Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Afghan peace marchers arrive in Kabul as Taliban end ceasefire — “For God’s sake… find a way for peace and reconciliation.”

June 18, 2018

Dozens of peace protesters arrived in Kabul on Monday after walking hundreds of kilometres across war-battered Afghanistan, as the Taliban ended an unprecedented ceasefire and resumed attacks in parts of the country.

Exhausted after their 700-kilometre (430-mile) trek, most of it during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, the marchers walked double file through the Afghan capital shouting “We want peace!” and “Stop fighting!”

“We want our people to stay united for peace and get rid of this misery for the next generation,” Mohammad Naikzad, one of the marchers, told Tolo News.

“I am calling on both sides — the government and the Taliban — for God’s sake… find a way for peace and reconciliation.”

The Taliban refused to extend their three-day ceasefire beyond Sunday night despite pressure from ordinary Afghans, the government and the international community.

© AFP | An Afghan Taliban militant carries a rocket-propelled grenade as residents celebrate a ceasefire on Saturday

Taliban fighters attacked security forces in numerous districts of eastern and southern Afghanistan, officials told AFP, but there were no details on casualties.

Defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanesh told AFP there had been “very few” reports of fighting since the government on Saturday its own ceasefire with the Taliban for another 10 days.

“We hope the Taliban accept the Afghan nation’s call for peace,” Radmanesh added.

The peace march, believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan, emerged from a sit-in protest and hunger strike in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand which is a Taliban stronghold.

That demonstration, which began spontaneously after a car bomb attack in the city on March 23, triggered similar movements by war-weary Afghans nationwide.

But when the Taliban and security forces failed to heed their demands to stop fighting, some protesters decided to take their message directly to the country’s top leaders.

Initially ridiculed for their plan to walk to Kabul, the marchers now enjoy strong public support.

They are calling for an extended ceasefire, peace talks and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan — which is also a key demand of the Taliban.

The Taliban announced Sunday they would not extend their ceasefire with Afghan police and troops despite describing the truce as “successful” and a demonstration that the militants were united.

“The mujahedeen across the country are ordered to continue their operations against the foreign invaders and their domestic stooges as usual,” the group said in a statement.

The first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US-led invasion had sparked extraordinary scenes of Taliban fighters, security forces and civilians happily celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday together.




Afghan Taliban tells fighters to stay at posts after attack on ceasefire revellers

June 17, 2018

The Taliban on Sunday ordered its fighters in Afghanistan to avoid gatherings of security forces and civilians, a day after a suicide bomber killed 25 people including members of the militant group celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire.

Saturday’s attack on the outskirts of Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar marred an otherwise extraordinary Eid holiday as Taliban members hugged, posed for selfies and prayed with Afghan police and troops, politicians and civilians around the country — scenes that would have been unthinkable only a few days ago.

It was the first formal nationwide ceasefire since the 2001 US invasion and the display of jubilation and unity has fuelled hopes among war-weary Afghans that peace is possible.

The attack on a crowd celebrating the truce in Rodat district also wounded 54 people and was blamed by officials on the Islamic State group. After the bombing the Taliban ordered fighters to stay at their posts or in areas under its control.

Image result for Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban, photos
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid

“To avoid harm to civilians, which God forbid we may cause (by our presence), all commanders should stop mujahedeen from attending such gatherings,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.

“The enemy has misused the ceasefire issue and there is a chance of more such bad incidents happening.”

Some Taliban commanders also told AFP they disapproved of their fighters visiting government-controlled areas and celebrating with security forces.

Mujahid made no mention of President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement on Saturday extending the government’s eight-day ceasefire with the Taliban that was due to end on Tuesday, and his call for the Taliban to do the same.

Ghani also said 46 Taliban prisoners had been released, a trend that “is going to continue”.

Other militants, including IS, are not part of the government’s ceasefire.

The Taliban had agreed to a truce but only for the first three days of Eid, which started Friday, promising not to attack Afghan soldiers or police. They would, however, continue attacking US-led NATO troops.

Ghani’s extension of the ceasefire drew immediate international support and calls for the Taliban to reciprocate.

The European Union called the truce “historic”. NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and US Forces vowed to respect Ghani’s announcement.

The head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, charged with negotiating with the Taliban, called Sunday on the Taliban to “consider the wishes of the people” and extend its own ceasefire.

“If the ceasefire is extended, the next step will be the exchange of prisoners and then we will have a good base for the start of direct negotiations between the two sides,” Mohammad Karim Khalili told reporters.


Islamic State claimed responsibility after 26 killed in Eid “Ceasefire” explosions in Nangarhar, Afghanistan

June 16, 2018

A car bomb killed at least 26 people at a gathering of Taliban and Afghan armed forces in the eastern city of Nangarhar on Saturday, an official said, as soldiers and militants celebrated an unprecedented Eid ceasefire.

Islamic State claimed responsibility. The group’s Amaq news agency said the target was “a gathering of Afghan forces” but gave no details. The Taliban had already denied involvement.

Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants had earlier entered the Afghan capital and other cities to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting season. Soldiers and militants exchanged hugs and took selfies on their smartphones.

Attaullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor of Nangarhar, confirmed a car bomb was responsible for the blast in the town of Ghazi Aminullah Khan, on the main Torkham-Jalalabad road, and said that dozens were wounded. He had earlier said a rocket-propelled grenade was to blame.

© Noorullah Shirzada, AFP | Afghan volunteers carry an injured man on a stretcher after a suicide bomber blew himself up in Jalalabad on June 16, 2018

The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, which began on Friday, except against foreign forces. It overlaps with an Afghan government ceasefire which lasts until Wednesday.

President Ashraf Ghani said in an address to the nation that he would extend the ceasefire with the Taliban but did not give a time-frame. He also asked the Taliban to extend their three-day ceasefire, which is due to end on Sunday, and begin peace talks.

It was not clear if Ghani knew about the bomb in the east when he made his address.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Ghani’s address, saying peace talks would have to include a discussion on the role of “international actors and forces”.

“The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions,” Pompeo said in a statement.  “The United States stands ready to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and all the people of Afghanistan to reach a peace agreement and political settlement that brings a permanent end to this war.”

The Taliban are fighting U.S.-led NATO forces, combined under the Resolute Support mission, and the U.S.-backed government to restore sharia, or Islamic law, after their ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Taliban wearing traditional headgear entered Kabul through gates in the south and southeast. Traffic jams formed where people stopped to take pictures of the fighters with their flags. The Taliban urged people to come forward and take selfies.

“They are unarmed, as they handed over their weapons at the entrances,” Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai told Reuters. Their weapons would be returned when they leave, he said.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak met Taliban fighters in Kabul, Tolo news said, an unthinkable prospect just two weeks ago.

Video and pictures on news websites showed cheerful soldiers and Taliban hugging one another and exchanging Eid greetings in Logar province, south of Kabul, in Zabul in the south and in central Maidan Wardak. Some people were dancing and clapping as onlookers took photos.

“Most peaceful Eid”

Members of rights groups organised a brief meeting between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents in Helmand’s capital city, Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban have delivered a series of blows to government forces this year.

Men and women gathered around the soldiers and Taliban fighters and urged them to keep their weapons holstered before they hugged each other.

“It was the most peaceful Eid. For the first time we felt safe. It is hard to describe the joy,” said Qais Liwal, a student in Zabul.

The main square of Kunduz city, capital of the province of the same name, which has witnessed a series of bloody clashes, became a friendly meeting ground.

Resident Mohammad Amir said his younger brother had told him the Taliban were casually entering the city.

“I could not believe my eyes,” he told Reuters. “I saw Taliban and police standing side by side and taking selfies.”

Photos on news websites showed armed police standing in line at the corner of the street hugging Taliban fighters one by one.

A video showed a huge crowd of people screaming and whistling as they welcomed the Taliban. In some districts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, civilians were offering dry fruit, traditional sweets and ice cream to Taliban militants.

A Reuters reporter in Jalalabad saw more than a dozen Taliban insurgents enjoying their food and playing with children.

The ceasefires, which follow months of deteriorating security, especially in the capital, Kabul, have coincided with the start of the soccer World Cup and the Afghan cricket team’s test match debut against India. But with delayed elections scheduled for October still in doubt, Afghans still yearn for peace that lasts longer than a few days.


Blast outside Kabul govt ministry, multiple casualties: officials

June 11, 2018

A suicide attacker blew himself up outside a government ministry in Kabul on Monday, causing multiple casualties, officials said, as employees were leaving their offices early for Ramadan.

Police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said “a number of employees” were killed or wounded in the attack that happened at the main gate of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development.

Employees were leaving their offices at 1:00 pm (0830 GMT) due to the holy month of Ramadan, when most Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

© AFP/File | An Afghan policeman keeps watch at a checkpoint in Kabul on June 12, 2014

“A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance gate of the ministry… killing and injuring a number of the employees of the ministry,” Stanikzai told AFP.

Employees inside the ministry at the time of the attack confirmed hearing a blast.

“An explosion happened at the exit gate of the ministry,” Daud Naimi, director of the communications department at the ministry, told AFP.

At least six people were killed and 30 wounded, he said, but that could not be immediately confirmed.

“I was in my office when I heard a big blast,” another employee told AFP.

“Most of my colleagues were leaving for the day to go home. I am worried about my colleagues. We are told to stay inside for now.”


Taliban agrees to unprecedented ceasefire with Afghan forces for Eid

June 9, 2018

The Taliban announced its first ceasefire in Afghanistan since the 2001 US invasion on Saturday, with a three-day halt in hostilities against the country’s security forces that was greeted with relief by war-weary Afghans.

But the group warned the suspension of fighting for the first three days of Eid, the holiday that caps off Ramadan, did not extend to “foreign occupiers”, who would continue to be targeted by the militants.

© AFP/File / by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI | Afghan security forces patrol in Farah after recapturing control of the city from Taliban militants in May

The unexpected move came two days after the Afghan government’s own surprise announcement of a week-long halt to operations against the Taliban.

It is the first time in nearly 17 years of conflict that the militants have declared a ceasefire, albeit a limited one.

“All the mujahideen are directed to stop offensive operations against Afghan forces for the first three days of Eid-al-Fitr,” the Taliban said in a WhatsApp message to journalists.

But it added that “if the mujahideen are attacked we will strongly defend (ourselves)”.

The Taliban said “foreign occupiers are the exception” to the order sent to its fighters around the country.

“Our operations will continue against them, we will attack them wherever we see them,” it said.

Even a brief cessation of hostilities would bring welcome relief to civilians in the war-torn country, nearly two decades after the Taliban regime was toppled.

– ‘Only three days’ –

In recent years the resurgent militants, along with the Islamic State group, have stepped up their attacks on Kabul in particular, making it the deadliest place in the country for civilians.

“Only three days the Taliban are not killing us. The Taliban have won our hearts, if they strike peace deal with the Afghan Government, the Afghans will take them on their shoulders with love,” wrote Shah Jahan Siyal, an Afghan resident of Jalalabad city of Nangarhar province.

Dewa Niazai, a women’s rights activist in the same province, posted: “Long live the Taliban! Finally we can breathe a deep sigh of relief on Eid days. I hope these three days of ceasefire turn to a permanent ceasefire.”

Afghan political analyst Haroon Mir cautiously welcomed the Taliban’s move.

“We are very happy that the Taliban responded positively,” Mir told AFP.

“It’s still too early to be very optimistic about it. We don’t know what will happen in the next few days or afterwards.”

President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday declared an apparently unilateral week-long ceasefire with the Taliban.

It would last “from the 27th of Ramadan until the fifth day of Eid-al-Fitr”, Ghani tweeted from an official account, indicating it could run from June 12-19.

The move came days after a gathering of Afghanistan’s top clerics in Kabul called for a ceasefire and issued a fatwa against suicide bombings and attacks.

An hour after the fatwa was issued, a suicide bomber detonated outside the gathering, killing seven people.

In February Ghani unveiled a plan to open peace talks with the Taliban, including eventually recognising them as a political party. At the time he also called for a ceasefire.

The insurgents did not officially respond, but announced the launch of their annual spring offensive in an apparent rejection of the plan, one of the most comprehensive ever offered by the Afghan government.

Last month, the Pentagon said that senior Taliban officials have been secretly negotiating with Afghan officials on a possible ceasefire.

by Mushtaq MOJADDIDI

US-Pakistan Tensions Appear to Be Easing

June 7, 2018

The United States appears to be easing public pressure on Pakistan in a bid to encourage the country to help promote peace and reconciliation with the Taliban to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan.

FILE - Chief of Pakistani Army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, speaks at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 17, 2018.

FILE – Chief of Pakistani Army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, speaks at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Feb. 17, 2018.

The optimism, analysts say, stemmed from Wednesday’s rare telephone conversation U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held with Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

The two leaders discussed ways to advance bilateral relations, said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. She said “the need for political reconciliation in Afghanistan, and the importance of targeting all militant and terrorist groups in South Asia without distinction,” was also discussed.

Pakistani officials describe Bajwa’s first direct conversation with Pompeo as “positive and productive.”

Relations between the two uneasy allies in the “war on terrorism” have deteriorated since August when U.S. President Donald Trump announced his South Asia Strategy. The policy blamed Pakistan for not preventing Taliban and members of the terrorist Haqqani network from launching attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, charges Islamabad rejected.

While Washington has cut civilian assistance to Pakistan and suspended all military aid in January. Both sides have recently imposed tit-for-tat travel restrictions on each other’s diplomats and have had no high-level political contact until Wednesday when Pompeo called Bajwa.

New dialogue

Analysts say the U.S. statement issued after the phone call marked a significant departure from Washington’s traditional stance regarding terrorist groups allegedly running sanctuaries in Pakistan.

“[The] Trump Administration seems to be easing public pressure on Islamabad by not using its standard Pakistan based groups’ accusation and by replacing it with a more general reference to South Asia,” said Talat Hussain, Pakistani television talk show host and columnist.

“The aim appears to be to create more space for a peace process in Afghanistan inclusive of the Haqqanis,” he observed. “This is placing diplomacy above guns and negotiations before fighting.”

Just two days before Pompeo spoke to Bajwa, the Pakistan army offered to use “whatever leverage” Islamabad has to try to get Afghan insurgents to the negotiating table for peacefully terminating the war.

Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor acknowledged Pakistan’s relations with the United States “are under stress,” but said his country would still like U.S. forces to succeed and go back from Afghanistan “with a notion of victory.”

But Ghafoor said the goal is achievable only through political means, because neither side is in a position to win the war on the battlefield.

“The Afghan Taliban cannot conquer Kabul militarily, but no force can eliminate all of them either to bring peace to Afghanistan. So, there has to be a midway to achieve a political reconciliation acceptable to all sides,” Ghafoor noted.

War on terror

FILE - Youngsters gather at spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated at an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 11, 2013.
FILE – Youngsters gather at spot where Nasiruddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the feared militant Haqqani network, was assassinated at an Afghan bakery in the Bhara Kahu area on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov. 11, 2013.

“Whatever leverage Pakistan has [over the Taliban], although it is receding with the passage of time, we will try to use it to help find an amicable solution for Afghanistan,” the general noted. “But the Afghan government will have to play the lead role in any such effort, together with America who is the main stakeholder by all means.”

“No one desires more than Pakistan to see peace in Afghanistan. We want the U.S. to go back from Afghanistan with a notion of victory, a notion of success. We don’t want them to leave behind a chaotic Afghanistan like they did before,” the Pakistan military spokesman asserted.

Ghafoor said sustained military-led operations have pushed out or eliminated all terrorist groups on Pakistani soil, including the Haqqani network, and “organized infrastructure” of any terrorist organization. Pakistan has suffered tens of thousands of casualties, including security forces, while countering terrorism, he said.

U.S. officials allege the Haqqanis maintain ties to Pakistan’s spy agency, a charge Islamabad vehemently rejects. The militant network has long been an integral part of the Afghan Taliban. The leader of the Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is believed to be militarily guiding the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

Ghafoor noted his country has secured its traditionally volatile regions along the nearly 2,600 kilometer Afghan border, saying ongoing fencing and construction of new forts will further boost security and prevent illegal cross-border movements and terrorist infiltration.

US Secretary of State calls Pakistan’s Gen Bajwa to discuss political reconciliation in Afghanistan

June 7, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spoken by phone with Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the process of political reconciliation in Afghanistan and other issues.

A statement released on Thursday by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo and Gen Bajwa discussed ways to advance US-Pakistan bilateral relations, the need for political reconciliation in Afghanistan and the importance of targeting all militant and terrorist groups in South Asia without distinction.

Image result for Gen Bajwa, photos

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa

Pakistan hosted the first direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban in 2015, but they ended when Kabul announced the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Washington has talked up the prospects for peace many times and Pakistan has said it will help to ensure its neighbour’s stability.

Earlier this year, US had assured Pakistan that it does not want to sever bilateral ties with this important ally while Islamabad extended its “wholehearted support” to the US-backed Afghan offer of peace talks with the Taliban.

The statements had supplement renewed efforts to improve relations between the US and Pakistan which were once close allies in the war against terror.

Afghanistan announces ceasefire with Taliban until June 20

June 7, 2018

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a ceasefire with Taliban insurgents until June 20, coinciding with the end of the Muslim fasting season, but said fighting against other militant groups, such as Islamic State, would continue.

Image result for Ashraf Ghani, photos

Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani 

The Taliban are seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their ouster in 2001 at the hands of U.S.-led troops.

“This ceasefire is an opportunity for Taliban to introspect (sic) that their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating,” Ghani said in a message on social network Twitter after a televised address.

“With the ceasefire announcement we epitomize the strength of the Afghan government and the will of the people for a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.”

Ghani in February offered recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate political group in a proposed political process that he said could lead to talks to end more than 16 years of war.

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners among a range of options including new elections involving the militants, and a constitutional review in a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that last year alone killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August unveiled a more hawkish military approach to Afghanistan, including a surge in air strikes, aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table under the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

Afghan security forces say the impact has been significant, but the Taliban roam huge swaths of the country and, with foreign troop levels at about 15,600 compared with 140,000 in 2014, there appears little hope of outright military victory.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Rupam Jain; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez


As Afghan Clerics Label Suicide Bombs a Sin, One Explodes Among Them

June 4, 2018

An attacker blew himself up outside a meeting of religious leaders, who also declared the 17-year war there illegal under Islamic law

Afghan security forces guard the site of the attack in Kabul. At least seven were killed when a suicide bomber hit a meeting of religious leaders.
Afghan security forces guard the site of the attack in Kabul. At least seven were killed when a suicide bomber hit a meeting of religious leaders.PHOTO: OMAR SOBHANI/REUTERS

KABUL, Afghanistan—A suicide bomber struck a meeting of Afghanistan’s top clerics and religious scholars in the capital on Monday, killing seven people shortly after the large gathering declared such suicide attacks a sin and the country’s 17-year war illegal under Islamic law.

The Taliban, Afghanistan’s largest insurgency, issued a statement denying involvement in the bombing. The blast occurred at an exit from Kabul Polytechnic University, where the convocation of the Afghan Ulema Council was winding up.

Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, which has asserted responsibility for a spate of attacks in the Afghan capital in recent months, had no immediate comment.

One of those injured in the attack, center. The gathering of clerics and religious scholars declared suicide attacks a sin.
One of those injured in the attack, center. The gathering of clerics and religious scholars declared suicide attacks a sin. PHOTO:STRINGER/REUTERS

Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said the seven people killed in the blast included a police officer. Nine other people were also wounded, he said. Other Afghan security officials put the death toll as high as 12.

Shortly before the attack, the estimated 2,000 religious figures attending the gathering from across Afghanistan had issued an Islamic ruling, or fatwa, declaring suicide attacks forbidden.

“Suicide attacks, explosions for killing people, division, insurgency, different types of corruption, robbery, kidnapping and any type of violence are counted as big sins in Islam and are against the order of the Almighty Allah,” they said.

Suicide bombings are a relatively recent phenomenon in Afghanistan, having been rejected as a form of combat during the uprising against the occupation of Soviet forces in the 1980s and the takeover by Taliban forces in the mid-1990s.

Rather, they became a feature of the Afghan war in the mid-2000s, as the tactics used by Islamist militants against U.S. forces in Iraq rebounded here.

The clerical gathering also denounced the 17-year war in Afghanistan as illegal under Islamic law, calling it nothing but “shedding the blood of Muslims,” and urged the Taliban to take up the Kabul government’s offer of unconditional peace talks.

In perhaps the most public peace overture since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to remove the Taliban from power, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in late February offered political recognition to the Taliban in exchange for a stop to the fighting.

The Taliban hasn’t replied formally to the bid. It has said it will only negotiate with the U.S. since, it says, America is the main engine of the war and the Kabul government is illegitimate.

Write to Craig Nelson at

US and Pakistan’s childish, tit-for tat behaviour is a departure from good sense

June 3, 2018

SO it has come to this: Pakistan and the US are treating diplomats to each other’s capitals as representatives of hostile states, much as Indian and Pakistani diplomats are treated in New Delhi and Islamabad.

Image result for Pakistan, photos


Hard vs Soft Power

June 02, 2018

This childish, tit-for tat behaviour is, if not a violation of the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic rights and obligations, certainly a departure from good sense. After all, missions overseas are established to improve relations, boost trade, and, yes, gather intelligence. But this last function is carried out by spooks who are usually attached to embassies, but their cover is well known to local counterparts.

So by curbing diplomats from carrying out their normal duties, how are we improving ties with countries we consider important, or those we would like to normalise relations with? US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone on record to register his protest about the treatment of American diplomats in Islamabad. I have no doubt our man in Washington — too new at the job as he took charge only this week — will soon have similar complaints against his hosts.

The overuse of hard power doesn’t necessarily win friends abroad.

But there was a time when diplomatic niceties were more scrupulously observed, and there was little harassment of the kind we see now. And while I don’t remember an American military attaché running a red light and killing a motorcyclist and injuring a passenger, there was little anti-American sentiment until the start of the Vietnam War,

My early memories of America were mostly formed by the United States Information Service (later the American Centre) library. Walking there with the books I had borrowed to exchange for new ones, my early reading consisted of Steinbeck, Faulkner and Norman Mailer. The Service also arranged concerts by some famous jazz musicians on tour.

So, yes, I was influenced by books I read at the USIS library as well as the British Council. Soft power certainly has a place in projecting a country’s image abroad. India is very good at it to the extent that its many problems have not dented its tourist numbers. We, on the other hand, are lousy practitioners of this obvious policy. But then, you have to have a decent product to sell before you can go global. Our image hardly tempts tourists to book the first flight to Pakistan.

Hard power, however, carries temptation of another kind. Well-armed states use their military capability to bully others into accepting their ideology, or to grant them concessions. Regime change is never off the agenda.

American hard power has been so overwhelming since the Second World War that it has become the policeman on the block in most corners of the world. Even under an isolationist like Trump, its forces continue to dominate the globe through hundreds of military bases. This preponderance has also reduced the importance of diplomacy: why bother talking to an adversary when you can bully or bomb it?

But the excessive use of hard power doesn’t necessarily win friends abroad. My disenchantment with America began with the Vietnam War, and has only deepened over the years, especially after its catastrophic interventions in the Middle East. Its current demonising of Iran is yet another example of a missed diplomatic opportunity.

In Pakistan, of course, the security establishment has long called the shots on how our relationship with important countries is to be conducted. This reduced input from the Foreign Office has rendered it impotent in the task of formulating and implementing a coherent foreign policy that’s in line with our true national interest.

And while countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and America can afford not to bother much about international public opinion, Pakistan doe­sn’t enjoy this luxury. In fact, it needs all the friends it can get. But far from making friends, countries that once supported us on Kashmir have distanced themselves.

The transactional relationship that has formed the basis of our on-again, off-again alliance with the US is obviously transient. Ultimately, all alliances are formed to counter real or perceived threats. In the Second World War, the USSR was allied with its arch-enemies, the US and the UK, to defeat Nazi Germany. But once Hitler had fallen, the Soviet Union and the West were fighting the Cold War against each other.

In this sense, the Americans still need Pakistan because of our proximity to Afghanistan as we still provide the shortest route for military supply convoys. And we also allow US overflights to bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, needs America for access to high-tech weapons systems. But once the Americans pull out of the neighbourhood, it is difficult to see why they would need us.

Nor should we forget that we have no cultural affinity with China, our ‘all-weather friend’, and ultimately, only rivalry with India has kept the informal alliance going.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2018