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The US Senate is now in the process of examining a bill tabled before it by Republican Senators, titled ‘Afghanistan, Counterterrorism, Oversight and Accountability Act. The bill suggests that all those who play a part or in the past played a part in supporting the Taliban, or entities who back them in any way, whether through military means, assistance, or strategic help face possible sanctions. Pakistan has been mentioned in this context, despite the fact that it remained a US ally for the years of war and afterwards as talks with the Taliban were held in Doha and other places. Both the ‘war on terror and the talks in Doha were ironically conducted also by the same party the bill’s senators are from. The draft bill is an attempt to pass the buck and Pakistan has sufficient reasons to defend its case. The 57-page draft bill made several references to Pakistan. It seeks investigation into the role Pakistan played from 2001 to 2020, the fall of Kabul and the Afghan Taliban takeover of Panjshir valley, the last province offering resistance to the Taliban rule.
The Foreign Office already reacted to the draft bill calling it unwarranted. The aftermath of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, which began after US troops invaded the country at the end of 2001, has left the US looking rather embarrassed in the eyes of the world – and also facing an immense dilemma. The fall of Kabul is being compared with the fall of Saigon, some 40 years ago. Ultimately, the US is to blame for its debacle. Senior generals have already spoken of a major intelligence failure on the part of their own agencies. But politicians and leaders from a country that still claims to hold the apex spot in the world’s power hierarchy are obviously reluctant to mention this – and are looking everywhere but at themselves to place blame. We see that a debate is underway in Washington both in the media and on Capitol Hill to reflect on and examine the circumstances leading to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The draft legislation introduced in the US Senate by a group of Senate Republicans seems to be a reaction to this defeat.
The bill says, “Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and not less frequently than annually thereafter, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on entities providing support to the Taliban,” the bill further says while further requiring an assessment of “support by state and non-state actors, including the Government of Pakistan, for the Taliban between 2001 and 2020. It also fears that the Taliban’s rise to power may result in a safe haven for jihadi groups, like al Qaeda and ISIS. The bill also stressed that the US president should not recognize as an ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States or accept diplomatic credentials from any individual who is a member of the Taliban. It directs that the US should use its influence at the United Nations to object to the issuance of credentials to any member of the delegation of Afghanistan to the United Nations General Assembly who is a member of the Taliban; to ensure that no member of the Taliban may serve in a leadership position in any United Nations body, fund, program, or specialized agency.
All such references are inconsistent with the spirit of Pakistan-US cooperation on Afghanistan since 2001, including facilitation of the Afghan peace process and during the recent evacuations of American and other nationals from Afghanistan. Pakistan has consistently maintained that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The US is accusing Pakistan that we facilitated the Taliban but Pakistan only facilitated them to bring them to the table at the request of the US. Pakistan only wanted the world to engage with the Taliban so that peace can prevail in the neighbouring country. Pakistan is standing with the world and wants the world to stand with Afghanistan in this difficult situation. Similarly, a coercive approach will not work and the only way to achieve long term sustainable peace in Afghanistan was through engagement and dialogue. Moreover, sustained security cooperation between Pakistan and the United States would remain critical in dealing with any future terrorist threat in the region. Such proposed legislative measures are, therefore, uncalled for and counterproductive.
Although Pakistan has voiced concerns over the draft bill, but it is premature to say if it becomes a law. The ruling Democratic Party and Republicans currently have 50 senators each in the 100-member upper House of US Congress. This means both sides lack a majority to pass any legislation. In this case, US Vice President Kamala Harris’s vote becomes the key deciding factor. Although there was no reaction from the Biden administration over the draft bill. The draft bill reignites the debate in Pakistan whether the US is a trustworthy partner. Pakistan had endured US sanctions after the withdrawal of former Soviet Union forces from Afghanistan in 1989. Two years later then US president Bush Senior invoked the ‘Pressler Amendment’ to suspend all kinds of civil and military assistance to Pakistan for pursuing the nuclear programme. Pakistani policymakers have longstanding fears that the US may get tough on Islamabad after its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now, it’s time that we should undertake a proper and carefully structured review of our policies vis-a-vis Afghanistan and its ensuing challenges and parliament is the venue where this essential discourse is launched, bolstered by a debate in the media and research-oriented think tanks.
The US’s Afghan policy has collapsed. It lost the Afghan war, and whatever geopolitical ends that it desired were never achieved. It seems that the current US president is working on the premise of using sanctions as economic leverage to regain the lost geopolitical ends in this region. US senators have to understand the positive role Pakistan has played in fighting terrorism, and in facilitating the peace process. The US politicians needed to find out the causes behind the debacle in Afghanistan that scapegoating Pakistan would not help the cause. They have to understand that a partnership with Pakistan is required in future as well to achieve stability in Afghanistan and the region. Of all the threats and challenges that have rocked Afghanistan, it is the imposition of the sanctions that will be most shocking. Diplomacy is the management of change and deals with transformations in the relations between states while taking into account the changing fabric of transnational relations. Like the natural environment, diplomatic relations are not static and are based on interests and requirements of the stipulated era.
Afghanistan needs economic support and assistance, and if the economic pressure through sanctions is designed to alter the Taliban’s behaviour then that is not likely to work, especially when the worst of military actions didn’t alter their behaviour. Apparently, there is no other strong enough political movement that can replace the Taliban. Sanctioning Afghanistan or Pakistan to recover lost geopolitical ends is absolutely a wrong premise. Formulating a US policy on this premise will create more problems than it will solve. After the US departure from Afghanistan, there is too much at stake for China and Russia. Regional powers under the concept of economic regionalism will surely step into balance and support the economies of these countries. Undermining the efficacy of US-imposed sanctions might just be a suitable strategic goal of these determinist powers who are now the major actors of this new cold war that has resurfaced. Pakistan emphasises the importance of the international community remaining engaged with Afghanistan and supporting the Afghan people. There was an urgent need to provide assistance to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to take steps to ensure economic stability.