Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Re: Afghanistan - a welcome admission

The Leader of the Opposition in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has called his own policies towards Afghanistan, which were in force when he was Prime Minister, a mistake.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan should stop trying to influence affairs in Afghanistan, the opposition leader said Tuesday, while admitting that the pro-Afghan Taliban policy he pursued when he was prime minister in the 1990s was a failure.
In an interview with Pakistan's Dunya TV that aired Monday and Tuesday, Sharif appeared to renounce a policy he pursued with vigor while twice prime minister in the 1990s.
''Pakistan should abandon this thinking that Pakistan has to keep influence in Afghanistan,'' said Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. ''Neither will they accept influence, nor should the pro-influence-minded people here insist on it.''
''Our policy in the past has failed. Neither will such a policy work in future. We have a centuries-old relationship, and we can maintain this relationship only when we remain neutral and support the government elected there with the desire of the Afghan people.''
Whether Nawaz Sharif's admission will have any positive, practical effect on the current situation in Afghanistan remains to be seen.

What was the cost of that mistaken policy?
While Pakistan’s participation in a proxy war against an invading Soviet Army was unavoidable, Pakistan’s subsequent actions in Afghanistan once USSR and the USA had withdrawn turned out to be grossly irresponsible. As Pakistani decision makers strived to create a strategic depth by fusing Pashtun nationalism with religious fanaticism, they opened a Pandora box of religious fanaticism that Pakistan itself hardly understood. The policy resulted in lost decade for Afghanistan where more civilians were killed in a few years of the early 1990s than the total casualties in the whole of the 1980s decade.

This thoughtless and irresponsible strategy resulted in the backing of some of the most despised and ruthless Afghan commanders like Hikmatyaar and Haqqani who feuded and bombed their previous allies. Cities were destroyed as Pakistan continued backing one horse after another. When Pakistan settled with the illiterate and fervently religious Taliban who were manufactured en masse in the teeming madrassahs in the Pakistani cities and towns, Pakistan had finally betted on an increasingly paranoid short term strategy that sacrificed Afghanistan’s future and even Pakistan’s own long term interests in the name of the strategic depth.   - from Pakteahouse

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