This week's visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, ostensibly to pacify the continuing Pak-Afghan rift, must eventually become nothing more than a belated and perhaps even half baked attempt to deal with a complex security challenge.

There are no easy answers to questions which essentially draw out suspicions over Pakistan's role in stoking or not, the conflict in Afghanistan. For months, Pakistani and Afghan officials have routinely traded charges over who is doing what to undermine whom.

Afghan officials denounce Pakistan for its alleged involvement in supporting a fast resurging Taliban movement in parts of their country. Pakistan responds by saying that Afghanistan is working to undermine Islamabad's security interests, taking steps such as allowing intelligence operatives from neighbouring India to work against Pakistani interests.

Rice is bound to return to Washington after receiving assurances of cooperation from Pakistan and Afghanistan. But in the past too, such words of reassurance have seldom turned themselves into long term commitments. Proverbially, agreements are bound to be violated possibly even before the ink that is used to write them dries.

The bottom line for the US, however, is another element which is essentially central to its emerging policy failures. Having taken the initiative to unleash a not so well defined "war on terror", the Bush administration and its allies including the Pakistani and Afghan regimes now live with the consequences. The war on terror took the United States to engage itself in Iraq in a largely futile conflict where the so-called weapons of mass destruction are yet to be found and security conditions continue to worsen.


The US led attack on Afghanistan after the New York terrorist attacks, which led to the installation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's regime, has obviously failed in pushing ahead with the twin objectives of providing credible political representation and economic rejuvenation to the central Asian country.

Instead, the US continues pouring in billions of dollars towards sustaining its Afghan military operations. More than five years after the war on terror began, high profile US enemies such as Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri, the two most prominent Al Qaida leaders, continue to remain elusive.

On the contrary, if the US would have indeed pushed ahead with a large scale reconstruction plan, swiftly implemented as a modern day replica of the Marshal Plan, the chances were that it would have gained far more respectability. There's even a chance that the high tide of anti-Americanism, which today is so central to the reality surrounding Afghanistan and Pakistan, may have been less of an issue. Rather than high spending on guns, more money for bread and butter could have essentially given further mileage to US policy.

As for dealing with leaders such as Karzai and Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf, the US cannot ignore its blatant oversight of regimes whose democratic character remains open to question. Karzai is widely seen anchored on Washington's support while Musharraf remains controversial as a man who simultaneously holds charge of the military and the civilian administrations.

As it presses the regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate more and bicker less in confronting militancy and terrorism, the US must also seek to promote a more democratic environment which is built upon genuine popular aspirations. Towards this end, the US must seek the inclusion of all of the main politicians and political groups in the political processes of both countries.

For Pakistan, from where Rice began her overseas journey on Tuesday with subsequent stopovers in Kabul yesterday and then on to Moscow, next year's national elections would be a key litmus test for Washington.


Would the United States continue to remain inactive on questions like Musharraf's refusal to allow exiled leaders such as former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to return home and lead their relatively centrist political parties?

So far, the general has refused to make such a concession which ironically has perhaps given more of a political room to blatantly anti-Washington groups such as the conservative Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.

Ultimately, the test of Washington's sagacity in dealing with complex political matters whose outlook must define its own interests, rests more on well considered choices rather than yet another attempt such as Rice's latest overseas trip this week to put out one of the many bush fires haunting the US.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.