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‘That the United States is leaving at a fixed date has its own consequences.’

– Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri,
former Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Kasuri speaks to Faizan Usmani in this exclusive interview with SouthAsia.

August 2021

A senior politician based in Lahore in Punjab, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs from November 2002 to November 2007. He was educated at the Universities of Punjab, Cambridge and Oxford, and was called to the Bar from Gray’s Inn, London. Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri is the author of ‘Neither a Hawk, Nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ which is regarded as an authoritative account on the most successful Pakistan-India process between 2002-2007 and includes the details of a framework on Kashmir agreed on the backchannel.

With reference to the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, what are the complications and security challenges for the region?
After Great Britain and former Soviet Union, the United States has finally joined the league of world powers that had to leave Afghanistan after invading the country, thus confirming its status as the graveyard of empires. Now, with particular reference to foreign policy repercussions post-U.S. withdrawal, the event will reverberate internationally for many years to come. Both Pakistan and Iran, being in the Afghan neighbourhood, will be directly affected. It is thus in Pakistan’s interest to involve other regional countries like China, Iran and Afghanistan’s immediate northern neighbours in this effort. In this connection, the format of ‘Troika Plus’ involving United States, Russia, China and Pakistan can prove very useful.

On the positive side, we at least know what is America’s final position on Afghanistan and this is of critical importance to Pakistan since it impacts Pakistan’s security directly. Although observers and analysts of international affairs had concluded much earlier that United States’ efforts in Afghanistan were not proving very productive, nevertheless, the final announcement that United States is leaving at a fixed date, come what may, has its own consequences. We have seen some of these in the Taliban rapid gains, as well as a flurry of international efforts to prevent yet another civil war breaking out in Afghanistan. In this connection, the visit of the Afghan Taliban to Iran, as well as to Beijing and Moscow to assure neighbouring countries that they will not allow Afghan territory to be used against third countries, is of great significance.

Does the Afghan withdrawal signal a bigger shift in American policy?
When Joe Biden assumed the U.S. presidency in January, he wanted to extend the date of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, perhaps because of the pressure exerted by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. However, after getting a stern reaction from the Taliban leadership, Biden realised that his original instincts were correct. In this connection, it needs to be pointed out that President Biden, who was the Vice President under President Barack Obama, had in fact opposed Obama’s order regarding the surge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan - a decision which was made largely under military pressure.

Despite having declared the Afghan war ‘The Right War’ and the Iraq war the wrong one, Biden did not wish to have that surge. But, there was a lot of pressure and so he wanted to give the military a chance. When Donald Trump became the U.S. President, he left no doubt about America’s intention to leave Afghanistan. When Joe Biden became the President, it was crystal clear as to what was going to happen. In fact, the only surprise was a slight postponement in the U.S. exit ordered by Biden; but, I think it was quite meaningless to postpone the move for three or four months.

Is there a shift in American policy towards Pakistan?
The fact that the United States has already agreed to pull its forces out of Afghanistan, reduces Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban too, as far as the need for compromise is concerned. In Pakistan’s own interests, as well as that of Afghanistan, there needs to be a political arrangement, because in the absence of this there is a strong likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan, as happened after the departure of the Soviet Union in 1989. Later, the Taliban came to power and, in the meantime, after Osama bin Laden was accused of masterminding the attacks on US cities on September 11, 2001, the Taliban refused to hand Osama over to the United States. I think the United States made a basic mistake at that time by disregarding Pakistan’s advice (the country had a far greater experience in terms of dealing with Afghanistan) that if non-Pashtun forces were allowed to capture Kabul, the Pashtuns would never accept it. Ever since Afghanistan was founded by Ahmed Shah Durrani, it has been a Pashtun-dominated state. Ironically, even Western educated Pashtuns of Pakistan were very upset by the diminution of Pashtun influence so significantly in Kabul, since the Northern Alliance, was basically composed of non-Pashtun elements. It had become very clear that through the reports of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), appointed by the Unites States that there was massive corruption, misappropriation and misuse of US funds in Afghanistan. The writing was on the wall for all to see. However, the truth was not very digestible, the American public was told that it was largely because of Pakistan’s lack of cooperation. The US needed a punching bag to explain its failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan proved to be the right ‘fall guy’.

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