By Ghulam Farooq Mujaddidi
The United States could be hardly great again if it fails to avoid another Vietnam-type humiliation in Afghanistan and or prevent recurrence of 9/11 tragedy by terror groups enjoying safe havens in Pakistan. Therefore, to “make America safe and great again” and responsibly end the longest American war in history, President Trump must repeat history and reiterate former President Bush’s words to Pakistani authorities, with us or against us, to make them stop undermining the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
It is quite evident and top U.S. civilian and military authorities, as well as current and former high-ranking Pakistani officials themselves, have publicly acknowledged that the Taliban and other terrorist groups, such as Haqqani Network, are sheltered in and supported by Pakistan.
Despite this and instead of taking a bold stance against Pakistan to save the American blood and treasure and end the Afghan conflict, the Obama administration insisted on misguided policy of requesting Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table, and made public the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan before the surge.
The first mistake emboldened Pakistan to the extent of owning the Afghan peace process. Any high-ranking Taliban member who acted independently and showed green light to reconciliation with the Afghan government ended up arrested by Pakistani authorities or gunned down. Included in the very long list were renowned Taliban figures such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban’s second in command, who was detained in the Pakistani port city of Karachi for daring to reach out to the Afghan government; Agha Jan Motasim, finance minister of the Taliban regime and peace advocate, was fortunate to survive an armed assault in the same Pakistani city and escaped to Turkey; and Mawlawi Abdur Raqib, a member of the Quetta Shura – the highest decision making body of the Taliban movement since 2001 – was assassinated upon his return from Dubai peace talk with the Afghan government in Peshawar, Pakistan.
On the other hand, repeatedly making public and insisting on the scheduled drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, not only caused uncertainty among Afghans, but also encouraged the Taliban and their supporters, mainly Pakistan, to sustain their unholy campaign until drawdown of the U.S.-led foreign troops from the country. This was evident in Pakistanis’ practices and words blatantly expressed by their military leaders.
Because of these and the Obama administration’s unwillingness to take a firm and clear stance, Pakistanis didn’t bother to change course even when Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, labeled the notorious Haqqani Network as the veritable arm of their spy agency, the ISI, and continue to support and shelter the anti-Afghan and U.S. mission elements till date. According to Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, without Pakistani sanctuaries and support, the Taliban wouldn’t last a month.
With such conditions on the Afghan ground and the continued Pakistani double-dealing that has been jeopardizing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, leaving Afghanistan, as some have been suggesting, is extremely naïve and shortsighted proposition. The pro-leave forgets what brought the U.S. to Afghanistan in the first place. It wasn’t for the sake of rescuing Afghans from tyranny or spreading democracy, but rather the 9/11 attacks orchestrated by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the Taliban refusal to hand over their wealthy ally to the United States government, along with further threats to the American homeland and interests abroad, left the U.S. with no option but to fight these terror nexus and overthrew their regime in Kabul in 2001.
However, even after 15 years of engagement, the threat to the Americans safety and interests still persists because of the terrorists’ safe havens in Pakistan. It is therefore, that the United States has no choice but to stand with the Afghan government and engage the terrorist groups until the threat is eliminated once and for all.
That said, continuing the current failed trend of persuading Pakistan through soft talks to stop harboring terrorist groups is nothing but loss of more precious lives and hard earned treasure. If history tells us anything, then the last eight-year is a proof that Pakistan is not going to easily disregard its long-term interest in Afghanistan, which is to install a puppet regime in Kabul by any means possible.
Thus, to eliminate threats emanating from terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and responsibly end the longest American war in history, the United States must once again push Pakistan to the edge, as it did in 2001 by sending a very clear message to the Pakistani authorities, to make it stop harboring and abetting the terrorist groups. Anything less would simply mean further uncertainty and instability in Afghanistan, and a looming threat to the United States homeland security and national interests – a clear indication of not being so great again.
Ghulam Farooq Mujaddidi writes about contemporary Afghan and regional security issues, foreign relations of Afghanistan, and socio-political developments in the country. He is a Fulbright scholar, with MA in Political Science from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and currently serves as the President of the American University of Afghanistan Alumni Association.