President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of engaging with Pakistan in the backdrop of his US counterpart’s revised policy on Afghanistan augurs well for both countries. The desire for normalisation of bilateral relations could not have come without a nod from Washington, but reflects realism and needs to be welcome. Kabul cannot afford to bypass Pakistan, however close it may be to India and enjoy the full support of Washington.
After the one-sided assessment of Pakistan’s policies by the Trump administration, there had to be a carrot and an opening made to break the logjam. Pakistan all along has been insisting on dialogue and improving relations with Afghanistan. Its sincerity was reflected in General Qamar Bajwa’s several visits to Kabul and meetings with the Afghan leader and his military counterparts. The Foreign Office too has been very active at building bridges. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua’s recent visit to Kabul where she had very productive meetings with all the key players, including former president Hamid Karzai, reflects Pakistan’s priority and urgency in improving relations.
All the three countries — Pakistan, Afghanistan and US — should realise that the time for mutual recriminations is over. Not that each country does not have a share in messing up the region and lives of millions of innocent citizens. It is also true that these countries have genuine reservations and conflicting priorities. But today the greatest challenge is to come out of this security and political quagmire by adopting policies that are more consensual and a realisation that their faithful implementation is a must. And this is only possible through dialogue and respect for the concerns of others.
Putting pressure on Pakistan by the US without considering its genuine anxieties has not worked in the past nor would do so in future. It only entrenches positions on all sides. However, this does not absolve Pakistan’s decision-makers from being more forthright in dealing with the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura. Even if they genuinely believe that its present strength and clout in Pakistan presents no danger to Afghanistan and has little relevance in the fight against terrorism. If a few along with their families float around in the tribal belt or other parts of Pakistan, it should have no impact. Pakistan’s premise nonetheless is unacceptable to the Afghans or Americans and further alienates them. It essentially is a question of trust and the fundamental issue that is repeatedly raised by the United States and Afghans with Pakistani interlocutors is whose side are you on? Moreover, it is providing both Pentagon and Afghanistan to draw curtain on their failures. I would go even further to question whether it is in Pakistan’s interest to align with militant groups and use proxies that continue to backfire? Or adopt a more seasoned and calibrated policy that encases the broader picture and brings peace within; promotes stability and trust among neighbours and improves Pakistan’s international profile.
Unfortunately, the situation is just the opposite. In a major diplomatic victory for India the recent BRICS Xiamen Declaration deplored terrorist attacks specifically naming the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and Taliban, IS and al Qaeda. It did not name any particular country but certainly the reference to certain groups with which Pakistan is generally associated like the Haqqani Network or LeT places renewed responsibility on our leadership to seriously revisit our security policies. Host nation China, which clearly is our most trusted ally, also supported the resolution. They are equally apprehensive of these militant outfits and share the same concerns as other members of BRICS. The latent threat that terrorism could take root amongst Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province has been a source of great worry for them. The great tragedy is that all the sacrifices that the Pakistan military and our civilians have made in the fight against the global war on terror go unrecognised as a consequence.
What needs to be recognised that the United States and Afghanistan governments too share major responsibility for the present mess and need to pursue policies that win the confidence and trust not only of Pakistan but also of other regional countries. The new Trump policy is explicit in giving a lead role to India in Afghanistan that is understandably anathema for Pakistan. As is common knowledge India has been using Afghan territory for harbouring anti-Pakistan militant groups like the TTP, the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi, etc, and deliberately pursuing a hostile policy of undermining Pakistan’s stability and integrity. The world looks the other way while India tries to justify it as a tit-for-tat measure.
Similarly, Pakistan’s quasi support of the Taliban drive the Afghan government to lean heavily on India and toe its line while taking a hostile posture toward Pakistan. America takes cover of its failed Afghan policy by blaming Pakistan ad nauseam. President Trump’s recent announcement that he would send additional troops, probably around 4,000, to Afghanistan does reflect that the US will remain committed but certainly none of these policies are any solution. On the contrary, these have vastly benefited anti-state forces in both countries and made the goal of peace more illusory.
For India too it may be misleading to consider that its policy toward Pakistan would be rewarding. All the investment that it is making and goodwill that it is supposedly generating in Afghanistan would evaporate if it lapses into total chaos.
Pakistan’s army has traditionally played a major role in formulation of foreign policy. In the present situation where the political leadership is far too engrossed in infighting it has for all practical purposes fallen on the shoulders of the military leadership and bureaucracy to manage relations.
Providing direct or indirect support to certain militant groups to counter the influence of India in Afghanistan has not worked in the past nor will it succeed in the future. In fact, it has seriously affected our internal stability as we recklessly disregarded its adverse consequences. It is through diplomatic and security-related measures that India should be countered from using Afghan soil to destabilise us. The era of good Taliban or bad Taliban is long over.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2017.