A MAJOR development in the Afghan theatre has been the apparent US decision to speed up the withdrawal of troops from the country. While Donald Trump has been ambiguous about his exact intentions, the numbers point to a more concrete reality: the American president wants to get his soldiers out of the Afghan war zone as soon as possible. According to reports in various media outlets, the US drawdown of troops is happening faster than expected, and if sources are to be believed, the last American soldier in Afghanistan may be out of that country before the November presidential elections in the US, instead of May 2021, the deadline set by the peace deal signed by Washington and the Afghan Taliban in Doha in February.
While Mr Trump has not been a big fan of American military involvement in overseas conflicts, here purely domestic concerns, namely re-election, may be driving his Afghan policy. After nearly two decades of involvement in Afghanistan, the Washington establishment seems to have realised that the nation-building/counterterrorism experiment launched by another Republican president — George W. Bush — in the aftermath of 9/11 has failed miserably and the time is ripe to cut losses and ‘bring the boys home’. The Taliban are far from defeated, which is apparent by the fact that the Americans are suing for peace with the hard-line militia, while a wobbly coalition is sputtering on in Kabul. These are far from ideal conditions, therefore Mr Trump, his generals and advisers have arrived at the apparent conclusion that further involvement in the Afghan theatre will be counterproductive. It seems the Americans have reached the same conclusion the Soviets had at the end of the 1980s, when they finally realised that their own decade-long imperial foray into Afghanistan was doomed to fail. Moreover, America’s other Nato allies may also be thinking of bringing back their own troops should the US quit Afghanistan.
From the above developments, it is clear that very soon foreign forces will be out of Afghanistan. Of course, the million-dollar question is: what next? As stated above, the Taliban are far from routed, and unless some intra-Afghan settlement is reached, the long war will only continue, with Afghan factions pulverising each other, and their battered country. While the US and Europe are clearly tired of the Afghan imbroglio, perhaps other regional states — Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran — as well as major Muslim states can play a greater role to help facilitate an intra-Afghan deal. Unless this is done, the country may plunge into a Mujahideen-like internecine civil war pitting tribes, ethnic groups and rival warlords against each other in an open-ended conflict. If Afghanistan fails again, it will have a negative impact on regional security and prolong the nightmare of the Afghan people. The window of opportunity for a workable deal is closing fast.
SINCE the beginning of this year, events in Shikarpur, Sindh, offer an object lesson in why governments are so keen to have local law enforcement in their pocket. In January, a leaked report by SSP Shikarpur Dr Rizwan Ahmed exposed an alleged nexus between hardcore criminals and Sindh Energy Minister Imtiaz Sheikh that had rendered the area a haven for illegal activities. The PPP immediately declared the contents of the report as being a complete fabrication and a brazen attempt to malign its party’s MPA. The police authorities, however, stood by the SSP, and asked for a JIT to further probe the allegations and make recommendations to shield the LEA from “extraneous pernicious influence”, ie political interference in police postings. This created yet another point of friction in the already fraught relationship between the provincial police and the Sindh government. The provincial inspectors general of police are federal appointees and the Sindh government had been trying for some time to have then IG Sindh Dr Kaleem Imam removed and an official more ‘amenable’ to it appointed in his place. It finally managed to effect a change of command and now a committee is to be set up to probe the veracity of the report itself — an about-turn if ever there was one.
When the police acts as handmaiden to the political leadership, the repercussions for the rule of law are dire. Instead of working to ensure the safety and security of the people’s lives and property, a politicised police facilitates violation of the law for the benefit of its de facto bosses and their cronies. In the process, it becomes wholly complicit in a variety of criminal enterprises. Whether land-grabbing, gunrunning, drug smuggling, etc local police can be found to have a finger in every pie, protecting the interests of various mafias through brute force. While the above-cited example relates to Sindh, the fact is every provincial dispensation — except perhaps KP to some extent — tries to keep the police on a short leash. The PTI-ruled Punjab has seen no less than four IGs changed since the party came to power at the centre in 2018. Police officials should not be transferred on political grounds; security of tenure must be respected; and any allegations against them of misconduct or dereliction of duty transparently investigated. There are many upright police officers but they can truly serve the people only when their independence is guaranteed.
The plastic problem
LAST year, over 180 countries agreed to include mixed plastic scrap in the Basel Convention, which would make it more difficult for developed nations to ship their hazardous waste to the developing world. Ever since China banned the import of plastic waste two years ago, some of the world’s largest polluters — including the US, the UK, Japan and Germany — have been seeking other nations to fill in the gap. The environmental damage and health repercussions caused by plastic are well established, and it is simply unfair for some of the world’s wealthiest countries to outsource their plastic problem to the developing nations. This is just one more example to show how mindless consumerism and capitalistic disregard for the environment disproportionately affects poorer countries, even though they are responsible for a far smaller percentage of total global pollution. It further exacerbates inequality between nations and individuals within those nations. But while other Asian countries have increased restrictions on the import of plastic scrap as they recognise that the long-term harm of plastic far outweighs short-term economic gains, the dumping of such waste has only increased in Pakistan. According to a report in this paper recently, in the past three years alone, thousands of tons of plastic have made their way to Pakistan, which is still struggling to create proper waste management infrastructures and provide adequate healthcare to all its citizens. Despite being a signatory to the Basel Convention and having several other legal restrictions in place to prevent the country from becoming a dumping ground for the world’s plastic addiction, the reality on the ground speaks otherwise.
The present government has time and again brought up the urgency of addressing global climate change challenges. Given that Pakistan is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, it is now time to act upon those words, and take strict action against the import of plastic scrap, particularly single-use plastics, and perhaps look into banning it altogether.