US Relations with Afghanistan & Pakistan

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US Relations with Afghanistan & Pakistan


Same Old Ball Game

Reviewed By Farhan Siddiqi

The book under review brings forth an analysis of American relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan since 9/11. However, the treatment of the issue goes further than the title of the book suggests.

In analysing the American Imperium in the region, the writer brings forth the policies of two countries destined to play an increasingly important role in the South Asian region, that is, India and China. In fact, the author suggests that the US strategy in the future will revolve around China and India (not Pakistan and Afghanistan) and that both Pakistan and Afghanistan will be asked to help the US as its strategy takes shape in the region. The theoretical focus of the book is mired within the confines of political realism.

Thus, throughout the book, states are treated as unitary actors with questions of security being dealt within the paradigm of national and state security and strategy.

Going by recent and not-so-recent trends, the American policy towards India is that of engagement and that with respect to China, it is veering towards containment. India will assume a key role as the American strategy of containment towards China is played out in the future.

This, one must add, has always been the case ever since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war when the United States supplied arms to India against Communist China at the height of the Cold War. Moreover, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Americans continued to supply enriched uranium for the Tarapur nuclear power plant in India in order to assuage Indian fears that the military balance in South Asia was tilting towards Pakistan.

The author contends that successive American administrations, whether Republican or Democrat, look towards India as the future leader in the region. Their interests, especially since 9/11, coincide with each other. Both states have been victims of terrorism of the same variety and profess a common outlook in defeating the menace.

The American bent towards India is manifest with respect to a number of indicators including, most importantly, the much touted nuclear deal. American closeness to India irks Pakistan and the author notes one very interesting remark by a US senator. As the Pakistanis complained of the special preference for India, the senator quipped: ‘If you want to be treated like India, be like India’.

The Karzai administration, known for being corrupt and inefficient, does not bode well for the functioning of the newly engineered democracy. It is not surprising that the Taliban have re-emerged in the Pakhtoon belt in the south and continue to present a major challenge to the government of Afghanistan and NATO forces.

On the nuclear deal, the US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns alluded to the significance of India as a regional power by asserting: ‘That’s a unique agreement with a unique country.’ So, how should Pakistan strategise its relations with the US in a changing environment where the pre-eminence of India is manifest? Surprisingly, the solution presented by the author is a non-realist one. It entails that Pakistan should put its own house in order and cater to political stability within its territorial domain. Unfortunately, the proposed solution and a similar one for Afghanistan remain largely under-explored in the book.

In the case of Afghanistan, the author points to the weakness of the Karzai administration in establishing its authority over the country. The administration, which is known for being corrupt and inefficient, does not bode well for the functioning of the newly engineered democracy. Thus, it is not surprising that the Taliban have re-emerged in the Pakhtoon belt in the south and continue to present a major challenge to the government of Afghanistan and NATO forces. The Americans are equally to blame for not pursuing the fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters within Afghanistan after October 2001.

However, the solution proposed to this quagmire (a non-realist one again) is for Afghanistan to reconstruct its domestic polity. Moreover, on Osama Bin Laden and the alleged network which exists in the Pakistani tribal belt, there is a very interesting anecdote.

After a local Pakistani channel aired an interview of senior Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Usmani, the American ambassador in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, immediately condemned and criticised the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. He stated that if a Pakistani channel could interview Mullah Usmani, then why don’t the intelligence agencies and the military have a clue about the whereabouts of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The same argument, one may add, can be directed at US military forces and intelligence networks. If Al-Jazeera can air speeches and pronouncements of Osama Bin Laden and his close associates, then the most efficient military intelligence resource is Al-Jazeera not the CIA, since it does not seem to have any inkling where Osama Bin Laden is — not even seven years after the ‘war on terror’ began.

Lastly, a word about the publication. It seems as if the book was hastily sent to the press without adequate proof-reading. The book is tainted with errors (including a glaring repetition of an entire six-line sentence) which do not leave a good impression. Besides the publishing errors, there are structural deficiencies in the book.

The chapter on Kashmir contains a lot of boring and unnecessary history which it could have done without. For most of the book, analysis seems to flow from one subject to another without adequate linkages between the issues discussed and raised. However, the strength of the book lies in the original statements and comments quoted from various sources which can be a useful guide to writers and researchers working on the subject.

US Relations with Afghanistan & Pakistan

By Hafeez Malik

The Oxford University Press, Karachi

ISBN 0-19-547523-4

308pp. Rs495

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