The old saying says insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. American foreign policy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan can be characterized as that insanity.
With the 20-year war in Afghanistan, over 2,000 American lives and over 300,000 Afghan lives have been lost. Over $2 trillion in taxpayer dollars flushed down the drain.
Former military generals, academics and think-tankers have all highlighted and sounded the alarm on Pakistan’s duplicitous role in the conflict. Former Defense Secretary Gen. James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don’t default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE went on to even characterize it as “the most dangerous country” in the world, saying it has no love for itself. Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) went a step further and called for sanctions on the country. However, all of that has fallen on deaf ears.
Despite the death and destruction, the U.S. is in the final stages of concluding an agreement with Pakistan on using its air space for over the horizon operations in Afghanistan. Washington is back to its old ways of counting on its frenemy Pakistan for its war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues with its time-tested strategy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
Over the course of the last 20 years, Pakistan provided a safe haven for the Taliban fighters fleeing the attacks from American troops while it was simultaneously cashing in on the generous aid provided by the U.S. Hospitals in Quetta performed first aid and treated wounded fighters, fertilizer manufactures provided the raw materials to make explosives, madrassas in the state of Punjab provided indoctrinated fighters for the Taliban and the general headquarters in Rawalpindi supported the Taliban onslaught with intelligence.
It is like Washington never learns its lessons but just moves to the next theater of war or frontier — from Afghanistan to the South China sea.
This in turn has cost Afghans dearly in blood, sweat and tears.
Whether it be Americans, Pakistanis, Russians or their own elected leaders who took the field right before the Taliban took over Kabul, Afghans have been dealt a bad hand. The destiny of Afghans for far too long has been determined by those whose primary interests have not been their well-being. Afghans have been used as pawns in negotiations and in the geopolitical tussle between the world and regional powers.
Zalmay Khalizad, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and chief negotiator of the Doha deal, nonchalantly expressed his regret for not having pushed the Ghani government further on Face the Nation. Interestingly, he expressed no regret for the Doha deal nor did he mention Pakistan once in his half-hour interview. Washington continues this flawed foreign policy and wonders why refugees are knocking on its doors.
America should give Afghans a shot at a peaceful life. The destiny of innocent Afghans should not be in the hands of the American with his finger on the joystick nor the intelligence officer in Rawalpindi. It was not long ago the Pentagon issued an apology for mistakenly killing a family of 10 — including seven children — in a drone strike. The strike was based on “intelligence” that ISIS members responsible for the attacks on the airport earlier this year were hiding there. America does not have a great track record with sourcing credible intelligence in that region. It has counted on partners such as Pakistan for support and this has cost the U.S. and Afghans.
America should stop bombing innocents and alternatively, follow the lead of their trans-Atlantic counterparts who have decided to reopen their consulates to deliver aid and support for Afghans in need. According to the United Nations, around 97 percent of the population could fall below the poverty line if immediate action is not taken to address the issue.
The work of journalists like Yalda Hakim of the BBC should guide America’s policy in the region. She has been counting down the number of days girl children have been barred from attending secondary schooling on her Twitter account. As of today, it stands at 45. The Yalda Hakim Foundation leads by example and supports Afghan students and others in need with scholarships to pursue education abroad and other forms of vital assistance.
America should lead with similar initiatives instead of finding airbases to conduct airstrikes. Biden’s “America is back” assertion should not denote America is back to bombing innocents.
Akhil Ramesh is a non-resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum. He has worked with risk consulting firms, think tanks and in the blockchain industry in the United States, India and the Philippines. His analysis has been published in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, Asia Times and the Jerusalem Post. Follow him on Twitter: @akhil_oldsoul