The BSA, finally

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And Islamabad’s sensible position on Kabul

It was just not possible till Karzai left, and it was not easy arranging his successor, but the Americans have finally got the Bilateral Security Arrangement (BSA). It is interesting that running after the Arrangement upset the Americans’ withdrawal plans a couple of times and even frustrated Washington into making threats it could not follow up on, yet it has drawn a favourable regional response, especially from Pakistan. The ten thousand US troops that will stay behind – for a good ten years, at least – will provide a crucial buffer between a strengthening insurgency and a struggling military.

Islamabad has done the right thing by embracing this development, despite talk of the last few years that regional peace will remain elusive so long as the occupying force does not wrap up lock, stock and barrel. But, along with Zarb-e-Azb, this sort of distance from ‘strategic depth’ posturing of the past should land Pakistan in a more respectable position vis-a-vis Afghanistan. The old charge – that Pakistan tolerates militants on home soil, if not much, much more – is a lot more difficult to stick now. Instead, Islamabad is taking the lead in the most comprehensive anti-militancy drive in the region, and the Afghans have been found wanting in terms of securing borders, apprehending militants on their side, etc. But with the security pact now in place and confusion about Kabul and Washington’s role over, there is a very real possibility of all three powers finally tightening the noose around al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in both countries.

The logical sequence, therefore, is to follow US-Afghanistan convergence of interests – achieved after years of effort and investment – with getting Pakistan on board, and re-defining terms of cooperation in what should be the last round of fighting against AfPak insurgencies. But the diplomatic exercise should not end there. Other countries in the region, particularly Iran and China, have high stakes as well, and can play a big role in not only helping win the fight, but also in subsequent reconstruction that will be crucial. Once again the entire region stands at a crossroads. Like the fall of ’01, decisions taken now will reverberate through the years. It is hoped that lessons learnt over the last decade and a half will not be lost, and the new partnership will have a better sense of priorities. Number one should be ending terrorism, following which economic and diplomatic linkages should be strengthened.