There is much talk of an endgame in Afghanistan but apart from conjectures, suggestions and analyses there is nothing that indicates that some kind of endgame has actually started or is about to start in Afghanistan. On the other hand, there are clear indications that US, NATO and ISAF are going to be on the ground till 2014 perhaps with some marginal reduction in numbers. There are also enough reports that clearly imply that some kind of ‘strategic framework agreement’ is being worked out between the US and Afghanistan. This agreement will probably be for the period beyond 2014 and in this context 2024 has been mentioned.
From the overt source information available, it seems that US forces will stay on their bases in Afghanistan that will either be jointly manned with Afghan Forces or will be under ‘Afghan control’ with the US forces as ‘guests’. The transition that is supposed to herald the endgame will translate into Afghan Security Forces being given responsibility for selected areas and a front line combat role. The US/NATO will be there as back-up with Special Forces, air power and drone strikes. So far, the Taliban have given no indication that this envisaged environment will be acceptable to them if they get political representation and if the ethnic balance in the Afghan government and security forces is balanced by giving them a presence.
This may be what the reconciliation process is all about and where Pakistan is supposed to play a critical and constructive role together with the US pressure on it to shut down Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in its western border areas.
Pakistan has been saying for a long time that while it has over a thousand posts along the Afghan-Pakistan border, there are no reciprocal arrangements on the Afghan side. Pakistan’s point of view becomes relevant with the Taliban mounting attacks on its border posts since April this year from sanctuaries in Afghanistan especially from the areas where NATO/ISAF forces have thinned out and handed over control to Afghan Security Forces.
This may be a foretaste of things to come and in this context the point made by the Pakistani Army Chief much earlier on the sidelines of the now dead strategic talks that there had to be clarity in the endgame if it had to even begin. Right now, there are too many ambiguities and speculative ideas going around.
The Afghan political scene remains uncertain but the one certainty seems to be that it will be dominated by the ‘north’ and that the US will not be averse to that given their suspicions about the Pashtun-Taliban linkage and Pakistan’s Pashtun population and influence.
The capacity of the Afghan National Army and other security forces remains questionable and because of this an upsurge in violence and cross border activity cannot be ruled out especially if the ethnic balance question is not realistically addressed.
The status of forces agreement between the US and Afghanistan should also lead to some kind of an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the status and security of the border, sanctuaries on either side and a mechanism to resolve situations triggered by terrorist or other events. If the US is to have a prolonged stay on bases in Afghanistan then an agreement with Pakistan should also be worked out to resolve issues like access and drone strikes that are currently impacting negatively on the US-Pakistan relationship.
The perception gaining ground is that even if the US (in collusion with others) has no grand design to undo Pakistan then it is certainly working on a ‘worst case contingency’ to safeguard its interest in Pakistan within the overall regional environment. Pakistan, of course, needs to understand that such contingency plans surface when the signals from within the country are not positive. The clear conclusion being that Pakistan needs to put its house in order asap.
Spearhead Research is a private centre for research and consultancy on security, headed by Jehangir Karamat. Spearhead analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual.