A 10-year strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan has been signed recently which will shape long-term Nato involvement in Afghanistan. After signing the agreement, President Barack Obama addressed US citizens from Bagram base in Kabul highlighting the road-map for the process of transition in Afghanistan. He also referred to Pakistan saying that it should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan’s “sovereignty, interests and democratic institutions. The US has no other design beyond respecting Afghan sovereignty and ending al Qaeda safe havens”.
Between the lines, some messages have been conveyed. Pakistan should assist the Afghan government in negotiations with the Taliban and become an equal partner in the process. Respect for Afghan sovereignty implies that terrorists entering Afghanistan from our soil should not be encouraged and interference in internal Afghan affairs should be avoided. President Obama mentioned the al Qaeda’s safe havens but did not touch upon the presence of the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan.
The US wants to exit Afghanistan but would like to leave with a stable government in place in Kabul, which is acceptable to all Afghan factions, including the Taliban. In order for that to happen, suitable measures are being planned to prevent the country from plunging into chaos and a possible civil war upon withdrawal of Nato Forces.
Pakistan has two major security concerns related to Afghanistan, the Durand Line and the perceived presence and influence of India. The Durand Line and Pashtunistan issues have been raised by different Afghan regimes in the past. However, it may no longer be a concern. Pashtuns are now so well integrated in Pakistani society that the majority will never opt for Pashtunistan or Afghanistan. Afghan-Pashtun refugees have been staying in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa for more than 30 years.Threat perceptions about Afghanistan need re-evaluation so that suitable changes are made in our Afghan policy. The current one, used for over the last three decades, has only resulted in greater violence and instability in both countries. Instead of creating goodwill by sheltering millions of Afghan refugees, we have only gained the hatred of common Afghans due to our policy.
The ability of Pakistani terrorists to strike has been diluted to a great extent through army operations but they are not yet finished. Insisting on having a government of our choice in Afghanistan may not be a feasible option in the prevailing environment. A government in Kabul, not hostile to Pakistan and which does not interfere in our internal affairs, should be acceptable. Threat perceptions about Indian presence in Afghanistan should also be re-evaluated; it may not be such a serious threat to our security as perceived.
Nato supplies should be resumed as per recommendations of the parliament. Pakistan should participate in the Chicago Summit and extend all possible help to the Afghan government. The government should not succumb to pressures and threats of other political parties, not representing the will of the people.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.