In recent months, as Western despair over the Afghanistan war has increased, there has been a chorus of voices suggesting reconciliation of the Taliban leadership is the only path to end the Afghan war. It is quite natural that those in the West who do not wish to outright say that the war effort in Afghanistan has been a failure, and do not wish to suggest to the governments of NATO countries that failure should be acknowledged and that the troops should retreat in defeat, should wish to present reconciliation as a means to achieve some sort of positive settlement. No one likes to concede military defeat, and those advocating for military drawdown and reconciliation with the Taliban know that it would be a non-starter to try to sell their plan as acknowledgement of defeat and how best to manage it.
That is fine. There are legitimate reasons for those in the West to realize that their efforts in Afghanistan have been unsuccessful. But what is more interesting to me is that in today’s globalized world, a number of Pakistanis have joined in this chorus of anti-war voices. You have former generals like Mirza Aslam Beg claiming that the war is over, that the Afghan resistance has won. You have leftists who may or may not celebrate the victory of the Afghan resistance (since they certainly don’t share a common worldview with it) but who refuse to see beyond the need to expel the imperialist US from Afghanistan and what they perceive as its encroachment on Pakistan and finally you have Pakistani nationalists of the liberal persuasion who see the US occupation of Afghanistan as the root cause of the wave of terror that’s engulfed Pakistan and who believe that an end to the US occupation will result in an end to Pakistan’s problems.
The first group, i.e. the victorious generals who hope to ride to Central Asia, Kashmir and beyond on the backs of their “proxy warriors” even while their military families and subordinates in the army are under attack by the ideological cousins of these proxy warriors can be dismissed as simply irrational. Through a combination of their own special brand of Islamism mixed with nationalism and what they perceive to be “pragmatism” they are headed down a suicidal path and they are trying their best to take the rest of the country along with them. The second two groups, however, are worthy of debating with. They genuinely believe that the root cause of the Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan lies with the actions of the Imperialist West. Indeed it would be difficult to argue that without the money and resources from the first Afghan Jihad in the 80s, the jihadist machine in Pakistan and Afghanistan could have come up on its own. However, it is a real leap of logic to assert that the West today is the same West of the 80s which funded and raised the Islamists. The US today is clearly in direct conflict with its former proteges in the GHQ who are attempting to shield their strategic assets from drone strikes in North Waziristan. Political realities change and the leftists who believe that the US created the original jihadist monster and so its withdrawal from Afghanistan will result in its end are either not thinking the situation through or are motivated simply by opposition to the US, no matter which way the US is oriented. When the US leaves Afghanistan, who will pressure the Pakistani GHQ to stop supporting its strategic assets that launch attacks into Afghanistan? Who will pressure Pakistan’s ISI to stop sponsoring terrorist attacks in Kabul? Who will pressure Pakistan to stop attempting to overturn the Karzai government and from repeating its war of attrition against the Najibullah regime in the early 90s?
The question is, for Pakistanis who claim to be oppposed to the military’s hegemony over political and foreign policy, how do they justify their tactical alliance with the triumphant generals of the Aslam Beg persuasion who are cheering on the retreat of the US from Afghanistan? Do they genuinely believe that reconciliation with the Quetta Shura can be successful? Do they genuinely believe that by giving the Afghan Taliban a share in the political process in Afghanistan that the political process can be preserved in any recognizable form of representative government? What do Pakistanis who urge the Afghan government to reconcile with the Quetta Taliban really want? Would they accept a similiar exhortation from others to involve the TTP in the political process in Pakistan? Does anyone genuinely believe that by giving the TTP or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi a stake in the political process in Islamabad that the insurgency in Pakistan can be brought to an end? In the words of Amrullah Saleh, the former director of the NDS and one of the most disliked Afghans by most nationalist Pakistanis because of his negative views on the Pakistani sponsorship of terror in Afghanistan: “they [the Taliban] will die in democracy, they will die in a country where law is ruling, not guns, not IEDs, not the spread of fear and intimidation.”” How many Pakistanis who readily advocate “reconciliation” in Afghanistan would agree to these words by Saleh if they were applied to Maulana Fazlullah, or Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, or Maulana Masood Azhar? How many Pakistanis who would be horrified at giving any of the above-mentioned mass-murderers a stake in Pakistani politics are eager and willing to suggest that Afghanistan – because it is an uncivilized nation unlike Pakistan – should give its own mass-murderers a stake in their fragile political setup even while they are involved in a war against the Afghan state.
I do not wish to condemn Pakistanis who support an early end to the Afghan war. I personally do not believe that the Afghan war effort is a successful one from a US perspective or is a conflict that can be won and if I were from the US I would probably support an early end to the conflict as well. However, I do not believe that the facts on the ground support the cosy conclusion that a swift end to the Afghan conflict will result in a reduction of Pakistan’s domestic problems with extremism. If anything, if one is to compare the present situation to the period preceding the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the period following a US withdrawal will result in a massive increase in extremism, a belief by the Taliban and their supporters that they have achieved victory over not one, but two superpowers and with that, a sense of triumph and renewed zeal for establishing their Islamic state across Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In short, Pakistan has its own political problems that cannot be simply reduced to a struggle against Western imperialism. It would be unwise to deny agency to Pakistan’s own actors who stand to benefit from an early US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Therefore I just wish for these Pakistani advocates of “reconciliation” to take a look at their own motivations. Oftentimes when a political position is too comfortable – i.e. when it makes one feel self-satisfied on all accounts – one should be suspicious of it. In this case, there is a self-satisfying feeling of being a good global leftist and a nationalist Pakistani at the same time. There is something suspicious about how well these two sentiments merge and Pakistanis who genuinely fear the rise of Islamists in our part of the world should think twice about throwing their lot in with the global anti-war movement and all its rhetoric.