Strategy of Inaction

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By Lt General (retd) Asad Durrani

If anyone expected that after the OIC Foreign Ministers conference in Islamabad, truckloads of food, blankets and medicines would start rolling into Afghanistan, one obviously had no idea what these circuses are all about.

In any organisation, when taking a decision was becoming inconvenient since it had to be followed-up by an action one would rather not take, the matter was best handed over to a committee. If wisely constituted, there was a good chance one would not hear of the troublesome issue any more. In recent times, this recipe was best served by the Chilcot Commission, constituted to probe into the shenanigans of the British Intelligence to help Tony Blair play “poodle” in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. I doubt if its findings, or the fifty (or were they five hundred!) missing pages of the 9/11 Commission report, would ever see the light of the day.

United Nations has done one better. It has provided constitutional cover to its inability to act. Decisions not exactly palatable to powers that could create nuisance, are taken under Article 6. The world body then has no obligation to get them implemented.

OIC earned its spurs by letting all its verdicts – mostly on Palestine and Kashmir – die of old age – and thus awarded the dubious title of ‘The Graveyard of Muslim Miseries’. Its nom de plume, “Oh I see”, understates its pathetic ritual of inaction.

In Islamabad it created a world record. The resolution on Afghanistan is creaking under the ings – welcoming; commending; recalling; recognising; reaffirming; expressing; proceeding; noting; underscoring; acknowledging; reaffirming; emphasizing; stressing – some of them repeated four to five times. The final tally is an impressive thirty four; except that the all important acting” (to provide immediate relief to the suffering Afghans) is missing. There is still some light at the end of a three months long tunnel – and those who come out alive might see an entity that would be consuming most of the money donated for the famished Afghans, but may have to throw them a few crumbs.

People in this business – and I suppose enough number in our establishment are – would have known how such merry go rounds end. And therefore, the obvious question: “why have the poor Afghans been taken for a ride on them; or, if such carnivals were our compulsion in these optical times, what prevented us from doing something more substantial away from the humdrum? And just in case, we and the rest of the Muslim and non-Muslim friends of Afghanistan, had no money to spare – why not simply ask the Pakistanis, known to be one of the most charitable people in the world, to share their daily bread with the people we do not tire praising for their heroic struggles. Remember, they have kept some very powerful threats away from our western borders, and are a bridge to the countries likely to be on our side in the looming big power conflicts!

The stock answer that one gets in response to most such questions is that it’s the mighty US of A who has warned its vessels – and there are aplenty in our part of the world – that they better wait for the right signal from Washington. Frankly, having known how bravely and successfully we used to defend our core interests, one had a problem buying this line. For the first time, however, I have started to believe that it might have actually happened. Again, for the first time it seems that Washington has learnt how to position itself to deal effectively with countries like ours. Exiting from Afghanistan was an important step in that manoeuvre.

When the Soviet Union vacated its occupation of Afghanistan and lost its empire soon thereafter, we obviously claimed victory over a superpower. It didn’t take long to realise that after its imperial overstretch, shedding some extra baggage had done the core Russia a world of good. It could now use its considerable weight selectively and more effectively.

The US may not have necessarily taken a leaf from its predecessor in Afghanistan, but its exit does provide Washington more room for manoeuvre. For example, with its forces out of the harm’s way, it no longer needs our goodwill or our territory to keep its forces afloat in the Afghan quagmire. If it was now threatening military or economic strikes to deter us from pursuing our interests next doors, one may not know. But one does know that when a humanitarian disaster was staring us in the face from across the western borders, it has the potential to wreak havoc in our region. And if we are still rationalizing our inaction by the absence of banking channels and non-Pashtuns in the Kabul Regime, we have either lost the ability to withstand pressures, or forgotten the old maximum: where there is will, there is a way.

The US indeed has a good number of poodles amongst our ruling classes, and it has the right to use them to play the game in our region to its own advantage, but if it results in yet another turmoil in Afghanistan, Pakistan will only have itself to blame for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, we celebrated only a few months back.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lt General (retd) Asad Durrani is amongst the rare breed of Pakistani Generals who is into writing books, post retirement. He suffered institutional wrath for pursuing writing interests. His books, Spy Chronicles, Honour Amongst Spies and Pakistan Adrift are among essential readings for anyone trying to understand the complexities of power politics in Pakistan and the region.

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