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Pakistan and US-Afghan Relations

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US-Afghan relations have gone through turbulent phases starting from the early 1950s. Now, the latest peace talks signal a hopeful conclusion by 2021. Here's a comprehensive look at all that has happened in the last 70 years and how Pakistan's role has changed over time.

As the cold war began between the Soviet Union and the US, Afghanistan became important. US-Afghanistan contact increased during the Cuban Revolution between 1953 and 1959. The Soviet Union was supporting Cuba's Fidel Castro and the US was focusing on Afghanistan for its strategic purposes. The focus was to counter the spread of communism into South Asia and the Persian Gulf.

In 1953, Richard Nixon (US VP at the time) made an official diplomatic visit to Kabul. In 1958, PM Daoud Khan became the 1st Afghan to speak before the United States Congress in Washington. PM Daoud focused on many issues, but most significantly, highlighted the importance of US-Afghan relations. He also met with President Dwight Eisenhower, signed a cultural exchange agreement, and assured personal relations with VP Nixon.

These were positive steps.

Then President Eisenhower made a state visit to Afghanistan in December 1959. It is then the US felt confident that Afghanistan was safe from becoming a Soviet satellite state. From the 1950s to 1979, US foreign assistance provided Afghanistan with more than $500 million in aid.

This aid included loans, grants, and surplus agricultural commodities to develop transportation facilities, increase agricultural production, expand the educational system and improve government administration. Then in 1963, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan visited the US and met John F. Kennedy. The Soviets began to sense that the US was turning Afghanistan into a satellite state, but in 1965 the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was established.

By the 1970s, numerous US teachers, engineers, doctors, diplomats had travelled and lived in Afghanistan. In 1973, Daoud Khan overthrew the monarchy of King Zahir Shah with the help of PDPA and established the first republic of Afghanistan.

He was convinced that with military support from the USSR he could take control of Pashtun lands in northwest Pakistan. However, President Daoud Khan became sceptical as the Soviets tried to dictate Afghanistan's foreign policy, and relations between the two countries deteriorated.

Then began The Saur Revolution and the increasing conflict on the Afghan political fronts. The same PDPA that first helped President Daoud now stood against him. The revolution resulted in the creation of a government with Nur Muhammad Taraki as President and would be the precursor to the 1979 Soviet intervention and the 1979–89 Soviet-Afghan War against the Mujahideen.

In 1979, after American Ambassador Adolph Dubs was murdered in Kabul, the US reduced bilateral assistance and terminated a small military training program. All remaining assistance agreements were ended after the Soviet-Afghan War.

The Soviet-Afghan War was a conflict where the 'Mujahideen' and smaller Maoist groups fought a 9-year guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and Afghanistan government throughout the 1980s. It was fought mostly in the Afghan countryside, weakening and damaging the economy and land heavily.

In this time, between 562,000 and 2,000,000 civilians were killed and millions of Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran. While the Soviet occupied Afghanistan, the US provided about $3 billion in military and economic assistance to the Mujahideen on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.

The time between 1970-90 saw the most severe Soviet-Afghan confrontation. The socialist bloc (PDPA) headed by USSR, carried out a policy that was ideologically the opposite of Islamabad’s. The Socialist and Islamist ideology collided on the Afghan-Pakistani frontiers.

The PDPA also tried to influence Pashtun nationalism in Pakistan and fuelled the idea of ​​promoting Pashtun statehood to the south up to the Arabian Sea. Political organizations that fled from Afghanistan fighting against the left-democratic regime were deployed in Pakistan.

Official relations between the countries were interrupted and indirect negotiations took place. Pakistan's allies (US, Saudi Arabia and China) played a role. The subversive war against PDPA and the grouping of Islamist Mujahideen in Pakistan was deemed successful after USSR collapsed.

Pakistan financially, diplomatically, and militarily supported the Afghan Mujahideen and hosted more than 5 million Afghans after this. Then began the era that will establish the Taliban government after a four-year Civil War from 1992-1996.

On October 15th 1999, The United Nations Security Council created an 'Al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee' which declared the groups as terrorist entities and imposed sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments. Taliban came into existence after the Afghanistan Civil War and provided Al-Qaeda with a safe zone for operations.

Then in 2001 Ahmad Shah Massoud, Commander of the Northern Alliance (anti-Taliban coalition), was assassinated by Al-Qaeda, weakening the anti-Taliban resistance. The ill-fated 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took away close to 3000 lives and changed Afghanistan's positioning forever.

On 18th September 2001, a joint resolution signed into law by President George W. Bush authorized the use of force against the attackers. This joint resolution is what was cited by the Bush administration as a legal rationale to take drastic measures to combat terrorism, invade Afghanistan, eavesdrop on US citizens without a court order, and standing up the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Pakistan initially sided with the US in the war on terrorism and allowed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) supplies to cross into Afghanistan. This decision by President Pervaiz Musharraf ended up damaging the country in irrecoverable ways. The after-effects of which are visible even now and will be for many years.

Taliban started attacking Pakistan due to its geographic location and Brown University's report says that 23,372 civilians and 8,832 security personnel were killed in the war on terrorism. Moreover, the direct and indirect economic costs of terrorism from 2000–2010 amounts to $68 billion.

Between 2005 and 2013, more than 80,000 Pakistanis have been killed in this war against terror, out of which close to 50,000 were innocent civilians. Moreover, the direct and indirect economic costs of terrorism from 2000–2010 amounts to $68 billion. In 2018, DAWN reported a total loss of $126.79 billion to the Pakistani economy due to war on terror.

In 2001, the US with British support, began a bombing campaign against Taliban forces. Canada, Australia, Germany and France pledged future support. At the end of December 2001, Bin Laden escaped despite a targeted operation on the Tora Bora caves.

The United Nations invited major Afghan factions to a conference in Germany. On December 5th, 2001, the factions signed the Bonn Agreement, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1383.

This agreement made Hamid Karzai as interim administration head (elected president in 2004), and created an international peacekeeping force to maintain security in Kabul.

In December 2001, the Taliban regime came to an end, while Al-Qaeda continued to hide in the mountains. After a major ground assault in March 2002, President George W. Bush called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in April 2002.

From 2001-2009, $38 billion were appropriated for reconstruction assistance and humanitarian purposes by the US. President Barack Obama came into power and sent 17,000 more troops to the war zone. As of January 2009, there were 37,000 troops in Afghanistan. By August 2009, this number becomes between 60,000 to 68,000.

The new strategy for war links Pakistan's stability to success in Afghanistan.

Pakistan Army has conducted at least five major and multiple minor operations so far. Operations Enduring Freedom (2001-2002), Al Mizan (2002–2006), Zalzala (2008), Sher Dil, Rah-e-Haq, and Rah-e-Rast (2007–2009) and Rah-e-Nijat (2009–10). By 2009 end, South Waziristan had 428,000 Internally Displaced People.

In May 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US forces. A plan to withdraw 33,000 troops by mid-2012 was put in place and around 70,000 troops were scheduled to stay till 2014. Obama then announced that the US is holding preliminary peace talks with the Taliban leadership.

In January 2012, Taliban agreed to open an office in Qatar, but two months later withdrew, accusing Washington of going back on promises towards a prisoner swap. Pakistan agreed unanimously on Sept 9, 2013, to negotiate with the militants as the first option to counter terrorism.

After Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a sharp decline in terrorism was observed in Pakistan. According to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), the largest number of terrorist attacks happened in 2010.

Post 2014, terrorist attacks in Pakistan have significantly declined. In 2013, Afghan forces took responsibility nationwide as NATO handed over control of the remaining 95 districts. The handover occurred on the same day as the announcement of Taliban and US officials resuming talks in Doha. The US troops currently remain to train Afghan forces.

In April 2017, the US dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb ('Mother Of All Bombs') on suspected Islamic State militants in Nangarhar Province. President Donald Trump not only pressed for combat but also said that political settlement with the Taliban is far off.

 In February 2019, negotiations between the US and Taliban soared, but in September 2019 President Donald Trump suddenly broke off peace talks. This happened after the Special Envoy in US, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that an agreement had been reached 'in principle'. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Qamar Javed Bajwa's role in facilitating the start of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations in Doha were of critical importance and highly appreciated by Ambassador Zalmay Khalid.

Finally, in February 2020 the US -Taliban signed a peace deal in Doha. Prior to this, Imran Khan had been voicing his concern on Pakistan's position in this war since the start. He was against deploying soldiers to fight on behalf of the US and had warned of a serious psychological impact on the civilians and a staggering blow to the economy. Imran Khan’s push to ‘negotiate’ with the Taliban labelled him as 'Taliban Khan' in 2013 and put him in a negative light. Although, it was his far-sightedness that eventually got everyone on the same table.

Pakistan has suffered an unquantifiable loss since 2001. The current Pakistani leadership has played a major role in persuading the Taliban to 'negotiate' and sign an agreement with the US in Feb 2020 that led towards the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha. This will, hopefully, be the start of a peaceful chapter.

Pakistan Zindabad!