The historic truth about Afghanistan always turning into foreign invaders graveyard is going to be reaffirmed. The Afghan people deserve a royal salute for their infinite capacity to defend their liberty. Ravaged by two global wars imposed on their land, they still stand defiant. The Taliban resistance causes despair among the US sponsored security forces and igniting popular revolt against them. They are smelling blood oozing out of multiple cuts and like a pack of wolves, they are going to gather to turn the occupation forces exit into a route. The obtaining military situation is turning into a ‘strategic ambush’. The carefully crafted political and security structure is crumbling. The US/Isaf enforced vision of creating a modern Afghanistan, in their image, has proved to be a pipedream far removed from ground realities and Afghanistan psyche.

The doomsday scenario has the potential to actualise rather sooner than later. Many grey beards may shake their head in disagreement forgetting that the USSR military might also one day simply dissolved into the air in Afghanistan. The US/Isaf came for a limited objective of destroying the Al-Qaeda network, but modified their war aim to include reconstructing the Afghan society and polity, an unrealistically self-imposed and unachievable objective.

Afghanistan stands badly damaged, under the religious obscurantists sway and politically divided different than what it was in the 1970s, a vibrant, fairly liberal and internally cohesive state. One major issue is staring the US/Isaf leadership in the face. Will they be able in the remaining time before the thinning out starts, to place some sort of a compromise post-war dispensation on ground safeguarding their long-term security concerns/bases in Afghanistan? Will they be able to execute an orderly withdrawal? It is a moot question daunting the US leadership, which is totally mesmerised by the impending US presidential election. The US has itself closed many regional options through its insensitive handling of its key allies. Where did the US/Isaf plan went awry?

September 2011 can be marked as the highest level of blatant coercion when the then retiring Admiral Mike Mullen fired a broadside. This noisy crescendo almost sounded like a war ultimatum. Events moving from the Kerry-Lugar Bill disagreement, Nato supply’s disruption, Raymond Davis sordid occurrence, OBL raid raced on a fast forward mode to dastardly Salalah attack and consequent moral failure to proffer a sincere apology, election year/mood notwithstanding, have resulted in a logjam in Pak-US relations. It is to Pakistan’s credit that its people and leadership have stood their moral higher ground and did not wilt under pressure. The watershed in the Pak-US relations of the decades-long adverse equation, once reached had made it imperative for both to rethink and reinvent their respective global and regional views. Within the regional context, Pakistan has started a well nuanced independent course; be it the Afghan issue, economic relations with Iran, standstill with India, more reliance on China and warming up with Russia.

At the epicentre of this standoff was the divergent view on the war in Afghanistan, the exit strategy and post-war regional end state. Pakistan’s realistic appraisal of the military situation in Afghanistan and how it should be articulated to reach a desirable end not necessarily satisfying US subjective and exclusive objectives, but equally safeguarding the genuine aspirations of regional states, who have suffered the most, was ignored. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had handed over to President Barack Obama a concise, a realistic overview of the regional scenario as well as options for a sustainable end state. It was a pragmatic assessment indicating Pakistan’s centrality and lead role in evolving consensus. The stagnating leadership in the USA fixated with Tora Bora mentality of bombing people to their senses, while reading the document aridly failed to adjust to the fast deteriorating ground realities: Little realising that the time was running out.

The closure of Nato supply routes through Pakistan, the refusal to attend the Bonn Conference, the rubbishing of “do more” mantra for operations in NWA, the resolve to pursue the IP gas pipeline project and cessation of high visibility visits and futile consultative process/monologue has earned Pakistan the much needed space to firm up its position on national objectives. Conciliatory overtures and propriety in their attitudes suggest that the message - ‘that Pakistan has come of age’ - has been absorbed by the US leadership.

Pakistan should now consolidate on the strategic gains through multi-directional external manoeuvres. In the regional context, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and even Afghanistan do not like US military bases remaining operationalised beyond 2014. A regional pro-active Turkey, sprawling across the European-Asian land divide is economically moving forward at a fast pace. Its rightest ruling party is successfully walking the tight rope of balancing its core Islamic ideals with real politics. The US/Nato alliance is more likely to lean on Turkey, as their regional surrogate. It can create a rift and competitiveness with Pakistan, a probability which needs to be addressed with sensitivity as it remains indispensable for Pakistan in the global context.

Iran is coming under severe US/Western pressure through crippling economic sanctions and prohibitive regimes. The USA is reluctant to up the ante through direct application of its military strength in view of its precarious situation in Afghanistan. Unable, at least till its withdrawal from Afghanistan, to open a new front at this critical juncture, the US will opt for an indirect approach. The US will endeavour to keep Israel on a tight leash not to allow the tail to wag the dog. Israel’s declaration of an aerial adventure against Iran - a repeat performance of similar air raid against Iraq’s nuclear facility - seems remote, as a deeply hurt Iran can block the Persian Gulf oil traffic, which can put the developed world’s economies into a tailspin. Such follies have the potential to initiate end of the time doomsday nuclear war scenario.

Pakistan has resolutely shown its steadfast support for Iran and the determination to persist with the IP gas pipeline project. Many of the troubles in Balochistan and crisis after crisis at the national level can be linked to the regional chaos frustrating the US/Western objectives in South/Middle Asia.

Presently, Pak-Afghan relations have improved, as the fragile Karzai government sensing the weakening grip of the US-led alliance seeks support of the next door neighbour. Pakistan should extend a reassuring, supportive and stabilising hand without becoming overbearing. The shape of things suggests a revival of the RCD model; this time including Afghanistan as well. This most harmonious and natural alliance should adopt an independent stance on world issues and become a force to reckon with. This solid block can stabilise the region by cancelling out conflicting interests and the over-reach of the West, China, Russia and India in the region.

Since it is essentially a global war of resources, namely the oil of the gulf, the gas and the precious material and mineral resources - uncharted, unexcavated and unexploited - have become the focus of developed countries predatory attention. None can claim exclusive rights for these resources, as the world is heading towards multi-polarity. How the events have conspired to bring Pakistan to its rightful central position is rather intriguing, as I had predicted in an article published a year ago in TheNation about the onset of an era of self-assertion. Not many takers were available then. Even diehard zealots were incredulous. What cards does Pakistan hold today?

Firstly, it has a defiant people, Parliament and politico-military leadership.

Secondly, the US/Isaf is losing hold on Afghanistan due to the ever-increasing popular resentment.

Thirdly, the US/Isaf need ground routes to be opened, both for logistic resumption and impending withdrawal through Pakistan.

Fourthly, China and Russia’s willingness to play a more pro-active role in the region.

Fifthly, deteriorating the US/Western economic affairs render them unable to sustain long-term power projection or any strategic misadventure elsewhere.

Sixthly, the US/Isaf is becoming casualty shy and its public is increasingly getting disenchanted with its oil/military industrial nexus for its vested interests in creating upheavals the world over.

The days of military adventurism seem to be nearing an end. The US attitude towards Pakistan has undergone substantial change from crass insensitivity to calculated deference. Pakistan should leverage its increasingly important position for favourable US response on drone attacks, IP pipeline, interference in Balochistan and Pakistan’s formalised role in resolving the Afghan issue.

But the US ability to manipulate Pakistan’s internal dynamics to their advantage remains potent. Its insidious leverage is to belittle and weaken Pakistan’s armed forces and the ISI, who are at the core of national defiance. The more the armed forces/intelligence agencies lose their stature within the country, the less they will be able to effectively face the external threat at this critical juncture. It is a revolving door strategic situation. The nation should forge a united front to maximise national gains.

The writer is a retired major general, the ex-chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills and Pakistan Ordnance Factories, and the president of Pakistan Forum for Security and Development.