Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif has been playing caped crusader, flitting from regional capital to regional capital. And all because Pakistan needs as many allies on side in the face of Trump’s belligerence on Afghan security. Thus far, it has gone rather well.
Following Chinese support — albeit after a somewhat faltering start — we now have Iran backing us. The two sides have said that there can be no military solution to the Afghan conflict. Which almost tempts us to say: hold the front page. But given how successive American administrations have been stalling on this front for the last 16 years, we may just hold off on the sarcasm. For now. Both sides have also noted that regional players, given their vital stakes in a peaceful Afghanistan, should play a more pro-active role in the peace efforts. Which, of course, is how it should be. A shame, therefore, that this sounds akin to asking for permission for this from the big boys at the White House.
Semantics aside, we don’t know whether to be hopeful or to shake our head in despair. Not because we don’t support the Pak-Iranian communiqué. But because this is what Gen (rtd) Musharraf had called for back in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Indeed, during a joint press conference at the time he even managed to get Colin Powell to begrudgingly agree. Yet still the stalemate continues.
Why is it that the US has shied away from a political exit strategy from the Afghan quagmire of its own making? It surely can’t be as simple as, in George W Bush’s worlds, that it doesn’t do nation building. Though to be fair, it seems that this was one occasion where the latter was not misspeaking. We have seen the same thing in Iraq — another illegal war — that that was characterised by the likes of Halliburton and others striking oil to get rich quick. Quite literally. Which brings us to the question of the long reported US desire to secure a full-time military presence across the border, which may or may not be supported by ambitions to establish a handful of permanent military bases on this side, in Balochistan.
But let’s get back to what we do know. The Pak-Iranian joint position must be welcomed. And Pakistan should be well aware of the price-tag that Tehran’s support brings with it. The latter will want to see Islamabad back it against any American-fuelled machinations within the Islamic Military Alliance framework. We should not hesitate on this front, especially given how the IAEA has this week assessed that Iran is playing by the nuclear rulebook regarding its civilian energy programme. Which means that we should be able to better weather the inevitable backlash from Washington. Moreover, we should be grateful for this apparent Iranian responsibility — especially following Musharraf’s recent trafficking bombshell. Thus we should be sufficiently prudent to understand the value of this investment in terms of supporting Iran against US huffing and puffing. For Donald Trump has no chance of blowing either of our houses down.*
Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2017.