Even before the visit started it was marred with Afghan allegations that the Pakistan Air Force violated its airspace and carried out raids inside its territory. In a world in which it is becoming more and more difficult to uphold and sustain moral grounds — Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine and Kashmir are places where human morality endlessly bleeds. Even after a lapse of three days the Afghan government hasn’t come out clean and told the world how and why it targeted and carried out an air strike at a religious school in the northern province of Kunduz? Over 70 people are reported to have died, most amongst them children. Even if the Taliban were using the religious school and the children there as a human shield, was this the correct military method of eliminating the threat? The problem with the armies fighting in the conflict-prone areas today is that they are dropping too many bombs on too many people and the cost of such a bizarre method of engaging and meeting the threat is that there is an ever-increasing collateral damage. Thus those eliminated are far few than those getting ready to voluntarily recruit to hit back and take revenge.
Logic cannot be replaced with foolishness and arrogance, and whether it was National Security Adviser Nasser Janjua who met the Indian high commissioner or our prime minister going to Afghanistan to participate in ‘state to state comprehensive peace dialogue’ — diplomacy and peace must be given a chance despite the military (Indian) killings and the bomb droppings, diplomatic activity with the purpose of achieving peace must continue and must be given a chance. I am particularly appalled at the criticism that our NSA has received on meeting the Indian high commissioner. Even in the worst of the times (wars) ‘diplomatic engagement’ is not discontinued and politicians and statesmen continue to rely upon its logic to replace the foolishness and arrogance that war brings. Of particular interest is the statement of our Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif who vehemently criticised this meeting thus giving strength to the opposition’s argument that for the first time in the history of Pakistan we have a government that behaves “both as an opposition as well as the government.”
Restraint is perhaps the only viable strategy which, if practised, could lead to creation of an enabling environment to bring about peace in the region. That can only happen if regardless of what the ‘spoilers’ and the ‘non-state actors’ do on ground the political leadership at the highest level remains committed to the process of dialogue as the way forward. If military means alone were sufficient to bring about peace, neither Kashmir would be burning today nor the Afghan president would be presiding over ‘Kabul Conferences’ to hold out olive branches and extend peace talks offers both to the Taliban as well as Pakistan.
Hardly seven months after President Trump announced his new Afghan policy (August 2017) we are back to the old and time-tested ways of finding a peaceful solution to reach a grand strategic restraint. When President Trump announced the policy he criticised Pakistan for ‘harbouring insurgents’, promised to increase the troop level in Afghanistan, invited India to become more involved in Afghanistan’s future and proposed a militarised solution of the Afghan imbroglio, terming the Afghan war winnable. This was not an American president who was articulating a clear new strategy but an impulsive president who was re-emphasising solutions based on the same old failed Afghan policy that failed to give a clear sustainable policy alternative even after fighting this war for over 17 years. One is reminded of a television interview that President Trump gave shortly after his inauguration and when asked by the interviewer why he respected Putin ‘a killer’? He responded — “We have got a lot of killers. What do you think our country is so innocent?”
What the world needs is a political leadership that is less willing to go to war but more willing to talk. The recently concluded tripartite meeting between the Russian, the Iranian and the Turkish presidents in Ankara is a case in point. The leadership of these countries vouched that they will continue their active cooperation in Syria for the achievement of a lasting peace amongst the conflicting parties. There will be spoilers and there will be detractors but as long as the leadership of the major stakeholders is collectively on board in achieving the mutually agreed goal Syria is most likely to witness the return of peace. It will be a marathon and not a short race but the ground rules for winning this race have been laid.
Similarly, President Trump would do well to replace his ‘militarised and muscular Afghan policy’ with a policy that is more controlled, contained and restrained. The commencement of ‘comprehensive state to state dialogue’ between Afghanistan and Pakistan would just be the beginning of such a changed policy. Lying ahead are more difficult barriers to overcome — an effective strategic plan of Afghan recovery can only emerge when the Taliban are not only provided the political space but also provided the opportunity to be integrated into Afghanistan’s political system. If the Taliban have been accused of being terrorists and killers then what roles have the militaries of the world powers performed? Have they not bombed and killed to try and create favourable conditions from which talks should commence? The US in President Trump’s own words has been least innocent.
Pakistan’s prime minister’s official one-day visit to Afghanistan is a healthy political development. One can only pray that there is also a beginning of a peace process between India and Pakistan as well. One thing is certain that bilateral relations on our western front will only improve if the bilateral relations on the eastern front improve as well. One thing that both Afghanistan and India need to understand is that coerced, isolated, sanctioned and blamed Pakistan is neither good for these two countries nor is it good for the regional stability or the global fight against terror which is more continuously and consistently fought in this region.
On the day of our prime minister visiting Afghanistan for peace talks I wish to address neither him nor the president of Afghanistan but the prime minister of India to ‘stop viewing Pakistan in darkly narrow zero-sum terms’. Vote gathering and election selling anti-Pakistan political rhetoric may induce public support and short-term domestic political popularity but in the long run it will keep South Asia deprived of the widely shared economic and political prosperity that it so richly deserves. If Pakistan and India won’t be at peace, will Afghanistan and Pakistan ever be?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2018.