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WASHINGTON: Pakistan is bracing itself for the consequences of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Islamabad’s Ambassador to Washington Sherry Rehman said, underlining the country’s policy options after 2014.
“If there’s no negotiated resolution to the Afghan crisis, there will be terrible consequences and Pakistan will be the worst hit,” she said.
The US plans to end its combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and is encouraging Kabul to engage the Taliban for a peaceful end to the conflict. The Taliban appear reluctant to work with Kabul.
In a policy speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Rehman said Pakistan no longer saw Afghanistan as its strategic backyard and the military was supporting this policy shift. “It builds equities for peace,” she said, in response to a question about the country’s nuclear arsenal.
But she explained that Islamabad also had launched a ‘diplomatic surge’ to bring peace and stability to the region and was working with other nations in South and Central Asia to achieve it.
She rejected the suggestion that while the civilian government may have moved away from viewing Afghanistan as its strategic backyard, the military still believed in the old doctrine.
“The civilian government and the military are working together” in bringing about this change, she said.
“We have stopped playing favourites in Afghanistan because we have learned that no one but the Afghans can broker peace for their country.”
Rehman said that those who suggested that the US and Pakistan were like a couple who were once married but were now engaged in divorce proceedings committed ‘intellectual laziness’.
“This is a relationship between two independent nations with real responsibilities,” she said.
The two countries, she noted, had “cognitive disconnects” and needed to overcome “pathologies of distrust” that bedevilled their ties.
“There are ghosts from the past that need to be stood up and exorcised,” she added.
The “narrative of abandonment” still dominated conversations in Pakistan because the memories of the recent past were “littered with a toxic trash of war”, she said.
Pakistan was not trying to divest itself of the responsibilities of what happened after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but it did have a calendar of anxieties as another withdrawal gets closer, she said.
The US and Pakistan “may have won the war together, but we lost the peace”, she said.
Unlike the US and the Soviet Union, “we do not have the luxury of walking away from the region”, she added.
Rehman said she did not like using “the cliché” that Afghanistan was a graveyard of empires “but it does bubble up”.
She stressed the need for going beyond Afghanistan while seeking a new relationship with Pakistan and urged the Americans to base new ties on trade, not aid.
Rehman also reminded the Americans that terrorists could not be defeated with drones alone. “It’s not a very good idea, is a breach of international laws and brings only diminishing returns to for the US.”