SYDENY - The international community should work to reestablish Afghanistan as a buffer state, former U.S. Ambassador Peter Tomsen told an audience at the World Affairs Council on Wednesday in Seattle. However, Tomsen also made clear that peace will remain elusive as long as Pakistan provides sanctuary for insurgent groups.
As he promoted his new book The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers, Tomsen called upon the Obama administration to adopt a tougher policy with Pakistan by escalating diplomatic pressure and conditioning aid packages.
The ambassador also advised the U.S. to collaborate with regional stakeholders on developing a geostrategic mechanism to protect Afghan territorial integrity.
Tomsen, who served as special envoy to the Afghan resistance from 1989 to 1992, minced no words when it came to Pakistan's duplicitous strategy - one that has been at odds with U.S. interests for decades, despite Pakistani claims of being a staunch ally in the war on terror.
The ambassador accused Pakistan of establishing a robust jihadist infrastructure while its spy agency, the ISI, essentially gave birth to the Taliban and a slew of other militant groups.
Pakistan's dual strategy backfired, Tomsen explained, because eventually militant groups turned on and began attacking the Pakistani state. Raising cobras is a difficult business, Tomsen asserted, given the fact you can't really train them on whom not to bite.
He did notice that after decades of silence U.S. leaders were finally calling out Pakistan in public for its continual support of terrorists, specifically applauding Admiral Mullen for recently describing the Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm" of the ISI.
The ambassador took the participants back to a defining moment in U.S.-Pakistani relations after the U.S. had pumped billions into ISI coffers to train and arm the mujahideen, who fought a 10-year war against the Soviets and expelled the Red Army in 1989.
During the Soviet withdrawal Tomsen detected a "pivot" in Pakistani policy. Instead of containing Moscow's expansive reach, Pakistan had begun trying to extend its own sphere of influence in Afghanistan. In just a few words in his book Tomsen captures the essence of Pakistan's nascent strategy:
Although cloaked in a veil of a covert proxy war and messianic Islamic ideology, the strategy amounted to an invasion of one sovereign country by a larger one.
Tomsen recounted how the Clinton administration outsourced its regional policy to Pakistan as an "unholy alliance" was forged between the ISI, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in the mid-1990s.
After Pakistan tried and failed to install the virulently anti-American Islamic radical Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as Afghan head of state, the ISI unleashed a band of violent, semi-literate madrassa students onto the world stage. With ISI support the Taliban took Kabul and ruled Afghanistan until 2001.
In the wake of the post-9/11 Taliban takedown Tomsen said the U.S. neglected to build adequate security forces and, as a result, the Taliban reemerged from their Pakistani havens as early as 2003.
The U.S. also made the tragic error of inserting Hamid Karzai as puppet-king despite the fact three-fourths of the delegates at the 2002 Loya Jirga voted for Zahir Shah. U.S. leaders basically overrode the collective will of the Afghan people to ensure their favored candidate became president. Not unlike Pakistan's forced install of the Taliban - same result, different means.
Afghan resistance hero Abdul Haq (who, incidentally, was assassinated by the ISI in October of 2001) once told Tomsen that foreigners should never try to choose Afghan leaders. It didn't work when the British imposed Shah Shuja on the Afghans in the 19th century nor did it work when the Russians tried to prop up a communist regime during the 1980s.
Hence, Tomsen was adamant that the U.S. avoid stepping into Afghanistan's "political cauldron" and should focus efforts on deterring Pakistan.
Although the ambassador was correct in stating that foreign powers who meddle in Afghan affairs inevitably get burnt, the Afghan people are the ones – not the interveners – who end up suffering the most. (Agencies)