It’s not easy being Rex Tillerson. Especially when he has to fly into this country to do the bidding of an apprentice-president whom he may or may not have described as a ‘moron’. For let us be clear, the American call that Pakistan must do more to flush out terrorist safe-havens from its soil is a tough sell. Not because this country’s leadership doesn’t hold much store by this. But, rather, due to the impossibly miscalculated expectations that this brings with it. Pakistan has rightly said time and again that it will not allow itself to be scape-goated by the US over its failure to exit the Afghan quagmire of its own making. And sudden murmurings by the Secretary of State about the benevolence of an empire that also wants to see a secure and stable Pakistan just won’t cut it. Not as an afterthought. Not as policy. For the underlying message remains the same: that we represent the core of the problem. Yet all sides need to re-imagine this picture. For at a time when Pakistan had been urging the Taliban to jog on over to Muscat to talk peace the latter chose to unleash untold violence on Afghanistan that left some 250 dead in total. This was a clear message on two fronts. Firstly, there was no question of it playing ball when none of its pre-peace conditions were under consideration. Secondly, it wanted everyone to know that it had emerged from behind Pakistan’s shadow of influence. All of which means that there now has to be a greater understanding of just what Pakistan’s reach is and what the US burden of responsibility should look like. Many pundits have pointed out that there is a large element within the Afghan Taliban that is up for peace talks. Yet where they disagree is on what the stumbling block is. For some, the ratcheted up Taliban offensive against Kabul is indicative of a militant outfit on the run and lashing out at increased American airpower. This, they say, is proof of the Trump strategy’s success. Meaning that after 16 long years and more than $700 billion spent in Afghanistan — a resurgent Taliban ‘lashing out’ is the only sign that the US is winning in that country. Yet Pakistan should take it. For it seems that Washington doesn’t actually need us; not with the bar set so low. And especially not when reports of the Afghan National Army simply handing over arms to the Taliban is not seen by the administration as being particularly problematic. What would be more worrisome, they say, is if the latter were somehow procuring these on its own. In other words the current state of play in Afghanistan looks something like this: Washington and the Taliban are essentially mirroring each other’s tactics, with both sides saying they want peace while continuing to drop bombs. Yet even here it is the insurgents that have the upper hand. Meaning that when the Americans call on the Afghan government to do more in terms of good governance and law enforcement, what it is actually talking about is nation building. Yet given that the occupying military power has failed to secure the country — Taliban calls that it should cut-and-run so that Afghans can rebuild their nation no longer seem unduly far-fetched. * Published in Daily Times, October 25th 2017.