Zalmay Khalilzad, who was born in Afghanistan, moved to the US as a teenager and rose to be President George W Bush’s points man for Afghanistan and Iraq, post-9/11 attacks. He was more than the eyes and ears of Washington DC; as a backroom man armed with extensive contacts, knowledge and cultural instincts, he was part of the nation-building exercise in these two volatile countries.
In his recently-published memoirs, The Envoy, Khalilzad shares his insights and offers a way ahead. Pakistan, he says, remains a spoiler as it provided sanctuary to Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, and President Bush ignored his (Khalilzad's) requests to put additional pressure on Pakistan to deliver. Sunil Raman caught up with Zalmay Khalilzad, on a visit to New Delhi, and sought his insights into how the US policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan might shape up in the post-Obama world.
Will there be a change in US policy towards Pakistan post-Obama? How will the two presumptive presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, handle Pakistan?
On Afghanistan, there is not much disagreement between the two political parties. There is a broad agreement and not much disagreement, that the US must sustain its effort to help Afghanistan succeed, and a bipartisan agreement that Pakistan giving sanctuary to Taliban and terrorists is unhelpful. The question is, how specifically the two candidates, one of them as president, would deal with Pakistan and sustain effort on Afghanistan. On Afghanistan, I think they will sustain Obama’s efforts or perhaps raise it. Both Clinton and Trump are right of centre to Obama’s policies.
On Pakistan, Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State in Obama’s first term) has a history of believing that engagement with the country might produce results, but like other leaders post-9/11 she also ended with disappointment with what she achieved. The current trend in US policy to isolate Pakistan in order to incentivise and co-operate, is likely to remain or will become the dominant US policy. In other words, more negative incentive than positive engagement. So more pressure on Pakistan and on Afghanistan, will sustain the effort (of Obama administration) or increase the effort in Afghanistan.
In The Envoy and in an article you penned for The Wall Street Journal, you have come out with a radical prescription to tackle Pakistan for sponsoring and backing terrorism. Tell us more about it.
Today, I see in US a greater desire to isolate Pakistan. I think there is a need for a North Korea-type of isolation. We have asked China if they want Pakistan to be North Korea. We are pressing for delay in the IMF package to Pakistan. There has to be a complete suspension of all assistance to Pakistan and to make its military generals and government understand the consequences of continued support for extremist and terrorist groups.
How should the US deal with Pakistani generals? Three developments in recent weeks — drone attack on Mullah Mansour, the India-Iran-Afghanistan Chabahar deal and the refusal by US to pay for F16s sale — have caused unease among Pakistan’s establishment.
The drone attack was a shot across the bow for Pakistan’s generals. It had a clear message. If we can do that with Mullah Mansour (the successor of Mullah Omar was killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province in May), we can surely tackle the other Taliban leaders. It was a very powerful message. We will not stop from crossing into Pakistan to kill them. Stopping the sale of the F-16 fighter jets was another message to them. Reduction in assistance to Pakistan is another message.
Conversations have taken place between US and Pakistan — it is likely that the generals have been told clearly that if Taliban is not brought to the negotiating table then they can expect further sanctions. This is the language that the generals understand. Positive engagement has not worked and it is time to escalate pressure. Killing of Mansour provides an opportunity to shape Pakistani behaviour. The choice before Pakistan is clear: become another North Korea or change your behaviour.
For years, India has demanded that Pakistan be declared a ‘terrorist state’ but when the last NDA government, headed by AB Vajpayee, made this demand public it was virtually laughed off. Years later, it is interesting to know that US is getting frustrated with Pakistan. What role can India under Modi play?
India is a rising economic power. Its economy is growing, so is its military capability. Both US and India have expressed a desire for partnership stronger than ever before to deal with the challenges they face in the broader Asian theatre, from Pacific to the Middle East and beyond. The first thing to do is to intensify the dialogue to understand each other’s interests and concerns, and then to see how both can co-operate to achieve mutually agreed upon goals. There is a clear understanding between the two sides in dialogues that have occurred with regard to South China Sea, South East and the broader Asian balance. We need to intensify to achieve a similar level of understanding in a region that is much more complex and is lot more challenging to the region to the west of India: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia and the Middle East. Indian interest will grow in this region. There is significant opportunity for co-operation and burden sharing.
Burden sharing raises the hackles of a section of India’s establishment. People fear India might become a satellite state of the US. Can the US help India get land access to Afghanistan?
Any partnership, for it to endure, would have to have benefits for both sides. Hence, burden sharing. We have shared goals, then there has to be burden sharing, shared objectives, and shared interests. Once you agree on that there has to be division of responsibility and roles. Burden sharing is now being discussed in domestic circles in the US even when it comes to old traditional allies. India is in a good position to help and India also needs the US to help, and US needs India to help… that would make it enduring rather than tactical.
On land access to Afghanistan, it would be good for the region if Pakistan thinks in an enlightened mode. To use the transit route criss-crossing through the region, CEPC to Gwadar, Chabahar could be utilised for economic development and regional integration. It should be seen as a non-zero game for future regional building blocks. It would be good for Pakistan to move away from support for terrorist groups to economic integration, improving the lives of its people, not getting isolated and be treated as a pariah state.