Pakistan’s formal reaction to the killing of Mullah Mansour in Balochistan seems to have three strands. One, we allege that by killing Mansour the US has scuttled the Afghan peace process. Two, we are sad at repeated breaches of Pakistan’s sovereignty. And three, we are weary of the grand conspiracy in which our friends and neighbors have joined hands to embarrass us by killing Mansour on our soil.
There are some obvious questions that perturb the average Pakistani who doesn’t possess the ability to comprehend the secret wisdom that feeds our national security and foreign policy in general and our Afghan policy in particular.
What is our policy towards Afghanistan? Do we treat the government headed by President Ashraf Ghani as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan or do we see the Afghan Taliban as legitimate representatives of the people and state of Afghanistan?
If we accord recognition to the government of President Ghani, can we pursue a policy that treats the Afghan Taliban as legitimate stakeholders in Afghanistan when the Afghan government calls them terrorists and asserts that “there are no good or bad terrorists”?
What is our policy towards the Afghan peace process? Has our stated policy for some years not been that we are not sponsors of Afghan peace but are merely trying to facilitate an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process as a friend and neighbour?
Did President Ghani not stand in the Afghan parliament after a Taliban attack in Kabul in April that claimed 64 lives and state that “we no longer expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table…we expect them to launch a military operation against their sanctuaries and leadership based on their soil…if they cant target them they should hand them over to our judiciary”?
If the words and action of the Afghan government exhibit its lack of interest in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group led peace process focused on bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and if the US president has clarified that they killed Mansour since the Taliban aren’t willing to give up their agenda of violence, is the QCG process being pushed by Pakistan still Afghan-owned and Afghan-led?
What is our policy towards the Afghan Taliban? When there exists something called the ‘Quetta Shura’, when the Taliban elect their amirs on Pakistani soil (and they live and die on Pakistani soil), when our foreign affairs adviser admits that we exert some influence over them (even if not control), and when we deliver them to a QCG meeting, can we tell the world with a straight face that we have a porous border and these folks sneak in and hide amongst millions of Afghan refugees?
Will we continue to push for a marriage between the Afghan government and the Taliban when the Taliban don’t want it and the Afghan government doesn’t want it and the sole superpower that bankrolls the Afghan government and has been fighting the Taliban since 9/11 doesn’t think it will happen?
Are we pushing for reconstitution of the Afghan government with the Taliban being granted a seat on the high table because we know what is best for Afghanistan and its people and what is the best way to secure lasting peace in a country that has remained immersed in unending war for three and a half decades, even if the Afghans don’t agree?
Or are we throwing our weight behind the Taliban because we believe that the Afghan government in its present form is unsustainable? Or that sooner or later the US will lose interest in Afghanistan and in a free-style intra-Afghan fight the Taliban will prevail and control provinces bordering Pakistan (even if not all of Afghanistan) and we don’t want them to be mad at us when that happens?
Have we cultivated a relationship of suspicion with successive US-backed Afghan governments since 9/11 that have been pushed closer to India and developed deeper ties with our eastern foe because we are afraid of being in a nutcracker with enemies on our eastern and western borders? And so does courting the Afghan Taliban seem the best way to prevent an Indo-Afghan alliance against Pakistan?
If we were one of the three countries that recognised the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the 90s and the Taliban wouldn’t listen to us back then (and even refused handing over Baloch leaders), and if we are the only country offering them a sanctuary today and they still won’t listen to us, why do we think they will listen to us tomorrow if they succeed in establishing control over Afghanistan or provinces bordering Pakistan?
If we have come to realise that nurturing terror-outfits as strategic assets is a bad idea, if the TTP and its cousins pose an existential threat to Pakistan and our military has been engaged in fighting pitched battles with the TTP, and if the TTP and Al-Qaeda swear allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, why do we believe that Taliban control over Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan will be good for our security?
If we tried cutting deals with TTP groups that blew up in our faces, and pushed the idea of talking to our ‘misguided TTP-brethren’ who killed our soldiers, policemen and children alike, which ultimately led us to the conclusion that the TTP and other such terror groups must be fought to be neutralised, why then are we proposing a different solution to the Afghan government faced with the Afghan Taliban also killing Afghan soldiers and civilians alike?
Even if we think that the US and Afghan governments can’t win against the Afghan Taliban, and we don’t want to fight the Taliban because we don’t want to make enemies out of them, how does that add up to hosting them in Pakistan being a good idea? If the Taliban are the real voice of the Afghans, and their fight with the Afghan government is an intra-Afghan matter and we have no dog in the game, why should they need a sanctuary in Pakistan or be mad if don’t offer them one?
If the Afghan Taliban and its sub-groups such as the Haqqanis are seen by the world as terror outfits and the US claims overbroad authority under UN resolutions to attack such groups (the resolutions supposedly also oblige member states like Pakistan to ban them), is it advisable to host the Taliban on our soil, creating an opportunity for the US to attack them when here – only to mourn the breach of our sovereignty after the event?
When our proof of conspiracy and world bias against us is that the US elected to kill the Taliban supremo when in Pakistan as opposed to when he was in Afghanistan or Iran, we come out looking very silly. When we refuse to accept responsibility for the worlds most wanted lounging around in Pakistan but want the world to respect our sovereignty and let them be when here, we further confirm that our concept of our rights and responsibilities as a nation-state is messed up.
And when we blame petty officials and corruption within Nadra for verifying the ID card and passport of Mullah Mansour as an explanation of how he ‘blended in’ and stayed under the radar we end up fooling no one but ourselves.
We can approach our growing state of isolation and encirclement with the narrow conspiratorial mindset that brought us to this pass in the first place. Or we can reimagine our national security and regional policy with a view to building bridges and freeing up resources and energies to address everyday real-life challenges of this populous nation to make its existence sustainable and future prosperous. What’s it going to be?