If Pakistan has learned anything — it is that times change and that we need to keep up. This means, among other things, recognising that our policy position of the 1980s vis-à-vis the United States in Afghanistan are no longer applicable today, at the close of 2017. Indeed, it was in our national interest to have put these to bed long ago. A fact to which the recent Track Two dialogue bears testament. Prior to that Afghan war, Pakistan was a cohesive Islamic state, with strong Sufi influences. It may be hard to believe today – but back then we had no ethnic unrest. In fact, we have the University of Nebraska to thank for engineering this and other structural changes to our society by way of its pro-jihad curriculum reform of 1984-1994. What none of us was able to anticipate at the time was 9/11 its aftermath. This act of terrorism saw the fates of Pakistan and Afghanistan intertwined once more, with the US looming large in the background. Once more. This time it was the latter that ‘lured’ us into the quagmire next door. For Washington we held the key: a neighbouring country with considerable insight of Pakhtoon traditions, rites and the ability to identify a handful of significant ‘enemy combatants’ and lead the US to them. And so it was that we got sucked into this gross misadventure; this war that, despite the Soviet departure from Afghanistan, has proved the most damaging to the very fabric of Pakistani society. Over the last decade, Pakistan has developed better ties with China and Russia instead of depending solely on the US. No longer, then, is Pakistan’s path to be guided by someone else’s war. Rather, boosting economic development and trade is the key to progress and self-reliance We, the citizenry, are oblivious to what is actually done in the name of realpolitik. There is little access to what is discussed within the corridors of power, or even what the Foreign Office mandate is, if in fact, such a department exists. The sad truth is that we gleam more from Washington press statements about current US policy on Pakistan. This, in turn, shapes our reactions when, in reality, these should be borne of a vibrant political discourse. Our leadership has always adopted key words to brush off American belligerence. And it is barely mentioned again until, perhaps, a visit takes places in which demands are made of us to do more. Or else, in the run-up to US elections to choose the next president. Much like our Indian neighbour, the world’s lone superpower, too, feels that Pakistan-bashing is intrinsically linked to winning votes. If Kashmir is at the fore of political debates — likewise is Afghanistan. So, how do Pakistanis feel at the end of the pre-election power struggle? Relieved, in a word. Once the polling fever subsides, realities begin to emerge and the new civilian set-up sets about complying with Washington. For it is easier than resolving vital issues, which brings with it immense consequences, none of which is desired. Therefore the delusion that rhetoric alone achieves concrete results is born. But being cast in the role of perpetual scapegoat has become a little tiring for Pakistanis. Those who live overseas feel the direct impact of this, often on a daily basis, whilst those pursuing business or education opportunities abroad face hurdle after hurdle. Bluntly put, Pakistanis feel both humiliated and marginalised. Have we not suffered enough for our leaders’ misguided policies? Already these have lost us more than 70,000 in both civilian and military lives. And still terror reigns over our cities and streets. In other words, the US-led war in Afghanistan has had disastrous consequences for far too long. Our society has changed. And not for the better. Instead of progressing we have regressed. Not only have we lost precious lives, the opportunity cost when it comes to our businesses has been billions of dollars. And then we have also dealt with massive influxes of refugees as well as a radicalised society. Put in layman terms we have lost the equilibrium that makes for a thriving society. Instead we have had to endure the infiltration of arms: from the Americans to the Russians to the Indians. And these are placed in the hands of the merciless. We have also seen what happens when dollars are paid to those who are for sale. This is to say nothing of the steady flow of mercenaries, criminals, foreign agents and spies within our borders. And yet again, it is us, the ordinary citizens who have borne the too high costs of aligning with the Americans in Afghanistan. Almost every family within the length and breadth of this country has suffered the impact of seeing a life cut short, either on the battlefield or by terrorist attacks or those carried out by criminals in the towns and cities. Security is a luxury long gone. If a Trump White House feels the need to re-evaluate what it sees as the national interest – Pakistan must do the same. We have endured relentless jibes over our so-called duplicity. That the same applies to all stakeholders in this war is no exaggeration. If sanctuaries exist in Pakistan, the major pawns can be found anywhere in the world. But most certainly in Afghanistan where they are being well nurtured. Thus it becomes clear that the Americans have followed in the footsteps of the British Raj before them. Meaning, that what it comes down to is this: buying and selling; arms supplied, drugs bought. The Great Game revolves round money and power. In 2011, the US attempted to bring Pakistan to its knees by way of sanctions. Yet the result was renegotiations. Simply because the cheapest and shortest road to Afghanistan is via this country. The Americans only came to the table when supplies or the lack thereof to US troops next door threatened to become embarrassing . . . we heard it being whispered that the lavatory paper ran out. The horror. We also heard it – though in much less hushed tones — that Washington was intent on protecting its troops. Which naturally begs the question: how effective can a military be when it needs ‘protection’ fighting a war? A war of the US’ own making let us not forget. Is this what the American tax payer is funding? It is no small wonder, then, that the 16-year-long war in Afghanistan has yielded little results. For more than a decade-and-a-half aerial attacks have been used to target jihadi operatives. Failure on this front to achieve any lasting peace has now prompted Trump to formally usher India centre stage. That our eastern neighbour has been meddling in the immediate neighbourhood is well known. What, however, remains to be seen is whether or not India will sacrifice its foot soldiers in order to protect US troops. Which brings to mind the pertinent question posed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)) chairman. Following Trump’s anti-Pakistan diatribe, Imran Khan asked this: how come tens of thousands of soldiers armed with the most sophisticated surveillance in the world have been unable to defeat a couple of thousands of terrorists? It makes no sense. Unless, of course, one begins to question the will to tackle the militants, and not the ability. As a result of President Trump’s disdainful speech on Pakistan – the people of this country are more than happy to exit the Afghan quagmire that was not of our making. Far more prudent to turn our attention towards the new avenues of opportunity that have emerged in a recently altered geo-economic landscape. Over the last decade, the Pakistani state apparatus has undertaken the crucial challenge of developing better ties with China and Russia instead of depending solely on the US bilateral relationship. This strategy is already well underway, with economic roadmaps negotiated to benefit all. No longer is Pakistan’s path to be guided by someone else’s war. Rather, boosting economic development and trade is the key to progress and self-reliance. The resolve to change the status quo is now visible for all to see. The writer, a former journalist, is a political activist, writer, avid traveller as well as committed cat person. She can be reached at email@example.com and tweets @TalathNaqvi Published in Daily Times, September 28th 2017.