In his maiden appearance at the United Nations as prime minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi surprised many by his polished performance. He was articulate, confident, and humorous. This stood in sharp contrast with his predecessor Nawaz Sharif who was dour and could not even read properly from a prepared script.
The difference between the two men is their background and level of education. Sharif had little proper education spending most of his time playing cricket; Abbasi studied in California as well as Washington, DC. He is also an old Gallian (student of Lawrence College, Ghora Gali; ICIT director Zafar Bangash is also an old Gallian but this will not earn Abbasi any favors here!). Another feather in his cap is that he is a trained pilot.
His personal traits aside — Abbasi faces allegations of kickbacks in the LNG contract with Qatar — he came with a full brief to New York. Relations between Pakistan and the US have hit a new low following Donald Trump’s allegation that Pakistan was providing “safe havens” to Afghan militants fighting the US-installed regime in Afghanistan. This evoked strong reaction from Islamabad resulting in the cancellation of several visits and meetings with US officials.
While the bulk of his speech was rightly dedicated to articulating Pakistan’s principled stand on the decades-long Kashmir dispute and highlighting Indian crimes against the people there, Abbasi did not let this opportunity pass to respond to Trump’s ludicrous allegations against his country. While speaking to members of the UN General Assembly, his remarks were primarily directed at the US and in particular Trump. Abbasi said, “Apart from the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and its people have suffered the most from four decades of foreign intervention and civil wars in Afghanistan.” He then reminded the world that Pakistan is host to more than three million Afghan refugees — the largest number of refugees anywhere in world. This has gone on since 1978. No other country has suffered so much as has Pakistan due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan, first under Soviet occupation and now under US occupation.
Abbasi then zeroed in on Trump’s allegations against Pakistan. “Having suffered and sacrificed so much due to our role in the global counter terrorism campaign it is especially galling for Pakistan to be blamed for the military or political stalemate in Afgha-nistan. We are not prepared to be anyone’s scapegoat. Taliban ‘safe havens’ are located not in Pakistan but in the large tracts of territory controlled by the Taliban in Afghanistan.” This was a reference to the fact that the Taliban control nearly 50% of Afghan territory and in the remainder, the US-backed Kabul regime has little influence.
American officials have a nasty habit of blaming others for their failures. On July 28, Trump announced that he was going to increase US troop levels by 4,000 ostensibly to “win the war” in Afghanistan. One wonders what American and its allies’ troops have been trying to do in Afghanistan since 2001? At the height of the US-NATO war on Afghanistan, they had 160,000 troops in the country. If they could not defeat the Taliban with those numbers, what could an additional 4,000 troops do, bringing the current US total to 12,000?
Some other statistics would help to clarify the situation a little more. Pakistan has deployed 203,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan, fighting the scourge of terrorism. These terrorists are provided sanctuary in Afghanistan under US occupation. Pakistan has lost more than 27,000 people in the fight against terrorism, including 6,000 soldiers and officers. Among those killed in the war against terrorism have been three Pakistani generals. The US, by contrast has lost 2,216 troops in Afghanistan, very few of them officers above the rank of captain. It is truly appalling that the US would accuse Pakistan of not doing enough.
Pakistan’s infrastructure has been badly damaged causing $120 billion in losses. Since the US launched its war on Afghanistan, it has given Pakistan a grand total of $30 billion (less than $2 billion/year). This money is not bakhshish; it is money paid for using Pakistan’s military bases and for transportation costs across its territory for moving goods and war materiale into landlocked Afghanistan. Such transit facilities, as mentioned, have caused immense damage to Pakistan’s infrastructure.
The US has spent $714 billion in Afghanistan since 2001, according to US-released data. Such massive outlays have spawned a culture of corruption. The vast majority of Afghan politicians, lawmakers, and top military and police officials are thoroughly corrupt. They also frequently double-cross the Americans. Many warlords are on America’s payroll. America has also got India — Pakistan’s nemesis — involved in Afghanistan. This has not gone down well in Islamabad at all. Such displeasure has been made known to the Americans; India has no role in Afghanistan, period.
Instead of looking at its own failures, American officials want to shift the blame on Pakistan. Abbasi would have none of it. Emphasizing that, “No one desires peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan,” he reminded the Americans, “From 16 years of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, it is clear that peace will not be restored by the continuing resort to military force. Neither Kabul and the Coalition, nor the Afghan Taliban, can impose a military solution on each other. The international community — as expressed in several United Nations resolutions — has concluded that peace can be restored in Afghanistan only through a negotiated settlement.”
Without mincing words, Abbasi then told the Americans what they are probably not prepared to hear. “What Pakistan is not prepared to do is to fight the Afghan war on Pakistan’s soil. Nor can we endorse any failed strategy that will prolong and intensify the suffering of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan and other regional countries.”
He did not leave it at that but went on to offer the Americans an exit strategy that is realistic and doable. While the Americans are tone deaf to any reasonable suggestions, these have been to drilled into their heads, Abbasi nonetheless laid these proposals out.
“Pakistan believes that the urgent and realistic goals in Afghanistan should be: (1) concerted action to eliminate the presence in Afghanistan of Da‘ish, al-Qaeda and their affiliates including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which was recently declared a terrorist organization by the Security Council; and (2) promote negotiations between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban — in the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) or any trilateral format — to evolve a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. These two steps offer the most realistic prospect of restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan and our region.”
It is refreshing to see and hear a Pakistani leader articulate his country’s position so clearly. What will be interesting to see is whether he can see through these policies to their logical end or this will turn out to be empty bluster as usual?