Christine Fair, an American foreign policy and international relations expert, is regarded as a bitter enemy of Pakistan by many but in my opinion she does something that most Pakistani scholars, politicians and academics fear doing — speaking the truth. There isn’t much doubt that she’s turned into a vehement critic of Pakistan and could be biased in her approach on how she looks at the affairs of the country. But instead of analysing her criticism to either dismiss it as a product of her imagination or to draw lessons for future policy-making, we’ve resorted to calling her names like an Indian tout, American loud mouth, etc. In her piece published in the Herald last month, she opined that there’d be no Pakistani Taliban had Pakistan not created proxies in Afghanistan, nurtured the Afghan Taliban and that Pakistan has lost more in the war than it has gained for follies like strategic depth. Her question whether strategic depth in Afghanistan is more important or security at home, despite sounding naïve and simplistic, is quite powerful in estimating the real value of the doctrine of strategic depth. Not only is Afghanistan unstable, but it has since fallen in the hands of the country that Pakistan allegedly vowed to pit it against; India. The Indian military assistance to Afghanistan has increased on a yearly basis which has pleased the American government but has also brought Afghanistan, or atleast a few of its cities, under the Indian influence. In the developing situation, not only have the US interests aligned with India, in fact the administration in Washington is striving to buy a greater ownership for India in Afghanistan. Pakistan, in the meanwhile, has shown an unwavering commitment to its incumbent Afghan policy which has consistently failed to produce the desired results. And therefore, Imran Khan, Khawaja Asif and other Pakistani leaders who’ve come out to condemn the recent outburst from the American President by reminding him of the losses that Pakistan has borne in the war against terror, have done so by being completely oblivious to the mistakes that Pakistan has made to bring itself into the situation that it now finds itself in. The country’s senior leadership needs to understand that Pakistan has lost less to the Taliban, Indian conspiracies or the persistent ‘do more’ orders from the US and more to the follies that it has committed in Afghanistan and the region at large. According to one opinion, the biggest folly was supporting the Afghans during the Russian war and accommodating thousands of their refugees in its aftermath. Certainly, Pakistan has fought a thankless war for nearly 3 decades and has collected nothing but losses. A non-interventionist and neutral policy in the region especially when it came to military interventions must have been pursued at the very least. That would have allowed it to concentrate on the larger trade and economic objectives and by virtue of that, not only would’ve Pakistan become a more potent challenge to the economically powerful India, but would also have ensured human development and better lives and prosperity for people living within its own territorial limits. Imran Khan, Khawaja Asif and other Pakistani leaders have condemned the recent outburst from the American President by reminding him of the losses that Pakistan has suffered in the war against terror. However, these leaders seem to be completely oblivious to the mistakes that have led Pakistan to the point where it is right now An estimate of the losses that Pakistan has borne in the war yields that it’s come to lose more than 60,000 innocent lives. According to the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s press briefing on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in January 2017, the economic losses, have been in the ballpark of 100 Billion. Strategic depth was meant to use the Afghan soil to avenge the Indian proxies in Bangladesh and keep a constant check on Shia-dominated Iran. But as the two countries prosper economically and India is now treated by the Americans with more benevolence, generosity and patronage, Pakistan stands to lose much more than it has gained and I have nothing but to agree with Dr. Fair. The Americans, our stated allies of the last six decades are pouring down threats on us and the Afghanis, whom the Pakistani establishment viewed as natural allies bonded by the unbreakable bonds of Islam and neighbourhood have become more increasingly hostile towards us. Pakistan’s gains in the war, if any, have not really surfaced. The current political division in the region viewed from an American lens is; the Americans, Indians and the Afghan government on one side and Pakistanis and Afghan militants on the other. The reality of such a division, especially Pakistan’s patronisation of militancy in Afghanistan is albeit questionable but a larger concern is how such divisive politics is expected to end the turmoil and anarchy in the region. Clearly, the Pakistani government continues to commit foreign policy mistakes vis-à-vis Afghanistan but to only use Pakistan’s foreign policy mistakes to understand the Af-Pak relationships is just naive, unfair and representative of a poor understanding of the politics of the region. Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan must not be understood in isolation and in a state of denial of the destabilising role that India continues to play in Afghanistan. And while Christine Fair could be correct with her estimations on the follies that Pakistan has committed in Afghanistan including the alleged support of certain militant groups, neither is the division outlined above nor Pakistan’s quoted ambitions to support the militants is correctly known and understood by the Americans. The corridors of power within the Indian militia and think tanks do probably understand Pakistan’s true concerns and ambitions’ in Afghanistan but clearly to concede to their own adventurism in the region and an official and open expression of Pakistan’s limitations in Afghanistan is not in their best diplomatic interest. To remain diplomatically relevant in the region and be able to isolate Pakistan internationally, India must play the savior card and continue to represent Pakistan as an aggressor in Afghanistan and with its robust media and better foreign policy research and development, it continues to do that with utmost ease and perfection. Pakistan has committed follies but so has India. However, within the international community, only Pakistan continues to be portrayed as an aggressor and a ‘safe havens’ of terrorism. Clearly, a fodder for thought and introspection for Pakistan’s functionaries at the foreign office. To put things into perspective, Pakistan had no option whatsoever to not get involved in the war post 9/11 and not because the United States would have decimated it if did not but because the porous borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the ethnic assimilations between the Pashtuns alongside the Durand line on both sides of the border and most importantly, Pakistan’s historic interventions in Afghanistan, that date back to the 70’s atleast if not 47, had matured quite significantly by the time 9/11 happened, and would have brought the war home to Pakistan anyway. And therefore, it was ‘sooner the better’ that the country got involved in the American conquest of Afghanistan to safeguard its own security interests. However, there were ways that the country could have mitigated its involvement in Afghanistan which it intentionally did not to use Afghanistan as a power balancer in the region and therefore committed the aforementioned follies. I see many Indian friends also blaming Pakistan for terrorism in Pakistan itself and the region. The popular Indian opinion is that Pakistan needs to be made accountable for nurturing the Afghan Taliban during the war against the Russians in the 80s and training militants that were dubbed ‘mujahideen’. Clearly, the Indian proxying in Bangladesh engendered the idea and impetus for proxying in other parts of the region and Pakistan’s actions could just be regarded as retaliatory. Christine Fair’s understanding of Pakistan-Afghan relations is not native and therefore could fairly be over-assumptive, inaccurate and fueled by media narratives. But is she wrong in saying that the proxy war Pakistan started fighting in Afghanistan was not during Afghan-Russia war of the 80’s. Infact, it goes back to the 70s when the doctrine of strategic depth was initially conceptualised following the fall of Dhaka in 1971 and the Bhutto regime started meddling in Afghanistan in the 70’s to use the vulnerable religious outfits as proxies that could avenge Pakistan’s losses to the great Indian conspiracy hatched in 71. Two narratives regarding the war on terror, Pak-US relationships and the growing hostility with Afghanistan, have surfaced. Both similar in being inaccurate and deliberate distortions of facts and history. One, which the PTI chief Imran Khan has advanced since 9/11. That the war in Afghanistan is not Pakistan’s war and it must abstain from becoming a party on either side as it will have the potential and outreach to spill over if matters get worse. The war has certainly spilled over to Pakistan and it had to because no matter how neutral Pakistan acted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan was part of the process in Afghanistan long before that and the war spilling over to Pakistan is in no way an outcome of its alliance with the US post-9/11 but because it was already part of it. Also not getting involved is not option now as much as it wasn’t then since at both times Pakistan already had stakes to look after in Afghanistan that were drawn much before 9/11 or even the Afghan war that peaked in the 80’s. The other, that since Pakistan has lost the most in the war, it can’t be blamed for anything that has gone wrong, especially with regards to progress made towards rooting out terrorism from the region. Clearly, the American concerns are not whether Pakistan has fueled terrorism within its own territory and understand that the country has put up a gallant war on fighting terrorism within its midst, the concern that the Pakistani leadership needs to address is whether Pakistan has provided safe havens to terrorists that continue to dismantle peace in the neighboring Afghanistan and India. And I’m afraid a mere reminder to the world on what we’ve lost in the war is not a satisfactory answer. Pakistan’s newly incumbent premier, Shahid Khaqan Abbassi relied on the same argument in his interviews to the center for foreign relations and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Pak-Afghan relationships have plunged to their lowest of the last few decades, infact the Afghan hostility towards Pakistan wasn’t as severe as this even in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings when Pakistan had allied with the US to provide it with aerial routes within its geographic territory to have bombing access into Afghanistan. But the question is not whether Pak-Afghan relations are as bad as they seem and whether the US would ultimately pull out of Afghanistan or cut military aid to Pakistan or not. The big question is whether Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan is as embarrassing a failure as it is in the opinion of experts like Dr Fair. And if this is the case, whether a review and reconsideration of the policy can ever happen. At the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, the positive reiterations from the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that his country would continue to trust and work alongside Pakistan for regional peace and security were neutralised by his subsequent referring to Pakistan as a safe havens of terrorism which is a phrase that hasn’t really sat well with the Pakistani public or its leadership who continue to recognise themselves as an anti-terror group that has borne the greatest sacrifices to bring peace and security to the war-ridden Af-Pak region. High-level talks on carving out a political process for peace have recently resumed between Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and President Ashraf Ghani. Simultaneously, the administrations in Washington and Islamabad led by Secretary Tillersen and Khawaja Asif have also resumed talks to mend the tattered relationships. It is however, yet to be seen if they can be any different from the inconclusive dialogues that have happened between the leadership of the three countries in the past. The writer is the Director of the Burki Institute of Public Policy (BIPP), University Lecturer in Economics. He’s an Alumni of the University of Guelph and York University, Canada. He tweets @AsadAijaz Published in Daily Times, October 18th 2017.