Notes on 2014 How shall be the shape of things to come?

Sometimes you do not like an author for his predilections but still you read him.One such author for me has been Ahmed Rashid of Pakistan.  Statements by some top Kashmir leaders both combatants and political criticizing Islamabad for distancing itself from Kashmir or putting it on back-burner reminded me about his recent book with a provocative title, ‘Pakistan on the Brink: The future of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the West.  The book   is relevant to the ongoing debate in Kashmir about lukewarm attitude of Pakistan, towards what it described as “the core issue”.

This is his third book  on his favourite subject war in Afghanistan and security situation in South Asia, the earlier too being Taliban that covers the Afghanistan of 1980s and 1990s and rise of Taliban and Al Qaeda and second ‘Descent into Chaos’, that gives a ‘comprehensive’ account of the first eight years after September 11, 2001.  His third book is focused on the current crisis in Pakistan that include bitterest ever relations between Washington and Islamabad once partners in the “war on terror” and strong allies during the cold war. The author hopes that ‘young readers would one day read his trilogy as a single document that covers a terrible period of mankind’s history.’ 

I am neither interested in corroborating nor contradicting the contentions of the author. I also do not intend to compare the book to yet another recently published book on the subject written by yet another journalist Anatol Lieven , ‘Pakistan a Hard Country,” that does not tell all that  negative a tale about the country but exudes with some optimism. The book has largely put to end speculations about Pakistan succumbing to internal and external   crisis it has been confronting since September 11, and instead sees the country as a ‘viable and coherent state.’

Ahmed Rashid’s book besides analyzing the multiple crisis Pakistan is confronted with also provides an insight into the situation that  is likely to emerge during 2014, the year that two years back was described by U S Vice President Joe Biden as ‘drop-dead date for transitioning of power to Afghanistan authorities. On date, there seems nothing for Washington to celebrate about, situation for it is not shaping as envisioned but instead as Ahmed sees it, “the region seems moving inexorably towards greater conflict and contradiction rather than peaceful resolution and reconciliation.” Notwithstanding the relations between Islamabad and Washington being sourest ever Pakistan is emerging as more important a player for stability in the region than many others.   Anatol Lieven, journalist who covered Pakistan   for over a decade has articulated these ideas in his book:   

“For Pakistan is in the end a great deal more important and potentially dangerous than Afghanistan. Whatever strategy the US ends up adopting in Afghanistan, Pakistan will be critical to its success.”  

The United States worry about withdrawal of 130000-strong US-led international force by the end of 2014 on victory note from Afghanistan was also evident at the two day May 20,-21 2012  Nato summit in Chicago. However, after the pull out Nato forces will be left behind in Afghanistan. Though no figure was announced at the Chicago conference but the US commanders in Kabul have spoken of around 15000-20000 personnel continuing to remain stationed in the war torn country. The presence of the US troops after the withdrawal has caused uneasiness in the neighboring countries.  Ahmed sees this going to contribute significantly to the ‘region’s dangerous instability’.  “The Obama administration has failed to detail its aims in the region beyond 2014, thereby giving rise to speculation and conspiracy theories.”  The presence of troops cannot be just for training purposes and   rightly, it is questioned, ‘What are Washington’s geo-strategic interests in the region and to what extent is it willing to deploy troops to pursue their interests? Does the United States want to stabilize Pakistan and Afghanistan or would it rather want to contain or even challenge Iran and China? Or would leave the region in the hands of trusted allies like India and Turkey.

Ahmed also writes that ‘Pakistan has genuine national security interests in Afghanistan, and it wants the international community to take them into account.’ The author highlights contradictions in Pakistan’s Afghan policy and sees them as disadvantageous to its interest. Contrary to considered opinion amongst Pakistanis, that China was dependable friend of the country Ahmed does not subscribe to this belief. He sees relations between the two countries ‘essentially military to military, rather than people to people. He does not believe that China will compensate the lost economic aid if its relations with Washington finally break down. The author known for his pro-American tilt sees China’s stake in its strategic partnership with Pakistan for growing influence of India. He is also critical of China’s wavering Kashmir policy. The author analyses stakes of the neighboring countries in Afghanistan.  There seems no stability in the sight in the region even after the departure of the US and Nato troops from Afghanistan unless Washington involves all the regional players and addresses their concerns.

The author while reminding about his joint paper called ‘From Great Game to Grand Bargain’ with American scholar Barnett Rubin published in autumn of 2008, in which the duo had advised incoming Obama administration for adopting a regional approach for resolution of the Afghanistan. The appointment of Richard Holbrooke as envoy in the region was   an important move for pursuing the regional approach for bringing peace in the region.   As Ahmed suggests the region is beset with crises that are getting worse, but there is still time before 2014 to rectify situation. “First and foremost, the US has to get strategy right and share it with allies. It cannot afford to disconnect the disputes that have been perennially threatening peace and security in the region rather it will have to ensure a time frame for the resolution of these disputes before 2014.

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