Mustafa Amin writes from Islamabad: In case you think that the Pakistani military, who are running the show now, have a good idea what to do about Afghanistan, think again. They actually believe that once NATO leaves in 2014, they will take over Afghanistan and run it like their own backyard.
But things don’t work as the Pakistani generals think they do. There are three possible scenarios that can develop once NATO forces leave. 1. The Taliban will take over the whole country. 2. The Taliban will be restricted to the south and east of Afghanistan. 3. Permanent civil war will drag on for ages.
Pakistan’s goal in Afghanistan has always been to ensure the stability of its western neighbour. Stable but subordinate to Islamabad. Kabul has to agree that the dispute about the eastern frontier of Afghanistan would not be reignited. Under British rule, half of the frontier region populated by Pashtuns was annexed and made part of India. Pakistan inherited this region that has always felt discriminated against by Islamabad. The Pashtuns have always aspired to independence, hoping to create their own Federally Administered Tribal Areas in western Pakistan and Afghanistan. This would be a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.
A secondary goal of Pakistani policy is to ensure that Kabul does not forge close alliances with major powers, such as the United States or India, to increase Kabul’s autonomy from Pakistan.
After the Soviet Union admitted defeat and withdrew in 1989, Islamabad supported the Taliban to force Kabul to comply with its strategic interests. The Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) trained and armed the Taliban to this end. The result of this policy has alienated Kabul and undermined US efforts to stabilise the country. Pakistan is now viewed by Washington as more of an enemy than a friend. It has also resulted in Iran, India, Russia and Central Asia viewing a Taliban controlled Afghanistan as a security threat. They will do all in their power to prevent the Taliban taking over.
A second scenario would be a civil war between Afghan national forces and the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban after coalition forces leave. The result of this would be a further estrangement between Kabul and Islamabad. It would also push Kabul into the arms of Pakistan’s regional rivals.
This civil war could partition Afghanistan into a Taliban controlled south and east and an anti-Taliban north. International efforts would probably support military efforts to drive the Taliban out. Reconstruction of Afghanistan would be put back.
The third scenario would be a Taliban insurgency to take control of the whole country. This would inevitably draw in Pashtun populated western Pakistan. It could then spread to the rest of Pakistan.
Whichever scenario one considers, Pakistan is the loser. Its objective has always been a stable Afghanistan and secure frontiers. However its policy of promoting insurgency and terrorism against its neighbour has produced the opposite effect.
So what should Islamabad do? It should prevail on the Taliban to pursue reconciliation with Kabul. However it remains unclear about what deal the Taliban should strike with Islamabad. The turmoil involving the Supreme Court and the government undermines all attempts to engage in clear thinking about the future of Afghanistan. So the generals remain in charge. Unfortunately they believe that insurgency and expelling coalition forces are in their country’s strategic interest. They are wrong. So the bloodletting in Afghanistan continues.