Pakistan considers the Afghan Taliban as its “core strategic asset” and is unlikely to abandon the militant group as Islamabad’s Afghanistan policy is about “geo-strategic manoeuvring” against India, a former American diplomat has said.
Former US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson said on Tuesday that he is convinced that Islamabad will not abandon the Taliban, because for the Pakistani establishment, the Afghanistan policy is “about geo-strategic manoeuvring against India”.
“And since the establishments view India as an existential threat, all measures against the eastern neighbour are acceptable,” he said while delivering remarks on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Stimson Institute, a Washington DC-based think-tank.
Olson said there was no hesitation under the Obama administration about having direct conversations, and even at times some of the US assistants took specific actions, which did not yield any results.
“So I think we have to take almost as a fact that Pakistan is going to continue to support the Taliban, and we have to make the best of it that we can,” he said.
This is directly linked with India, he argued
Talking about America’s role in the issue, Olson said any US policy with regard to Pakistan should take this into account.
“Fundamentally, I think Pakistan sees the (Afghan) Taliban as a core strategic asset. I don’t think there’s much that the United States can do to get them to change their core strategic perception. You can get them to change their views on things that are less important to them, but a core strategic issue, I think our leverage is pretty limited,” he said.
“Despite heavy US pressure, and significant blandishments, Pakistan has never abandoned the policy of countenancing the Taliban’s use of its territory against its western neighbour (Afghanistan),” he said.
Arguing that one way to overcome this behaviour of Pakistan is to get the peace talks on track, Olson said, “If you get a peace process going between Afghans that is genuine and has a degree of mutual support, I think that will undermine Pakistan’s ability to be a spoiler in this regard”.
He opposed the idea of designating Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, saying he does not see where it would lead anywhere in terms of increasing America’s influence or ability to continue to work in Afghanistan.
The diplomat also warned against any attempt by the Trump administration to mediate talks between India and Pakistan or to resolve the Kashmir issue in order to get progress in Afghanistan.
“I don’t see that as anything that can be done in the near term. I would be very cautious of getting into that. I wish the Trump administration every bit of success and good luck with dealing with those set of issues.
“But the fact is, I don’t see the structure in place right now with either the Modi government or the Nawaz government to bring about a dramatic improvement in Indo-Pak relations,” he said.
The high point of Indo-Pak relations was probably under Musharraf when he had a plan for Kashmir that actually involved de-emphasising, it was kind of a European Union solution if you will, de-emphasising the importance of the border rather than addressing the question of the border, Olson said.
Responding to a question, he said that it is improper to think that the Taliban is a fully owned subsidiary of Pakistan.
“Pakistan, I do not believe quite genuinely, can order all of the Taliban to make peace or, frankly, to do much of anything else. I think creating a diplomatic construct in which you rely upon that is ultimately probably going to fail because the Taliban do have a vote in all of this,” he added.