By VARGHESE K. GEORGE
Close on the heels of the U.S dropping its most lethal non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan, a former U.S diplomat urged the Donald Trump administration to consider hitting terrorist sanctuaries inside Pakistan. Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, said the single most important factor of instability in Afghanistan is the continuing sanctuary for Taliban in Pakistani territory.
“Today we are talking about the mother of bombs. The mother of all problems in Afghanistan is the sanctuary (for Taliban inside Pakistan),” he said adding, ““If you respect the sanctuary and you don't attack it, you are allowing the insurgency to go on.”
As part of the Trump administration’s ongoing review of the U.S policy on Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Lt Gen H R McMaster will be traveling to Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi over the weekend. “We should not be accepting safe sanctuaries as something normal. We ought to make that very very clear to Pakistan," Mr. Khalilzad said. "I hope that the NSA makes that point clear when he sits across the table when he is in Islamabad,” the former diplomat said at a discussion at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank. “Being in Afghanistan and being successful will make us stronger. IS is being defeated in Syria and Iraq and they are trying to move to Afghanistan,” the diplomat said, rejecting a suggestion that America could leave Afghanistan to resolve its problems by itself.
Speaking at another event in the city, Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf said that the US committed “blunder” by not turning its military victory in Afghanistan into a political one post 9/11. “After 9/11 Taliban and Al-Qaeda were defeated in Afghanistan. This was military victory. This military victory was to be converted into a political one,” Mr. Musharraf said at a conference on Pakistan organised by the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Khalilzad said the final solution can only be political, but the duplicity of Pakistan, particularly the then ruler Musharraf, was the key obstacle to a political settlement then. Recalling that the U.S had a golden opportunity in Afghanistan immediately after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the former ambassador recalled a meeting with Mr. Musharraf. “Musharraf was very clever in denying that he was allowing Taliban a sanctuary in Pakistan. Once I went to talk to him and he flatly told me that there is no Taliban in Pakistan. He began saying, ‘give me their phone numbers..give me their addresses’…I said, ‘Mr. President, the leadership is called the Quetta Shura, and Quetta, I understand is in Baluchistan. ” Quetta Shura was the Talibani leadership council that was based in Pakistan. Mr. Khalilzad said due to “a variety of reasons” the U.S could not confront Pakistan more strongly on the issue then. “They were helping us on some issues, and it was a complicated relationship.”
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the U.S and Director for South and Central Asia at Hudson said the war in Afghanistan “will have a crucial impact on the global war on Islamist terrorism.” Robin Raphel, former U.S Assistant Secretary of State, argued that by supporting Taliban, Pakistan was truing to hedge its bets in Afghanistan.
She called for clearer commitment from by the U.S on its plans for Afghanistan, a position that was contested by both Mr. Haqqani and Mr. Khalilzad. They said Pakistan has legitimate interests in Afghanistan, but its concern about Indian influence is misplaced, vague and ideological more than anything substantive. “Pakistan has never been firm on what exactly are their core concerns,” Mr. Khalilzad said.