One such consequence of Pakistan’s little Great Game in Afghanistan will be a repeat of 1990s-style civil war, sucking in not only the Afghans but also regional and world powers. The blowback into Pakistan of such misadventure — like the 1990s — is inevitable
Discussing a recent report on Afghanistan by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and Jinnah Institute (JI), Pakistan, I had noted last week that nothing kills inquiry and scientific method like prejudicial certitude, and had pointed to the very first sentence of the
report: “The importance of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan and as a US partner in South Asia is indisputable.” This is a pretty strong conviction to form the premise of an analysis of a situation as complicated as Afghanistan.
The report has taken pains to point out that the authors have not editorialised on the views expressed by the 53-strong cohort of the foreign policy ‘elite’ of Pakistan. First an assumption was made and then a sample of individuals was picked that, given its known views and service records, would in all likelihood have corroborated the premise of the study. It is in this context that the makeup, writings and track records of the study’s participants were critiqued, because the same were brandished as their ticket to this ‘elite’ club. And I say picked because the sample is neither randomised (something nearly impossible to do in social sciences research) nor large and diverse enough to reflect the full spectrum of views available on the subject.
Moreover, the line-up was so lopsided against the dissenters — only a handful in the cohort — that it was impossible that the report would have come out with anything but a conclusion supporting the hypothesis adopted ab initio. Whether one calls it a sampling bias or data (in this case opinion) mining, it stacked the deck against the views that would have challenged the preconceptions of the investigators.
Consider a straightforward analogy. To prove that the general population is convinced that regular exercise improves health, if one conducted a study only in a gymnasium selecting the exercise-enthusiasts, how likely is it that analysing this sample would reject the initial hypothesis? This would reflect a blatant pre-selection and selection bias and the outcome would only support the original assumption. Unfortunately, similar cherry picking mars the USIP-JI report.
In non-interventional studies such as reviews and reports, the tools available to the authors and investigators to undo or counter the biases include, firstly, an editorial comment, and secondly, affording prominent space to the dissenting opinion of the participants. In this case, the authors expressly abdicated their responsibility (and right) to opine on the matter at hand. Additionally, the dissenting opinions were not highlighted and remain submerged in the preponderance of views supporting the report’s premise. The cumulative effect is a reporting bias in which only favourable outcomes — opinions in this case — are projected as the only truth harvested from the study’s participants.
By ducking their responsibility to notate the shortcomings of the study and acknowledging the adverse opinion, the study, by design and by default, ended up creating not only a critical appraisal bias but also afforded the authors a plausible deniability in case a political critique — really an inevitability — was launched about the report, which addresses political matters. It would perhaps be naïve of any political commentator or think tank to assume that in the highly charged current geopolitical atmosphere, a report put forth with the stated intent of serving as the Afghan policy template for the civilian leadership in Pakistan, could fly under the radar.
The report notes that the Pakistani state’s objectives vis-à-vis settlement of the Afghan imbroglio, when translated into actionable policy, would lead Pakistan to pursue three outcomes: a) a relatively stable government in Kabul that is not hostile to Pakistan; b) An inclusive nature of such government, which is defined as an entity with adequate ‘Pashtun representation’ that in turn is made synonymous with Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura Taliban and the Haqqani network’s being part of the new political arrangement; c) Limiting India’s presence to developmental activity, while acknowledging that it does have a part to play in Afghanistan’s progress.
Simply put, the Pakistani desire regarding the future dispensation in Kabul thus is a (relatively) stable government there, which is friendly to Pakistan and free of India’s influence and effectively excludes non-Pashtun Afghans. But given the ethno-geopolitical realities on the ground, when plotted on paper, this thesis gives rise to three other possibilities as well: first is an unstable government in Kabul that is friendly to Pakistan. Second could be an unstable government that is unfriendly to Pakistan. And thirdly, a relatively stable government that is hostile to Pakistan. Each scenario would entail the engagement of the Afghan, the US and allied powers, Pakistan along with its client entities and the regional powers, in a multitude of alignments and realignments.
The sparring between Pakistan and the US has escalated to a point where media, such as the US-based website http://www.Examiner.com (which also quoted part one of this column) has already stated that Pakistan is at war with the US in Afghanistan. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, speaking to Radio Pakistan about the recent terrorist attack on the US embassy in Kabul, has bluntly stated: “There is evidence linking the Haqqani network to the Pakistan government. This is something that must stop.” The US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and Secretary Defence Leon Panetta reiterated these charges and the latter issued a terse warning too.
If the word from Kabul and President Hamid Karzai’s interview to The Independent, UK, is anything to go by, he is likely to pull a Hafizullah Amin on the US, with the blessings of the Pakistani security agencies and help from the Hizb-e-Islami (Hekmatyar) men that he has surrounded himself with. This is unlikely to go well with the US but more importantly with the non-Ikhwanite Pashtuns as well as the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek Afghans that Karzai has systematically purged from his government.
The hardening of the US and Pakistani positions points towards a further plunge in their relations and potential unfolding of the scenarios that the USIP-JI have overlooked. One such consequence of Pakistan’s little Great Game in Afghanistan will be a repeat of 1990s-style civil war, sucking in not only the Afghans but also regional and world powers. The blowback into Pakistan of such misadventure — like the 1990s — is inevitable. Understanding, not certitude is what is needed of analysts, whether elite or proletariat. Otherwise, as Kipling had said: “When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished. Not before.”
(Postscript: Deepest condolences to the Afghans on the brutal assassination of Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, which shows yet again that the jihadists and their mentors are not partners in peace.)