AfPak — how to proceed?

Letter May 20, 2012
As Pakistanis we tend to attach sentimental value to interstate relations.

KARACHI: Irrespective of when the Nato supply line is opened, the fact remains that Nato forces are destined to start withdrawing from Afghanistan by 2014. Furthermore, the conditions prevailing in the eurozone and upcoming elections in the US will mean that Nato forces will leave the region no later than the 2014 date. Notwithstanding, with the recent strategic partnership deal inked between America and Afghanistan, can Pakistan or any of the neighbouring states afford to see Afghanistan plunge into civil war again, like it did when the Soviets withdrew?

Besides the people of Afghanistan, the countries that have borne the brunt of its two recent occupations have been Pakistan and to a lesser degree, Iran. Having to house over three million Afghan refugees, with all the incumbent social and economic fallout, Pakistan is to-date severely affected by whatever happens inside Afghanistan. The worst thing is that, in spite of having hosted millions of refugees over several decades, we are probably the most hated nation among Afghans. So what did we do wrong?

Due to various reasons, relations between Pakistan and America remain strained, each country suspicious and mistrusting of the other. And this is primarily because the perceived strategic interests of the two countries are not aligned together. Under these conditions, we have to decide how best our national interest will be served in the present circumstances. Do we carry on as before, pursuing our existing strategy, or do we redefine it?

As Pakistanis we tend to attach sentimental value to interstate relations and overplay our strategic location and importance without considering all elements of national power. Americans, on the other hand, are pragmatic. That is why America pursues its defined national objectives ruthlessly and it does this by using its immense military power and world influence. The question is, given existing conditions, how should Pakistan proceed to ensure favourable conditions for itself after the withdrawal of US-Nato forces from Afghanistan. In my opinion, we will need the involvement of all stakeholders if we are to establish durable peace in Afghanistan. Keeping in view the existing trust deficit between the various main players in the region, this will, of course, be a challenge. Recent events should be built around policies for the country that have the backing of all stakeholders.

As for Pakistan, it needs to put its own house in order and once again demonstrate that public posturing is counterproductive and reduces the scope for negotiations. They show that while it is fine to debate some broad foreign policy objectives in public forums, agreements and treaties are seldom made open documents. Hopefully, we will keep all this in mind, and learn a lesson and ensure that our follies are not repeated.

Air Marshal (retd) Riazuddin Shaikh

Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.