New York: A Pakistani journalist and best-selling author cautions that Pakistan is heading towards anarchy in his new book that offers solutions for his country’s frayed ties with the United States and how US peace talks with the Taliban is crucial in its exit strategy from Afghanistan.
The writer, Ahmed Rashid, who frequents the dinner tables of the world’s top leaders offering advice, gives a dire assessment of the region he has reported on for more than 30 years in Pakistan On The Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan released in the United States this week.
In his fifth book the Lahore-based prize-winning journalist says he fears Pakistan is on the verge of a meltdown and blames both Pakistan and the Obama administration for the deterioration in their ties due to a series of destabilizing incidents, including the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Pakistan’s escalating problems are rooted in its reliance on US aid, its complex politics, the government’s lack of control over both its military and intelligence service and its failure to protect minorities and secure regions controlled by the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups, the book maintains.
That spells more trouble for Washington if such groups gain further control in a nuclear-armed country where the military now largely controls foreign and security policies and has taken the lead in relations with the United States, he said.
“Pakistan has all the potential of becoming a failing state,” Rashid, 63, said in an interview, explaining the title of the book that follows bestsellers including Taliban and Descent Into Chaos that were translated into dozens of languages.
“I feel very much that the lack of state control, the lack of state authority is going to mean there is going to be increasing anarchy in many different parts of the country,” said Rashid, who has received numerous death threats and was named by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the top 100 global thinkers.
Taliban Deal Crucial
Rashid argues that the Obama administration has fueled Pakistan’s paranoia by locking it out of peace talks with the Taliban, not discussing its decade-long Afghan war and exit strategy and increasing relations with economic powerhouse India, Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor and regional rival.
In turn, Pakistan has made little effort to meet US demands to weed out insurgents operating from its safe havens, including the Pakistani Taliban and the Taliban-allied Haqqani network held responsible for many attacks inside Afghanistan.
Calling those opposing positions “the standard” for ties between Washington and Islamabad since the beginning of the Afghan war, Rashid called upon both sides to “break the logjam.”
“There has to be a greater willingness by Pakistan to show when and under what conditions it would be willing to give up the sanctuary for the Taliban,” he said. “And on the American side, there needs to be greater American trust in discussing their withdrawal plans and future plans with the Pakistanis.”
The two countries reached crisis point after a November incident in which NATO aircraft killed 24 Pakistani troops. Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and have demanded an apology and a halt in drone strikes.
“There is so much distrust now, on both sides,” Rashid said, adding ties “are certainly not going to return to what they were where there was almost a carte blanche for the Americans to do what they like in Pakistan. That is not going to happen again.”
Peace talks between the Taliban and United States must be the cornerstone of the US exit strategy from Afghanistan, said Rashid, adding that Pakistan, which has long harbored Taliban leaders, must be included in the talks.
“The key issue is to get a political settlement with the Taliban that leaves Afghanistan in peace,” Rashid said. “You do not want to leave Afghanistan in a state of civil war.”
Doubts about the nascent peace talks between the Taliban and the United States intensified after the recent killing of 16 Afghan civilians blamed on a lone US soldier, as well as the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base. The Afghan Taliban blamed “shaky, erratic and vague” US statements.
Rashid criticised contradictory policies of the Obama and the previous George W Bush administrations, including ten years of US emphasis on a military solution rather than diplomatic talks, which Rashid believes has left more Afghans and Pakistanis radicalized.
Rashid cautioned Obama against waiting to announce more details on the US exit strategy from Afghanistan for fear of losing voter support in his re-election bid in November.
The author said the Republican presidential candidates were “more confused than Obama” on Afghan peace talks and withdrawal. “They don’t know which policy to follow.”