, the Pakistani economy is grinding to a halt.
Today the world is questioning the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and is worried about the possibility of these falling in the hands of Taliban and other extremist forces. More than 30,000 civilian and security personnel have been killed during this time. The policy has given rise to extremism and radicalism in Pakistani society which looks to fall in the lap of ultra-orthodox forces who are patrons of the Taliban. It looks increasingly possible that the Afghan endgame will be played with or without Pakistani support and Pakistan’s seat on the negotiating table could be dictated by other players, including India.
They say time and tide waits for none. It can’t be any different this time round.
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