US-NATO Engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan's Role as non-NATO Ally.
US invasion of Afghanistan took place in very peculiar circumstances. Afghanistan was punished for the actions of the people who had nothing to do with that country. In fact, not a single one of the alleged perpetrators of the 9/11 crime could be associated with it. Nevertheless, a new administration had come to power in the US which believed very strongly in American right to determine what was good or bad, not only for itself but for the rest of the world as well. The Bush administration's philosophical underpinning was derived from Zionist and Christian rightists, who believed that it was the manifest destiny of the US to recast the globe in a manner that would preserve American interests.
The 9/11 was a horrible tragedy that deservedly was condemned by all, but it was eagerly accepted by important elements in the Bush administration as well as by extremist Christians and Jews, as an opportunity to promote the agenda that had already been prepared and adopted by them even before the administration had stepped into the White House. Therefore, it was not purely an invasion that resulted from the desire of the US to seek revenge from a country which the popular American imagination came to associate with terrorism, but also as a stepping stone in America's desire to dominate the globe.
All the subsequent speeches, statements, policy pronouncements, even US global strategy reflect the fulfillment of that political philosophy, which was based on contempt and was distinct from the views of the international community. It was self-righteousness, disregarding completely the international organizations, primarily the UN, and a declaration to the world that they would have to choose either to be with the US or if any country fails to comply, it would be taken as evidence of its opposition, even enmity, to the only superpower. So, 'you are with us or against us' was actually an ultimatum to the international community to lay itself up along with the US and whatever it wished to do. Because of the horror of the 9/11 and the perception that Afghanistan was the refuge for the perpetrators and master mind of the event, Afghanistan came to become the target.
Afghanistan was invaded also in the expectation that it would be a very simple, cost free demonstration of US supremacy. Afghan history, traditions, culture, beliefs, ethnic composition were all set aside in firm belief that American military superiority, coupled with the superiority of its world view, would be so overwhelming that the Afghans would initially be taken over and then willingly accept America as a benefactor and a well-wisher.
After a decade of war and violence, the American occupation of Afghanistan has become longer than that of the USSR. The USSR casualties were high as compared to those of the United States, but the money that America has poured down in the hills of Afghanistan has been enormous and certainly, combined with the enormous money spent on Iraq, it is adversely impacting American economy. Yet, the most disturbing part is that even after these many years of occupation and the support of a large number of countries, primarily from Europe, the American presence in Afghanistan has neither been successful nor is any success in sight.
This is precisely because the occupation of Afghanistan is becoming extremely unpopular, both in the US and EU. In latter, the political and public pressure regarding occupation is even more intense than in the former, but the extension of July 2011 dateline to 2014 at the recently held NATO summit in November, has demonstrated that how the powerful lobbies in America influence the decision making process even of powerful Western European States.
It also shows that NATO is nothing more than an instrument of American foreign policy: it is meaningless without the US. In fact, NATO was created by the US in the aftermath of the Second World War primarily for two purposes: to deter USSR from expanding its influence in western Europe, and to keep the US domination on the Western Europe through the instrument of a military alliance. This is why after the collapse of the USSR, many Europeans were of the view that NATO was now irrelevant because there was no longer a threat to the Eastern Europe. The USSR had disintegrated, Eastern and Central Europe had regained freedom, and the boundaries, in fact, had been pushed back into Russia. Still, the American administration did not agree to this proposal. It rather took specific measures to expand and enhance NATO presence and influence in Eastern and Central Europe, much against the wishes of Russia. Resultantly, all the countries on the border of Russia are members of NATO at present.
Going beyond Western Europe into central and Eastern Europe is one thing; it is even becoming a global force to promote American interests, which explains why NATO is so active in Afghanistan and present in Pakistan as well. This military alliance would do exactly what the US wants.
And, what the US actually wants is quite vague because of the push and pull of strong lobbies in the country including the defense lobby, the intelligence community, and the security oriented think tanks. Therefore, even an extremely intelligent president of the US, Barack Obama, does not enjoy absolute freedom to do what he wishes to do. As a politician, he has to consider the fact that the Republicans are already extremely critical of him. Having faced the consequences in the midterm polls, he cannot provide the Republicans with the pretext of accusing him of being soft on national security issues. In America, this is the worst crime and strategic blunder that a politician can commit. When it comes to politicians, they all want to outbid each other in proclaiming a very robust, assertive, even aggressive posture on international issues.
Pakistan's Domestic Politics and Afghan War
How Pakistan bogged down in the unnatural and unpopular war in Afghanistan is a story of sad occurrences. When 9/11 took place, the country had a military dictator in power, a person who had absolutely no understanding of the delicacies of foreign policy. He was leading in his own world, convinced of his own intelligence, and totally oblivious of what was good or bad for the country. Also, being a military dictator, he neither had the requirement nor the inclination to discuss or consult with his military colleagues, the political allies or even media persons and intellectuals. More so because being an illegitimate ruler, attaining the legitimacy from the US was his most cherished goal. Therefore, without considering in detail the pros and cons of Pakistan's support and cooperation with the US in its design in Afghanistan and the region, and without taking into account the terms and conditions, he offered the country's services generously.
Pakistan is now paying the price of the self-committed crimes of that time. The American occupation of Afghanistan just like the USSR occupation of it has had a deep impact on Pakistan, albeit with a major qualitative difference: the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was opposed not only by the people and government of Pakistan alike but virtually by the international community in general. Pakistan's offer to accept the Afghan refugees was lauded and praised by the world. Even so, the international community encouraged Pakistan to provide the facility to the resistance fighters, who came to be known as the Mujahideen, to use Pakistan for training purposes and other related requirements. So Pakistan's role both uplifted the nation and brought Pakistan to the world stage as a country that was willing to shoulder huge responsibility, lay sacrifice many of its own interests and uphold the cause of freedom and independence of a fellow Muslim country that also happen to be its neighbor.
However, in case of the US occupation of Afghanistan majority of the people of Pakistan and major political parties do not condone country's support to occupiers of the present times. The people are convinced that their government has decided to side with the aggressor either for the purpose of receiving money or under duress from the United State. More importantly, it has created a tremendous backlash in the country, as more and more Pakistanis are convinced that Pakistan's support for the American occupation is primarily responsible for the growth of the militancy and extremism in Pakistan.
On the one hand, Pakistan is a frontline state in the global war on terror and a non-NATO ally, but on the other hand, its major alley, the US, believes that it has been playing a double game, showing a clear lack of confidence. The people of Pakistan think that the government is also engaged in this game with the US which is costing the people of Pakistan a great deal. Even though this is an elected government, it has come about as a result of a political negotiation between Musharraf and his successor which was in fact brokered by the US. Hence, there is no change whatsoever in the government's policy. The recent disclosures of American documents confirm that both the president and prime minister are willing to accept the drone attacks and other American efforts which amount to severe encroachments on Pakistan's sovereignty.
The lesson that all the countries caught up in Afghanistan need to learn from their current adventure is that military occupation is no longer sustainable. The resistance will get stronger whether the coalition forces stayed there for another fifteen years. Afghans history, culture and traditions suggest that they do not permit outsiders to come and occupy their land. So, the US and coalition partners should sit back and actually do a bit of soul searching and reach decisions that may be unpopular but are, nevertheless, essential. President Obama will have to convince his administration, American Congress and his supporters that the US has to take the hard decision of withdrawal. A broad-based government is needed in Afghanistan that includes all the ethnic groups and political parties.
America, thereafter, needs to offer a massive economic assistance for the economic growth and development of the country, and use its influence to bring all the stakeholders in Afghan peace and stability to consensus, so that an international agreement can be reached either through an international conference or through the mechanism of the UN. Such an agreement should guarantee Afghan independence and clip the interference of any external player in the country's internal affairs.
Considering the historical relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the former can help the international community a lot in this particular enterprise. It is in Pakistan's interest to have a peaceful and stable neighbor as its own economic growth will remain deeply impacted and all opportunities of investment, trade, economic ties and energy pipelines from central Asia will remain unfulfilled, unless peace is restored in Afghanistan. There is no other country that would gain more from the restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan than Pakistan. Hence, Islamabad's efforts should lead to urge the US to work on a strategy that would create an independent, neutral and sovereign Afghanistan.