Wednesday, August 22, 2018
Michael H Fuchs
As the country’s longest war continues, it is sapping resources and focus while the list of far more serious national security threats continues to grow.
A child born on this date in 2001 – just before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 – is old enough to be fighting today in the war in Afghanistan.
This week – almost 17 years after the war began – the Taliban attacked Ghazni, killing more than 100 Afghan army soldiers. The Taliban also overran a base, where they killed another 17 soldiers.
It’s not hard to imagine that some of the fighters on both sides of this week’s battles – those fighting for the Afghan army and the Taliban – were not yet born on 9/11.
As America’s longest war continues in Afghanistan, it is sapping America’s resources and strategic focus while the list of far more serious national security threats – from climate change to the rise of China – continues to grow. It is time to find a way to wind down America’s war in Afghanistan, one way or another.
The United States remains stuck in strategic limbo in Afghanistan. No matter how many allied forces deploy to Afghanistan, there is no victory to be had on the battlefield. But Afghanistan is where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is a fact that imprisons US presidents and policymakers – imagine being the president who withdrew US troops from Afghanistan, only to then suffer another terrorist attack on US soil planned in Afghanistan. There is no good option.
And so, America fights. As the reporter CJ Chivers describes America’s current policies in Afghanistan: “They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.”
While the US and its allies continue to send young men and women to fight and die, certain facts remain constant: the Taliban are not going anywhere. Terrorists are not going anywhere – 17 years later, the Islamic State has joined al-Qaida as a threat. The Afghan state will not achieve a level of “stability” that will put American policymakers at ease in the foreseeable future. Pakistan will not change its two-sided policy of working with the US in Afghanistan with one hand while quietly enabling the Taliban with the other. As these facts remain unchanged, the war continues to blight the daily lives of Afghans, who have been at war on and off for almost 40 years now. There is no telling when this horrific cycle of war and violence will end for them. But it also seems clear that the US cannot end it with the military alone.
In welcome news, the US recently began direct talks with the Taliban. The United States engaged in direct negotiations with the Taliban during the Obama administration, but those talks produced little. There has long been a debate over whether to talk to the Taliban, but there will be no end to the war without some sort of political agreement that includes the Taliban. A ceasefire in June this year signaled that this time could be different, and the United States must urgently press forward with these diplomatic negotiations to end the war.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the United States is not the only player interested in stability and with leverage to wield. China, Russia, Iran and India are all heavily invested in the outcome of the war, and despite very divergent strategies and views of the war, all have an interest in preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists and a source of regional instability. They must be forced to put skin in the game in a diplomatic process to urgently end the war or be forced to deal with the consequences when America withdraws.
While America must seize this new potential diplomatic opportunity with the Taliban, regardless of where the diplomacy leads, America’s role in the war must begin to come to an end. Right now, America is attempting to prevent potential terrorist attacks from one country by sacrificing the lives of American soldiers, with no strategy to end the threat other than a perpetual war. That hardly seems sensible.
Most importantly, American leaders must remember that the war in Afghanistan takes place in a much larger strategic context for the United States. A US withdrawal – with or without a negotiated end to the war – could lead to more instability in Afghanistan. But how does that compare with the alternative? Afghanistan – along with Iraq – has shaped the way an entire generation in America thinks about its country’s role in the world. The threats posed by Afghanistan today rank nowhere close to the top of America’s national security concerns, dwarfed by challenges like climate change, Russia, China and the erosion of liberal democracy abroad.
The forever war fatigue runs a very real risk of draining support in the United States for a robust American role in the world, which is necessary to tackle any of these threats. And that would truly devastate American national security. Donald Trump’s “America First” policies – and the damage they are inflicting – are already a symptom of this national frustration with America’s seemingly unending wars.
Inertia and fear of the unknown are not good enough reasons to fight a war. It’s time for America to end its war in Afghanistan.
Elbowed out to peripheries, Pakistan’s largest minority now pins its hopes on the promised Naya Pakistan. This minority is named as per unique challenges that its members face: ‘crippled’ if they have reduced mobility or ‘retarded’ if they face intellectual challenges. Let’s instead call them Persons with Disability (PWD) as recommended in Mainstreaming Persons with Disabilities in Pakistan, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) report produced for the British Council.
Although the latest census astonishingly qualifies only 0.48% Pakistanis as PWDs, the EIU report estimates that the actual percentage is about 15% (nearly 27 million). The discrepancy arises from a shocking shortage of professionals who can diagnose intellectual disorders: 0.49 psychologists/ psychiatrists per 100,000 (2008 WHO report). Even when diagnosed, cultural barriers prohibit asking such questions during enumeration. Furthermore, a model disability survey conducted by the WHO in 2015 in Attock district also found the percentage to be 15%.
The report impressively recommends mainstreaming people with disabilities as productive and respectable contributors to society from being objects of pity, indifference or contempt. It establishes that people with disabilities are entitled to choice in life and livelihood like anyone else, and they should be so developed as to eventually contribute to economic and societal growth. This shatters the stereotype that PWDs should be hidden away from public view only to feed on charity. But then there is so much else ails the country, such as energy crisis, budget deficits and security challenges. Mainstreaming disadvantaged communities can wait — so goes the argument. Hold tight then because the EIU estimates that the cost of excluding PWDs from employment will exceed $20 billion per year in 2018. The cumulative loss will exceed the total investment in CPEC in only three years!
Meanwhile, the country faces a foreign exchange crisis, and the PM called upon the overseas Pakistanis to park their life savings in Pakistan. But parents to children with disabilities immigrate to developed world where their children not only access better facilities but are also considered a natural part of human diversity. Instead, in Pakistan, admitting disability can be disabling itself: conservative circles may shame the family as serving a punishment from God, while ‘milder’ critics diagnose parenting failures without lending a helping hand to exhausted parents, who themselves develop stress disorders.
Why should then such expatriates deposit lifeline of their children in a country where they have no future?
In 2011, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD). The CRPD requires the signatories to bring persons with disabilities to forefront of public life. The EIU report offers several measures to this purpose; here are a few. First, do not confine children with disabilities to special schools; instead, the CRPD requires them to be taught in mainstream schools and well-supported according to a specialised ‘assessment of needs’. Teachers must be repeatedly trained to deal with special needs and Special Needs Assistants must also be present in class, where required. Schools must practise non-negotiable anti-bullying policies to protect these children.
Segregate PWDs into special centres only if they really need it; otherwise, it impedes their growth and breeds unfamiliarity in society. These centres must primarily act as integrated assessment units, and advise and monitor mainstream schools for delivery of services.
Enforce the legal quota of PWDs in employment (2% in a workforce of 100+) and collect fines when companies fall short.
Desensitise general public by assigning customer facing roles to PWDs. Pakistan already has such case studies from Telenor and MCR. These companies acknowledge that such initiatives are not charitable; instead, they allow tapping into a greater talent pool. Create visibility with parliamentary seats for people with disabilities; currently, there is none.
Essentially, the EIU report identifies attitudes as the most important barrier to persons with disabilities. After all, maturity of a society is measured by how it treats its most disadvantaged.
The proposed city will be a financial district that Beijing is planning to set up in the Pakistan's port city of Gwadar to house Chinese workforce.
Taking its partnership with China a notch further, Pakistan is reportedly building a city to house half a million Chinese nationals at a cost of $150 million in port city of Gwadar. The planned city is a part of ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which aims to improve connectivity between the two countries.
According to a report in The Economic Times, only Chinese citizens will live in this gated zone, thereby paving way for China's colony within Pakistan. The proposed city will be a financial district that Beijing is planning to set up in the Pakistan's port city to house Chinese workforce.
China-Pak Investment Corporation has bought the 3.6-million square foot International Port City and will build a gated community for the anticipated 5,00,000 Chinese professionals who will be located by 2022, the report said.
The CPEC is Pakistan's most important national project that aims to revive the country's sputtering economy. Both Islamabad and Beijing have worked together on this 'flagship' project under the ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI) to develop railway infrastructure, pipelines, highways and maritime links. This is part of China's larger plan to gain influence in the region. Over 20 CPEC projects worth over $27 billion are currently being implemented all across Pakistan.
China already has exclusive townships for its citizens in Africa and Central Asia.
The first agreement between the two countries was signed in 2014, as per which China would invest in projects worth over $46 billion under the CPEC framework; the amount could grow up to $62 billion in a few years. In the name of CPEC, China has been consistently helping its 'all-weather friend' with financial loans.
Pakistan received $4.5 billion worth of loans from China in the fiscal year 2017-18 in addition to a $1.5 billion trade finance facility. In the preceding year, China had extended loans worth $3.9 billion to Pakistan. This year, China aims to pump in $2 billion to help Islamabad meet its foreign currency needs of which over $1 billion have already been disbursed.
In the last fiscal, Pakistan managed to obtain roughly $10 billion dollars to service the foreign debt. The CPEC repayments will start from 2020, and by 2024 Islamabad will have to pay Beijing $4.5 billion annually. This, in addition to the $22 billion capital goods import required in next three years for completion of these projects.
One year on, the Donald J. Trump administration's South Asia strategy has not resulted in definitive improvements along its pillars, and the Trump administration could do more to increase pressure on Pakistan, which remains a safe haven for terrorist groups.
One year ago, President Donald J. Trump outlined a new South Asia strategy in a speech at Fort Myer. In his speech, the president did three things: one, he shifted the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan from a timetable approach to a conditions-based approach; two, he publicly upbraided Pakistan for ostensibly being a U.S. ally while simultaneously providing safe haven to terrorists, the Afghan Taliban, and others; and three, he called upon India to do more in Afghanistan as an economic assistance and development partner.
Here’s what I wrote about this speech at the time: “The Not-So-New ‘New’ South Asia Strategy.” The upshot: the supposedly “new” approach drew on elements of the Barack Obama administration’s strategy that were already in place, and marked in many ways a continuation of past policies. (The president’s sharp remarks about Pakistan—“we can no longer be silent”—did mark a departure in tone, and certainly elevated the level of public U.S. dissatisfaction. Trump’s New Year’s Day tweet about Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” further abandoned all diplomatic niceties.)
One year on, it’s fair to ask how things are going. The answer: not terribly well.
In Afghanistan, recent headlines show that the question of a negotiation with the Taliban is back on the table. This marks a step toward some kind of potential solution, but we know little about the content of these talks and whether they will succeed, drag on interminably, or fail. Continued Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, including in Ghazni most recently, create further confusion about the Taliban’s intentions; are they ready to discuss politics? Does renewed violence indicate a lack of interest in negotiation, or is the Taliban jockeying for a better bargaining position?
To the south, the Trump administration is trying disincentives to gain greater Pakistani cooperation on terror, after previous administrations attempted to use security assistance as an incentive. We are now eight months into this tougher approach. The Trump administration suspended all security assistance in January to increase pressure, and Pakistan has been named to the Financial Action Task Force “gray list” for its insufficient controls on financial flows to terrorist groups. Further, we learned earlier this month that Pakistani participation in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs has been curtailed. Has the assistance cut shaped Pakistan’s approach to fighting terrorists? Well, in Pakistan’s recent national elections, “hundreds with terror ties” ran for office. That doesn’t look like a country taking every step to tackle terrorism.
Pakistan just swore in a new prime minister, Imran Khan. His early statements have suggested interest in better ties with Afghanistan, with India, and with the United States. But Khan has a long record of blaming the region’s terrorist problem on the United States rather than on the terrorist groups themselves, or acknowledging the Pakistan army’s well-documented role in nurturing them. Moreover, it’s the military that makes key national security decisions in Pakistan. We shall see soon whether Khan can shape a different outcome. A Pakistan that remains a safe haven for terrorist groups that threaten stability in Afghanistan will—as has been the case for seventeen years—continue to undermine hard-won progress. That’s why Pakistan has been the weak link in regional strategies all these years.
What about the third element of the strategy, India’s role? U.S.-India ties continue to strengthen, despite ongoing problems on trade that the Trump administration has made worse. On the security and defense side, things are going well, though they could move faster. The first U.S.-India “2+2” ministerial meeting, bringing together Secretaries Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis with their Indian counterparts, Ministers Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, will be held in New Delhi on September 6. They are sure to discuss Afghanistan, where India is the fifth-largest bilateral donor. They are also sure to discuss the Chabahar port in Iran, India’s gateway to Afghanistan.
Unfortunately the snapback sanctions on Iran—due to the president’s decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in May of this year—create new uncertainty for India about this port. (More on this issue, plus some maps, here.) So the country that the president called upon to support further development in Afghanistan faces questions about its overland access to Afghanistan because of U.S. tensions with Iran. Indian strategic thinkers are worried. Here’s a special report on this complex issue from India’s Observer Research Foundation.
All this adds up to limited change, a year in, with the central questions still unanswered. Of course, prior to 9/11, Afghanistan was unstable and a source of regional and global terrorist activity. Against that yardstick, things have surely improved.
The Trump administration should give its strategy a little more time, and indeed could still take additional steps to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan. These include actions such as those outlined in a 2017 report from the Hudson Institute, inclusive of revoking the “major non-NATO ally” designation, possibly barring individuals from travel to the United States, and holding out the prospect of the state sponsor of terror designation as a last resort.
But Americans are asking, rightly, how long the United States should support a continued presence there without clear markers of progress. I am not very hopeful that Pakistan will change course and help create a solution, but would welcome being surprised on this front.
عید کے پر مسرت موقع پر نوجوان قائد بلاول بھٹو صاحب کا قوم کو خصوصی پیغام..— Shumaila Malik (@shumailaPPP) August 22, 2018
امید پاکستان بلاول بھٹو زرداری صاحب@BakhtawarBZ @BBhuttoZardari @FidaShaikhPPP @AseefaBZ @MediaCellPPP @MalaikaSRaza @FaryalTalpurPk @AAliZardari @drabdulqayoom @SeharKamran pic.twitter.com/uTjr50EijC