President Trump sent a letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan stating that relations with Pakistan are “very important” to solving the Afghan War and asking for his help and cooperation in advancing peace talks with the Taliban.
It is a bit like asking former Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh to help bring the North Vietnamese Army to the negotiating table. The outcome will be much the same.
I am sure Mr. Khan will be only too glad to arrange an orderly exit of U.S. and NATO forces through Pakistani territory. After which, he will unleash the remainder of his Taliban proxies from their Pakistani sanctuaries to overthrow the present government in Kabul.
In order to maintain the appearance of an equitable settlement, we may initially see a fig-leaf coalition government. Eventually, however, the Taliban will again take control of Afghanistan with a yet undetermined amount of bloodshed and number of refugees. Perhaps the United States can settle them with the Hmong.
It may be that China could become a mediator in the peace process and temper the wrath of the Taliban via its ally Pakistan, who, as President Trump implies in his letter, control the Taliban.
Ironically, China will ultimately throw the Taliban under the bus because Beijing cannot achieve its commercial and military aims in South Asia with such an erratic and unreliable regime on its doorstep and giving China’s Muslim minorities dangerous ideas.
The disappearance of the Taliban will happen with the assistance of Pakistan, who could have done so for the United States in 2001, except for the fact that it has been an ally of China.
Afghanistan will then be welcomed as a participant in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), become a full member of the China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization and be incorporated into the deep and comprehensive China-Pakistan military alliance.
After consolidating its commercial and diplomatic dominance of the region, China will expand its military presence, particularly on Pakistan’s southern coast in Balochistan Province.
That will include a naval base on the Jiwani peninsula between the vital CPEC port of Gwadar and the Iranian border, as well as a string of other facilities running east to Sonmiani just north of Karachi, a “China-Pakistan Military Corridor,” if you will.
Those military bases would dominate the vital sea lanes of the northern Indian Ocean, particularly the Arabian Sea and the Strait of Hormuz; isolate India; box in the U.S. naval headquarters in Bahrain; outflank the U.S. Navy base in Diego Garcia; and provide an uninterrupted connection between the Chinese military facilities in the South China Sea and its naval base in Djibouti at the mouth of the Red Sea and the entrance to the Suez Canal, another strategic chokepoint.
Given its current trajectory, the conclusion of the Afghanistan conflict will be a humiliating military defeat for the United States with consequences far greater than the Vietnam debacle. That is: a grave diminution of geopolitical influence in a strategically critical region.
For 17 years, we fought a war never recognizing the true nature of the enemy and applying a flawed but fashionable counterinsurgency approach to what was, in essence, not an insurgency but a proxy war. Now we are asking the sponsor of those proxies for help in extricating ourselves from a hole which we were largely responsible for digging by ignoring the obvious.
President Trump was correct when he tweeted earlier this year: “[The] United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies [and] deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools.”
Shortly before his death in 2015, Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, the former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, a committed Islamist and known as the “godfather of the Taliban,” said it best in an Urdu language television interview: “One day, history will say that the ISI drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan with the help of USA and another sentence will be recorded that says the ISI drove the USA out of Afghanistan with the help of the USA.”
Just who is helping whom?
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa.